FISH & GAME FORECAST CENTER – Hunting – January 2020

HOTSPOTS: Saltwater – January 2020
December 24, 2019
COASTAL FORECAST: Lower Coast – January 2020
December 24, 2019

Mule Deer Foundation Wants Wolves Delisted

IT IS THE POSITION of the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) that the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains is delisted as soon as possible and their management is transferred to the State Fish and Wildlife agencies.

A statement from MDF said, “We believe that the current population levels which greatly exceed the original recovery objectives and the widespread distribution of wolves are factors necessitating such an immediate action. Further, we believe that such an action would provide managers with the flexibility necessary for managing wolves. We believe that the states can more effectively balance the management of wolves with the management of other resident wildlife such as mule deer.

“State wildlife agencies should classify the wolf as a “game species.” States would be able to set season and bag limits on wolves which would be part of an overall strategy of balancing big game populations and wolf populations.

MDF calls for reclassifying gray wolves as a game species, to help balance the management of mule deer.
(Photo: Chester Moore)

“MDF supports the current approved Gray Wolf Management Plans in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. We believe that these plans have adequate safeguards to ensure the long term sustainability of the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf population in balance with the big game populations. We believe that this strategy will also maintain the genetic diversity of the wolf population which has been an issue raised in the delisting process.

“The introduction and subsequent management of wolves is a hotly debated issue across the western United States. Habitat for the northern gray wolf includes Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, the eastern third of Oregon and Washington, and north-central Utah. The northern gray wolf was formally listed as a federal endangered species in 1974 in accordance with provisions contained within the Endangered Species Act.

“Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park 1995 and in central Idaho in 1996. These areas were selected due to their relatively high elk populations and remote public lands that include classified Wilderness and backcountry thus minimizing potential impacts with existing management activities. Wolves dispersed naturally from Canada and became established in Montana sometime in the 1980’s thus precluding the need for a wolf transplant in that area. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that recovery of the northern gray wolf was dependent on the establishment of 30 or more well distributed breeding pairs and 300 individual wolves in western Montana, central Idaho and in Wyoming for three successive years.”

(Editor’s note: Wolves have exceeded by at least five fold in the last five years)

A gray wolf. (Photo: Canstock)

The overall mission of the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) is to ensure the conservation of mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat. Presently, mule deer populations across the western states are well below their objectives; in fact they are the only western big game species with a declining population trend.

Several years ago the Directors of the western state fish and wildlife agencies organized a committee of professional wildlife biologists to study the reasons for this decline. They determined that there were many contributing factors including predation.

While the MDF recognizes the positive role of predators in naturally functioning ecosystems, we are concerned about the impact that an additional predator could have on the ability of mule deer populations to recover. Several studies on wolf-big game relationships have been where the principal prey is elk, except in western Montana where whitetail deer are important to wolves. In places like southern and central Idaho, southwestern Wyoming, parts of Montana and Utah, mule deer are more prevalent and could be quite vulnerable to wolves.



THROUGH THE LENS of a camera and the eyes of a sportsman, Gerald Burleigh has seen many amazing things in his career.

The longtime photographer and TF&G reader grew up as a hunter and found a love for photography at a young age.

“As we grow older, we start to think back to our youth. I grew up on an egg farm on 10 acres of land in Orange County Texas. There was no one close to play with so I used to entertain myself with hunting and fishing in nearby woods and bayous. Someone gave me a 35-pound Bear recurve. Back then it was just a stick and string. I learned to shoot instinctively with bow and wooden arrow. Living on an egg farm meant any varmints posed a loss of egg production. Pop would pay in bullets for every rat, opossum and other varmints.

“I like the bow because it was quiet around the caged chickens. Learning to hunt also put food on the table which helped out on the farm. That started my taste for bowhunting. I found out years later we were poor. But as a kid I had a full stomach, clothes on my back and a loving family.”

Burleigh, with his crossbow trophy.
(Photo: Gerald Burleigh)

Burleigh got to put those skills to use when he picked up a crossbow and headed to Manitoba to realize his lifelong dream of hunting black bears.

“I’m like a kid at Christmas. I couldn’t wait to get up there and hunt bears in the great woods of Canada,” he said.

The thick forests in the region make perfect bear habitat.

“I took a 241-pound bear with the TenPoint Stealth SS. It had a 19 1/16-inch skull and the most beautiful coat you have ever seen. I could not have been happier with the hunt or the performance of the crossbow,” he said.

Burleigh pursued his bear-hunting dream with Scott Smith of Canadian Wilderness Outfitters ( and said the whole experience was top-notch.

“Scott is a straight-up honest guy with lots of bears on his properties and a strong work ethic. If you hunt with crossbow, bow or gun, he is the man to see. I could not have been happier with my experience,” Burleigh said.

Burleigh said his journey from hunting with longbows and recurves to crossbows has been an exciting one.

“It’s nice to know that no matter what your age or situation there is an effective hunting device for you. I’m now more motivated to hunt than I have been in years and taking a bear with that crossbow is a big part of that.”


Hunting Osceola Turkey

THE SWAMPS ALONG the edge of Florida’s Myakka River in the heart of Osceola turkey country are teeming with life.

From alligators to Seminole whitetail to mottled ducks, the wildlands just outside of Sarasota are rich in biodiversity.

