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Dedicated Licenses For Guides With Out-Of-State Hunters “Dead In The Water,” Says Legislator

in News/Hunting

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By Joshua Wood, Cowboy State Daily

A proposal by the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force to create a dedicated license pool for out-of-state big game hunters who use professional guides is likely “dead in the water,” according to a Wyoming legislator.

In a July 7 meeting, the task force proposed several changes to Wyoming big game hunting regulations. One of the most contentious would recommend the legislature create a dedicated license pool for non-resident hunters using outfitters.

The Great Compromise

Rusty Bell, co-chair of the task force, told Cowboy State Daily the proposition came as a compromise offered by outfitters. This compromise was in response to a different proposal which would reduce non-resident tags. 

Bell said any proposal to reduce non-resident tags faced opposition from both the tourism industry and outfitters. Both sides cited an economic impact from a reduction in out-of-state hunters.

“If I remember right, it was Sy Gilliland who brought it. He represents the outfitters and we look at all sides on the task force,” said State Senator Ogden Driskill (R – Devils Tower). “They came up with what they thought might have been a compromise. It’s very clear through the comments, like so many of these hunting issues, it’s very fractionalized.”

Under this proposal, half of the non-resident tags available in proposed “high-demand areas” and “standard-demand” areas would be placed in the license pool.

“In my opinion, it’s not going to be a recommendation but if they happen to strong-arm it through, it takes legislative approval to do it and I don’t think they’ll ever get it,” said Driskill. “I think it’s dead in the water at this point.”

Reduced Non-Resident Tags

The task force proposal linked to the outfitter compromise would direct the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to create “high-demand” areas, separate from “standard-demand” areas. Areas where residents have a less than 30% chance of drawing a tag would become high-demand areas.

In high-demand areas, 90% of tags would be issued to residents with 10% to non-residents. For standard-demand areas, the percentage of tags would be a split of 85% and 15% between residents and non-residents, respectively. 

These would also be established by the Wyoming Game and Fish commission.

Tourism Concerns

“There’s been a lot of talk over the past 14 months that we’ve been working on this stuff,” said Bell. “The reason that we haven’t been able to move limited quota licenses to a 90/10 allocation for residents and non-residents is because of the economic impact.”

Fewer licenses for non-resident hunters means fewer out-of-state dollars coming into Wyoming.

Part of the opposition to the 90/10 split is how it would impact non-resident hunters, said Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Hospitality and Travel Coalition.

“Hunters play a really important role in bolstering the shoulder seasons. When people think of the busy tourism season in Wyoming, it’s typically between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” said Brown. “The fact that hunters come out later in the fall, that’s really important to lodging properties and restaurants across the state.”

Public Land Concerns

For others, there’s concern about what such a proposition might mean for Wyoming’s public lands and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s public access program.

Johnny Bergeson, owner of Trophy Room Outfitters in Laramie, said the reduction in non-outfitted non-resident licenses could reduce accessible public lands in the state. Bergeson’s business guides specifically on public lands.

“The outfitters will pay a higher fee for access than the Game and Fish department can pay. I think the landowners will back out of these programs because they’ll be getting more money from the outfitters as a result,” said Bergeson. “ That’s my biggest problem with that.”

Bergeson said he wouldn’t blame landowners for accepting a higher offer from an outfitter than the Game and Fish.

“If they get offered more money, they’re going to take it,” said Bergeson. “It’s hard to make a living nowadays.”

If the 90/10 proposition and the outfitted non-resident license pool both make it past the taskforce, Bergeson said he believes another compromise should be made.

“I think if they do the 90/10 and if they do give outfitters tags, I think they need to get rid of the wilderness rule and let non-residents in wilderness areas,” said Bergeson. “They can go in there and fish by themselves. They can go hiking around, they can go camp, they can backpack. They just can’t hunt.”

Status Quo

Despite the amount of hours the taskforce and its individual members have spent on this and other issues, it’s possible things won’t change much for hunting in Wyoming.

“I don’t think you’re going to see much change in anything. I think we’re at a classic standstill. I have said repeatedly at the task force … I’m heartbroken because I was kind of the one that started this taskforce,” said Driskill. “It was myself, Brian Nesvik and the governor that started it and my intent had nothing to do with divvying up licenses and preference points.”

