LARAMIE, Wyo. It's easier to talk about which areas in Wyoming aren't prime for antelope than to pinpoint the areas that are. High-country timber is about the only place in the state you won't find pronghorn even sagebrush basins above 10,000 feet have "speed goats."
For sheer numbers of antelope, look to the northeastern region of the state, from Sheridan east to Newcastle and Sundance, then south into the Thunder Basin National Grassland.
For trophies, the central, south-central and southwestern units get the nod. And for a good mix of decent bucks and fair-sized herds, the southeastern corner of the state, from about Rawlins east to Cheyenne and north to Lusk, is worth a look.
While Wyoming's antelope population may seem to be endless, game managers are stressing that this year's drought has impacted both fawn production and horn growth. The drought is so devastating in some areas of Wyoming, in fact, that biologists are reporting summer kill of this year's fawns.
"Fewer fawns will not really impact this fall's hunting," said Bill Rudd, the assistant Wildlife Division chief in Wyoming Game and Fish's Cheyenne headquarters (307-777-4600).
"But hunters should expect to overall see smaller horns."
The reason, said Rudd, is that the severely dry conditions have stressed animals and the nutrients that bucks need to build body fat and horns simply aren't available in the parched landscape.
The drought may also affect populations in subsequent years because of suppressed fawn numbers.
The regional antelope picture is mixed, according to wildlife biologists in various corners of the state.
For instance, antelope are plentiful in northeastern Wyoming, even considering the toll drought is taking on body condition and habitat.
"A larger concern in this area is access," said head biologist Lynn Jahnke in Wyoming Game & Fish's Sheridan office (307-672-7418).
From the Bighorn Mountains east to the South Dakota line, outfitters control most private land, and their impact can be seen on adjacent public land. Because tight access has prevented hunters from achieving harvest goals, hunters can buy a second any-antelope license in several units in this part of the state. And doe/fawn licenses are available in most units.
In central Wyoming, the prognosis for this fall's hunting is guardedly optimistic.
Biologist Tom Ryder in WGF's Lander office (307-332-2688) said the "hunting outlook is fantastic for pronghorn" in the region that stretches from the Wind River Indian Reservation south to the Red Desert and east along the Sweetwater River.
Ryder cites high buck ratios for his optimism and adds some hunt areas in the Jeffrey City area and northern Red Desert had "pretty good" fawn survival. But he is concerned about the beleaguered body condition of animals as they face the winter.
The southwestern corner of the state has high populations, but game managers say drought conditions in the Rock Springs and Green River areas will likely cause a population dip next year, especially if this is a tough, snowy winter that causes winterkill of adult does.
This fall's ops
While the premium hunting opportunities have been parceled out in the draw, the deadline for which was back in mid-March for non-residents and in May for residents there may still be some opportunities available for this fall's hunts. They're surplus doe/fawn antelope tags, and they're a good consolation prize, especially if you're a young hunter.
While the purchase date for most limited-quota licenses left over after the initial draw was Aug. 15, youth antelope (also youth deer and elk) tags will be sold over the counter through the end of the season.
There's another consolation prize, of sorts, this year in Wyoming.
Non-successful applicants can buy a preference point that gives them an edge in next year's drawing. You can even purchase the preference point ($40 for adults, $10 for youth) without applying for a license.
Antelope licenses in Wyoming are on par, or even a little cheaper, than similar opportunities in neighboring states. The premium full-price non-resident antelope permit sells for $238.
Youth tags are $122 and "special" tags, available in extremely popular areas, sell for $438. Reduced-price doe/fawn licenses sell for $41, or $31 for youth hunters.
It's easy to dream of 16-inch antelope when you hunt Wyoming. Game management here is relatively conservative, and even with harvest success rates hovering between 80 and 85 percent, plenty of pronghorn die of old age here.
In many cases, the secret to bagging a trophy buck is to simply be patient and wait for the right buck. That means you should plan to glass and pass plenty of average antelope in several different herds before you settle on an older buck.
The other tactic is to cover plenty of ground on foot. A good percentage of antelope hunters cruise roads and glass herds, so if you invest some sweat equity in longer hikes into road-less areas, you'll likely be rewarded with an above-average buck.
If you are meat hunting, you should have no trouble filling your tag on a buck. Or you can consider picking up leftover doe/fawn licenses. These licenses went on sale Aug. 15 in the hunt area where they're valid, and there are probably still some available.
At deadline, there were doe/fawn antelope licenses available in 83 areas across the state. Because these are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, the doe/fawn licenses will sell out quickly in some areas. In others, the surplus quota will not be sold out.
For a current list of areas with leftover doe/fawn antelope licenses, contact Game & Fish.
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