PINEDALIC — It’s that time of year when Wyoming’s abundant big game herds move on, transitioning to their lower elevation wintering grounds where there’s less snow. It brings them closer to people and forces them to cross a number of obstacles such as roads, fences, etc., which are part of human development. There are a number of things we can do to make the winter months less stressful and help them survive the toughest time of year.
As motorists, we can plan ahead so that we can drive more slowly and be more aware of animals along our roads. Research has shown that wildlife-vehicle collisions occur at a higher rate during winter months and that slowing down to even just five miles per hour can significantly increase a driver’s reaction time. to avoid a collision. This is especially important at dawn and dusk, when animals are more active and harder to see. Obviously, nobody wins in a collision between a wild animal and a vehicle. Generally, the animal dies and motorists can also be injured. At a minimum, the vehicle owner will have a hefty bill for vehicle repairs.
As landowners, we can help big game move around the landscape more freely by leaving fence gates open whenever possible. This can be particularly important with barriers along roads to allow animals to move out of the right-of-way. It can also help reduce damage to fences and prevent animals from becoming entangled and dying. Many landowners have modified their fences to make them more wildlife-friendly by replacing the bottom wire with a smooth wire and lowering the top wire or adding a post at the top. There are often funding programs, and sometimes volunteers, available to help landowners make these changes.
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As mule deer and other big game animals make their annual migration to wintering grounds, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reminds citizens to watch for poachers or suspicious activity and report any illegal activity immediately. Mule deer from the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds winter in the Pinedale/Big Piney/LaBarge area. Although trophy mule deer can be difficult to find in the vast backcountry during hunting seasons, they are more visible and vulnerable as they transition to wintering grounds.
“We end our hunting seasons when we do to protect these animals during the winter months when they are most vulnerable,” said John Lund, regional game and fish supervisor. “These deer face many challenges, and the blatant illegal shooting is particularly concerning.”
Game wardens continue to focus their attention on these mule deer wintering areas, but they still need help. “We don’t have the staff to be everywhere, all the time, so we rely on public reports,” Lund said. “There are quite a few people who monitor deer and their reports of suspicious activity can be extremely helpful. Whether you are a hunter or just a wildlife enthusiast, the illegal shooting of these animals should not be tolerated by anyone.
To report a wildlife crime, please call the Stop Braconing Hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP or file a report on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward if a conviction is issued.
In addition, the seasonal winter closure for antler and shed horn hunting begins Jan. 1 for many sections of public lands, state lands, and Wyoming Game and Fish Commission Wildlife Habitat Management Areas in all of Wyoming. Closures help protect overwintering big game by limiting stress so they can better survive the harsh winter months. For more information on the lost antlers and horns collection, visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website.