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Miracle Hunt: Brain Cancer Survivor Bags Wyoming Elk

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Hunting

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Eleven years ago, Kenneth “Chip” Madren was a robust, healthy 13-year-old who loved the outdoors in home state of Georgia. 

He was already an avid hunter looking forward to many seasons in the field, his father, Ken Madren told Cowboy State Daily. 

Then everything changed. 

“He was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer that had gone into his spine,” Ken said. “It was the kind of cancer where they were talking about low probabilities (of survival).”

Chip spent 180 days in hospitals and underwent numerous major surgeries “just to live,” his father said. 

He survived, but was wheelchair bound and suffered significant vision loss. So, any more hunting seemed out of the question for the young man. 

‘Powerful Medicine’

But Chip wasn’t that easily discouraged. 

He was back in the field as soon as possible, thanks in large part to outdoor organizations that help facilitate outings for disabled hunters, Ken said. Among them is Ron Vining’s Polestar Outdoors, headquartered in Powell. 

“The outdoors community has been very helpful during all of this,” Ken said. “I think it has been just as powerful a medicine as the medical things that actually made the cancer go away,” he said. 

As a way of giving back, father and son founded “Chip’s Nation,” a pediatric cancer foundation.

And Chip kept taking any chance he could to go hunting.

Opportunity Of A Lifetime 

Chip said he’s long enjoyed pursuing whitetail deer in Georgia, as well as wild turkeys in several states. 

But getting a chance at a bull elk out West was a goal that had long eluded him. 

Everything came together this fall, when Polestar Outdoors, the Outdoor Dream Foundation and others were able to arrange for an elk hunt on private land in the Jackson area. 

Wyoming has a “fantastic program” through which residents may choose to donate their hunting tags to disabled hunters, Ken said. That’s how Chip got his longed-for elk tag. 

Family friend Scott Hardy and his son, Will Hardy, joined the hunt. They were there to help with Chip’s mobility challenges and share in their own first Wyoming experiences. 

Chip Harden said filling a Wyoming bull elk tag was a hunt of a lifetime, and he already is contemplating how to bag a moose. (Photos Courtesy Polestar Outdoors)

Game And Fish Helps

When they arrived, the elk herd that usually migrates across the private property that was hosting the hunt wasn’t cooperating, Chip said. 

“There was some construction work on a highway nearby, and I think that was messing the elk up,” he said. “The elk just weren’t there (on the property). But then the game warden found out there were some elk on an adjacent property, and he worked with that landowner to get us permission to go hunt there.”

Waiting For Them To Stand

It wasn’t long before they were on to four bulls, but the situation required patience. 

Chip, ever-tenacious, was up to the task. 

“There were four bulls, all laying down,” he said. “My vision’s not very good. I need some contrast. Those bulls were laying down where it was super-snowy, so it was tough for me to see them. I had to wait for them to stand up.”

At long last, the bulls stood. 

“I think they finally got restless over us being there and they stood up,” Chip said. “Then I could see them really good. Three of the four left, but the fourth one stopped and stayed. I was able to drop him with one shot with a .300 Winchester Magnum.”

“I got a nice 6×6 bull,” he added. 

Chip Marden

Ready To Move To Wyoming

Wyoming’s cold was something to experience, Ken said. 

“After they field dressed the elk, they put it on a trailer,” he said. “When they got it to the game processor, it had frozen to that trailer, so when they tried to winch the bull off it lifted up the whole trailer.”

After the hunt, there was still time to enjoy Wyoming. 

“We got to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton,” Chip said. “We saw grizzly bears!”

They also saw moose, which Chip said is the next big Wyoming animal he’d like to hunt. 

Even the smaller wildlife here is impressive, Ken said. 

“You have very well-mannered foxes in Jackson. They always use the crosswalks, I don’t know how you got them to do that,” he said. 

When asked if they plan to return to Wyoming, the father and son answered enthusiastically. 

“Are you kidding?” Ken said. “I want to move there.”

