By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Time might start to drag in duck blinds this fall across the Cowboy State, but out in the fields among big spreads of honker decoys, things could get lively.
That’s the word from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which recently released its 2022 hunting forecasts – including those for ducks, geese, Sandhill cranes and upland birds.
Most bird hunting seasons open in September across Wyoming, according to the Game and Fish. So, now’s the time to make sure shotguns are in good working order, decoy anchor lines are neatly wrapped – not impossibly tangled – and dogs are well-conditioned and fresh on their training.
Starting with the not-so-good news, many of the nesting grounds from which Wyoming’s migratory ducks come didn’t fare well this year, according to the Game and Fish.
Most of the migratory ducks that Wyoming sees during the hunting seasons originate from prairies in Alberta, eastern Montana and parts of the Dakotas. While water was plentiful in parts of the Dakotas, overall, breeding grounds were dry. So, expect “lower than average duck numbers,” the Game and Fish said.
For those big ole honkers, Canada geese, things look better. Numbers remain high among both of the main goose populations that provide Wyomingites with hunting opportunities. The Rocky Mountain population includes resident or migratory birds west of the Continental Divide. That includes prime hunting spots in the Wind River and Bighorn River basins, as well as in western Carbon and Natrona counties.
Geese that pile into eastern Wyoming – and down into lucky hunters’ decoy spreads – come mostly from the High-Line region in northern Montana and southern Canada, according to Game and Fish.
Goose numbers have been “consistently high” in both populations during recent years, and are expected to be again this year, the Game and Fish said. So, goose hunters should hope for early and hard winter conditions in those points of origin, because that will drive the big flocks into Wyoming.
Numbers also look good for Sandhill cranes. Some good spots to hunt are Ocean Lake, northwest of Riverton, as well as fields north of Worland and Ralston Reservoir, east of Cody.
Doves, Upland Birds
Wyoming’s resident mourning dove population is lagging this year, according to Game and Fish. And those birds flee southward with the first cold snap, so early-season dove hunting could be sparse. However, doves from farther north usually start passing through Wyoming in mid-September, perhaps offering more opportunity for hunters.
Sage grouse hunting will remain limited this year, because of the birds’ tenuous status across much of their Wyoming habitat. Hunting for those plump, tasty game birds will be open September 17-30 in most of the state. A limited three-day season in northeast Wyoming is set for September 17-19. There will be no sage grouse hunting season in the Jackson region, Game and Fish said.
Statewide, conditions were still too dry for plentiful broods among low-elevation birds, such as sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants, chukars, Hungarian partridge and ruffed grouse.
In the foothills and mountains, dusky, or blue grouse have fared better. New vegetation springing up in the 2018 Mullen Fire area southwest of Laramie should attract those birds, according to Game and Fish.
The Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake hunter management areas northwest of Riverton continue to be a big draw for pheasant hunters. A one-day youth hunt is set for Nov. 19. It had been only in the Sand Mesa area in years past, but “hunter crowding” has become a problem there, Game and Fish said.