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2023 hunting seasons approved with drastic cuts to mule deer and pronghorn 

Three antelope lay dead in the snow.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
WGFD has counted more than 500 pronghorn south of Pinedale that have succumbed to a rare bacterial pneumonia disease.

Significantly fewer mule deer and pronghorn will be available for hunting in Wyoming this year compared to the past.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved the 2023 hunting seasons this week in their April meeting. About 10,000 less pronghorn tags will be available across the state compared to last year, and about 4,000 less mule deer tags.

The cuts are largely because of the harsh winter, as deaths in some mule deer and pronghorn herds are likely as high as 50 percent. Also, a rare bacterial pneumonia disease broke out in the pronghorn herd south of Pinedale.

“We're at 461 carcasses removed,” said Sublette County resident Zachary Key about the pronghorn succumbing to disease. “These are off just roads and just oil and gas locations, and I'm telling you guys, the damage is not over.”

Key said he thinks the snow is still covering much of the devastation from this winter, and likely death tolls will be higher than originally thought.

Some residents testified to commissioners that they think the cutbacks are not extreme enough.

“The carnage up here is unbelievable. I mean, there's dead antelope everywhere,” said Pinedale resident Mike Crosson. “I just don't think we have any to spare. I would actually like to see the season closed.”

But, Wyoming Game and Fish Department [WGFD] officials pushed back saying that for the most part, only bucks will be hunted, and does and fawns are what sustain a population.

“We eliminated all day fawn and doe harvest and are just focusing on mostly buck only harvest, which will maximize the potential for this population to rebound,” said Brandon Scurlock, WGFD Pinedale region wildlife management coordinator. “If we do see more mortality – it’s snowing right now in Pinedale and it’s supposed to be in the single digits again this week – we can adjust accordingly.”

Scurlock was talking about the Wyoming Range mule deer herd – which is considered one of the largest herds of its kind in the world. Prior to this winter populations were just under 30,000, but that number is expected to drastically decrease. Radio collar data shows the herd might decline by 50 percent.

Some other hunters testified that the cut-backs are too extreme.

“It's not one of all doom and gloom, we see these cycles,” said Wyoming hunter Jason West. “We need to be careful that we don't lose what we've got by making drastic changes and cut our own throats and end up not hunting – the very thing we love. So I asked you to support the biologists recommendations, they have bent over backwards listening to public concern, and my concern is they've almost been pushed too far because of public opinion.”

Some hunters suggested more predator hunting, like black bears, is the answer, rather than cutting mule deer and pronghorn tags. Notably, President of the Senate Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) echoed a similar sentiment.

“Please put all the pressure on the predators,” he said. “Get the predators in control. We can bring the predators back much easier than we can bring the deer back.”

The Commission approved much of the hunting seasons as written, but they have the power to make last minute changes to the seasons in the coming months.

Listen to the full testimony here. The finalized season information will be available on the WGFD website in May.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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