“Lets go!” Chip replied. 

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Hunters Keep Shooting Each Other In Nebraska; Wyoming Hunters Say That Can Be Avoided

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Three accidental shootings in three days during Nebraska’s deer season, and the memory of a fatal hunting accident in Wyoming last year, bring home the point that hunters can’t ever take gun safety for granted. 

“I won’t allow a loaded rifle into my truck. Ever. Period,” Greybull hunter and trapper John Eckman told Cowboy State Daily.

He and other Wyoming outdoorsmen also said that a hunting rifle should always be carried with the firing chamber empty. Hunters don’t need to chamber a round until they’ve got a clear, safe shot lined up on big game animal, they said.

“Never, ever, ever chamber a round until you’re ready to shoot,” noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily. 

Nebraska: Three Shot In Three Days 

In separate incidents this month, three hunters were shot over a span of three days during Nebraska’s deer hunting seasons, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Columbus Telegram newspaper reported.

None of the shootings were fatal, but in each instance a man was accidentally shot by a member of his own shooting party, according to reports. 

The most serious injuries were suffered by a 20-year-old from Indiana. He was flown to a trauma center in Lincoln, Nebraska, after being shot by another hunter who slipped while following him up an embankment.

A 22-year-old Omaha, Nebraska, man suffered injuries to his hand in another shooting. In the third incident, a Nebraska resident whose age wasn’t given suffered a gunshot wound to the arm. 

Wyoming Not Immune

Wyoming hasn’t escaped hunting accidents. Ulrich recalled a tragedy near Ten Sleep in October 2121, when a man was accidently shot by his son and died.

Even the most experienced hunters can’t take safety for granted, said hunter and mule deer conservationist Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer.

“I have a friend who was hunting elk near Meeteetse who had an accidental discharge of his rifle for the first time after 32 years of hunting,” Coursey said. 

“Even our former vice president was involved in a hunting accident,” he said, in reference to Wyoming native Dick Cheney accidentally shooting and wounding a friend while bird hunting. 

And careless hunters can injure others even without hitting them with bullets, retired forester and avid hunter Karl Brauneis of Lander told Cowboy Sate Daily. 

“Never fire your rifle if you are behind or in equal position to another hunter. The muzzle blast can cause ear damage that can be permanent,” he said. 

Horses Deserve Saftey Too

Eckman said he extends the rule of leaving the firing chamber empthy to rifles kept in saddle scabbards. 

“You’re riding through the brush and your safety gets bumped off,” he said. “Then a twig hits your trigger and you end up shooting your freakin’ horse. I like my horse better than I like most people, and I don’t want to see him get shot.”

He added that he’s hunted deer in Nebraska, and the safety standards there didn’t seem any more lax than they are in Wyoming. So, the Cornhusker State must have just had a run of bad luck with a few careless individuals.

“Hunting deer over there didn’t really seem any different than hunting deer here in Wyoming,” he said. 

‘Muzzle Control’

Even the best of hunters can get complacent and let the rules slip, particularly when they’re younger, Coursey said. 

The final line of defense against tragedies is “muzzle control, muzzle control, muzzle control,” he said, in reference to the rule of always making sure a firearm is pointed in a safe direction. “That way, even if there is an accidental discharge, it doesn’t end with somebody getting hit.”

Treating every firearm as if it were loaded is a must, Coursey, Ulrich, Brauneis and Eckman said.

And never assume that it isn’t, Eckman added. 

“I don’t just think a gun is unloaded,” he said. “I always check. I always open the bolt, the lever or whatever and check to make sure that firing chamber is empty.”

Stay Calm, Stay Safe

In addition to the safety factor of carrying a hunting rifle with the chamber empty, the added step of chambering a round when the right moment comes gives the hunter more time to focus, Ulrich said. 

“That time it takes to chamber a round allows you to settle down and control your breath,” he said. “A measured and steady shot is an accurate shot.”

