Over the past 15 years, Park County farmer Tim French and his neighbors have been stumped by a herd of elk that they’ve dubbed “the night raiders.”
The sly wapiti come out of the nearby mountains after dark and gorge themselves on crops. And then they leave again before the sun comes up. So, hunters never get a chance to shoot any of them, said French – who is also a Republican member of the Wyoming Senate.
“These night raiders are so smart, they’ve been doing this for so many years,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
‘You’re Welcome To Try’
Over the years, French said that he and some of his neighbors have welcomed hunters on to their properties to take a crack at the night raiders. The hunters almost always leave empty-handed and frustrated.
“When people come out and ask permission to hunt elk here, I’ll say ‘Yeah, but you’re not going to catch one. They’re always gone before daylight. You’re welcome to come sit out on the end of the fields, but you’re chances of getting an elk are slim to none,’” French said.
The night raider elk have gotten so good at evading hunters, they can even take cues from a distance, he added.
“I can step out of the house, an hour or two before sunrise, and I can hear them out there, talking to each other,” French said – referring to the chirping sounds that elk sometimes make to communicate.
“But if I hear a pickup coming up the road, the main county road, they just go silent and leave. They’ve figured out if that they stick around, they’ll get shot, so they leave. It’s an amazing thing,” he added.
Numbers Have Grown
The night raider elk herd apparently travels about “six or eight miles” each direction between the Heart Mountain area and crop fields between Cody and Powell, French said.
And perhaps because they’re so good at avoiding hunters, their numbers have grown over the years, he said.
“I would say it started about 15 years ago. They would start coming in about mid-August. There wasn’t huge amount of elk at first – 50, maybe 75. But lately it seems there’s been 250 or 300 of them coming in,” French said.
French, along with his daughter and son-in-law, have hundreds of acres of crops, including malt barley and hay. On just their places alone, he estimates that the night raiders have been doing “thousands and thousands of dollars in damage every year.”
“When you get a herd of 300 elk going across a barley field, they trash it,” he said.
The trick of moving only during the dark has evidently been passed down through generations of ever-growing numbers of elk, he added.
“They’ve been doing it for so long, all the elk in the herd know what to do,” he said.
Is ‘Lethal Take’ The Answer?
French brought up the night raiders during a recent meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, of which he’s a member.
The committee and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials were discussing what to do about an overabundance of elk in some parts of Wyoming.
In some instances, where public hunting isn’t effective, the state can issue “lethal take” permits to landowners, Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Rick King told the committee. Those permits allow wildlife agents or contractors to kill elk on private land. Under some circumstances, the killing might be allowed at night, King said.
French said he might consider applying for lethal take permits. However, he doesn’t want to cut down local elk herds too far either.
“I don’t mind feeding some elk. I hunt elk too and I like eating elk. I like just watching them too. You don’t want to shoot them all, because you don’t want to negatively affect the opportunities for local hunters. But when the numbers coming into the crops get excessive it really starts to hit your pocketbook,” French said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.