Doe Hunts Needed Even When Herds Are Down
Just because many of Wyoming's deer and antelope populations are below objectives, doesn't mean the habitat can support more animals.

Big-game seasons are set for this year, and many hunters are wondering why the Wyoming Game & Fish Department is issuing either-sex and doe/fawn licenses during a drought. The answer is the same as when they are available during wet years: to keep the population from exceeding carrying capacity, the maximum number of animals an area can sustain.

"These tags are an additional tool we can use to maintain populations at levels the habitat conditions can tolerate," said Stan Harter, Casper District wildlife biologist. "With the current drought, most of our habitat can't support healthy herds at, or near, their population objectives."

Exceeding carrying capacity, even in wet years, increases winter mortality, reduces fawn production, and damages a range's ability to support robust wildlife populations in the future. To prevent this from occurring, hunters must take does in some areas. Generally, bucks have no influence on a herd's ability to grow.

License numbers are not solely based on habitat quality. G&F biologists must also factor in a unit's social carrying capacity. This term refers to the number of animals that people will tolerate. For instance, irrigated alfalfa fields can support a lot of deer. But to the ranchers who own those fields, even a few deer might be too many when they are trying to get their own animals through a drought.

Thus the size of our deer and antelope herds must be balanced with the long-term health of their habitat and the needs of the people who live with them. This often means killing does, regardless of the weather.

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