clouds, rainbow and wide open spaces of Wyoming

Wilderness, Limited Draw, and Bipolar Weather: What you need to know about hunting in Wyoming

Any hunter who dreams of wide-open spaces and herds of plentiful big game will find that their hunting dreams lead to Wyoming. The state is a huge, high plateau broken by many wild, remote mountain ranges. Elk, mule deer, grizzlies, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep inhabit the high country of mountain ranges such as the Wind River and Teton ranges in the west, the Big Horns in the northcentral, and the Snowy Range in the south. The sweeping high plains of Wyoming are covered with cattle and cowboys, and the productive rangeland is shared with impressive herds of pronghorn antelope, deer, and elk. 

Wyoming’s most sought-after game animals are pronghorn, elk, moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. The state also offers hunts for bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison, black bears, mountain lions, wolves, turkeys, and upland birds. Don’t forget, however, that to hunt in Wyoming, you also need a conservation stamp and proof of completing a hunter safety course. Wyoming also requires big-game hunters to wear at least one item of fluorescent orange while hunting. 

bull elk in wyoming

Elk

Wyoming has elk to spare. In fact, according to the state Game and Fish Department, Wyoming’s herd of about 93,000 animals are some 10,000 above the population objective.  Elk are plentiful on public and private lands in both mountains and plains regions. There’s really no bad elk hunting in the state, but the cream of the cream is to be found in the Bighorn Mountains, Wind River Range, Absaroka Range, Wyoming Range, Salt River Range and the Laramie Mountains. In the prime time, which is during the archery season when the elk are in the rut (generally the last half of September), elk hunting in Wyoming is an experience second to none.

The downside is that there’s no such thing as a non-resident OTC elk tag in Wyoming. A landowner preference program does exist, but Wyoming does not allow landowners to transfer their tags.  Everything is done by a draw. The deadline for elk in Wyoming is January 31. If you missed that, your only chance is a leftover tag. But this doesn’t happen very often, and usually leftover tags are not for bull tags, just cows (click here to learn what states do have OTC elk tags). 

Some of the most sought after tags can take as much as 12 years worth of preference points but there is always a chance with the random tags. Wyoming sets aside a certain percentage of tags in a  “random pot” meaning someone with 0 points could potentially draw an area that could take 12 points normally! If you are lucky enough to draw this tag, it would be a good idea to maximise the chances of converting your tag into a trophy, or at least having a good hunting experience, by hiring a reliable outfitter. 

mule deer in wyoming

Deer

When people think of Wyoming, they imagine the wide open spaces of the West – which is correct. But then most hunters associate Wyoming only with the mule deer – which is not. In fact, Wyoming is kind of a “sleeper” state for whitetails. There are some really large quality whitetails that come out of the state each year and with great populations as well! Whitetails are plentiful in the Black Hills region in northeastern Wyoming and in many farming areas and creek bottoms around the state. 

Mule deer are found throughout the state, both on the plains and in the mountains, The South Western part of the state, especially the Greys River area has always been one of the top areas. Another great area in the south-west of Wyoming is Dubois. In the South East LaGrange is held in high esteem. But the whole state has some great trophy quality, they just aren’t as heavily populated as they are in other areas. 

You can have an awesome hunting experience with mule deer during both the archery season and the rifle season. There are not many units that allow you to hunt mule deer in the rut in Wyoming so early rifle season is usually good as well as all of archery season. As for whitetails, it’s best to hunt in November during the rut! 

whitetail deer buck

Unfortunately, like with elk, deer tags for non-residents are limited draw only, and landowners can’t transfer their preference tags either. The upside is that in many areas tags are easy to draw. The deadline for deer and antelope tag draw in Wyoming is May 31. (Read more about draw deadlines in most popular states)

Pronghorn

As we said in one of our previous blogs, the pronghorn is not really an antelope, but rather an “antelo-goat”. But whatever name you give it, Wyoming has more of them than anywhere else on the North American continent – in fact, there are more antelope in the state of Wyoming than there are humans – and success rates for hunters exceed 85 percent. Not a bad spot for antelope hunting. 

Some of the biggest antelope are in the Red Desert area of the state. But the population of antelope and trophy quality are great throughout the state! The archery season, which begins for most of the state on August 15th, is believed to be the best time for pronghorn hunting, as the animals are usually rutting. (Click here for more tips on pronghorn hunting by Ron Spomer).  

a pronghorn buck

At the risk of sounding repetitive, antelope tags in Wyoming for non-residents are limited draw, but the odds are way higher than for deer or elk. Some areas are even 2 buck units where you can get 2 tags for bucks. There are generally quite a few leftover tags available after the draw. But we recommend putting in for the draw and not waiting to see what’s leftover if you can! As already mentioned, the deadline for deer and antelope tag draw in Wyoming is May 31. 

The Impossibles

If you think elk is hard to draw in Wyoming, you haven’t tried applying for bighorn sheep, Shiras moose, or mountain goat. The bighorn is the Monarch of the Mountain in more ways than one. For the lucky few who do draw a tag, Cody Region is the best in the state. Mountain goats are another hard draw mountain game, which is mostly found in Western Wyoming. Their snow-white skins are best around winter, so later in the season is when you want to hunt them.  

