With a human population of around a half million, Wyoming is a big-game hunter's Utopia. Superb elk hunting exists across most of the state, though the legendary big-bull areas adjacent to Yellowstone have suffered badly from wolf inundation. Mule deer numbers are down considerably, reducing the state's potential as a trophy destination until numbers of mature bucks rebound, but the whitetail population in most parts of the state are flourishing. And, of course, Wyoming remains the nation's most popular destination for pronghorn antelope.
Numbers across the Cowboy State are trending up except in the wolf-inhabited areas around Yellowstone. In fact, 2012 saw the highest harvest number on record, with hunter success an incredible 45 percent. Hopefully, 2013 will follow suit.
Due to long-term drought and the wolves, season duration has been shortened in some areas, particularly in regions north of Cody. Other areas south of Yellowstone are still very good, according to State Wildlife Information Specialist Al Langston. Elk numbers across the southern and southeastern parts of the state are high, and though access can be an issue because much of the units are on private land, once that access is gained, hunting can be excellent.
No OTC permits are given to nonresidents, although there are occasionally leftover tags sold on a first-come, first-served basis after the draw. Be aware, most of them are for private land areas or wilderness, where nonresidents are required to have a guide.
Nonresidents may apply for a premium, limited draw elk tag as a first choice and a general-season tag as a second, with the benefit of drawing a preference point if they don't get their first choice. It's a great way to get to hunt the general season every year or two while building points toward a great trophy unit. If you want to virtually guarantee drawing the general-season tag, pay the extra dollars (almost double) for the 'œspecial' elk tag, which just means you get favoritism for the general-season tag. Mercenary, yes, but hey, it gives you a better chance if you're willing to pay for it.
Wyoming allows hunters holding a rifle tag to purchase an archery license, which offers additional advantages for those with lots of vacation time.
Whitetail populations are burgeoning across the state, and very good hunting can be had on central Wyoming private land if hunters are willing to knock on some doors and pay trespass fees. The best public-land whitetail area is the Black Hills in the northeastern part of the state. There, numbers are down from a couple of bad winters and some disease, but good hunting can still be found.
Mule deer are struggling. The state has suffered badly from winterkill, habitat loss, predation, and the other myriad factors that adversely affect mule deer. As Langston explained, without several consecutive years of good moisture, the bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, and other browse preferred by mule deer can't put on the fresh growth needed to support high recruitment.
That said, the northwest part of the state, just east of Yellowstone, still offers some good trophy hunting, especially if you're willing to fork over the funds and hire an outfitter to take you into the wilderness areas. It's a migration hunt, so having that access to the wilderness can make or break your success. Though nonresidents may obtain tags only through a draw, there are sometimes leftover deer licenses. Predictably, they are not for the better hunting areas.
Fawn production is down due to drought, especially across the legendary Red Desert areas. In response, game managers are giving fewer licenses, which makes the best public-land areas even harder to draw. Hunter success is still running 90 percent, and if you are lucky enough to draw one of those desirable tags, Langston assured me you'd still have a fantastic hunt.
Areas across the southeastern and eastern parts of the state have lots of antelope, and tags are easy to get. Access is not. Most of the land is private, and you'll have to get out and knock on doors and most likely pay a trespass fee to hunt. However, the hunting is good and hunters can often purchase a second buck tag from the leftover pool.
Wyoming is not the trophy destination that New Mexico or Arizona is. However, when a state has as many antelope as Wyoming, it's bound to produce its fair share of record book heads, and lots of happy hunters take home the typical, nice pronghorn that most areas yield.
Langston urges out-of-state hunters wishing to hunt private land to contact Wyoming G&F offices for help. The offices can provide maps and contact info for landowners willing to host hunters.