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F-Bombs, Cut Fences, Trespassing: Animosity At Boiling Point Between Landowners & Hunters

in hunting/News/Legislature

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

The major players in Wyoming’s hunting culture aren’t happy with each other. 

“I don’t know if it’s those on the fringes, those who are abusive, those who make the most noise, but there does seem to be a great animosity among resident hunters toward landowners” that spills over into resentment toward outfitters, Joe Schaffer said Friday. 

He was speaking as a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force during a meeting the group held via Zoom because nasty winter weather had shut down a planned in-person meeting in Casper. 

Task force member Adam Teton agreed that perceptions, accurate or not, can cause hard feelings in Wyoming when it comes to land access, big game tag prices and other matters related to hunting. 

There’s perceived concern over “how quickly the voice of the general public was dismissed in favor of the landowner or the outfitter” in the task force’s dealings, he said. 

The Gripes

Landowners have their own gripes and bad impressions, said task force member Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. He’s also a landowner. 

“We have had gates torn down, fences cut and people trespassing to come kill deer,” he said. “A lot of it (negativity toward hunters) comes from flat-out experience, and it’s painful.”

Speaking during public comments, Wyoming resident hunter Wyatt Wittkop answered earlier queries regarding why in the task force’s online comment section, resident hunters seemed upset over policy change proposals that would primarily affect non-residents.

“Because of altruism, looking out for someone else,” he said. “If you offered me a lollipop, but the consequences for accepting it were a kick to the nuts for my neighbor, I’d decline that lollipop.”

The Players

The Wildlife Task Force includes a mix of hunters, outfitters, legislators and landowners. The body has no power to set or change policy. Instead, it is charged with making recommendations to the Legislature and Wyoming Wildlife Commission. The commission sets policy for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Friday’s conference was the task force’s second-to-last meeting of the year. Its final meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14 at Game and Fish headquarters in Cheyenne. Gov. Mark Gordon is expected to attend. 

Communication, Civility 

Task Force Co-Chairman Rusty Bell, a Campbell County taxidermist, said he was discouraged by the enraged tone and profanity in some of the online comments.

“I think you can put in public comment without using the F-word,” he said. “Sometimes when I see that, I don’t even read the comment.”

Speaking to the perception that outfitters cater only to wealthy clients who make hunting a “rich man’s game,” outfitter and task force member Duaine Hagen said that’s not the case. 

And giving those non-residents opportunity to draw hunting tags doesn’t hurt Wyoming’s hunting culture, it helps, he said. 

“I’ve had a lot of hunters who were not wealthy,” he said. “They were middle-income or maybe upper-middle income people. They would love to come to Wyoming to hunt, but it was difficult for them to draw tags.”

Get Over It

Teten said all parties need to get past preconceived notions and talk. 

“I think that there’s room to grow that relationship,” he said. “We need to work together for the good of the resource. But it truly is going to mean taking a good, hard look in the mirror for both the hunting community and the agricultural landowning community.”

While agriculture’s economic contribution to Wyoming is relatively small, it’s a “cultural juggernaut” and a huge part of the state’s identity, he said. 

Driskill pointed out that farms and ranches frequently provide vital “core habitat” for Wyoming’s big game species, often at the cost of hay and other crops those animals eat on private land. 

He also agreed that the lines of communication must stay open. 

“I’m one of those landowners who will sit down in the coffee shop with you,” he said. “We still take 100-plus hunters onto our land to kill deer.”

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‘Dirtbags’ Steal Hunter’s Trophy Deer Head In Wyoming’s Hoback Mountain Range

in hunting

By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter 

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Jimmy Lynn started his backcountry Wyoming deer hunt last week with high hopes. 

He ended up with the head of his trophy-sized mule stolen and a bullet hole in his tent after a spooky late-night encounter with a bear. 

“It took a lot of balls to steal a deer head 8 miles back up from the trailhead,” he said during a telephone interview with Cowboy State Daily on Monday. 

The theft “took the wind out of me,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes.”

Almost adding insult to injury, Lynn had an unwelcome visitor to his campsite.