Brauneis also emphasized how important it is to just “relax” and enjoy the outdoors, rather than getting worked up over whether the chance to make a shot will come that day. When people get too anxious about getting a shot, things get dangerous.

“Only shoot if the shot is right and will give you a 95% chance at a kill shot,” he said. “Once you pull the trigger a multitude of variables enter into the picture. Only one of those variables is good.”

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Wildlife Task Force Recommends Cranking Up Out-Of-State “Big 5” Trophy Hunting Licenses

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Hiking the prices for some nonresident hunting tags could keep Wyoming resident’s prices lower while helping to fund wildlife conservation, members of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force said Friday. 

Nonresident hunting tag prices could also go up for Wyoming’s “Big 5” trophy species. Those include moose, bison, bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats. Grizzly bears also will be included if federal protections for them are lifted. 

Nonresident grizzly tags would cost $7,500 each under the current proposal. 

Task Force Can’t Set Policy

The task force agreed to add the proposed Big 5 tag price hikes to a draft bill already approved in October by the state Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Joint Committee. 

An amendment to include the Big 5 can be added before the draft bill is forwarded to the Legislature, which will consider it during its 2023 session, said task force member Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs. 

If the bill passes and is signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon, the fee hikes will take effect in January 2024. 

The task force doesn’t have authority to change legislation related to tag prices or to set hunting or wildlife management policy. Instead, it’s tasked with crafting recommendations for the Legislature and Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. The commission sets policy for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

‘50/50 Split’ Rejected

The fee hikes would apply for “special application” tags, which would make up 40% of nonresident tag applications for Wyoming’s primary big game species – elk, deer and antelope. The price hikes would not apply to the other 60% of out-of-state hunting tag applications. 

There was some discussion among task force members about whether to recommended changing that to a “50/50 split.” In other words, designating half the nonresident tags to the more expensive special application pool. 

That idea didn’t seem popular among either Wyoming or nonresident hunters leaving online comments on the task force’s webstie, members said. 

There’s a perception that the idea is just a way to favor outfitters and their wealthiest nonresident clients, said task force member Alan Teten.

Even though that’s not the case, including the 50/50 split at this point would seem like too much and likely kill the legislation’s chances of making it through, Hicks said. 

“The ‘50/50’ would be a poison pill, and we’d lose the whole shooting match,” he said.

The task force voted to keep the 50/50 split out of its recommendations for the draft bill.  

Paying More To Be First

Nonresident hunters willing to shell out the extra bucks for special application tags would move to the front of the line to draw tags. That means they’d have better odds in drawings.

The draft bill would boost the special application fees that are tacked onto the base price of nonresident hunting tags. Nonresident hunters willing to take their chances in the general drawing pool would still pay only the base tag fees. 

For example, the current base price of regular nonresident elk tag set by state statute is $690. The current special application fee for that tag is $576. The draft bill would raise that fee to $1,258. That means the tag would cost hunters entering the special draws a total of $1,948. 

The end cost for special draw privileges would hit $1,208 for deer tags and $1,198 for antelope. 

Big 5 Price Hikes

In addition to the proposed $7,500 for a grizzly tag, the task force recommends prices of $3,000 for nonresident mountain goat and bighorn sheep tags, $2,750 for moose and $6,000 for bison. 

Teten said there was some worry about a “cultural change” in hunting, favoring the wealthy. 

Lee Livingston, a task force member, outfitter and Park County commissioner, said the premium price tiers match the Western market value for high-demand hunting tags. 

And the general draw tags for nonresidents, as well as resident hunting tags, will remain at their current prices, he said. 

System Works

That system has worked so far, Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik said. 

“In 2007, the price for a resident general elk tag was $57. This year, it was $57,” he said. 

In addition to keeping resident hunting tag prices steady, fee increases for premium tags help fuel the economy in many smaller Wyoming towns near prime hunting areas, such as Pinedale, Hicks said. 

“We’re going to price higher for some higher drawing odds for the clientele that’s going to put more money back into the state’s economy,” he said. 

