Elk numbers in Wyoming jumped to 99,867 animals for the census following the 2006 hunt, putting the population approximately 17 percent more than Game and Fish Commission objectives.
The state has a goal of 83,169 animals. The number of animals counted during the annual winter census included information from 28 of the state’s 35 herds. Uncounted animals come from small fringe herds, like the Targhee Herd on the west slope of the Tetons, that are difficult to count.
Eight of the 35 herds are within 10 percent of the state population goals, one falls short of the objective by more than 10 percent and 19 beat the objective by more than 10 percent.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said hunters killed 21,685 elk last hunting season, an increase of more than 300 compared with the average from 2001 to 2005. The goal for 2007 is to kill 22,987 elk, according to department reports presented to the commission at its season-setting meeting April 24-25 in Casper.
The state saw 56,568 hunters last season, up from a five-year average of 53,783 but below the 58,868 anticipated this fall.
Hunter success was 38.3 percent in 2006, slightly less than the five-year average of 39.7 percent and less than the goal of 39 percent for the coming fall.
It took the average hunter 16.7 days to kill an elk in 2006, down from the five-year average of 18.7. In 2007, the agency expects that number to be 16.9 days.
More animals will mean ample hunting opportunities this fall. The Game and Fish Commission made minor modifications to elk seasons around Jackson Hole, where numbers in the Jackson Herd are near objective.
The commission also increased the number of licenses to be issued for antlerless elk in the Fall Creek Herd, which lives at the southern end of Jackson Hole, reflecting an inability to bring that herd in line with objectives.
The Jackson Herd – which includes elk that winter on the National Elk Refuge, on state feed grounds in the Gros Ventre River drainage and in Moran and Spread Creek – had 12,904 members in the latest census, almost 2,000 more than the 11,029 objective. The calf/cow ratio was 25 per 100, the goal agency officials have cited for a sustaining population.
The Fall Creek Herd was well over the state’s objective of 4,400 animals, having a population of 5,531, according to the last count. The commission agreed to increase the number of “Type 6” cow/calf licenses in the area from 200 to 400 this year.
All of the four herds that department officials have complained were being harmed by wolves were above objective, according to agency counts. Those are the Clark’s Fork, Cody, Gooseberry and Upper Green River herds.
Officials said this spring wolves were responsible for a low cow-calf ratio in those areas.
Most recent surveys show 5,017 elk in the Clark’s Fork Herd, well over the objective of 3,000. Calf/cow ratio was at 23.
The Cody Herd was at 6,083 elk, above the objective of 5,600. There were 20 calves per 100 cows.
At the Goosberry Herd, where hunter success was up to 57 percent last year with the average hunt lasting only 11 days, elk numbered 3,306, compared with the objective of 2,700. The herd occupies territory west of Meeteetse and saw a calf/cow ratio of only 15.
The Upper Green River Herd numbered 2,559, just more than the objective of 2,500. There were 28 calves per 100 cows.
This story first appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide on May 16, 2007