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Pronghorn hunting tags slashed by 75 percent after about half of the Sublette herd died off

An antelope stands broadside in the snow and looks at the camera. A dead antelope is at their feet.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media

After a historically harsh winter in southwest and south central Wyoming, the death toll to some wildlife is only now being fully revealed. Consequently, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is further cutting pronghorn hunting tags by 75 percent in these areas.

The Sublette pronghorn herd is one of the largest in the country, and officials estimate that at least half have died over this winter – that is about 20,000 animals.

“They're kind of easy to pick out once the snow melts because of the white there on the pronghorn,” said Mark Gocke, WGFD public information specialist for the Jackson and Pinedale areas. “And you would see light spots just kind of dotted out across the sagebrush.”

Much of this death is because of the extreme cold and a rare bacterial pneumonia disease called Mycoplasma bovis. Gocke said the Pinedale area saw nearly double the number of days below zero this winter.

Initially this spring, WGFD cut pronghorn hunting tags for the area by about half and fully eliminated the season for does and fawns. After re-evaluating the death toll, the agency is further slashing the tags by 75 percent.

“I can't recall a time we've ever had to make such significant cuts,” Gocke said. “There's gonna be fewer animals on the landscape, without a doubt. It's gonna look a lot different for those hunters this year than that in the past.”

The cuts extend through Lincoln, Sublette and Teton counties. Additionally, the Baggs pronghorn herd in Carbon County took a huge hit and hunting tags were cut there, as well.

Gocke said that it will likely take several years for the herds to recover. One silver lining is that all the moisture has made for great feeding for the animals that did survive.

“The animals that made it through this winter should enjoy pretty good forage and then will go into next winter with pretty good body fat,” Gocke said. “Typically, that's what we've seen.”

The department expects the pronghorn herds to recover quicker than mule deer, which also saw high herd deaths, because they give birth to twins at a higher rate of about 80 percent, Gocke said. Although, he pointed out that many of the females likely not be able to carry their babies to term this year because of malnutrition.

The deadline to apply or make changes to pronghorn hunting licenses is Wednesday, May 31, at midnight. To read more about the specifics of the hunting cuts click here.

Corrected: June 7, 2023 at 2:12 PM MDT
Correction: a previous version of this article said the cuts were primarily in the southeast of the state. That was incorrect. The cuts were primarily in the southwest of the state.
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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