The wild populations of bison are a tough luck limited draw too – and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at that. However, there are herds of “estate bison”, a private domestic herd, which doesn’t really differ from the wild population as far as hunting is concerned. Western Wyoming, especially around the Jackson Hole area, is best for  wild buffalo, and the Gillette area for estate bison. If you have the choice, it’s better to schedule the bison hunt for early winter or late fall, as the later in the season the better the hide.  

Predators

The Mountain Lion is the King of Beasts in Wyoming if we limit ourselves with the big game animals for which OTC tags are readily available. This is quite surprising, actually, if you consider that cougar is the world’s fourth largest feline, and offers one of the most exciting pursuits in North America. Wyoming allows running mountain lions with hounds, which is actually the best and most sporting way of taking them (Learn more about hunting cougar with hounds).

mountain lion on a tree

The season is long, but conditions in December-February are usually more favorable. The Bighorn Mountains are for sure the best part of Wyoming to hunt mountain lions, but such areas as Black Hills, Greys River, Cody Region and Casper are not too far behind. In fact, the whole state has great lion hunting as there is plenty of food, such as antelope and deer! 

Wyoming has both grizzly and black bears, but only the black bears are legal to hunt. Both baiting and spot and stalk are legal. The best time for black bear hunting depends on how the Winter was. In the case of a long, late winter the spring season can be tough as the bears need to lose their plug and feed on grass for a while before they really start wanting to hit baits hard. But if you are just trying to slope hunt, this could be okay. In the fall, the bears are starting to try to put on weight for the Winter and can be sporadic. Black Bear populations are numerous across the state and OTC tags are available. 

Wolves are classified as predators in parts of Wyoming, and you don’t even need a tag to hunt one. In the Western counties of the state tags are required, but are readily available over-the-counter. Wolf hunting in Wyoming is usually done by spot-and-stalk; the mating period, that typically falls on January and February, is believed to be the best time. 

Combination Hunts

Some hunters are focused on only one animal, and do not want any diversion, others see no sense in travelling many a mile for just one species. If you’re of the latter group, Wyoming offers numerous species that go together like salt and pepper. Deer (both mule deer and whitetail) and antelope are an obvious choice. This is an easy combo as the seasons usually coincide. Elk and deer are also popular and seasons generally coincide as well, the only damper on this can be draw odds. 

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A great late-season combination is a cow elk and mountain lion hunt. If there are leftover tags available for the unit where the outfitter runs their hounds, this could be a great experience applying two different hunting methods – over hounds and spot-and-stalk – and fling the freezer with quality venison. Although – while few people are aware of it – mountain lions themselves make great table fare (just like in that joke about cats, if you know how to cook them)! 

Last but emphatically not the least, any big game hunt can be diversified with small game hunting. Wyoming is crawling with small game of all descriptions, from turkey to squirrels, and lots of people would actually prefer running pointers after pheasants, chukar, etc., to the pursuit of bigger animals. If you’re dead set on hunting elk, or any other hard-to-draw animal in Wyoming, but haven’t drawn the tag just yet, it’s a highly commendable idea to book a small game hunt, or a hunt for big-game animals for which OTC tag are available, and come to scout, sniff around, and learn something about hunting in Wyoming.

What to Pack? 

In addition to your trusty rifle, muzzleloader, shotgun or bow, here is one size fits all tip for choosing clothes, insect repellants, and other gear: Bring a variety! Wyoming weather is bipolar and can go from Angola to Siberia and then back again in a matter of hours. The mountains tend to make their own weather. You do not want to get caught in the mountains being unprepared with clothing and gear. Binoculars and spotting scope if you have them are a must! A GPS never hurts either.

Two items that out-of-state hunters often forget to pack for their Wyoming hunt are chapstick and sunscreen. This kind of sounds silly, but air and elevation can dry your skin and lips out terribly and on higher elevations you will get sunburned a lot easier! Everybody knows how important good footwear is (while we’re at it, muck boots are not advised for big game hunting). But a surprising number of people overlooks good socks! Last but not the least, pack large quantities of your favorite drink to stay hydrated! Dehydration happens easily and quickly as well and most people don’t bring enough water with them. 

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The Need for an Outfitter

Wyoming has more than 30 million acres of public land, making it a hunter’s paradise. Some of these areas are federally designated wilderness areas, and Wyoming law stipulates that nonresident big game hunters are required to use the services of a professional outfitter or resident guide when hunting in wilderness areas. Most other states and territories that have similar requirements also make sure outfitters can procure OTC tags for their clients, but, as mentioned above, the state operates on a limited quota system, which means there are a set number of licenses for each hunting area, and hunters have to apply for licenses well in advance of the season. As a result, planning ahead is a must if you want to hunt in Wyoming. 

All outfitters must be licensed by the Wyoming Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides. The Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association is a great source of information on guides and outfitters in Wyoming. Another highly useful resource where you can learn about compare hunting guides is the Big Game Logic (see their comparison of Wyoming guides here). For more information on hunting in Wyoming and to apply for a license, contact the Wyoming Game & Fish DepartmentBookYourHunt.com carefully vets outfitters before they can post their hunts on our online marketplace, and you can safely choose from any of the hunts below.

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