More dollars coming in through hunting tags also could mean more money for vital wildlife conservation projects, such as big game highway crossings, other task force members said. There are several such crossings, either underpasses or overpasses, proposed around Wyoming. 

One of the largest is a proposed overpass for deer, elk and antelope along Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain. There hasn’t been been a start date set for that $21 million project. 

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

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

The Gripes

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

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

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

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

The Players

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

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

Communication, Civility 

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

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

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

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

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

Get Over It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Once In A Lifetime’: Wyoming Hunter Recounts Rare Mountain Goat Get

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Physical fitness, good marksmanship and grizzly country savvy are all important on a hunt for Rocky Mountain goats, Guy Litt of Laramie said. 

But patience is probably the most important element of all – if you’re lucky enough to get a rare tag to hunt them in Wyoming.

“My hunt was an exercise in patience,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I had to have patience to wait for when the goats would move out of dangerous places and into areas where I could stalk them.”

After hunting for several days during an August archery season, Litt’s efforts paid off on Sept. 1, the opening day of mountain goat rifle season.

Photo Courtesy Guy Litt

A Relatively Young Age

Even drawing a mountain goat tag was feat of luck. 

“I feel so fortunate, looking at the odds this past year,” he said. “There were 48 mountain goat tags available in Wyoming and 3,980 applicants.”

Mountain goats are among Wyoming’s “Big 5” game species, for which tags are especially scant and usually once-in-a-lifetime scores for hunters. The others include bighorn sheep, bison, moose and – if and when they’re delisted and legal to hunt – grizzly bears. 

Hunters will often spend many years compiling “preference points” to better their odds for drawing tags for moose and bighorn sheep. But the drawings for mountain goats are random selection, Litt said. 

“I feel super fortunate to have drawn a goat tag at my fairly young age,” said Litt, 35. “I’m working on building up preference points for my bighorn sheep tag, which I figure may take another 15 years.”

Guy Litt of Laramie shared this video from his recent mountain goat hunt.

Mountain Goat 101

Once Litt drew the tag, he started learning as much as he could about mountain goats, their habitat and hunting tactics. 

That included reading books by wildlife biologists and visiting online forums where hunters swap stories and share advice. 

“The interesting thing is, there’s never been an introduction of mountain goats to Wyoming,” he said. “Their native range is west of the Continental Divide. The goats in Wyoming have all come through populations that were introduced in Idaho and Montana.”

He also learned about the origins of the animals.

“I believe their closest relative in North America is the musk ox,” Litt said. “They are also related to goral in Asia, which are smaller than mountain goats and live in forested zones.”

It’s also challenging distinguishing between billies (males) and nannies (females). 

“One way to tell is that the billies’ horns are wider than their eyeballs at the base, while nannies’ horns are narrower than their eyeballs at the base,” he said, adding that “urination stance is probably the best way to tell.

“Nannies squat, while the billies stretch out to urinate.”

Photo Courtesy Leah Ritz

Cliffs And Grizzlies Galore 

Litt’s chosen area was near Sunlight Peak in the North Absaroka mountain range. It was a 12-mile hike into base camp. 

For his archery venture, he was accompanied by his wife, Lea Ritz. 

“We camped in the last bunch of trees at 10,200 feet in altitude,” he said. “Most of the time I climbed up to about 11,200 to glass and observe mountain goats. And I’d drop down to around 10,000 feet, to then climb up farther from my stalking approaches.”

During the archery hunt, he saw 16 grizzly bears. They had gathered on the alpine slopes to feast upon moths, which take breaks from migration to rest among rocks and boulders there. 

“The archery hunt was a lot of fun,” Litt said. “I had many great stalks. There were some stalks that I’m glad didn’t work out, because there were so many grizzly bears around and I didn’t want to have a fresh carcass there.”

He also regretted not having more mountaineering practice. 

“I already had the baseline physical abilities. What I didn’t have was the mountaineering knowledge. It was intimidating being around so many cliffs,” he said.

