Jan 25, 1:30 PM EST

Bison hunt in Jackson Hole sets record


JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) -- Hunters have killed about 300 bison in the Jackson Hole region, eclipsing the all-time high and helping reduce the number of wild bison to levels closer to where wildlife managers prefer.

While there were a few reports pending from a handful of hunters, Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials said that 299 hunters had successfully downed a bison during the state's five-month season for hunting the Jackson Bison Herd. The season ended Jan. 18.

In total 190 cows and calves were downed by hunters and another 109 bulls were killed.

Success rates were also well above average, with 98 percent of bull hunters filling their tag. Some 92 percent of cow-calf hunters harvested an animal, though the success rate would have been 84 percent if 16 mistakenly killed bulls - mostly hard-to-discern yearling males - were removed from the equation.

"It's been an exceptional year for hunting bison, for whatever reason," Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke told the Jackson Hole News & Guide ( http://bit.ly/1Cw066h ).

The previous record harvest for the Jackson Bison Herd was set in 2007, when 267 animals were killed.

"Over the past seven years we were only over 200 three times," Gocke said of the harvest. "Given this year's harvest, it's hard not to think that it's going to be an aberration."

The average harvest has been 220 since 2007.

The hunting season was extended this year until Jan. 18, but the extra week was not especially productive for bison hunters.

Aly Courtemanch, the Game and Fish biologist who manages the herd, said the herd's seasonal movements overall worked in favor of hunters.

Bison hunting is permitted on the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest but prohibited in Grand Teton National Park except on privately owned inholdings.

"The last few years they're on the refuge for opening day in August, and then usually they leave and mostly stay within the park," Courtemanch said. "They really haven't been coming back until late December - and then they move back and forth.

"This year, for whatever reason, they came down in early December and stayed," she said. "They were just in open hunt areas and more accessible to hunters."

Hunter harvest was steady and slow, Gocke said, which might have decreased pressure at any one time enough to make the herds stick to the refuge.

Factoring in calves that will be birthed, the year's hunt is expected to dent the Jackson Bison Herd by roughly 100 animals. It last numbered 825.

Wildlife managers want a herd population of 500 and are trying to do so steadily between now and 2022.

In coming months Game and Fish will assess the herd population, get public comment and set the bison-hunting season regulations for next year.

Courtemanch said she doesn't anticipate much change, except for a small reduction in the number of bull tags.

"We need to keep harvest pretty high," she said, "because we want to keep that population hopefully on the downward trend."

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Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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