“All of these issues are so tied together. You pull a string over here and it has consequences over here,” said Bell. “I feel what happens is the status quo seems a lot better when you start looking at how complex these issues are.”

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In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Recreation/Column/wildlife/Bill Sniffin

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Dear Hunters

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
Wyoming mule deer
A mule deer buck stays in the shadows on Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Dear Hunters,

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I am happy that you’re out having adventures, and hopefully getting some tasty meat for the freezer. I know that you look forward to hunting season all year long, and it’s a big part of why you are in this great state, whether as a resident or a visitor.

And I appreciate that so far this year, all but one of you have honored our ranch gates by leaving them as you find them. (We’ve still got six more yearling heifers to move into the correct pasture because of the one who didn’t close the gate.) I really appreciate you hunters who stop and visit, so we can share where the livestock and wildlife are currently located as we attempt to avoid conflict and increase your chance of success.

So far it’s a better year for us than the past few when we’ve had a lock shot off a gate (and the game camera that captured the act stolen); other gates and fences were cut or left open; and traps set out for a critical animal damage control project were tampered with so they wouldn’t work. Last fall I was hollered at by a group of armed men that had climbed through a fence to kill an antelope on private ground and then tried to evade the game warden by racing out through the sagebrush.

But that was last year. We’ve tried to do better, to make things better for all of us. We repaired things that were broken, checked all the gates, posted more informative signs along property lines, and hoped for a better season this year. It was a real pleasure (and relief) to see some of the same great hunters this year as we have in the last few years, and once again we enjoyed visiting with them and their families as we helped pack their game back to their vehicles. They thoughtfully brought a box of dog treats for our working dogs, guaranteeing we’ll be happy to see them again next season.

What you probably don’t know is that after the hunters leave, we return to where the game carcasses have been dressed out to pick up the discarded remains – because we don’t want to have attractants bringing more predators to our livestock pastures. It’s something hunters don’t need to think about, but we do.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few encounters with hunters this year that have left me fighting negative feelings. You asked me where to find some sage grouse, so I told you. You shot one right off the mud puddle where it had come for a morning drink. That bird didn’t even fly before you took the shot. Legal? Sure. Repulsive? That too. 

When you flushed that covey of grouse, you pulled the trigger even though my truck was approaching directly in your shot line. Since you missed both the grouse and my truck, I’m guessing you didn’t do a split-second calculation that the shot wouldn’t reach me, so that was a shot you shouldn’t have taken.

You watched me get out to open a barbed-wire gate, pull through and park out of the way before getting out to close the gate behind me. You pulled through that gate and didn’t even put down the window to thank me as you rolled through that cold morning. I was flabbergasted by such behavior out in the countryside, because that’s just not how we roll out here.

The same gate that two groups of hunters with permission to access private ranch lands for their own pleasure have passed through numerous times, but not stopping to lend a hand. 

I suppose I’m sensitive about these things because as I write, I’m overly tired. After starting the day yesterday with a flat tire on one ranch truck, that truck was abandoned while I was on the run all day, moving livestock and doing triage on a variety of issues that developed throughout the day, and feeding, managing, and doctoring animals, even putting one down. I didn’t get everything done before dark, and the truck with the flat tire is still sitting in the same spot next to the main ranch gate.

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

Parking a vehicle so that an access route is blocked is inconsiderate to other users of Wyoming’s outdoors. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

And I’m missing an Idaho bowhunter this year who we always enjoy watching: the man will hike for miles before taking his game. Perhaps other things got in the way of your slow stalks through Wyoming sagebrush this season, but I’m hopeful you’ll return to your annual ritual in our neighborhood.

But today is a new day, time to try again. This morning, a hunter given permission to access private ground came through before sunrise, parked his 4-wheeler in the middle of the two-track road above the river, pulled the key out and walked away. It took every bit of personal willpower for me to resist the urge to hook onto that obstacle and drag it out of the roadway, just as I would a downed tree.

Let’s all do better tomorrow. I’ll try if you will. I’ll try to be a better host, to not let little things become major irritants, and to be considerate of your needs as a hunter. I’m betting that you will be willing to give me equal consideration for my job as a livestock and land manager. Let’s all remember that we share Wyoming’s great outdoors and share some of the best of ourselves in the process. Good luck out there!

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com

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