Wintering in Wyoming can be hard to do
Wyoming, like much of the west, is experiencing a hard winter with lots of snow. We are a large state and as you would expect, the snow pack varies from area to area. Along with other states in our region, Wyoming has been experiencing a prolonged drought. Cattle ranchers have a saying; “It takes a hard winter to break a drought.” Because Wyoming receives minimal summer rains, we rely on the yearly snow fall to provide some deep soil moisture. Spring and summer rains just don’t provide enough precipitation to recharge our creeks and streams.
Wildlife populations have had to deal with hard winters for eons. The Pronghorn Antelope are the species most susceptible to deprivation in a hard winter. However, Mother Nature did provide this prairie speedster some help so that they can survive weather extremes. Antelope have hollow hair which provides remarkable insulation and protection from extreme cold. Their hair color makes them hard to see, particularly when there is snow on the ground serving as excellent protection from predators. During years when we have had this much snow, there is always concern for how much feed Antelope can access without burning more calories than they are taking in. Sagebrush becomes a critical source of intake. Sage is much taller than the prairie grasses and pokes up through deep snow. It is highly palatable to Pronghorn and a great source of nutrients for them and their horn growth.
There is one constant we have found to be true of hard winters like this one. It’s the young ones that tend to suffer and many of them will die. The year or two following a winter kill still provides plenty of mature bucks to hunt. It seems to be the third year after a winter die off when the landscape is short on mature bucks as we will be missing an age class of animals.
Fortunately, Pronghorn Antelope can rebuild a population quickly. In the spring it is not uncommon to see several sets of twins and even triplets to be born.
We shall see what the rest of winter throws at us in regards to snow and temperatures. So far the herds are doing well and the animals still look in decent shape. Last fall SNS Outfitter guides commented that the bucks we took had lots of body fat so we are hopeful they were ready for a hard winter. We take reassurance that these snow storms are providing much needed moisture, but admittedly, we are just as ready for spring as the Antelope likely are!