Bull Elk on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Elk are plentiful in Wyoming as the state’s famed elk hunting season gets underway, according to Game and Fish Department estimates. The agency early this year estimated populations to be 29% above objective for those herds it counts, according to WyoFile calculations from agency data. 

The agency expects hunters will kill 25,955 wapiti this season. Officials anticipate 62,155 hunters will have a 41.8% chance of bagging an animal, according to a population summary presented to the Wyoming Game and Fish commission earlier this year (see below).

All told, the agency estimated 110,300 elk live in the state following the 2018 hunting season. Since then, herds have raised another generation of wapiti.

Game and Fish estimates 102,300 reside in herds for which there are population estimates. Another 8,000 or so elk live in seven herds that are managed on a landowner/hunter-satisfaction basis for which numbers are not strictly counted. Game and Fish manages them through surveys of property owners and hunters who have access to them.

Among the censused group, the population early this year was 29% above the agency’s objective of 79,125, according to WyoFile calculations made from Game and Fish data.

Elk “seem to be doing really well,” said Doug Brimeyer, deputy chief of wildlife, “particularly in the eastern part of the state.” Access there, however, may be difficult due to private land.

62,155 hunters

Game and Fish expects that 62,155 hunters will spend a total of 450,820 recreation days in the field hunting elk this season, according to the population summary. For every animal killed, hunters — successful and unsuccessful — will spend 17.4 days.

Game and Fish counts 16 herds at objective — a category that includes any herd unit within 20% of its specific population goal. That’s 46% of the herds for which the agency maintains population estimates.

Fourteen herd units are above objective according to the summary. Only 4 units, or 11%, are below objective, the agency summary reads.

In the Cody and Jackson areas, backcountry elk struggle with raising young, Brimeyer said. Also, elk move in response to higher numbers of predators, “a real thing” that’s also being reported in the Lander area, he said.

In southern Grand Teton National Park and near residential and agricultural areas close to Jackson, resident elk have about double the calf recruitment as the long-distance migratory elk from backcountry areas, agency officials wrote in a summary.

All herd units around Lander are near their objective and doing well.

Around Cody only one herd — the Clarks Fork — is below management objective. Calf-cow ratios are lower on the west side of the Bighorn Basin than they are on the east, according to a hunting forecast presented at this spring’s commission meeting (see below).

In the Casper area numbers are at or above objectives and the season will be less restrictive for hunters. The Green River region south of Pinedale will generally see liberal “any elk” seasons that favor hunters, followed by lengthy general license “antlerless” seasons, Game and Fish wrote.

Most elk populations in the Laramie area are generally above management objectives but public access challenges hinder the department’s ability to curtail herd growth through hunting.

 Around Pinedale a several-year trend of liberal hunting seasons will continue. Near Sheridan, hunters who have access to or across private land can anticipate high success ratios.

CWD a growing worry

Hunters should be aware of regulations regarding the transportation of animal parts due to fear of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease. There is no sure-fire way to tell from seeing an animal whether it is infected with the fatal disease.

Game and Fish has put together a map of infected hunt areas drawn according to species.

Hunters can get their elk tested for CWD before they consume any meat, but the process requires some knowledge and skill. Game and Fish has posted a video showing how a hunter can extract elk lymph nodes that can be sent to Game and Fish regional offices for testing.

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The nodes can be placed in a simple Ziplock bag for delivery, Brimeyer said. The state veterinarian’s lab also will test lymph nodes for $30.

Hunters can expect to see results in about three weeks. Meantime, they can field dress their game animal, quarter it and freeze the quarters, Brimeyer said.

Elk Statewide Population Summary (Text)

Elk Season Forecast (1) (Text)

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. I don’t like getting into these pissing contests generally because they go nowhere. But, it’s a good place for people to vent I suppose. So, I will add my 2 cents worth in the hopes to help steer the narrative toward the facts of the matter.

    To learn what it is supposed to be like, we all need to learn what it was like BEFORE we Europeans came here to better understand what the balance was and should be like. Anti cow? We decimated the buffalo herds across the plains and replaced them with long horns then herfords and wheat. What’s left of the plains needs a large herbivore on it. Anti apex predator? They maintain population numbers more efficiently than we ever will and if you can’t compete with that – stay out of the kitchen.