Mountaineering skills aren’t a problem for the goats, which have almost unbelievable climbing skills, Litt said. 

“Unlike most other big game animals, their front quarters are the same size as their hindquarters,” he said. “They can put their front hooves on a ledge and just pull themselves right up.”

Not Alone After All

After the archery hunt ended with no goat, Litt decided to go back in for the rifle season, trekking in alone this time. 

“I had some misgivings about going back in there alone because of the grizzles,” he said. 

However, when he got to the base camp site, he found his friend and fellow Laramie resident Luke Weddell was already there waiting for him.

“I wasn’t expecting him to be there,” Litt said. “My wife had told his wife to convince him to go up there so I wouldn’t be alone.”

‘Dork Stamp’ The Mark Of A Goat Hunter

When the moment came, it arrived quickly. 

They returned to roughly the same place where Litt had archery hunted – and found mountain goats. 

They had been watching and stalking a particular goat, which they swore was a billy. When a shot opportunity presented itself, Litt fired a 130-grain all-copper bullet from his .270 rifle. 

“There was just this brief moment when the goat popped into view, and I was able to make a 190-yard shot with Luke holding his trekking poles as a rest,” Litt said. “And I managed to scope myself.” 

“Scoping,” or what in shooting jargon is called a “dork stamp,” means the rifle’s recoil drove the edge of the scope back into the shooter’s face, usually making a cut along the eyebrow. 

“One of the veterans on the goat hunters’ forum said a dork stamp is the mark of a true mountain goat hunter, because you have to take shots from such awkward positions,” Litt said. 

The goat dropped instantly. 

“Luckily, it didn’t fall off a cliff,” Litt said. 

‘The Hero Of My Hunt’

When he and Weddell got to the goat, they discovered it was a nanny. 

Although his hunting tag was for either sex, “I felt terrible about that the whole way out. I felt that I had taken future hunting opportunities away from somebody else.”

A game warden later reassured him that mistaking a nanny for a billy is an easy mistake, and shooting a nanny wouldn’t hurt others’ drawing odds or future hunting opportunities. 

Litt described his goat as being just a little larger than a typical antelope. He and Weddell packed out 43 pounds of meat, plus the goat’s hide and head. 

It was a 3-mile pack back to base camp, where they rested for the night before hiking the 12 miles out to the truck. 

“Luckily, since I had Luke with me, we were able to pack everything out in one trip,” Litt said. “That makes him the hero of my hunt, because without him I would have had to make two full trips.”

Best Slow-Cooked

Litt skinned the mountain goat’s head and boiled off the remaining tissue to make a European mount of the skull. 

A taxidermist tanned the hide for him, making a throw-blanket out of it. 

As for the meat, Litt discovered the best way to prepare mountain goat is in a slow cooker. 

“Mountain goat meat is delicious, but it’s very tough. I’ve heard that it has to do with their muscle fibers running in both directions, giving them the strength to climb. So, you have to slow-cook it,” he said.

Along with his trophy, a warm blanket and many good meals, Litt has photos and videos from his hunt, as well as lasting memories. 

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime tag,” he said. “This truly was a once-in-a lifetime experience.”

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‘It’s Coming For Us All’: Wyoming Hunter Bags Buck, Learns It Has Wasting Disease

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Photo Courtesy Liz Lynch

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Liz Lynch thought she’d lucked out when she killed a healthy-looking mule deer buck near Lander this fall, but then the buck tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). 

“Hindsight being 20/20, there was a very high likelihood that he would be CWD positive,” Lynch told Cowboy State Daily. “He came from the Lander area, and a very specific subset of the Lander area that is known to have high CWD rates.” 

A Waste

Lynch, an archeologist from Pinedale, said she typically uses most of the carcasses of the deer she kills, but not this year. 

“I usually use the bones for stock and marrow broth,” she said. “I like to use tallow for skin care. It works very well.” 

“With this deer, I threw anything to do with the marrow away, including the areas affected by the shot, and he was killed with just one shot,” she said. “Pretty much anything that’s not muscle tissue, I threw away.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department made testing hunter’ kills mandatory this fall in several deer hunt areas in central and eastern Wyoming. 

Lynch said he killed her buck on a general tag in deer hunt area 92. CWD testing wasn’t mandatory there, but she decided to have the buck tested anyway. 

As the disease spreads among deer herds, it’s likely there will be few, if any, places left in Wyoming where hunters can take for granted that the deer they kill aren’t infected, Lynch said.  

“I think it’s coming for us all,” she said.

On The Fence About Eating It

Lynch processed the meat from the carcass, but hasn’t eaten of it yet, and isn’t sure whether she will. 

“Antler-wise, he wasn’t a huge mule deer, but his body size and molar development indicate he was about 5 to 5 ½ years old,” Lynch said. 

So, it’s favorable that a buck that age had at least the outward appearance of health, even though it was infected, she said. 

And it’s that infection that’s making her hesitant to fry up deer steaks just yet.

“Normally, I would eat the heart and the tenderloins pretty fast,” she said, adding that the meat from that deer “is just sitting in my freezer. I’ve marked those packages with big red ‘plus’ signs so I know which ones they are. I’ve just been staring at it, trying to decide whether to eat it. I know I won’t share it with anybody else.”

Threat To Humans?

CWD is transmitted between deer and elk through prions, or malformed proteins. It is always fatal. Animals suffering the later stages of the disease can be emaciated and lethargic. 

It’s in the same disease family as mad cow disease, which can infect humans and cause fatal brain and nervous system deterioration. There are no documented cases of CWD spreading to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Game and Fish still recommend against consuming meat from infected game carcasses. 

Lynch said she still has a late-season whitetail doe tag in deer hunt area 157 near Pavilion, and CWD testing is mandatory there. 

If she kills a doe, the odds might be better that deer will be CWD free, Lynch said. That’s because whitetail does are far less likely than mule deer bucks to wander about and intermingle with many deer across several locations.

Federal Money Might Fund Wyoming Testing, Research

Meanwhile, a bill going before the U.S. Senate could bring “millions of dollars” to Wyoming for CWD research and testing, Jaden Bales, spokesman for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, told Cowboy State Daily. 

The chronic wasting disease research and management act passed the U.S. House by a vote of 393-33, he said. 

It was sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, and seems to have the support of Wyoming’s Republican senators, Cynthia Lummis and John Barrrasso, Bales said. 

If it’s passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden, it could fund such things as improved CWD testing methods for live and dead animals, and more research into how far and fast the disease spreads, he said. 

“Wyoming is an epicenter for CWD,” Bales said, adding that CWD research and testing has side benefits. 

“The really cool thing about the mandatory testing going on in some areas right now is that it provides a lot of additional information, such as data on antler width and molar development,” he said. 

The time is now to get a handle on CWD in Wyoming, Bales said.   

“I’d really hate to be an old man and say, ‘I wish we could have done something back then, but we missed the boat,’’ he said.

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Saratoga Deer Poaching Case Set To Be Settled Out Of Court

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Two Saratoga men cited for the out-of-season killing of a deer face a settlement hearing later this month, according to the Carbon County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. 

A Wyoming Game and Fish Department Warden ticketed Thomas Arthur of Saratoga with intentionally taking an antlered big game animal during a closed season on Sept. 22, according to a copy of the citation provided to Cowboy State Daily by the court clerk’s office. 

Joseph Johnston, also of Saratoga, was cited the same day with being an accessory after the fact to the same violation. 

That violation is a misdemeanor under Wyoming statute, punishable by a fine of $5,000 to $10,000, up to a year in prison or both. 

Out-Of-Court Settlement

The citations were filed by Game and Fish in Carbon County Circuit Court. No affidavits or other changing documents were available, according to the clerk’s office. 

