Allowing hunters with night vision scopes to kill coyotes and other predators on public land would bring Wyoming policy in line with other states that allow the practice, said proponents of a bill supporting the rule.
However, detractors said opening public lands to night-vision hunting could raise safety concerns and might not have the intended effect on the coyote population anyway.
There were passionate views on both sides during testimony regarding Wyoming House Bill 104 before the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on Thursday.
The committee took no action on the bill, and instead decided to hold it over until Tuesday.
Lighting Up The Night
At issue is whether predator hunters should be able to use spotlights, infrared scopes or night vision to pursue coyotes at night on public land.
Those practices are already allowed on private property in Wyoming.
Predator hunting is allowed at night on public land without any artificial enhancements.
About the only way to do that is on clear nights with moonlight reflecting off snow, the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, told the committee.
Even then, it’s difficult.
The most advanced equipment makes a huge difference, Haroldson said.
“It’s (just like) daylight, just with different colors,” he said.
However, there are limitations, said Wyoming Game Wardens Association spokesman Bill Brinegar, mostly because of a more narrow and shallow field of vision through night scopes.
“What’s one of the first things we learned in hunter’s safety? Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it,” he said.
That Stuff Isn’t Cheap
High-end infrared and night vision equipment is expensive, said some who testified.
Avid Wyoming coyote hunter Devan Reilly said he spent $15,000 to outfit himself for night hunting on private property where he has permission to do so.
“There’s a heck of a learning curve to taking up a thermal scope,” he said.
Wyoming Wildlife Federation spokeswoman Jessi Johnson said she recently used both lower-end and higher-end night scopes in Scotland.
She participated in night culling of roe deer, which compete for habitat and forage with more desirable red deer, a species that is similar to North American elk.
“I think the low-budget scope was about $1,000. The high-end one I looked through was about $10,000,” she said.
The costs involved and other factors call into question how effective the bill would be in increasing control of coyote populations, she said.
Focused coyote culling in specific areas are the most effective she said.
When coyotes are killed randomly across wide areas “they tend to backfill their population by having larger litters,” she said.
“I would say we (WWF) are pretty tentative on this bill,” Johnson said. “I think we could go so far as to say we’d rather not see it pass.”
No Problem In Other States
Using artificial light or night vision to hunt predators is already legal in 34 states, including all six states that border Wyoming, said Gun Owners Of America spokesman Mark Jones.
“Even ‘blue’ states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois allow this practice,” he said. “And here we are in the ‘Cowboy State,’ Wyoming, and we’re restricting our hunters from access to one half of the state.”
That makes it a “freedom” issue, Jones said.
Moreover, there’s been no evidence that allowing night vision hunting for predators in other states has caused more illegal poaching of big game species there, Jones said.
Night hunting very well could increase the number of coyotes killed on public land, which would benefit game species, game birds, and help protect livestock, he said.
The possibility of a few bad actors using night vision to illegally kill elk, deer or other big game has been a concern, Wyoming Game and Fish Department chief game warden Rick King said.
However, he agreed that there hasn’t been an increase in poaching in other states because of it.
Even so, a surge in night hunting could create a greater workload for game wardens, at a time when Wyoming has a shortage of them, King said.
A Matter Of Safety
Johnson, Brinegar and others said there’s no problem with night vision predator control on private property, where landowners can tightly control the practice.
But opening it up on public land might raise safety concerns.
That could backfire on predator hunters, Reilly said.
“If there’s going to be a big accident where somebody gets shot, or the wrong species gets shot, we’ll close down all thermal hunting and nobody will get to do it,” he said.