For months, hunters haven’t been able to do much more than sit back, watch and cringe as a horrible winter killed tens of thousands of Wyoming big game animals.
Avid hunter Zachary Key from LaBarge, Wyoming thinks he’s found a way that folks can make a difference.
Instead of trying to attach their deer tags to fresh kills this fall, hunters could use them essentially as raffle tickets in a statewide prize drawing.
“I’ve probably talked to more than 200 people already. Everybody’s saying, ‘I’m not even going to buy a deer tag, I’m just not going to buy one,’” he told Cowboy State Daily.
“And I’m saying, go ahead and still buy one” to keep funding Wyoming Game and Fish Department conservation projects, he said. “I’m calling it ‘#LetaDeerWalk.’”
Statewide Prize Drawing
This winter is the worst in recent memory and has been brutal on antelope and deer herds in some of those species’ key habitat in central and southcentral Wyoming.
The die-off has been so bad, some hunters have talked about sitting the fall hunting season out.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission recently decided to cut more than 10,000 antelope tags this year, and deer tags were also cut in many hunt areas.
Even so, hunters should still buy up the available deer tags because Game and Fish uses money from tag sales for wildlife conservation, said Key, who is president of the Upper Green River chapter of Muley Fanatics.
Key said he’s always been passionate about helping wildlife.
“I’m the area manager for SOS Well Service, and I made sure we bought ‘Wyoming Wildlife’ license plates for all 30 of our company trucks,” he said, adding that some of the money from those plate sales go toward wildlife highway crossings.
Still, he wasn’t sure how to entice hunters into buying deer tags that they’ll never use.
Then the idea struck him – convince Wyoming businesses to donate some expensive items and have hunters use their deer tags as “tickets” to enter into a drawing for the goodies.
That way, more deer will be left to walk free as herds recover from a devastating winter, Key said.
“I know herd management is generally done by preserving does, because they’re the ones that produce fawns,” he said. “But why not leave a few more bucks out on the landscape too?”
Wyoming Businesses Step Up
Businesses have started stepping up, Key said.
Basecamp and Evanston motorsports dealership donated a Polaris ATV, he said. And Weatherby of Sheridan agreed to put up a hunting rifle that’s so new and unique; it’s still prototype.
“They can’t release the details about that rifle yet,” Key said. “It’s not even on the market yet, it’s not going to be available until June.”
Anonymous doners also tossed in a $5,000 cash prize, Key added, and other businesses have shown interest.
“I anticipate having upward of $50,000 in prizes,” he said.
Taxidermist Rusty Bell of Gillette, newly appointed to the Game and Fish Commission, also agreed to put up his 2024 commissioner’s hunting tag for the drawing.
Commissioner’s tags can be put up for charitable auctions and have gone for as much as $30,000 Key said.
Bell told Cowboy State Daily that when he heard about the deer tag prize drawing, donating his commissioner’s tag was an easy decision.
“Making sure stable wildlife populations into the future for Wyoming is a priority,” he said. “Who better to work with than our resident hunters?”
Bell previously served on Gov. Mark Gordon’s Wyoming Wildlife Task Force, an advisory board for Game and Fish.
Enter To Win
Key said the process will be simple. Hunters who by general deer tags over the counter or get tags through limited quota drawings can mail their tags in to enter the drawing.
He’s still working out the details of where the tags can be sent. However, he expects the entry deadline to be Aug. 1 for prize drawings on Aug. 15.
“Any Wyoming deer tag, general season or special draw, mule deer or whitetail will be valid for entry,” Key said.
Hunt Bears Instead
He added that his one worry is people who mail in their deer tags won’t go out this fall, or worse — not take their kids hunting.
“I don’t want people to be discouraged from getting outside with their kids,” he said. “You need to still get out there together in God’s country.”
He added that hunters should consider snagging fall season black bear tags and help cull predators that could hinder deer recovery.
“Black bears are the one fawn killing machine,” he said. “Not only can you take your son or daughter up there if they still have a youth deer tag, take along a bear tag. You might get lucky and find one.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com