Pat Crank recalled three bullets zipping over him and his hunting partner as they were trying to close in on a cow elk during a recent hunting season’s opening day.
The shots came from another hunter on a ridge behind and above them. The bullets killed a bull elk that hunter wanted.
“There was a truck on every hill that day,” Crank said during a meeting of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force on Friday in Casper.
He’s a hunter from Laramie County and a member of the task force. The task force is charged with making recommendations to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. The commission sets Game and Fish policy.
Mob scenes like the one Crank described are the reason why many Wyoming hunters don’t bother going out on opening day, said Brian Nesvik. He’s the Game and Fish director and task force member.
“Opening day used to be a really big deal. Now it’s just not,” he said.
Split Opening Days, Or long Seasons?
The task force discussed whether long hunting seasons or split opening days are the best way to ease overcrowding.
Either can work, said Nesvik and Game and Fish chief game warden Rick King. King joined the meeting via Zoom.
Split opening days have worked well for antelope hunt area 42, a popular spot in the Shirly Basin area. The first opening day there is on Sept. 25, and the other is Oct. 5, he said.
“We split the hunters up, so we don’t put them all out there on the landscape on the same opening day,” he said.
In antelope, deer or elk hunt areas, some hunters – particularly locals – prefer long seasons, Nesvik said. That gives them the option of simply waiting out the first few days or weeks and letting the crowds dwindle.
A Need To Be Heard
The task force discussed whether policy would be best decided within the various regions of Wyoming or at the statewide level.
Input from Game and Fish biologists and hunters at the regional level usually works best, Nesvik said. In some places, herd management needs and hunters’ sentiments lean more toward splitting opening days. In others, longer hunting seasons are the answer.
Task for member Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said there was some frustration about mule deer hunting policy a few years ago in his area of Wyoming.
“Hunter crowding was the one issue we were hearing about over and over again,” he said.
The local consensus seemed to lean toward a split season as the answer, but it seemed as if that recommendation never gained traction with state-level policymakers.
Nesvik said “we (Game and Fish) got the memo” about such complaints and is trying to improve communication.
Hunters need to do their part by showing up to local or regional season-setting meetings, said task force member Pete Dube of Johnson County. He’s also on the Game and Fish Commission.
“The (Game and Fish) department works their butts off to have season-setting meetings all over the state. I think hunters are shooting themselves in the foot by not showing up to those meetings,” he said. “Hunters need to show up and tell the department what they want. If they don’t, things are going to stay the same.”