Covering a massive chunk of real estate in southcentral and southwest Wyoming, Sweetwater has built a reputation as a big game hot spot with some of the finest mule deer, antelope and elk herds in the West.
However, like neighboring Carbon County, Sweetwater was dealt a devastating blow by the winter of 2022-2023. Its deer and antelope herds were hit particularly hard. Even so, there’s some reason for hunters to hope, locals told Cowboy State Daily.
Elk Hunters Having Luck
Elk hunt areas in Sweetwater County are limited quota, said avid hunter and wildlife conservationist Josh Coursey. That means hunters must apply to enter drawings for tags months in advance.
Even so, tag allocations are usually generous, and for the most part, the county’s elk herds pulled through the terrible winter.
“Elk hunting continues to be good in these areas and has already had good harvest success,” Coursey said.
Wyoming residents and out-of-staters alike are drawn by the elk hunting opportunities, said Jenissa Meredith, the president and CEO of Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism.
“We are fortunate to have access to so much public land in Sweetwater County and many residents and visitors plan their entire year around hunting in this area,” she said. “Visitors come from all over the region and country to enjoy hunting in Sweetwater County and are in awe of the vast open landscape and incredible views around Rock Springs and Green River that we enjoy every day.”
Antelope Hunting Slow, But Still Good
The entire Cowboy State is good for antelope hunting, but Sweetwater County typically has taken speed goat hunting to a whole new level.
With the massive winterkill, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission opted to cut back on antelope tags in hunt areas across the county.
That’s put a damper on things, but hardly ruined them, Coursey said. Patient and tenacious hunter have still been dropping some impressive bucks.
“With reduced pronghorn opportunities, there have been some good successes already,” he said.
Deer Are Hurting
The really bad news is with deer, Coursey said. Mule deer hunters face frustratingly slim odds.
It’s a pattern that seems to be repeating itself beyond Sweetwater County, he added.
“Deer hunting as a whole is very poor, and the lack of deer being seen in general areas is alarming. The toll of this past winter is being seen, or more accurately, not being seen. Regular reports continue to be heard across a vast number of areas of the poor state of deer numbers,” he said.
Meredith agreed that the lingering effects of winterkill are being felt during this fall’s hunting seasons. However, the record snows left rich forage in their wake, which bodes well for the game herds’ long-term outlook, she said.
“Although winter of 2022-23 was historically brutal in many areas, Rock Springs, Green River and the Flaming Gorge area fared better than nearby towns like Kemmerer and Cokeville and the snow levels did help the drought situation here. That moisture helped plants and insect production which also improved conditions going into fall,” Merdith said.
Overall, Coursey said elk and antelope hunters will be pleased by what they find in Sweetwater County. Deer hunters might do plenty of hiking and scanning the county’s immense landscapes with their binoculars, but coming home with only good memories.
And with the winter losses and a lack of fawns, deer hunting could stay that way for a while, he added.
“Overall, my take is that elk hunting continues to be great, pronghorn is fair, and deer is very concerning,” Coursey said.
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Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.