The short, thin pines reminded me a bit of the habitat on the Upper Coast of Texas where I live, but it looked uniquely Florida. With scattered palms and thick palmetto, this place looked subtropical.

It would have been easy to get lost in the majesty of it all, but I was on a mission.

That mission was to get a photo of an Osceola turkey.

Osceola turkey
(Photo: Chester Moore)

While Florida has plenty of forested lands, it also has many highways, subdivisions, businesses, and tourist destinations.

That made it feel a little off during the research process and the epic travel from Orange, TX.

Things changed once I found myself along the banks of the Myakka River. It felt wild although I was only three miles away from a subdivision.

It was an interesting dichotomy-tourist Florida vs. turkey Florida.

I had done many studies to end up in this location to find Osceola turkeys.

And since I am doing this all on my coin, I was low on time. I had from sunrise to noon to make something happen.

One particular area looked seriously promising, and within 30 minutes there I spied my prize and captured some great photos of an Osceola hen and her brood.

After the trip I consulted David Nicholson, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Florida to learn more about the status of the Oceola turkey.

I inquired specifically about population trends.

“Unfortunately, there is not a reliable/accurate way to estimate wild

turkey populations at a large-scale and therefore the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) does not currently estimate wild turkey population size in Florida,” he said.

“Instead, the FWC utilizes spring turkey season harvest estimates from an annual mail survey as an index to population size.  These harvest estimates are either on a statewide scale or a regional scale, so, therefore, do not necessarily track harvest rates of the Eastern and Osceola subspecies separately in Florida.

Nicholson said that given this data is derived from mail surveys, and the harvest estimates are currently only available through the spring of 2018 and information is not yet available for 2019.

“In examining the spring turkey harvest estimates provided by FWC, it appears populations in Florida have been stable to slightly declining over the last decade depending on the region.”

Harvest data suggests the slight declines were observed more in Northern Florida coinciding more with the Eastern subspecies and harvest rates since that time have been more stable in Central & South Florida where the Osceola subspecies occurs.

The Grand Slam is a turkey hunting quest to bag a Merriam’s, Rio Grande, Eastern and Osceola.

Out of those the Osceola is the hardest to get simply because it lives in the smallest range, only in the southern half of Florida.

If you really like to turkey hunt, consider the Grand Slam and put your focus on an Osceola.

There is something about the swamps of Florida and the sight of seeing these great birds that drew me in and has me on the search for an Osceola (but this time with a shotgun) in 2020.




LOCATED JUST northeast of Denver, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is a 15,000-acre expanse of prairie, wetland and woodland habitat. The land has a unique story – it has survived the test of time and transitioned from farmland, to war-time manufacturing site, to wildlife sanctuary. It may be one of the finest conservation

Prior to becoming a Refuge, Plains Indians followed large herds of bison and lived off the land. Later, as settlers moved west to start a new life, they began growing crops and grazing cattle. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army transformed the area into a chemical weapons manufacturing facility called the Rocky Mountain Arsenal to support World War II. As production declined at war’s end, a portion of the idle facilities were leased to Shell Chemical Co. for the production of agricultural chemicals. The Arsenal was later used for Cold-War weapons production and demilitarization.

In the early 1980s, the Army and Shell began an extensive environmental cleanup under the oversight of federal, state, and local regulatory agencies. Soon after, a roost of bald eagles was discovered prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become involved in managing wildlife at the site.

The discovery also led Congress to designate the site as a national wildlife refuge in 1992. In the mid-1990s, a unique public-private partnership formed among the U.S. Army, Shell Oil Co., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As cleanup progressed and projects met federal and state regulatory requirements, the Army transferred land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish and expand the Refuge.

It is an incredible place to see mule deer and whitetail side by side, bison, prairie dogs and possibly black-footed ferrets that have been released into the prairie dog towns of the refuge.


New Mexico’s Public Land Free-Ranging Ibex

DID YOU KNOW one of the most prized game animals of Asia is huntable on free-range on public land in New Mexico?

In 1970, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) imported 15 Persian ibex from Iran and released them in the Florida Mountains near Deming, New Mexico. Soon after, an additional 27 were released, and a sustainable population was established. By 1974, the first Persian ibex hunt in the Florida Mountains was offered to the public, and one to two hunts have been conducted every year since.

(Photo: Canstock)

“We managed them to stay isolated in those mountains and to give hunters a unique opportunity at a challenging game animal,” said Nicole Tatman, Big Game Program Manger, NMDGF.

The Bureau of Land Management has established an optimum, supportable number of 400 animals for this localized population. To achieve and maintain this target, NMDGF annually conducts aerial surveys, determines populations and offers public and management hunts accordingly.

New Mexico’s big game drawing is subject to a quota system. In accordance with state law, the draw attempts to distribute a minimum of 84 percent of the licenses for each hunt to New Mexico residents, 10 percent to residents or nonresidents who’ve contracted with an outfitter and six percent to nonresidents who have not contracted with an outfitter (this does not prohibit nonresidents in the 6 percent pool from contracting with an outfitter if they are lucky in the draw).

“As you can imagine there are many applicants but people do get drawn and have successful hunts every year. We encourage anyone with an interest in hunting ibex in New Mexico to apply,” Tatman said.

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