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Wyoming Responds to Declining Deer Numbers in Black Hills

November 9, 2011.

From Wyoming Game and Fish:

In response to declining numbers of mule and white-tailed deer in the Black Hills, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is reminding hunters there are fewer licenses available for the 2011 hunting season and the hunting season closes earlier this year.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists recently completed preseason classifications and trend counts of deer in the Black Hills. Trend counts indicate the population of both white-tailed deer and mule deer in the Black Hills may be the lowest they have been since 1997. Both deer herds have been declining since about 2007. Trend counts suggest approximately a 50 percent drop in white-tailed deer numbers since 2007, and nearly a 75 percent decline in mule deer since 2006. This now puts the whitetail herd at about 10 percent below management objective, and the mule deer herd around 30 percent below objective.

Many factors have contributed to these declines including: an over abundance of deer in 2006 and 2007; seasons designed to reduce deer numbers through 2009; severe spring snow storms in 2008 and 2009; extended snow cover and cold temperatures last winter; localized outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) the past three summers; and below average recruitment of fawns into the population. In addition, when populations decline, other mortality factors such as predation have a greater impact on the population, and may hamper recovery.

Newcastle Wildlife Biologist Joe Sandrini said Black Hills mule deer numbers peaked in 2006 nearly 55 percent above the number for which the department attempts to manage. While white-tailed deer numbers were at least 25 percent above that number in 2007. As a result, game managers increased license availability to reduce deer numbers. As these populations were being reduced through increased hunting, severe weather conditions combined with other factors caused deer numbers to decline precipitously.

Game and Fish Department biologists responded to the decline by reducing license numbers during the season setting process last spring and by converting most doe/fawn license to a type 8, white-tailed-deer-only license. The only remaining doe/fawn licenses (about 100) are valid in hunt areas 1, 2, and 3 on private land, for white-tailed deer only. Hunters need to check the regulations and be sure they follow all the limitations placed on doe/fawn tags and general license hunting. Hunters are reminded that deer hunt areas 4, 5, and 6 close Nov. 20, and deer hunt areas 1, 2, and 3 close Nov. 24.

"The bottom line is a number of factors have led to a drop in deer numbers in the Black Hills," Sandrini said.

Based on the low number of yearling deer observed in these populations the past couple of years, it could take several years of conservative hunting seasons to help the numbers recover.

Weather and other natural processes such as food availability will play a role. "At least two years of good reproduction and fawn survival are needed to jump start these populations," Sandrini noted.

Hunters should expect to see white-tailed deer buck:doe ratios similar to the past couple of years, while buck:doe ratios for mule deer will be lower. However, biologists do not classify mule deer until after the hunting season and a clearer picture of the mule deer population will be available at that time.

Because deer number are lower, hunting whitetails on public land may be more challenging than it has been the past couple of years, while private lands with less hunting pressure should see hunting conditions similar to last year.

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