By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Chuck Brown of Wheatland recalls hitting a mule deer a few years back while driving through Sybille Canyon with his wife, Kate. It was the third animal the couple has struck in more than a half-century of driving to and from University of Wyoming Cowboys football games in Laramie — but considering the high number of miles and quantity of road-crossing wildlife in the canyon, three is a fortunate number.
Not all canyon-driving fans may be so lucky, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has issued a warning for the route.
“That last one just bounced off the side off the vehicle and tumbled down into the burrow pit,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily. “We don’t know what its ultimate fate was, but the last we saw of it, it was up and moving, bounding away.”
The Browns are diehard Pokes fans, and frequently take Highway 34 back and forth between Wheatland and Laramie. It’s a popular route for fans coming from Wheatland, Douglas, Casper and other points to the north of Laramie. During Cowboys football games, UW’s War Memorial Stadium frequently boasts a larger population than many of Wyoming’s towns.
“We’ve traveled that Canyon (Sybille) for more than 50 years” and keeping an eye out for critters bolting into the roadway has become a full-time job for Kate during, Chuck Brown said.
“I’m lucky to have the woman with the sharpest eyes in the world sitting next to me,” he said. “It’s usually the worst when driving back home from games in the dark. Kate just looks and looks, and I concentrate on the driving.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently sent out a notice urging Pokes fans to watch out for a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep that like to hang out near the highway in the canyon. The sheep are drawn there by rich forage as football and hunting seasons bring droves of vehicles through Sybille Canyon.
Statewide, drivers hit wild animals an average of roughly 6,000 times per year, according to the Game and Fish. The agency, along with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, private donors and others have millions of dollars invested in pending or ongoing projects to mitigate roadkill. Those include such things as improved roadside fences and underpasses or overpasses which animals can use to safely cross roadways. No underpasses or overpasses are planned in Sybille Canyon.
Chuck Brown said he and his wife are quite familiar with the sheep that the Game and Fish warned about. The Bighorns seem to favor a particular corner just before Morton Pass at the west end of the canyon, he said. They haven’t been much of a problem for the Browns.
“We’ve had to slow down, or even stop for the Bighorns a few times,” he said. “But it’s really the deer that we have to watch out for.”
Besides the incident with the deer bouncing off the side of their rig, they’ve been in two previous collisions that caused major damage to their vehicles and killed the deer.
And exiting the east end of the canyon on the way home doesn’t always mean they’re home free, Chuck Brown said.
“Especially as the crops mature, there will be a lot of game along the highway out on Wheatland flats,” he said. “Again, it’s mostly deer, but we do occasionally see antelope and we’ve even seen a few elk out there over the years.”