“And then a bear came into my camp in the middle of the night on Friday (Sept. 23) and I literally blow a hole through my tent with my gun to scare it off,” he said.

A Long-Awaited Hunt

Lynn is an avid hunter and taxidermist from West Point, Utah. He’s hunted in several states, including previous trips to Wyoming. He had for years been saving up “preference points” from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to draw a deer tag in hunt area 153, in Northwest Wyoming. 

He finally drew the tag and planned his hunt in a remote area of the Hoback Mountain Range. A friend with horses helped him pack into his campsite. It was roughly 8 miles back and 2,300 feet in elevation from the tailhead in the Cliff Creek drainage just north of Hoback Peak. 

During his first evening of hunting, and the following day, he couldn’t find a buck that met his expectations. 

“I passed up some 170-class bucks,” he said. 

He was referring to the number of inches in an animal’s antler structure, according to the scoring system authorized by the Boone And Crockett Club. The B&C score for mule deer is based off the compilation of several measurements. Some of those include overall width and length of the antlers, as well as girth in different spots. 

A Big Enough Buck

A storm kept the deer laying low early Sept. 22.

“I didn’t see any deer until about 10 that morning,” Lynn said. 

He was confident that he’d find a suitable buck. 

“Wyoming had a really bad winter in 2018, with a lot of winter kill among those high-country deer,” he said. “Your past three winters have been mild, so those deer are doing really well now”

He was hunting about a mile and a half up the drainage from his camp. At about 11 a.m., he found the buck he’d been looking for. Based on experience, he guessed it to be “in the mid-180s size range.”

“I didn’t even wait to get a good head-on look at the antlers,” he said. “I just saw all that junk from the broadside view and took the shot.” 

‘Dirtbag’ Thieves

Lynn put the deer’s skinned front and hindquarters in game bags and hung them from a tree. He left his jacket with them because the area has many bears – black and grizzlies.

“I’ve found that having human scent helps deter the bears,” he said. “If a bear is really hungry, he’ll just eat whatever he’s going to eat. But usually, some human scent will help keep them away.” 

He packed the buck’s head and cape (the skin around the neck and shoulders) back down to his camp. He also took the best cuts of meat, the backstrap tenderloins. Practicing good bear country safety, he hung all of that in a tree a couple hundred yards from his camp, along with one of his hunting shirts.

Then he went back to the kill site, cut the meat from the quarters off the bone and packed that back to his camp. 

“When I first saw that tree where I had hung everything, I thought, ‘Oh no, a bear got into my stuff,’” he said.

Closer inspection proved otherwise. 

“I didn’t see a single bear track nearby or any claw marks on the tree,” he said. 

“I saw that the knots in the ropes had been untied and I knew humans had done it,” he said. “They took the head and cape, the backstrap, the tenderloins and my Sitka shirt.

“It was just some freaking dirtbags.”

A Bear In The Night

On his last night in camp, a bear showed up.

“It was trying to get inside my tent,” said Lynn, who has plenty of experience in bear county. 

He decided to fire a rifle shot to shoo the bear, and it worked. 

“I shot a hole in my tent, but I’m glad I didn’t hit the bear,” he said. “It must have been a really big bear. It sounded like a Clydesdale running away. I didn’t sleep a wink after that.” 

‘It’ll Turn Up’

At first, Lynn was crestfallen over how his trip turned out.

“I couldn’t wait to come down off that hill and get back home to my wife and my dogs,” he said. “After you’ve been kicked in the balls like that, you’re just over it.”

After some reflection, he feels fortunate. None of the expensive gear he’d left in camp was stolen while he went to get the rest of his deer. And he’d come away unscathed from his encounter with the bear.

“I got out of it lucky, in my opinion,” he said. “You should always try to look at the positive side.”

As for his trophy, Lynn said the antler rack is a distinctive “six-by-six with eye guards.”

He and his friends have been posting images across social media in the hopes that somebody recognizes the antlers. 

“If somebody was stupid enough to come down off that mountain with it, it’ll turn up,” he said. “I’ll find out about it.”

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