    These are, of course, my own opinions based on my own observations and research. I am not a biologist nor am I a rancher. I am afraid of loosing what is left of the wild in our state, however. I also fear that some of you will dismiss my comments out of hand when you read where I’m from which is sad, but, I’ve run into that before. So, I feel it necessary to play this card. Make no mistake, I’m fully aware this doesn’t make me right it just helps to verify my position. I’m 65 and have lived in this state for 65 yrs.

  2. Been here since 1974. These young Game and Fish people don’t know what an elk herd looks like. I believe they just keep lowering there objectives so they can meet them. Used to b e thousands of elk here–19,000 in the northern herd to be exact. Don’t think they would know what to do if they ever saw that many. Won’t have to worry won’t ever have that many under this outfits management. They blame the loss of elk on everything but the real deal WOLF. Am an old timer. Will never see the beauty of elk in the hills like we did prior to 1995. I am thankful for the memories.

    1. Nate- you say you’ve been in Cody since 1974. I was born there in 1951. Back in the late 50’s-early 60’s Sunlight Basin filled up in winter with thousands of migratory elk from Yellowstone. And they were in very poor shape. Starving.
      Up in Yellowstone during that time that Northen Herd you extoll was in far worse shape. Gross overpopulation and massive starvation. Do you really think it was desirable to have 19,000 elk in that Northen Herd ? No, it was not. The carrying capacity of that range is closer to 4,000 — when ther ange is in good shape. Those elk had stripped it to the dirt of good forage, and bad vegetation moved in tor eplace it. So ther ange was bad and the elk were way out of balance. The root cause of both was the undeniable fact that YNP managers and the Wyoming Stockgrowers and Game & Fish et al had collectively and ruthlessly wiped out the Apex Predators that preyed on elk and other ungulates back bnefore 1930. It only took 30 yearts for the elk to recklessly multiply beyond the carrying capacity for lack of predation.

      Call my phone number listed in the Cody white pages and give me an e-mail address. I will gladly send you a photo of professional ” hunters ” standing on top of a huge pile of elk carcasses just outside the town of Gardiner inside Yellowstone. For several years running the Park Service culled the wintering herd with rifles to bring the numbers down , then literally bulldozed the elk into mass graves. It was called the Gardiner Firing Line. Ask your oldtimers about it and see if they recall it at all , and will give you an honest account of it.. I’m only 68 years old and I remember it sharply.

      Speaking plainly , the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf to Yellowstone and surrounds was the best thing that could happen to our elk herds,e specially those that spend part of the year in the Park and winter outside of it. Wolves and their colleagues Griizly-Black ebars and Cougars are as necessary to healthy elk and deer herds and new spring grass and summer forage. The hunting community – especially the big game outfitters- have never accepted the base biological fact that the Predator-Prey relationship comes first , before human sport hunting. The North American Wildlife Model all but ignores predators, and for that reason is fatally flawed, even though it contiunues to be used as gospel. Elk do not belong to humans, and are not for us to exploit without consequences.

      Just keep two things in your frontal lobes. Elk are wildlife first , and big game second. Wildlife are natural ; big game are a harvestale commodity, a crop. Wolves-bears- and cougars are also wildlife and must be allowed to fulfill their role on the landscape , before the human gets his shot. You have to accept the difference between managing an animal as wildlife first and big game second. Wyoming Game and Fish is duplicitous about all that.

    2. I would say the REAL culprit is loss of habit, connectivity to habit as well as loss of forage due to the invasive species known as the domestic cow. Getting rid of cows on public lands would increase the elk and bison, but Wyomingites love to blame the wolf. Sad really.

      1. There are only a fraction of cows on the range around here. Almost all of the ranches are gone. Only handful of ranches running on public ground around here. The range looks good. No elk to use it.

  3. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s data would seem to contradict the popular narrative. According to the hunters and ranchers around my village the marauding wolves and rampaging grizzlies have decimated the state’s elk herd. As one old timer told me not long ago, “You hardly see elk anymore because they are afraid to poke their noses out of the trees because of the wolves.” Really?
    Darn those facts!