Shooting Range Scaring Off Hundreds Of Struggling Wyoming Antelope, Rancher Says

Gunfire from a shooting range near Big Piney has kept hundreds of antelope from seeking shelter on some of the last suitable ground there this winter, says an area rancher.

Mark Heinz

April 20, 20236 min read

Antelope near Big Piney have resorted to traveling on highways because much of the countryside remains locked under deep snow.
Antelope near Big Piney have resorted to traveling on highways because much of the countryside remains locked under deep snow. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The winter of 2016-2017 in the Big Piney area was bad, as rancher Tim Thompson recalls it.

This year has been even worse, and both he and members of the Big Piney Gun Club are concerned about the plight of wildlife there. However, Thompson claims things would be better if the gun range was completely shut down, as it was in 2017.

Migration Held Up

Every year, “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of antelope migrate through his property – about 12 miles west of Big Piney at the foot of the Wyoming Range – to get to their wintering grounds, Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.

But in 2017, they couldn’t get through because of deep snow, Thompson said.

So, he called the local Wyoming Game and Fish Department office, asking if it could request that a nearby gun range be temporarily shut down. The range is run by the Big Piney Gun Club and sits on Bureau of Land Management land between town and Thompson’s ranch.

It also was relatively clear of the deep snows dramatically impacting tens of thousands of big game animals in Wyoming. That would make the shooting range property a good place for antelope to take shelter through the worst of winter.

The gun range was temporality shut down then, and the antelope took to it, Thompson said.

Game and Fish has no authority over the shooting range but can request it be shut down on behalf of wildlife, he said.

This winter has been even worse than 2017. And once again, Thompson said hundreds of antelope are trapped on or near his property, struggling to survive.

He said he called Game and Fish with the same request he made in six years ago, but the shooting range has remained open, and the antelope have avoided it.

Thompson said he thinks the gunfire has spooked the antelope away from using the better ground there, and he’s frustrated by the lack of response.

“Those guys never stopped shooting,” Thompson said. “They have skeet and trap shooting every week.”

Cowboy State Daily messages left for the gun club weren’t returned before this story was published.

Game and Fish Works With Gun Club

Game and Fish has worked with the gun club to help provide a winter haven for wildlife, Mark Gocke, the agency’s Pinedale region spokesman, told Cowboy State Daily.

He added that it’s a voluntary agreement, because Game and Fish has no authority over the gun club or the land that its shooting range sits on.

“Local Game and Fish personnel did initiate and work with the gun range in 2017. We also talked to them earlier this winter and they decided on voluntary limited use of the range and communicated that to their membership,” he said.

“This year the pronghorn weren't hanging out as close to the range as they were in 2017, so it was it little more questionable as the whether they would move to the range if it were closed, and more recently snow has been melting enough that pronghorn can move to available habitats,” Gocke added.  

Gun Club Shows Concern

However, the gun club’s Facebook page indicates that it’s also worried about the plight of wildlife.

In a March 21 post, somebody posting as “BigPiney GunClub” and others expressed sadness because a lone antelope that had been hanging around the shooting range died.

A March 2 post on the group’s Facebook page depicts elk in the snow and advises members to be mindful of wildlife trying to survive the winter.

“With the amount of snow and very cold temperatures this year, wildlife is having a hard time finding enough food just to survive the winter,” the post states. “If you are at the range and there is a presence of deer or antelope please reschedule your activity for another time to keep from stressing the animals.

“There has not been any herds at the range lately so it hasn't been a problem but we are the stewards of the land and should act accordingly.”

Even so, Thompson said he would have rather seen the gun range shut down, at least for a month or so while winter was at its peak.

He added that he regretted not being able to speak his mind at a town hall meeting hosted last month in Pinedale by Gov. Mark Gordon and Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik.

“All these antelope are dying left and right, and the governor comes up and has a big meeting in Pinedale, and I couldn’t go because I was too busy with calving on the ranch,” he said.

Things Look Miserable

The Big Piney region has been hit hard by brutal winter conditions, which are thought to have killed tens of thousands of antelope and mule deer, as well as some elk.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission this week decided to cut more than 10,000 fall 2023 antelope hunting tags as a result.

Thompson said he’s witnessing the misery up close. He estimates that as many as 700 antelope might have been cut off from their usual migration routes and are now trapped on or near his property.

“I don’t know how many antelope out of that bunch got out into that big, deep snow and died,” he said.

Thompson also said he thinks that between the deep snow and gunfire from the range, many of the antelope have been driven onto the highway that runs between town and his ranch.

“It normally takes about 10 minutes to drive into town,” he said. “This winter, sometimes we’ve been held up for 20 or 30 minutes waiting for these antelope to get to a spot where they could go single file and get off of the highway.”

Even so, he hopes many will make it though the winter.

“They don’t look fat and sassy, but they’re not skin and bones either,” Thompson said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter