Against ‘Astronomical Odds,’ Aladdin Man Hunts All Four Of Wyoming’s Legal ‘Big 5’

Wyomings system for drawing allowed Joe Feeley of Aladdin to draw tags for all the Big 5 trophy game species currently legal to hunt. Even so, he favors a bill that would reform the tag draw system because it would give young hunters better odds.

Mark Heinz

January 21, 20234 min read

Big 4 hunter Joe Feeley 1 20 23

Joe Feeley of Aladdin had an exceptional year hunting in 2012.

He’d drawn tags for both Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats in the remote and rugged Sunlight Basin/Crandall Creek region of northwest Wyoming. 

Drawing even one of those tags can be a lifetime quest for many hunters. To pull them both in a single season meant beating “astronomical odds,” Feeley told Cowboy State Daily. 

During his Wyoming hunting career, Feeley also has drawn moose and bison tags. 

A bill before the Wyoming Legislature aims to reform the drawing system for two of those most coveted trophy species tags, bighorn sheep and moose. 

Senate File  88 would change drawings away from a preference point system – which helped Feeley on his incredible winning draw streak. Instead, there would be what proponents say is be a more equitable “bonus points” system. 

Feeley likes that idea. 

“I’m in favor of that new approach,” he said. “I think it would give younger people a better chance at drawing those tags.”

Joe Feeley of Aladdin counts himself lucky that he’s been able to hunt the four legal Big 5 trophy animals available in Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo, Joe Feeley)

Goat Goes ‘Off A Cliff Face’

In 2012, Feeley hunted archery and rifle seasons for both bighorn sheep and mountain goats. 

And after killing a sizable bighorn ram, he had high hopes for filling his mountain goat tag, even as the season was winding down in late October. 

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be – or at least not in the way he’d hoped. 

“I made a good shot,” he said. “But my goat launched off a cliff face” upon taking the fatal bullet hit. 

Feeley and his guide searched for hours, but they never did find the mountain goat’s carcass. 

One Of A Rare Few

Feeley also drew a moose tag in 2011 and had an unsuccessful, but memorable, archery hunt in the Kemmerer area. 

“I kept holding out for a really big bull, and it didn’t happen,” he said. 

And in 2016, he drew a bison tag and killed a cow bison during a late-season rifle hunt near Jackson. 

That puts him among an incredibly rare few who have gotten to hunt all four of the currently legal “Big 5” trophy game species. The fifth, grizzly bears, cannot be hunted in the Lower 48 states because they remain under federal protection here. 

Close Call For Grizzly Hunt

There have been attempts to open a grizzly hunting season in Wyoming, and Feeley said he’d be “absolutely” interested in completing his Wyoming Big 5 quest if hunting the bears is legalized. 

In 2018, a Wyoming grizzly hunt seemingly had the all-clear, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department held a hunting tag drawing. 

Feeley entered the drawing but didn’t get a tag. Shortly before the grizzly season opened, it was shut down by a federal injunction. 

Possible Draw Reform

To draw his four of the five trophy game tags, Feeley started accumulating “preference points” – one per species per year – in 1995. That’s the year the preference points system began. 

The idea was, the more preference points a hunter accumulated, the better the odds of drawing tags would be. So, it was in the 2010s that Feeley’s patience started to pay off. 

During testimony regarding Senate File 88, Game and Fish officials said rebooting the bighorn and moose drawings with a bonus point system might give hunters better odds at drawing tags sooner. 

Bonus points would still accumulate at the rate of one per year, but they would compound in value during tag drawings. 

Feeley said he agrees that could speed up the process for some hunters so they wouldn’t have to spend a decade or more piling up preference points the way he did.

He praised Game and Fish for wanting to reform the tag drawings. 

“I always put kudos in for our Game and Fish people for everything they do,” he said.  

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter