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Jackson Woman Wins Bison Hunting Tag, Donating It To Disabled Female Veteran

in News/Hunting
21355

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Winning a bison hunting tag through Gov. Mark Gordon’s annual raffle is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, something many Wyoming hunters dream about, but can only hope they will receive.

Having won a tag, Jackson resident Norma Winder, 71, is giving hers away.

“My husband and I have been privileged enough to have been all over the world and I’ve actually shot a bison cow a number of years ago,” Winder told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “But over the last five years, my husband and I have been donating our general elk or deer hunting tags to a veterans group.”

That group, the Kniestedt Foundation, provides “exceptional” hunting experiences to active and veteran members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Foundation officials believe hunting and shooting empower people by providing them with a chance to connect with nature, challenge their minds to greater focus and engage the body in physical activity.

Winder and her husband have helped around 20 disabled veterans hunt in Wyoming over the last several years, but with the bison tag, she had a particular stipulation for the recipient.

“You always hear of guys getting to go on these hunting trips, but I’ve never heard of a woman getting the opportunity to do so,” she said. “So my stipulations were that it went to a female disabled veteran.”

As a longtime hunter and conservationist herself, Winder knows what a joy it is to harvest an animal, especially a massive one like a bison.

She also knows the beauty of Wyoming’s outdoors and wants to share it with as many people as possible.

This is why she and her husband wanted to share the opportunity for these veterans, who served their country and risked their lives. She thinks this is one of the best ways to thank them for their service.

“We have other opportunities to shoot a [bison] cow or whatever we want to do, so why not give it to someone else, who can never afford to put in for one of those permits?” she said. “The joy of doing it is absolutely fantastic.”

Winder said she believes the foundation has found the perfect recipient for the hunting tag, but this had not yet been confirmed as of Thursday.

However, she knows what a thrill the hunting experience will be for whoever the lucky veteran is, as well as the people in her support system.

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Longtime Moose & Bighorn Sheep Applicants Would Get Much Better Chance of Hunting License Under New System

in News/Hunting
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images
20107

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is considering a substantial change to its “preference points” system to give longtime applicants for moose and bighorn sheep hunting licenses a better chance of drawing one of the tags.

In Wyoming, each time hunters apply unsuccessfully for a moose or bighorn sheep license, they get a “bonus point.” For each bonus point, they get one more chance in the license drawing. For example, after 10 unsuccessful applications, a hunter would get his or her name entered into the license drawing 10 times.

Under the new system, the number of bonus points a person has will be squared each year. For example, if a person had 10 preference points entering 2025, he or she would have 100 chances to draw a license. If the hunter did not draw a license that year, he or she would have 11 bonus points the following year — 121 chances to draw a license.

A person with maximum preference points now would have 31 points in 2025, giving them 961 chances to draw a license, in contrast to a first-time applicant who would have only one chance.

The new system would reduce the chances of an early applicant receiving a tag but increase the chances a longtime applicant will receive one, with the greatest increase in odds beginning after year 30.

“As with any thorny, contentious issue, there are definitely people who are very opposed to this, but we felt like it was the best way forward,” Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish director, said during the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meeting May 9.

In this past year’s legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill proposed by the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force directing the Game and Fish Department to reserve 90% of the once-in-a-lifetime ram bighorn sheep, wild bull bison, bull moose, mountain goat and grizzly bear “big five” licenses for Wyoming hunters, with the remaining 10% set aside for non-residents. In the past, 75% of licenses were saved for resident hunters and 25% went to non-residents.

In-state and out-of-state applicants do not compete directly against each other for tags.

No preference points system exists for bison and mountain goat tags, which are chosen through a completely random draw and grizzly bears are federally prohibited from being hunted, so the only discussion pertaining to preference points for “big five” licenses is for bighorn sheep and moose.

The new proposal also comes from the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force. 

However, the idea does not have the support of Lee Livingston, a Cody outfitter, Park County commissioner and member of the Task Force.

“I was in favor of it initially, but now that we’ve gone to 90%-10% and once in a lifetime on those species, I think we need to give a few years before we make any change,” he said.

Stacked Odds

The weighted bonus system would be implemented in 2025, and those with the highest number of preference points would still have a better chance than others of drawing a tag.

Existing high preference points holders would draw a tag with “near certainty” between 2022-2024 after being given “near maximum preference points.”

Under the current preference points system, the hunter with the highest number of points automatically gets a tag, but there are also random draws and weighted random draws. About 25% of the licenses are given out based on random draws.

Currently, in-state applicants have a 0.35% chance of drawing a license in their first year. It takes more than 30 years to have a 10% or greater chance of drawing a sheep tag and even by year 53, the chances of drawing a tag only increase to roughly 14% for sheep and 20% for moose. Numbers are far worse for out-of-state applicants.

“We say in a preference point system that at some point you will draw a tag,” said Joe Schaffer, president of Laramie County Community College. “The numbers just don’t support that; the system just isn’t sustainable.”

Schaffer helped the Game and Fish Department process numbers to analyze the the issue.

Schaffer said moose and bighorn sheep are the most desired of all hunting tags.

“How do you create a fair as possible system for all the people that want access to a very scarce resource?” he asked. 

Schaffer said 15 Wyoming residents and five non-residents have the maximum 26 preference points, while more than 4,000 people apply each year for for bighorn sheep licenses.

All the applicants are vying for 180 permits awarded each year. Similar numbers exist for moose tags.

Ultimately, Schaffer said no drawing system will address game scarcity issues, so finding a way to increase moose and bighorn sheep populations must be a top priority, as the Game and Fish Department can no longer promise people will get to hunt those species at some point in their lives.

“We’ve got to a point where the system isn’t going to work the way it did when we started it,” Nesvik said. 

Under bonus and weighted bonus point systems, first-time applicants are even less likely to draw, but returning customers have much better odds than they do in the current system.

“It does favor those in the system that have been applying, applying, applying and just not drawing,” Schaffer said.

Under current regulations, applicants who go two years without applying lose all their bonus points. This rule would continue under the new system.

Higher Chances But Less Revenue?

The Task Force took two key issues into consideration before making its recommendation: the substantial investment out-of-state residents have made in buying preference points, and what it does for this group of people if the state moves away from preference points to a bonus points system.

Getting rid of the preference point system comes with the risk of dissuading hunter interest and cutting into Game and Fish Department revenue. 

Non-residents pay fees of $150 per year to collect preference fees, but residents pay only $7.

In 2020, revenue from non-residents for moose and sheep tags totaled $2.7 million, while revenue from residents totaled $107,485.

“I’m truly concerned with the revenue and how that would be managed in this transition,” Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, said. 

Nesvik said given current demand, he doesn’t anticipate any significant drop in the number of people applying for tag with implementation of the bonus system, while Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, predicted the change would be “revenue neutral.” 

Hicks also said the Task Force recognized a need to improve the chances in the license drawing for applicants who have been in the system for more than 10 years.

A few other solutions were considered, but none were considered as viable as the weighted bonus system.

Schaffer said the Task Force considered phasing out the preference points system, but found that for bighorn sheep, it would take about 90 years to phase out the current preference holders and 73 years for moose. 

Cutting off all new applicants immediately while continuing the program for the rest wouldn’t help much either, with more than 30 years needed to phase out under that scenario.

Under completely random draws, Schaffer said the chances of drawing a license are about as unlikely in the short-term as they are in the current system, but grow to a more than 10% chance much more quickly than in preference points and bonus point systems. 

Hicks said most other Western states use a similar non-resident preference point system and he considers it one of the most equitable systems available. 

Schaffer said Arizona and Idaho have also made cuts to their non-resident access and New Mexico is even considering eliminating non-resident hunting altogether. 

He said license cost increases in other states didn’t cause a decline in participation, nor have increases Wyoming has adopted in the past.

“We’re not going to see a drop off,” Schaffer said. “These are once in a lifetime opportunities. You’re still going to have some of the best odds in the United States of drawing a bighorn sheep or moose permit.”

Nesvik is not recommending extending these changes to deer, elk and antelope at this time.

“I think that there is a potential down the road that could be a solution,” he said. “There’s so much more opportunity with those other species that we thought we’d deal with the hardest to draw, the more scarcest, lowest number of tags now.”

The recommendation will be discussed further at upcoming legislative committee meetings.

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Lander TV Star Josh Kirk Of “Mountain Men” To Host Bison Hunts

in News/wildlife
20057

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Josh Kirk might be a television star, but there’s no Hollywood glamour about him.

The “Mountain Men” star spends his days managing more than 400 head of bison in Fremont County and has a homestead with his family near the Wind River Range. He has a love for all things outdoors and wants to pass on his passion to other interested conservationists.

“This is my opinion, but in the last 150 years, the world has sold its soul for supply, demand and a house on Main Street,” Kirk told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “We’re trading our freedom for convenience. When you look at our existence, going to a grocery store or a butcher shop is a relatively new thing.”

To give people an idea of what life on the range used to be like, Kirk wants others to experience the beauty of hunting and harvesting their own food, so he is offering the opportunity to hunt bison with him this year.

Prices for bison hunts with Kirk began at $2,500 and go up from there and the hunts can last anywhere from one to three days. The hunts will take place likely in the late summer and early fall, but Kirk will work out details with interested hunters.

Be forewarned, though: this is not a “glamping” style hunting trip. Kirk believes in getting in touch with nature and has offered hunters the opportunity to fully harvest their bison, using everything from the meat all the way down to the sinew in the muscles.

“It’s about connecting back with the land and connecting with the animal,” Kirk said. “Instead of buying a ribeye from the store, you can harvest this animal in an ethical way. Then you have more respect when you walk back into the grocery store to buy a piece of meat, because you know what it takes to harvest that animal.”

Kirk said by hunting in this manner, he allows his guests to be go back to the time of their forefathers and ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers many generations ago.

He can also teach his hunters how to find shelter, make a fire and procure food and water while out in the wild, if they so choose.

Kirk said there is nothing more beautiful than learning to take care of yourself in nature, without the help of modern luxuries and technology.

“For me, you’re paying homage to the animal, showing it the utmost respect by harvesting the animal yourself and processing it yourself and utilizing all of the resources from it yourself,” he said. “And if you choose to do it and then make clothing out of that animal, it’s even more badass. You’re really touching the earth and a manifestation that most people never get.”

Kirk will soon be featured in his third season, the 11th overall, of the History Channel series “Mountain Men,” which will begin airing on June 3. The series focuses on the lives of various homesteaders across the country, from Wyoming and Idaho to Alaska.

Anyone interested in bison hunting with Kirk can contact him at: Joshkirkmountainmen@gmail.com.

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Wyo Wildlife Taskforce Recommends Splitting Hunting Licenses For Mule, White-Tailed Deer

in News/wildlife
20029

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce has unanimously recommended that the Wyoming Legislature split hunting licenses for white-tailed and mule deer to allow for improved management of the separate species.

Currently, white-tailed and mule deer are just considered as “deer” when it comes to issuing Wyoming hunting licenses, but the task force believes this should change. When a hunter receives a deer license, the choice should be made whether the hunt will be for white-tailed or mule deer, the task force said.

Task force Co-Chair Josh Coursey told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the recommendation was “long overdue.”

“This is something that wasn’t needed at the onset, until our white-tailed deer population has grown as robust as it has statewide,” he said. “But mule deer and white-tailed deer are completely different species, two different ungulates on the landscape.”

By changing the current statute, Coursey noted that this would also allow the Game and Fish Department to manage the two deer populations separately and accordingly.

The Legislature’s joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee will take this recommendation up as an interim topic, but Coursey was not sure when the committee would study the issue.

Committee chairs Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment by publication time.

Coursey said he did not see this topic being a “heavy lift” for the Legislature, either during the interim or legislative session next year.

“I really don’t think this is going to be a difficult statute change,” he said. “We were mindful of this when making the recommendation and the Game and Fish Department has assured us that this won’t be difficult to implement if it does pass.”

Rick King, chief of the Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Division, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that splitting the deer into two populations for management has been discussed in some form for decades.

“The concept has been discussed internally and with the Wyoming Legislature for a long time,” King said. “Game and Fish has taken a look at this internally several times, going back to the late 1980s. A bill was introduced during the 2015 legislative session, but died in the TRW committee.”

Neither King nor Coursey could say how much the state would benefit, financially, if the licenses were to be split. Resident hunting license fees for Wyoming residents is $42, while non-resident fees are $374.

King did note that the process to apply for and obtain a hunting license for either mule or white-tailed deer would be the same as it is now.

In 2020, 21,370 mule deer and 19,904 white-tailed deer were harvested, according to the Game and Fish Department.

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New Law Means 90% of Hunting Licenses For “Big Five” Animals Will Go To Wyoming Residents

in News/Hunting
19688

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Beginning in the fall of 2023, more Wyoming residents will have the opportunity to chance to win big game hunting tags, thanks to a new limiting the licenses available to out-of-state hunters.

Next fall, 90% of the licenses for the “big five” wild game animals – bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat, grizzly bears and wild bison – will be allocated for Wyoming residents, leaving only 10% of the licenses for non-resident hunters, according to the state Game and Fish Department.

“These are some of the most highly sought-after licenses that we offer in Wyoming and throughout the West, so the demand is incredibly high for them,” said department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo said. “People wait decades in order to draw one of these tags, both resident and non-resident hunters.”

The change is outlined in a new law that increased the number of big game licenses available for Wyoming residents from 80% of all licenses to 90%.

The Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce made the suggestion to the Legislature last year to change the allocation numbers. The Legislature adopted the change during its budget session earlier in 2022.

DiRienzo said the department will lose about $200,000 because of the change in allocation because hunting tags sold to non-resident hunters can be significantly more expensive than those sold to resident hunters. For example, a non-resident hunting tag for any wild bison is $4,402, while the resident rate is $414.

“The decrease (in revenue) to (the) Game and Fish (Department) was so small, it wasn’t much of a concern,” she said.

She added there will be an estimated 100 fewer licenses available for non-residents next year, but the number does fluctuate, depending on the populations of animals.

It should be noted that although grizzly bears are included on the “big five” wild game list, they are currently not allowed to be hunted due to their endangered status. However, they were included in the legislation, in case the hunts are one day allowed.

Since the reallocation law will not go into effect until July 1, the Game and Fish Department will have until Jan. 1, 2023 to implement the new rules, so hunters this fall will not be affected by the change.

Last month, the department made the decision to offer 11,000 fewer mule deer and pronghorn hunting licenses due to the continuing drought across the West.

The department estimated the 2021 post-hunt populations at 363,200 for pronghorns and 291,700 for mule deer.

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Wyoming Game And Fish Cuts 11,000 Mule Deer & Pronghorn Hunting Licenses

in News/wildlife
19521

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A continuing drought and disease have prompted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to cut by more than 11,000 the number of mule deer and pronghorn hunting licenses it will issue.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has decided to cut pronghorn licenses by 8,000 and mule deer tags by 3,300 at the urging of Ian Tator, the department’s terrestrial supervisor.

“That lack of soil moisture is going to limit our future shrub growth, which is a critical component of big game winter diet,” Tator said during the commission’s hunt season setting meeting last week. “If things don’t get better now, next winter we’re not going to have the shrub growth necessary to sustain those populations the way we want to.”

The department estimated the 2021 post-hunt populations at 363,200 for pronghorns and 291,700 for mule deer.

The decision was supported by the Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that while the short-term reduction in hunting opportunity was frustrating, the Game and Fish department is using its best data for tag allocation decisions.

“If the science and data show that fewer tags now will – hopefully – mean healthier pronghorn and mule deer herds in Wyoming in the long run, then it’s our responsibility as hunters to accept that – and to ideally support that decision by addressing the root causes of population declines with other conservation efforts, like habitat enhancement and protect,” the organization said in a statement.

Mule deer and pronghorn were specifically targeted with this cut due to their reliance on shrub growth, commissioners were told. Elk consume a larger range of plants, meaning they are less affected by the drought.

The spread of chronic wasting disease is also a major concern for Game and Fish staffers. CWD is a fatal disease of the central nervous system in mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose.

Pronghorn are susceptible to epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a viral disease spread by midges.

Hunting officials with the Game and Fish Department were not immediately available to comment on this story.

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Buffalo Detective Hits One In 16 Million Jackpot; Wins SuperTag Hunting Trifecta

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18837

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One $30 raffle ticket has resulted in one very epic upcoming autumn hunt season for a Buffalo police officer.

James Kozisek, a detective with the Buffalo Police Department, took a chance this spring when he purchased his raffle ticket for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “SuperTag Trifecta,” which allows the holder to hunt any three big game animals anywhere in the state.

“It’s kind of weird, they have these other SuperTags, where you can buy just for each animal, and I usually do that,” Kozisek told Cowboy State Daily. “And I could not tell you why, I was just like, ‘Oh, why the hell not, it’s thirty bucks,’ and I just bought one ticket. 

“I usually don’t buy a Trifecta,” he continued, “because I think the odds are so (bad) that I’m just like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ but for some reason – I can’t even explain why, just a random act – I just bought one ticket, and that was it!”

According to Sarah DiRienzo, public affairs specialist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, it’s unusual for someone in Wyoming to win the Trifecta.

“It is exciting, always, when a Wyoming resident is able to win the Trifecta,” said DiRienzo, “because it is a raffle. So it’s a random draw, residents and non-residents are in the mix together.”

Kozisek had monumental competition for the prize. A total of 124,602 SuperTag raffle tickets were sold in the state this year, raising $1.6 million to go toward supporting wildlife management and other conservation issues in Wyoming. 

That was a record-breaking number, as last year’s raffle raised $1.3 million. 

Those funds help the Game and Fish Department meet its budget, which last year came in at more than $79.5 million.

“That money goes into the Game and Fish general operating fund, which goes to support projects like mule deer initiatives, our Conservation Camp, Chronic Wasting Disease research, projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, fish passage projects,” DiRienzo noted. “It could go towards any of our on-the-ground wildlife projects, and also projects to help people learn more about the outdoors.”

People often purchase multiple SuperTag raffle tickets not only to get the chance to hunt big game anywhere in the state, but also to support conservation efforts in Wyoming, DiRienzo said.

“It is really a once in a lifetime experience to be able to draw a SuperTag,” she said. “It’s so special to be able to go on a hunt like this. I mean, we just hear from hunters all the time who – and lots of people don’t win, there’s not that many licenses available – but they say that the reason they buy super tag tickets is primarily to support conservation. And that’s really cool.”

Winners of the individual SuperTag raffles this year hail from Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, and Arkansas, as well as one other hunter from Wyoming, Keith Reau, who won the wild bison tag. 

Holders of the individual SuperTags will be able to hunt one pre-selected big game species anywhere in the state.

Kozisek, a born-and-raised Wyomingite, has hunted since he was a boy. But winning the SuperTag Trifecta has inspired a bigger sense of adventure as he plans his fall hunt season.

“I’ve killed lots of elk, but I’ve never killed a monster, like, a big one,” Kozisek pointed out. “And one of the things Alicia (Kozisek’s wife) brought up, she’s like, ‘Go travel the state.’ There are places in this state I’ve never been. There’s phenomenal hunting all over the Red Desert, the Ferris Mountains down by Green River, all that country where I’ve never even been.”

Kozisek explained that unlike a Commissioner’s Tag, in which a hunter must report to the Game and Fish Department where he or she intends to hunt, the SuperTag has no such restrictions.

“I can hunt anywhere in the entire state when the season’s open,” he said. “I can go hunt the Red Desert, load up my truck and drive to Cody, hunt there, I can hunt anywhere I want, as long as there’s a season open. I don’t have to declare to anyone. The whole state is wide open.”

The SuperTag Trifecta allows the winner to choose from 11 big-game species which three he or she will hunt: bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat, elk, wild bison, deer, pronghorn, black bear, gray wolf, and mountain lion. 

However, Kozisek does have to declare what species he intends to hunt prior to the season opening.

“I have a few more months to finalize everything,” he said. “I could change my species and pick bighorn sheep and bison if I wanted to, but I’m pretty sure I’m doing mountain goat, and I’m leaning towards elk and deer.”

Because Kozisek has lived in Wyoming his whole life, he’s got friends around the state who have offered their assistance to give him the best chance of bagging his targets. However, he wants to see if he can act as his own guide – being a Wyomingite and all.

“Some of these guys are like, ‘Man if you need help, let us know,’” he said. “But a Wyoming boy drawing a Wyoming trifecta? I’d like to try to do it on my own. However, I need to do it right. So if all of a sudden in November or late October I’m hurting, I can call (some friends who are guides) and they’ll try to get me in.”

Kozisek said his win has drawn attention from around the state from well-wishers hoping he succeeds.

“The State of Wyoming is just there,” he said. “They’re supporting me. I mean, there’s people that are willing to help me out and point me in the right direction, or whatever I need.”

That support includes his bosses at the City of Buffalo, who have assured him that if he needs extra time off from his job as a police detective, he’s got it.

“I called down to city hall and I had to talk to them about a leave of absence,” he said. “And they said, ‘Absolutely, if you run short on vacation or whatever, we understand this isn’t just a normal thing and you can look into a leave of absence, unpaid time off-type stuff.’” 

Since Kozisek and his wife grew up in the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains and lived and worked for eight years in Cody, he said his wife encouraged him to expand his horizons beyond the hunting grounds he is familiar with.

“She’s like, ‘You’ve seen Cody and Meeteetse, but go explore the state – you can hunt anywhere at any time. As seasons open, go explore, go explore this wonderful state.”

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New Wyoming Task Force Dives Into Hunting Controversies

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11979

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

On paper, the agenda for the inaugural meeting of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force seemed pretty tame. Intended to be an introduction to the new advisory group, the members instead immediately attacked one of the most controversial issues before them: the allotment of limited quota tags.

Wyoming legislators, government leaders and citizens from across the state were picked for the panel among many applicants, being chosen jointly by the governor and legislative and Game and Fish leaders. Local appointees include state Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, Park County Commissioner and outfitter Lee Livingston and Meeteetse landowner Duaine Hagen.

The panel is being tasked with studying top-priority, in-state wildlife issues related to the allocation of hunting opportunities, sportsperson access and other top wildlife issues. 

One of the first major topics at hand was the distribution of “big five” tags, said Livingston. The proposal — which is still up for debate — would suggest a big change to the licenses allotted for the top species in the state: moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison and grizzly (if they are ever delisted from protection under the Endangered Species list and managed by the states).

“We’re looking at 90% of the licenses being reserved for resident hunters and 10% going to nonresident hunters,” Livingston said. “We’re also toying with a once-in-a-lifetime [limit] on all five of those species.”

The task force members are studying the issue closely because non-resident licenses and the purchase of non-resident preference points are extremely important revenue for the Game and Fish Department, so any change to the current regulations could affect the department’s bottom line. It could also raise the price of licenses for residents, said Flitner. The lawmaker said she has taken an informal poll of resident hunters and most said they don’t want to pay more to hunt. But if the allotment percentage changes, Flitner said there is little else that could be done to make up for the losses.

“There’s really no other way,” she said. “Currently, [resident] hunts are subsidized by non-resident hunters.”

The Game and Fish doesn’t receive general tax revenue or general funds from the state. It’s a self-funded agency, relying on fees and license sales for the bulk of its budget, plus a share of federal taxes on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment.

Due to the State of Wyoming’s current budget deficit, the department returned $800,000 it normally receives from the state to compensate for free and reduced price licenses. It represented less than 1% of the department’s $88.5 million in annual revenues, but was the only way the department could help the state on the 2021 budget, said Game and Fish Deputy Director John Kennedy.

Both Livingston and Flitner are keenly aware that boosting the percentage of resident tags is a favorite subject of Rob Shaul and his litigious outdoor organization, Mountain Pursuit. It’s hard to debate the issue without it seeming like a win for the organization, Flitner said, as much as she would like Shaul to find alternative ways to debate issues.

“He offends everybody. He has no filter,” she said of Shaul. “I’d be curious to know just how many people actually think like him.”

Added Livingston, “he seems to me like a spoiled kid who wants to get everything and then some.”

Cody Regional Health

Shaul often accuses the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and Department of being unduly influenced by the state’s outfitting industry, sometimes with harsh rhetoric.

For example, he’s filed a lawsuit arguing that two commissioners were wrong to donate commissioner complimentary licenses to the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association  When the attorney general’s office asked a judge to dismiss the suit, Shaul sent out an opinion piece questioning whether Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, who oversees the AG, was “yet another corrupted puppet of the Outfitters.”

Many politicians and officials in the state say they wish Shaul would look for ways to debate in a positive manner, rather than trying to push his way into the headlines by tearing down the efforts of the Game and Fish and the governor’s office.

“Everybody else is trying to find the middle ground” to debate the issues, Flitner said.

The task force is also looking into limited quota draws for hard-to-get licenses for ungulate species.

“My thoughts are going to be looking at a waiting period on those on those tough-to-draw ‘type one’ licenses,” Livingston said. “Hypothetically, if you draw one of those licenses, you might have to sit out for three years before you can apply again.”

Flitner said the task force might also be looking at making proposals to change the allocation of landowner licenses.

“We’re eager to dive into the tough issues head first,” she said.

Livingston, Flitner and Hagen are offering an opportunity for local sportspersons to discuss the issues at a Tuesday listening session in Powell. The event will run from 6-8 p.m. at Heart Mountain Hall at the Park County Fairgrounds.

Meanwhile, the full task force is meeting today (Thursday) and then again on July 19. Both of those gatherings are being held in Casper, but members of the public can watch and participate via Zoom.

The agenda for this week’s meeting is available on the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force website at www.wyomingwildlifetaskforce.com. Meetings will be recorded and available for viewing online within a week.

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Wyoming Hunting Group Encourages Use Of Lead-Free Ammo, Tackle

in News/Hunting
Hunting with Heroes
11378

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

A new Wyoming hunting group wants to prove the value of switching ammo and tackle to local sportsmen and women. They know success won’t come easy, but the journey will be worth it if they can keep poison off your plate.

Sporting Lead-Free hopes to reduce lead consumed inadvertently by people and wildlife and is proposing ways to help anglers and hunters see the positives of choosing tackle and ammo that doesn’t poison the environment.

Programs include X-raying your packaged meat to help get the lead out of your wildgame meals and demonstrating the advantages of new, non-lead ammunition.

“A lot of us hunt because we want to know where our food is coming from and being able to know that you’re providing clean meat to you, your kids, your grandkids and other family and friends,” said Brian Bedrosian, director and co-founder of the group.

So far, he said the group has X-rayed about 1,200 packages of wild game meat — finding lead fragments in about 15% of the ground meat packages.

It’s almost impossible to keep lead fragments out of meat from harvested animals, Bedrosian said. The metal rarely causes severe issues in humans as long as exposure is low. However, it’s particularly deadly to; scavenging birds who consume gut piles; animals that have been shot but not found by hunters; and waterfowl that eat lead pellets in fields and wetland areas.

Every year, as hunting season comes to an end, wildlife biologists, veterinarians and rescue workers in the state start seeing raptors, including golden and bald eagles, being brought to raptor care facilities with lead poisoning. Bedrosian has spent the past 15 years documenting the link between lead-based ammunition and ingestion in wildlife in his role as conservation director of the Teton Raptor Center. He’s also the former president of the Wyoming Chapter of The Wildlife Society and is co-chair of the Wyoming Golden Eagle Working Group.

“We have arguably the best population of breeding golden eagles in the western United States,” he said in a Tuesday interview. “What we do here has a profound effect on the continental population of golden eagles.”

As an avid big game hunter, Bedrosian knows how hard it is to persuade outdoors enthusiasts to change. But those on the front lines have grown frustrated watching waterfowl, raptors and some of the most endangered species suffer and die due to lead being introduced into the environment.

In 2018, a condor moved into an area near Laramie, exciting wildlife enthusiasts. It was the first verified condor sighting in Wyoming in decades. But the news soon turned sour when condor T2 died of lead poisoning near its perch on Medicine Bow Peak in the Snowy Range.

“I think it’s a fair statement to make that California condors cannot survive in the wild without getting rid of lead in ammunition and other sources,” Bedrosian said.

In Park County, Susan “the bird lady” Ahalt, founder of Ironside Bird Rescue in Cody, has struggled to keep up with the number of eagles and other birds suffering with lead poisoning. She often runs out of freezer space after hunting season due to the number of carcasses she has to store. When an eagle dies, it has to be shipped frozen to the national repository for eagles in Denver.

“I’d like to defrost [the freezer], but it’s never empty,” Ahalt said in 2020.

Ahalt is also a hunter and said she never gave her ammo a second thought until seeing how lead poisoning affected wildlife.

Bedrosian watched lead levels in raptors drop after the Teton Raptor Center distributed free non-lead ammunition. He said getting hunters to switch to nontoxic ammo comes down to education and availability of alternatives.

Sporting Lead-Free’s outreach coordinator, Hannah Leonard, will be handing out non-lead split shot to anglers during the state’s free fishing day. She is also willing to travel Wyoming, X-raying meat and presenting ammo seminars.

The group feels it’s a better approach to educate outdoor enthusiasts rather than seeking legislation outlawing the use of lead ammo.

“We are 100% behind a voluntary educational approach,” Bedrosian said. “We have no interest in going down any kind of regulatory or legislative route.”

Leonard hopes to do at least two shooting demonstrations a month, having groups shoot both lead and non-lead ammo and looking at the results of bullet fragmentation and ballistic performance. They will also be launching a mobile X-ray facility to better serve the entire state.

“If you’re worried that the meat you packaged might contain lead fragments, we will identify those packages that have that lead,” she said, adding, “If you have children or somebody pregnant in your life, you can make sure they don’t consume that [meat].”

Most ammunition manufacturers have a non-lead line now. Non-toxic ammunition “is available in every caliber and the performance is amazing,” Bedrosian said.

The price is a little higher, but the difference is between 25 and 50 cents a bullet. Cost could come down as more hunters adopt non-lead options.

Sporting Lead-Free is partially funded by a grant from the Knobloch Family Foundation.

“They’re an organization that has put a lot of time and investment into Wyoming protecting our landscape, funding migration initiatives with the ungulates, as well as land conservation easements,” Bedrosian said.

Sporting Lead-Free also takes private donations and hopes to grow the group through its educational efforts and social media. For more information go to www.sportingleadfree.org.

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Several Wyoming Hunting Applications Due June 1

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June 1 is a big day for Wyoming hunters; it’s the deadline to submit applications for many fall hunts for residents and nonresidents. Applications must be submitted on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website before midnight.  Hunters have just a few days left to complete applications for:

Resident elk
Deer
Antelope
Springer and Glendo special pheasant hunts
Sandhill crane
Beaver
Fall Turkey

New for this year, anyone applying for licenses must create a username and password to utilize their Game and Fish account, including youth applicants. Creating a username and password is a simple process much like on other websites. To help, Game and Fish has step-by-step videos and written instructions. 

“Don’t wait until the last minute to create a user account to apply for licenses. If you have questions, we want to help you early,” said Jennifer Doering, Game and Fish license section manager. 

For big game species, turkey and crane, the Wyoming Game and Fish Hunt Planner can help hunters with their applications through interactive, in-depth mapping. For each species, hunters can see an overview of all the hunt areas in the state and choose individual areas to explore. Different colors designate private and public lands, and users can see public and county roads. Changing the map base layers also allows hunters to toggle between views like road maps or satellite imagery.

“The hunt planner maps are the best you will find anywhere. These are maps made from Game and Fish data, so if we make a change to an access area or hunt area boundary, it is updated here first,” said Sara DiRienzo, department public information officer. “And, our data is verified on the ground by our field folks.”

In addition to the hunt area maps, each area also has details about topography and how easy the land is to access. Other public hunting locations are marked with points for the Game and Fish wildlife habitat management areas, walk-in and hunter management areas.

“The hunt planner gives hunters an informed edge when applying for a license and strategizing their hunting trips,” said DiRienzo. “The updates we make to this tool are a direct result of comments and suggestions from the public on information they need to plan their hunts.”

All applications must be made online by midnight MDT on June 1. For those who may not have access to a computer or need assistance applying, Game and Fish has computer stations at each of the regional offices and at the Cheyenne Headquarters. Hunters who have questions about applying online can call Game and Fish at (307) 777-4600.

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Buffalo Residents Fined, Lose Hunting Privileges In 2019 Poaching Case

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Two Buffalo residents have been fined and will lose their hunting privileges for the foreseeable future in connection to a 2019 case where a bull elk was killed illegally, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) said Tuesday.

Christopher Morales and Keisha Filbert have both been convicted of wildlife violations stemming from an anonymous report to the WGFD that claimed Morales killed a bull elk in September 2019, using a hunting license issued to Filbert.

The WGFD charged Morales in 2020 with illegally taking wildlife and Filbert for illegally transferring ownership of a hunting license following an investigation that spanned several months.

Upon receiving the anonymous report, wildlife investigators reportedly conducted an online investigation, which revealed photos of Morales and Filbert posing in camouflage clothing with two bull elk in 2019.

Morales claimed to have taken his own elk with a crossbow Sept. 6, adding that Filbert killed hers likewise Sept. 12, per the WGFD.

He denied shooting the second elk, stating that he had only tagged along during the second hunt, a story reportedly backed up by Filbert.

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The anonymous report, however, stated that Morales was observed leaving the area alone on Sept. 13 with elk antlers on his vehicle, the morning after Filbert’s elk was reportedly killed, according to the WGFD.

Search warrants yielded a video of Morales’ hunt Sept. 6 and cell phone data that did not match the story, the WGFD stated, adding that Filbert’s phone signal did not place her in the area the day of the second hunt.

During her interview, Filbert was reportedly unable to answer questions regarding her hunt. Instead, she described details from a video recording taken by Morales during his hunt on Sept. 6, per the WGFD.

Wildlife investigators reportedly tracked the path taken by Morales the day the second elk was taken using his cell phone data, locating two elk skeletal remains that matched the geographic location of the elk depicted in Morales’ and Filbert’s pictures.

When she was interviewed a second time in August 2020, Filbert allegedly admitted that she did not take the elk and was not with Morales when it was killed.

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The case recently concluded with the approval of plea agreements between the offenders and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, approved by Circuit Court Judge Shelley Cundiff.

Per the plea agreements, Morales has been ordered to pay $5,000 in fines, $2,000 in restitution, and has forfeited his hunting privileges for three years for taking wildlife without a license.

Filbert lost her hunting privileges for two years and was ordered to pay a $400 fine for illegally transferring a hunting license.

The case displayed a great deal of effort to deceive game wardens during the investigation, Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman remarked, noting how Filbert dressed up in camouflage clothing to pose with the elk as if she had been the hunter.

“Thank you to the concerned sportspersons that started this investigation,” he added. “Many wildlife crimes are never detected because people do not pass information to the (WGFD). Honest sportspersons can make a big difference in protecting Wyoming’s wonderful wildlife resource by reporting violations to the Stop Poaching hotline.”

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Working to Preserve Wyoming’s Hunting Heritage

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Some kids grow up with tales of great hunts and outdoor adventure. They dream of future exploits while gazing at mounted critters on their walls.

But some never have the opportunity to acquire backcountry secrets gathered through generations and handed down as a rite of passage. 

It’s tough to start new. Andrew Richardson wanted to create a different legacy for his children. It was a promise he made to himself — that they would have it better than he did.

When his son Tennessee turned 12, they hit the ground running. Turkeys, pheasant, pronghorns and a doe were up first. Last fall, it was time for Tennessee’s first buck.

Andrew and Tennessee applied for Wyoming Hunt Area 117, an spot west of Meeteetse that’s a tough limited quota tag to draw. They got lucky and both received tags. As the season was about to start, they headed for the hills to set up camp for an extended stay. Tennessee was to get the first shot.

For two days he passed on several bucks; some forkers and a couple keepers. Yet, the minute Tennessee saw a familiar rack, he knew in his heart it was “the one.” 

The father and son team had spent countless days scouting the terrain during the preseason. They had first spotted Tennessee’s deer in July and patterned it through the seasons.

Spending all those months with his father made this buck special, Tennessee said, despite passing on a larger buck. Andrew worked hard to get them in position for the shot.

“I got him within 110 yards,” Andrew recalled, “and he harvested his first buck at 10,500 feet [elevation].”

Tennessee, named after country and western singer Tennessee Ernie Ford, was beyond thrilled.

“Since he started hunting, it’s all he talks about,” Andrew said. 

Together, the father and son team is building a strong bond — sharing their love for the great outdoors. It’s an often-told story in Wyoming, but it’s not where the story ends, thanks to some visitors who showed up at their campsite with a curious offer.

A special hunt

Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner David Rael and his wife, Jennie, stopped by to say howdy before doing some scouting on their own elk hunt in area 62, which overlaps with area 117. Before they knew it, the group was locked in a conversation.

“That’s how I meet most of my friends,” Rael said.

Andrew shared his and Tennessee’s plans to stay in the mountains for eight days, hoping to score a nice buck or two. Rael has long been an advocate of recruiting young hunters and anglers, hoping they’ll carry on the traditions of western outdoorsmen and women. He was inspired by the father and son team’s plan. 

Then Rael said something to Tennessee that dropped his jaw: “If you get a 4-pointer, I’ll pay for the mount.”

Tennessee was stunned. But not knowing Rael, Andrew thought it could be a hollow gesture. “We didn’t know him from Adam,” he said.

Then the two teams of hunters went their separate ways. Andrew and Tennessee both harvested beautiful bucks in the coming week and had the time of their lives in the mountains before returning to Cody.

“This was, by far, the most influential hunt I’ve ever been on,” Andrew said. “Not only because we had good tags and both of us got deer, but because we got to spend eight days in the mountains teaching each other new things.”

The learning process has been steep for Andrew, who grew up without a father.

“I didn’t have anybody to show me how to get any of it done,” he said. “For the first 18 years of my life there was just nobody there.”

Most of Andrew’s hunting skills are self-taught. He spends hours doing research and an equal amount of time soul searching. His kids would have a different upbringing.

“We both learned that whole trip, you know, it wasn’t just me teaching him,” Andrew said. “It was me learning from him as well; I don’t know if I’ll ever experience another hunt as special as this one.”

Helping youth

Meanwhile, when the Raels returned home to Cowley they realized they’d forgotten to get a phone number from their new friends. David Rael doesn’t take making new friends or promises lightly, so he started searching.

“There aren’t many kids named Tennessee,” he said, “so we started there.”

Eventually, after “employing a team,” he found Andrew’s contact information and gave him a call. Once finding out Tennessee accomplished his goal, Rael made a new offer: to either pay for the shoulder mount or to buy him a lifetime small game hunting, fishing license and conservation stamp.

Tennessee ultimately picked the shoulder mount, but the $681.50 license was tempting. Rael has helped literally hundreds of other youth obtain lifetime licenses.

In 2017, when the Game and Fish Commission planned to meet in Lovell, he decided to sponsor a “meet and greet” with local department employees.

“It’s important that game wardens aren’t seen as intimidating,” he said. “I thought if we could get people to come, they could meet Game and Fish employees to see for themselves what great people they are.”

Getting people to come to the event was going to be the tough part, he figured. Most commission meetings, unless a controversial subject is on the agenda, are lightly attended. So with the help of area businesses, Rael offered several door prizes of lifetime small game and fishing licenses to kids attending the meeting with their parents. 

That first experiment was so successful it became a tradition. Rael raised so much money — as well as pulling money from his own pocket in many cases — that there were more tags available than eligible children at some events. The plan was a hit.

At an open house in Powell in November 2019, dozens of youth licenses were awarded. Ryan and Christy Muecke brought their sons Curtis and Tucker and daughter Charlee to participate in the many activities and learning opportunities at the meet and greet.

Though Charlee was too young to participate in the license giveaway, both of the Mueckes’ sons won licenses. It made a big impact on the entire family, Christy said.

“The kids are getting us out more,” she said. “Ryan didn’t bird hunt at all until this year. Tucker was so excited about using his lifetime license, now they’ve gone quite a bit.”

Christy also thinks the opportunity to meet Game and Fish employees was important in exciting their children about outdoor sports.

“I believe that recruiting kids will carry on our passion… our way of life,” she said.

With Rael’s leadership, the open houses have been incredibly beneficial, said Tara Hodges, Cody Region information and education specialist and a hunter safety instructor.

“Commissioner Rael is an authentic and very welcoming individual — and that translates well into an open house style of communication,” Hodges said, adding, “We value the opportunity to meet with the public and engage in one-on-one conversation. This allows Game and Fish to listen to individuals so that we can work together to invest in the next generation of hunters, anglers, trappers and wildlife enthusiasts.”

‘They are our future’

Still, perhaps nothing quite compares to relationships forged in the field.

While on his hunt, Tennessee had an influential meeting with Meeteetse area Game Warden Jim Olson. Olson checked Tennessee’s license and spent some time interacting with him in the field.

“He absolutely treated my boy with the utmost respect, like a man,” Andrew said. “It means a lot to him to be able to stand in front of somebody and talk to him and shake his hand and get treated like a grown up.”

Although several years from needing to make the decision, the chance encounter with a game warden planted a seed: Tennessee is exploring the idea of becoming a Game and Fish employee. “He made a big impact on me,” Tennessee said of Olson.

As for Rael, he became emotional as he recounted meeting the Richardsons in the mountains outside Meeteetse.

Not only did the relationship between Andrew and Tennessee inspire Rael, but seeing a father and son building a lifetime relationship also exposed some raw nerves from his own youth.

“I never went hunting with my father,” Rael explained. “He had other things in his life more important than his family.”

Growing up without his father’s guidance was hard, but Rael was lucky enough to be introduced to the outdoors by his stepfather when he was a teen. Instead of being bitter, the feelings of regret have driven Rael to do everything he can to help others; hearing Andrew’s story inspired him to help.

An inspector for Black Hills Energy, Andrew also has a daughter, and Bostyn is raring to hunt. “She’s already telling me that she wants to go,” Andrew said. “She wants to shoot an elk with a bow. And she’s 7 years old.”

Bostyn will get her turn, he promised. 

Both he and Rael resolved to be better fathers than they had, to never make their children go through what they experienced: the feeling of not being wanted.

“It’s too important,” Rael said, tears in his eyes. “They are our future.” 

‘A friend forever’

Rael ends his six-year stint on the Game and Fish Commission Friday after a two-day Zoom meeting. The next commissioner will be selected from applicants from Park County. 

Rael’s special brand of leadership will be missed, said Commissioner Patrick Crank, of Cheyenne, but the meet and greet will continue as his legacy.

“We have a group of the most amazing employees on the face of the earth, and they’re the heart and soul of the agency. They work their tails off to manage and support our wildlife, and they’re just good human beings. They’re members of every community across the state,” Crank said. “I think David [Rael]’s allowed people to sit down and talk one on one with those amazing folks and it has helped tremendously.”

He’s also become a great friend, Crank said. “He’s the kind of guy that you could call in the middle of the night and say, ‘I need help, David,’ and he would show up a few hours later and help you. He’s just truly an amazing human being. What a pleasure it was to serve with him.”

In the middle of Crank’s term on the commission, he was involved in a serious automobile accident. He was life-flighted to Denver for treatment. It took several years before he was walking without the aid of a walker or cane.

“After I came back, I was in Casper, and I was still using the walker to get into the building,” Crank recalled. “I looked up, and David was out in front of me kicking all the little stones and pebbles off the sidewalk so I wouldn’t trip.”

Crank will also be ending his term on the commission after the Thursday and Friday meeting. The former Wyoming attorney general from 2002 to 2007 under former Gov. Dave Freudenthal is a shareholder in Crank Legal Group, P.C., a Cheyenne law firm, and plans to continue practicing. Crank also plans to be in Cowley every Fourth of July for the Raels’ celebration ’til I’m pushing up daisies.”

Rael said the two haven’t always had the same opinion, but they’ve never let a debate come between them.

“Pat tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. But under that gruff exterior, he has a bigger heart than his body has a right to carry.”

Though an owner of a thriving construction business, Rael considers his family and friends his greatest blessings. 

“I’m not a part-time friend,” he said. “Once I make a friend, I’m a friend forever.”

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Sheridan Police Department to Hunt Deer In Town

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It’s not going to be a free-for-all where Sheridan residents use grenade launchers, Howitzers, and flamethrowers to annihilate packs of deer or anything.

But there is going to be hunting inside the city limits. And it’s nothing that new.

The problem is an abundance of deer in the town and with that abundance comes deer and human conflict.

So how to take care of it? Bow hunting.

The Sheridan Police Department is launching a program again that will harvest deer from the city limits of Sheridan.

“The program has really suppressed the deer versus vehicle collisions,” Sheridan police Lt. Travis Koltiska said on a Sheridan Media talk show.  “We’re trying to address some of the aggressive deer in town and reduce the property damages.  It has been a very successful program.”

Officers will be conducting operations in the afternoon and evening hours. As in years past, all harvested deer will be donated to individuals in the community.

Any community member who deserves to receive a harvested deer, with the ability to process the animal, should call the Sheridan police and ask to be put on the deer donation list.

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Shoshoni to host annual all-women’s rabbit hunt on Saturday

in Uncategorized/Travel
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Shhh! Be vewy quiet! They’re hunting wabbit!

A longtime all-women’s hunting competition will enter its 41st year on Saturday as teams take part in the Wyoming Women’s 5-Shot Rabbit Hunt near Shoshoni.

The hunt has been around since the late 1970s and was created in direct response to Lander’s famous One-Shot Antelope Hunt, said Joan Eisemann, who has been involved with the event’s organization for many years.

“The Shoshoni Chamber of Commerce started it back when (Lander) had the One-Shot contest and wouldn’t let women hunt,” she said. “So they started the Shoshoni Chamber Bunny Hunt. It was for women only.”

Over the years, the hunt became known as the Wyoming Women’s 5-Shot Rabbit Hunt and Eisemann said she has been involved in one way or another for more than 30 years.

“I lived here,” she said. “I grew up with it.”

In the antelope hunt, hunters equipped with one bullet each are sent in 3-person teams to see how many antelope the team can bring in.

In the rabbit hunt, each hunter is given five bullets and sent in 2-person teams to collect 10 rabbits. The teams are accompanied by a judge.

The object is to shoot the highest number of rabbits in the least amount of time with the best shot, Eisemann said.

“If you’re fast and you’ve done your homework and found your bunny holes, you can maybe get three to six rabbits in less than a minute,” she said. “We’ve had some teams come in at 17 minutes for 10 rabbits. These girls can shoot.”

So far this year, six teams have signed up to take part, but teams can register at the Shoshoni Fire Hall as late as Friday evening, when those attending a dance and auction prior to the hunt can place their bids on which team they think will have the best score at the end of the weekend. The dance and auction are open to the public.

The actual hunt begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Eisemann said the teams can go anywhere around Shoshoni as long as they stay at least 1 mile away from any communities.

The teams must also return to the Fire Hall by 4 p.m. and the winning teams will be announced during a banquet Saturday evening.

For more information, visit the 5-Shot Rabbit Hunt’s Facebook page.

Hunting with Heroes brings disabled veterans together for healing, outdoor recreation

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Hunting with Heroes
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

War is hell, but returning to civilian life can be equally daunting for many military veterans, especially those whose wounds complicate the reintegration process.

Hunting with Heroes seeks to provide disabled veterans an opportunity to heal and re-calibrate in a familiar environment with like-minded people, co-founder Dan Currah said.

“We found very quickly that the hunts were therapeutic for those veterans coming back,” explained Currah, a former U.S. Army signal corps officer. “We didn’t do that as Vietnam veterans. We didn’t associate with other veterans. I think there was a social stigma attached to our service, and for the most part, we just came home and tried to forget it.”

Founded in 2013 by Currah and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Colton Sasser, the Wyoming-based, non-profit organization uses donated game licenses to guide hunts throughout Wyoming. 

Sasser said the experience can be a means for veterans to seize some semblance of normalcy and routine after their world was seemingly upended.

“Some of the best therapy I’ve ever got was hunting or fishing,” he reminisced. “Being out there alone with your thoughts, focused on the task at hand. But, this seems different. It’s more about the camaraderie. The hunting truly is the bonus. It’s the cherry on top.”

From the ashes

While escorting an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team through Afghanistan in 2012, Sasser’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

“We hit that sucker, and it instantly killed my squad leader,” recalled Sasser, who served as an U.S. Army infantryman. “The truck was upside down, and I woke up and knew it was bad.”

The events directly following the attack remain hazy for Sasser, who blacked out several times during the next weeks. But the damage was permanent — traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fused spine and an amputated leg.

Months later while recovering at Fort Sam Houston, a Casper newspaper ran a story about Sasser, a Casper native. Currah, also a Casper native, was living in Texas at the time, but kept up on Wyoming news and read Sasser’s story.

After checking around, Currah and his wife discovered they knew Sasser’s parents from their high school days, so the Currahs asked to visit Sasser in the hospital.

“His dad told me he was off on the weekends with nothing to do,” Currah said. “He’s an avid hunter, and I knew some guys that were doing hog hunts, so we lined him up with some hunts.” 

Sasser said getting away from base was great, but it reminded him how much he missed hunting in Wyoming.

Once medically retired from the military, Sasser returned home and the duo started planning expeditions to help other veterans. 

“(Currah) and I just started talking about it over coffee,” he said. “I knew getting tags would be the hardest thing, because how do you plan a hunt when you don’t know when and where people will draw tags.”

Soon after cementing plans to move forward with the organization, Sasser learned about a Wyoming Game and Fish Department program which allowed people to purchase tags and donate them for re-issuance to disabled veterans and people with permanent disabilities who use wheelchairs.

“The first year we were only planning on doing 10 hunts,” he said. “We ended up doing 17, so it was a success from the outset.” 

In 2018, Hunting with Heroes hosted 230 different hunts and since 2013, Sasser guessed they’ve completed more than 1,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be 50 percent or more disabled with a service-connected disability, and they can apply through the group’s website, www.HuntingWithHeroes.org. The program is open to applicants from around the country, and Sasser said many participants come from out-of-state.

Welcome home

Diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam, Ed Klaput, a retired U.S. Army colonel, sought respite in the solace of the hunt.

“I’ve been undergoing chemo for the last three years, and I’ve been feeling better,” he said. “So, I wanted to get back to hunting elk.”

Klaput lives in Virginia, and without residency, he didn’t have much hope of scoring an elk tag anywhere along the continental divide. While serving, Klaput was stationed in Colorado, and in the late 1990s, he owned a cabin in Wapiti, so he was fond of hunting elk in Rockies. During his time in Wyoming, he became friends with author and former “Outdoor Life” editor Jim Zumbo. Klaput reached out to his friend for ideas about how to get back into the field.

“Zumbo told me about Hunting with Heroes,” he said. “I’d heard of groups like these, but I’d never gone with one.”

In October, Klaput flew out to join Zumbo, Currah and Sasser on an elk and antelope hunt near Rock Springs.

“We went out in the morning, and we weren’t there for too long before we spotted a bull elk,” Klaput remembered. “I lined up my sights, and took him down with a single lung shot. A little later, I got a buck antelope — again with a single lung shot.”

Even among of military-trained shooters and avid hunters, the marksmanship was impressive.

“They now call me Hawkeye, or Hawkeyes, I don’t know which,” Klaput said, chuckling.

Once home, his wife noticed an immediate change in his demeanor.

“She said, ‘You look so good. You’re cured!’” Klaput explained. “It took me out of a definite malaise from depression and the chemo treatments.” 

It wasn’t just the hunt and reconnecting with old friends that pulled the colonel out of his funk. He said Wyoming, its residents and the gratitude shown by tag donors, private land owners and volunteer guides all combined to create the reception Klaput never received on his trip home from Vietnam.

“I can’t put it in words — I could probably put it in tears — but not words,” he said quietly. “The treatment these vets have received from this group and the people of Wyoming is a therapy in and of itself. After 50 years, I felt like I finally received the ‘Welcome home’ we deserved.”

Outdoor recreation major contributor to Wyoming’s economy

in News/Recreation/Tourism/wildlife
2188

By Cowboy State Daily

Outdoor activity in Wyoming contributes a larger share to the state’s economic activity than the majority of states, according to a federal report.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that in 2017, outdoor recreation in Wyoming generated $1.6 billion, about 4.4 percent of the state’s economic activity, well above the national average of 2.2 percent.

And the industry in Wyoming shows no signs of slowing, said Dave Glenn, of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a division of the Parks and Cultural Resources Department.

“The RV industry’s continuing to grow, the mountain bike industry’s continuing to grow, the (off-highway vehicles), the snow machines, the fly fishing, hunting, all those thing are growing in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming is behind only Hawaii, Montana, Maine and Vermont in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economy. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s jobs are also in outdoor recreation, the highest figure in the nation.

Glenn said he believes the state is poised to see tremendous growth in outdoor recreation, thanks to its plentiful resources.

“I think we have the ability to double or triple that number,” he said. “Wyoming has the access to public lands, we’ve got our big three national parks, we have all kinds of national forests, (Bureau of Land Management land), Red Desert, all kinds of great country. We need to work on our infrastructure so when people come here, they have something to do and to stay longer as well.”

The Parks and Cultural Resources Department, along with the state Game and Fish Department, recently joined forces to promote activities on state lands by helping commemorate National Public Lands Day.

The observation on Sept. 28 was designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy their public lands.

“Whether it’s recreation, hunting, hiking, fishing, the Game and Fish (Department) properties are open to all that,” said Ray Bredehoft, with the department.

Bredehoft said his department is working to minimize conflicts between recreational users of the land and wildlife as the number of people using public lands grows.

“We’re trying to balance that, there’s always going to be some sort of conflict,” he said. “We’re here for the wildlife, to make sure they’re here for generations to come.”

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)
2172

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

Elk hunting outlook good, deer hunting ‘mixed bag,’ says G&F report

in News/Recreation/wildlife
2021

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Fall is in the air and it’s the time of year when hunters around Wyoming are finalizing their plans for a successful hunting season. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department  has prepared a fall forecast of its eight regions to make planning much easier. 

The WGFD uses a map to define the eight regions identified as Cody, Sheridan, Jackson, Pinedale, Lander, Casper, Green River, and Laramie. 

The hunting season outlook in each region for the big three game animals — pronghorn antelope, deer and elk — is covered in the forecast, along with information on other species. 

Antelope

According to the report, pronghorn populations are up in the Casper, Green River, and Laramie regions, while in Sheridan and Cody, the populations remain stable. Although lower populations have been recorded in Pinedale, the limited number of licenses issued should mean success rates will be high, the report said. In Casper, populations are average. A GPS collar tracking program is set for the winter of 2019-20 to provide better information to Pronghorn Managers.   

Deer

The outlook for deer hunting is a “mixed bag,” according to the WGFD forecast. Although a successful hunting season is expected for the Big Horn Basin, most deer populations in Wyoming are down due to the severe winter of 2016-17. However, the Pinedale and Cody regions are seeing large populations and high quality hunting opportunities, with Cody herds expanding into new areas and habitats.

Elk

Elk hunting should be good, the report said. Populations increased in Casper, Cody, Green River, Laramie and Sheridan, with Sheridan’s populations being high due to limited hunter access to private land. The Lander and Pinedale populations remain steady in almost all areas.

The WGFD Fall 2019 Forecast also has information on moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, upland game birds and small game, including turkey and migratory game birds. 

For complete information you can read the full forecast at the WGFD website.

Coalition to sue over state’s new grizzly hunt law

in News/Recreation
989

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A coalition of environmental groups plans to sue the state over a new law giving it the authority to conduct grizzly bear hunts.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, filed a notice this week with the state Game and Fish Department of their intent to sue over the statue, which was signed into law about a week ago by Gov. Mark Gordon.

The groups, in a news release, said the law is contrary to a federal judge’s ruling last year that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service erred by removing grizzlies from the endangered species list and giving management of grizzly bears to the state.

But backers of the law, as well as the law itself, maintain that federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act require cooperation between federal and state governments.

Senate File 93, signed into law by Gordon on Feb. 15, was the Legislature’s response to a federal judge’s ruling in September that halted a hunting season on grizzlies.

The hunting season was scheduled after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had ruled recovery goals for grizzlies in Wyoming had been met and the animals could be removed from the endangered species list.The Fish and Wildlife Service is appealing the judge’s decision.

SF 93 would give the Game and Fish Department the right to declare a hunting season for grizzlies if it determined such a hunt would be beneficial to the state’s residents.

The coalition, which also includes the Center for Biological Diversity and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said the new law violates the Endangered Species Act and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives federal law primacy over state law.

“This state law directly and unlawfully conflicts with the clear mandate of the federal Endangered Species Act that grizzly bears not be shot by trophy hunters seeking their heads and hides for bragging rights,” said Nichola Arrivo, a staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), another member of the coalition.

But the law’s backers maintain the Endangered Species Act requires federal officials to work cooperatively with states in managing endangered species, so the law is valid.

The law itself raises the same point.

“In enacting the Endangered Species Act, the United States Congress requires the United States secretary of the interior to cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states in conserving and managing any endangered or threatened species,” it said.

Jim Allen, an outfitter in Fremont County who served in the Legislature from 2015 through 2018, said if nothing else, the legislation would show the state’s intent that federal laws be administered in accordance with laws in effect in the state.

“What (bill sponsor) Sen. (Wyatt) Agar’s (R-Thermopolis) bill does is just one more statement by the state that can’t be ignored by the (federal) agencies,” Allen said. “State and county use plans are statements the federal government is supposed to abide by.”

While the federal government may not recognize the law’s validity, it will still send a message, Allen said.

“Nothing else that we’ve tried has worked to gain (grizzly bear) management, so why not pass a bill?” he said. “It can’t hurt.”

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