Campbell County boasts some of Wyoming’s richest high plains grasslands supporting ample big game herds, but finding hunting access can be a bit tricky.
“There’s a lot of private land, and getting permission for hunting access can be tough,” Kevin Nickisch, general manager at the Gillette Rocky Mountain Discount Sports store, told Cowboy State Daily.
However, Campbell County boasts the vast Thunder Basin National Grasslands, which are on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Nickisch said local hunters like to try their luck there for all three of Wyoming’s premier big game species – elk, mule deer and antelope.
Elk On The Move
Campbell County’s elk herds aren’t as massive as those in other parts of Wyoming, but there’s still a “healthy population” of the critters, Nickisch said.
But hunters out for wapiti should be prepared to put on some miles searching because the herds are always on the move, he added.
“They can be tough to hunt. They move around, like a lot of high plains elk do. They’re here one day, and then gone somewhere else the next,” he said.
Trophies In The River Breaks
Parts of Wyoming experienced devastating losses this past year, with some of the prime mule deer and antelope herds in central and southwest Wyoming all but wiped out.
Campbell County’s herds suffered too, though not quite as badly, Nickisch said. There were hunting tag cuts and shortened seasons in some of the deer hunt areas, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department aiming to give deer a break.
The county’s mule deer tend to hang out on private land, which can make access difficult, Nickisch said. But there are some sweet spots in the Powder River Breaks, and some surviving monster bucks can be found there.
“Guys do pull some good bucks out of the breaks,” he said.
Whitetail deer are few and far between in Campbell County, but can also sometimes be found along the river, he said.
Non-Residents Love Antelope
Antelope numbers are also down in the wake of winterkill, and there have been hunting tag cuts for that species as well this year. Even so, Nickisch said most of his nonresident customers are excited to come chase speed goats in Campbell County.
“We don’t tend to have the trophy quality that Natrona County is known for, but we used to have a lot of quantity, although that’s down right now,” he said. “Most of the out-of-state groups that come here are after the antelope. A lot of them go on private land, where they have trespass fees or guided hunts.”
For local hunters wanting a crack at antelope, he again recommends the Thunder Basin National Grasslands.
Overall, big game hunting in Campbell County has slowed a bit this fall because of the winterkill, but Nickisch said there’s no reason to think it won’t bounce back.
“It’s definitely been a slower year, with the seasons being shortened and some of the deer and antelope tags being cut. But that’s a good thing, with the populations being down a bit,” he said. “Hopefully we can recover and start producing some good numbers and big bucks again.”
Bird Hunting Is Sparse
Campbell County also has a healthy population of wild turkeys, he said. But upland game birds and waterfowl are sparce, Nickisch said.
“There aren’t really any pheasants hunt here, but there’s a few grouse scattered about,” he said.
Just about anywhere in the county where a hunter can get access and find a place to hunker down and hide should be good for turkeys, he added.
During the off-season, the Thunder Basin National Grasslands are also known for a great place for hunters to go blast prairie dogs. The Forest Service will sometimes temporarily shut down prairie dog shooting in certain areas to allow populations to recover.
So, hunters itching to get in some long-range varmint shooting come springtime should check the agency’s regulations before heading out.
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Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.