Winterkill Impacts 2023 Draws in Western States

Game Commissions Respond to Challenging Winter Conditions

The 2022-2023 winter season has been a rough one for wildlife, and now game commissions are reacting to winter’s impact on game herds, including adjusting available draws for big game. We’ve compiled the most recent press releases, reports, and news articles so you can learn more about the pending adjustments that may affect your fall hunts. Some of the worst predictions we’ve seen include a northern Utah district that may lose 70% of its adult deer and 90% of its fawns. Read through them carefully to understand what’s at stake. 

In short, your game plan for drawing a tag this year, or the GMU you hunt in every year, may look very different given the harsh winter the West just had. Curious how harsh it’s been? Check out the SNOWTEL report that shows the percentage of snow water equivalent compared to the average.

Core States Affected: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

Wildlife Winterkill impacts for UT, CO, WY, MT, OR, and ID

Colorado Wildlife Winterkill

Snowpack in northwestern Colorado is 143 percent higher than the 30-year average. In one part of Colorado known for some of the largest elk herds in the nation, severe winter conditions have resulted in high elk calf mortality and above-average cow mortality. 

For the 2023 big game season, state wildlife biologists are recommending significant reductions in the number of licenses for elk and deer in the Bears Ears and White River DAUs. Some reports indicate as much as a 40% reduction in hunter licenses in some areas by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

Check out the latest:

Buck and doe in a winter field

Utah Wildlife Winterkill

For the fifth year in a row the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending a decrease in the number of general-season deer hunting permits. In February there was a shed-hunting ban put in place until May 2023 to reduce pressure on wintering herds. And in the Morgan-South Rich unit, there’s a projected loss of 70% of adult deer and 90% of fawns.

Check out the latest:

Multiple deer moving across snow covered land

Wyoming Wildlife Winterkill

Wyoming’s wildlife, from its mule deer to sage grouse, are being hit hard. In one tracked herd of mule deer that were GPS-collared there has been a 35% mortality rate (when the average is 20%), and already Wyoming Game and Fish announced that hunting quotas for some wildlife areas have been reduced. Wyoming has the largest greater sage grouse population remaining in the U.S., but their fate coming out of this year is unknown. Some are estimating that between 50-80% of pronghorn in some parts of the state will not survive. 

Check out the latest:

a couple of pronghorn in the middle of a snow covered field.

Idaho Wildlife Winterkill

Idaho officials have implemented a winter feeding program for deer and elk in 52 locations across the state to help them get through the winter. Several license and regulation changes were made in response to winter conditions.

Check out the latest:

A deer heard moving across a snow covered field.

Oregon Wildlife Winterkill

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been feeding elk in the Elkhorn Wildlife Area to help them survive winter. 

Check out the latest:

What To Do

Study the information above and research your application plans. Are the districts and GMUs you’re planning to hunt affected? With tools like Toprut and Huntin’ Fool available for Elite members you can better understand draw and quota trends. With this information layered with the changes happening in 2023 you’ll be able to get as far ahead as possible.

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Ryan Newhouse

Though raised hunting squirrels and whitetails in the South, Ryan Newhouse has spent nearly the last two decades chasing Western big game in Montana and writing professionally about his travels and the craft beers he’s consumed along the way. He loves camping, fishing, boating, and teaching his two kids the art of building campfires and playing the ukulele. And yes, he’s related to Sewell Newhouse, inventor of the steel animal traps.