By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Two experienced Wyoming sportsmen said soaring temperatures discouraged them from early archery antelope hunts, but they expect a great 2022 season nonetheless.
“I’ve never been an early season antelope hunter. It’s still too warm to be out there harvesting an animal,” Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer and hunts both the archery and rifle seasons, told Cowboy State Daily. He is the co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer advocacy group.
Johnny Bergeson, an avid hunter and hunting guide from Laramie – who also enjoys both archery and rifle hunting – told Cowboy State Daily that he was holding off on antelope, but counting the days until he goes after elk in the Snowy Range Mountains.
“I plan to go Sept. 1. Elk is what I live for,” he said.
Antelope archery season opened as early as Aug. 1 in some hunt areas around Wyoming, but doesn’t start until Aug. 15 in others. Many rifle hunts for antelope, deer and elk are set to open in October.
Despite a dry early summer and hot temperatures throughout the season, both hunters said recent rains should help boost forage, and the big game animals they’ve seen while out scouting look healthy.
“I’m very optimistic about the 2022 hunting season. The critters I’ve seen look really good,” Coursey said.
For those who decide to venture out after antelope while summer is still in full swing, he said hunting during the cool early morning hours is wise, as is having a large cooler full of ice ready.
“Get the hide off, get the animal quick quartered and get it in the cooler,” he said.
“Quick quartering” is a method many hunters use to rapidly strip the hide off a freshly-killed big-game carcass and remove the edible meat – much of it with the bones still in. This saves them the trouble of gutting the animal or lugging the entire carcass back to camp or a vehicle.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department regulations state that hunters must take all edible portions of a big game animal, including the backstraps and tenderloins.
Mule Deer Uptick
Mule deer have been in decline around the West for numerous reasons, some of which include fragmentation of their habitat and migration routes because of development, disease and competition with other wildlife for food.
Even so, Coursey and Bergeson said there’s hope for those seeking bucks this year.
“Particularly in western Wyoming, that five-year-old age class of deer was missing from the landscape after the harsh winter of 2017,” Coursey said. “I think we’re starting to see the good bucks in that age class again.”
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has taken its toll on mule deer, so it’s best to hold out for larger bucks, Bergeson said.
“With the whole CWD thing, you never know how things are going to be year-to-year with mule deer,” said Bergeson, who plans to hunt deer on the Saratoga side of the Snowy Range. “I like to wait for a mature deer. I like to let the younger ones live.”
CWD is a fatally degenerative nervous system and brain disease spread among deer through prions, a type of distorted protein. There are no known cases of the disease spreading to humans, but the Game and Fish and Centers for Disease Control recommend against eating meat from infected animals. The Game and Fish offers free CWD testing of samples taken from hunters’ kills.
Elk Look Great
The elk hunting looks to be great this year, both outdoorsmen said.
“Elk are prolific in Wyoming. I don’t know of any area where the elk aren’t thriving,” Coursey said.
He plans to hunt elk in the Wind River Mountains.
Bergeson said he plans to start off with a four-day backpack archery hunt for elk in the Snowy Range, using both calling and spot-and-stalk techniques.
For calling, a camouflaged archery hunter will set up in a likely spot, and then use calls to imitate the chirping sounds of cow elk and the challenging bugling of bulls, in hopes of drawing a bull into bow range – typically 40 yards or less.
Spot and stalk entails using binoculars or a spotting scope to find an animal, and then methodically sneaking into shooting range.
“I’m all about the experience,” Bergeson said. “I generally don’t like to just fill my tag the first day of the season. I like to make the hunt last. I always use the excuse that I’m looking for a big bull, but when the time comes and something walks in front of me, then I’ll decide.”