Living in Story, Wyoming, means sharing space with wildlife — whitetail deer in particular — and longtime resident Paula Morgan said she doesn’t mind that at all.
As she sees it, the whitetails are essentially her neighbors in the picturesque unincorporated Sheridan County community. So, she respects their space. And for the most part, they respect hers too, Morgan told Cowboy State Daily.
“Isn’t that the way we should live our lives in general?” said Morgan who, with her husband Patrick, has lived in Story for 24 years and own the local Story Pines Inn.
Plant The Flowers They Don’t Like
With a human population of about 800, story sits at an elevation of 5,036 feet between North and South Piney Creeks in the Bighorn Mountains, about 20 minutes south of Sheridan.
When visiting the town, it’s not unusual to see groups of whitetails strolling in the streets or lounging on people’s lawns.
Morgan said that during the fall, whitetails will occasionally snatch pumpkins from her seasonal displays.
“As soon as the frost hits them (the pumpkins) it softens them up, and the whitetails like that,” she said.
The deer would raid flower beds at the Story Pines Inn until Morgan figured out which flowers they don’t like and started planting those instead.
“The love petunias, they love all of the pretty, smelly flowers,” she said.
“I can tell you what they don’t eat. They don’t eat snapdragons,” Morgan said. “I’ve learned to live with the deer, so I plant lots of snapdragons. They also don’t seem to like lemon gem marigolds.”
Kim Love, who owns property in Story, told Cowboy State Daily that he doesn’t mind having whitetails visit his place now and again, but agreed that residents must be mindful about flowerbeds.
“You’ve got to be careful about what you plant. They are selective about which flowers they’ll eat,” he said.
How Story ended up with so many whitetails in and around it isn’t certain.
The mention of “Wyoming deer” usually conjures up images mule deer. And the Cowboy State is rightfully proud of its muley herds.
But Wyoming also is home to scattered populations of whitetails. Though smaller than mule deer, whitetails tend to be more aggressive about taking territory, and they breed prolifically. There are concerns about whitetails driving out and replacing mule deer in some parts of Wyoming.
There have long been rumors that there didn’t used to be whitetails in or around Story. There’s talk that game agents transplanted a few there in about the 1950s — and the population exploded.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department transplanted whitetails to parts of Wyoming in the 1940s and 1950s, Tim Thomas, the agency’s Sheridan Region Wildlife Coordinator, told Cowboy State Daily. But there are no records of such transplants in the Story area, so the whitetails there likely could be native.
“White-tailed deer are native to northeast Wyoming, including Sheridan and Johnson Counties,” he said. “Based on available annual reports the department did trap and translocate white-tailed deer from 1949-53 from the Sand Creek area of the Blacks Hills to various locations in Wyoming. We could find no indication any of these deer were released in the Story area.”
Legal To Hunt
It’s legal to hunt whitetails right in Story, but only with residents’ permission.
Since the 2006 hunting season, Story has been included Deer Hunt Area 24, and it’s legal to hunt deer within the settled area. But the catch is hunters must have permission to hunt from any property owners involved, Thomas said.
So, hunting whitetails out in the surrounding unsettled areas might be a better choice.
And there is ample opportunity, Thomas said.
“In 2023, hunters with a general license could hunt any white-tailed deer with archery equipment from Sept. 1-30, and with firearms or archery equipment Oct. 15 to Nov. 30,” he said. “Hunters with a Limited Quota Area 24, Type 3 license could hunt any white-tailed deer with archery equipment Sept. 1-30, and with firearms or archery equipment Nov. 1-30.
“Hunters with a Limited Quota Area 24, Type 7 or 8 license could hunt doe or fawn white-tailed deer on private lands during Sept. 1 to Dec. 15. Basically, hunters could harvest white-tailed deer in and around Story from Sept. 1 to Dec. 15, a total of 106 days of hunting opportunity,” he added.
Love and Paula Morgan said they’ve seen the whitetail numbers in and around Story ebb and flow over the years. The population seems to be down this year, they said.
Some hunters in Sheridan and Big Horn counties previously told Cowboy State Daily they suspect that an outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and blue-tongue virus (BTV) killed off large numbers of whitetails in those counties.
Thomas said there were some recent outbreaks, but the Story whitetails were apparently spared.
“We are not aware of a significant EHD outbreak in 2023 in Wyoming. There was a statewide outbreak of EHD and BTV in 2021, with localized outbreaks in 2022, including in some parts of Sheridan County,” he said.
Thomas said he doesn’t know of and significant EHD or BTV die-offs among Story’s whitetails during the 26 years he’s been in the Sheridan area. Living at higher elevations might have saved them.
“There appears to be an elevational limitation on the primary insect vector for these diseases, with Story being above that elevation,” he said.
Drawing In Predators
Having so many deer in one place could raise concern about large predators being drawn in and possibly clashing with people or their pets in Story.
Morgan said there’s always been some mountain lions and black bears in the area.
Their numbers seem to have increased in the past few years, but she said she’s not worried. The worst she’s heard so far is that mountain lions might have been gobbling up some local cats, so folks might want to keep a close eye on their pets.
The presence of mountain lions is one reason why Game and Fish discourages people from feeding whitetails in Story, Thomas said.
“Game and Fish has held several ‘Living in Bear and Lion Country’ workshops in Story. We have also done significant outreach to individuals over the years,” he said. “We strongly discourage individuals from feeding deer or attracting deer onto their property. Story and the surrounding area is within Mountain Lion Hunt Area 23. Hunters can, and often do, harvest mountain lions in the Story area.”
Meanwhile, another wild species has been doing well in Story, Morgan said.
“We have lots and lots of turkeys around here now,” she said.
Roadkill And Rut
Drivers in Story, including visitors, have been pretty good about avoiding the whitetails, turkeys and other wildlife, Morgan said, adding that outside of town, more deer get hit.
“The only time I see them dead is along the roads going to and from Buffalo and Sheridan,” she said.
That’s another reason Game and Fish doesn’t like people feeding deer — it’s more likely to pull them into areas where they’ll get hit by vehicles, Thomas said.
What’s more, many of the foods people try go give deer are of no nutritional value to them, and can even harm them.
Feeding also causes deer to bunch up and become more susceptible to disease, he added. And deer that are too used to people can become aggressive, particularly during the rut, or matting season.
Morgan said that like other longtime Story residents, she’s learned to give whitetail bucks plenty of space during the rut because they do get cranky and aggressive.
Even so, once a person learns to respect the boundaries and how to keep whitetails out of flowerbeds and such, having the deer around is part of what makes the little community special, she said.
“I appreciate the beauty of the whitetails,” she said.
And guests at the Inn enjoy watching them from a respectful distance as well, Morgan added.
“Ours guests absolutely love them,” she said. “Think about it — if you come from a city, and you come out the door of our room in the morning and you are greeted by whitetail deer, and you can watch them while you have your coffee — that’s just a wonderful experience.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.