A settlement hearing for the case is set for Nov. 29 between prosecutors and attorneys for Arthur and Johnston, according to the clerk’s office. 

Calls to the defendants’ attorneys were not returned Monday. 

No further information was available from Game and Fish, agency spokeswoman Nish Goicolea told Cowboy State Daily. 

“We usually don’t discuss or disclose any additional information related to citations or cases,” she said. 

The Saratoga region falls under the jurisdiction of the Game and Fish’s Laramie regional office. Wardens in that region were busy in 2021, according to the agency’s law enforcement summary report – the latest one available. 

Wardens there documented 577 hunting- and fishing-related violations, issued 156 citations and 396 warning. Also during 2021 they investigated 24 alleged violations that didn’t result in suspects being identified or charges filed, according to the report. 

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Bill Would Give Wyoming Game Wardens OK To Issue Hunting Trespass Tickets

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

With clarified language, a draft bill that would give Wyoming game wardens more authority to write trespassing tickets has wide support, according to testimony this week before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee. 

The clarified language stipulates that “traveling through” private property in relevant cases means actual ground contact. That clears up previous misgivings that the draft bill might be too vague or that it could become convoluted with a pending “corner-crossing” case. 

The bill could provide another way to distinguish between honest hunters and “people I would consider to be poachers,” Luke Weddle of Laramie told the committee Tuesday. He was representing the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. 

The committee voted to forward the draft bill, which means it will go before the full Legislature during its 2023 session. 

Clearing Up Jurisdictional Red Tape

Under Wyoming trespass laws, hunting trespass and criminal trespass are treated as separate offences. 

So, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wardens can cite people for trespass only if they’re actively hunting, fishing, trapping or collecting shed antlers on private property without permission. 

Merely being on or crossing through private property for other reasons falls under criminal trespass law, and those cases can be cited only by sheriff’s deputies. 

That has meant that in many instances, a game warden who caught somebody on private property, but not actively hunting at the time, would have to call the nearest county sheriff’s office. Then the warden, suspect and landowner would have to wait, sometimes for hours, for a deputy to arrive, investigate and possibly issue a citation.

The new draft bill would allow game wardens to cite people illegally passing through private property to get to public land with the intent of hunting, fishing, trapping or shed collecting. People also could also be cited for trespassing by game wardens if they were returning from those activities, but illegally passed through private property along the way. 

It would hinge upon proof that the suspect had the intent of being on or passing through the private property to engage in those activities. That shouldn’t be difficult in most cases, Game and Fish chief game warden Rick King told the committee.

‘Traveling Through’ Means Actual Ground Contact

The Judiciary Committee during a meeting in September tabled the bill draft to give more time clarify some of its language, as well as to give hunters, law enforcement officials and others an opportunity to offer opinions. 

During testimony before the committee Tuesday, the draft bill got approval from representatives of those groups. 

A key component was making it clear in the text of the draft that “traveling through” means actual physical contact with private property where hunters, anglers, trappers or shed hunters don’t have permission from landowners to go. 

“Traveling through requires physically touching or driving on the surface of the private property,” the draft bill’s text says. 

Wary Of ‘Legal Jiujitsu’

Rob Shaul, a hunter from Hoback, said the bill should serve everyone’s need so long as there isn’t any “legal jiujitsu” in the future that might entangle it with the “corner crossing” controversy. 

He was referring to a case stemming from criminal trespassing charges filed against Missouri hunters Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky. 

They were accused of trespassing on Iron Bar Ranch land near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021. 

A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of the charges.   

Iron Bar Holdings,LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded property line.

The trial for that lawsuit is scheduled to start June 26, 2023, in Casper. 

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Hunting With Birds Of Prey An Art And Skill, Say Wyoming Falconers

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Across the prairies, wetlands and foothills of Wyoming, falconers practice a form of hunting that traces back to times long before rifles and modern archery equipment. 

“You’re tapping into their (raptor’s) desire to chase something and catch it. It’s instinctual,” Gordon Crawford of Glenrock told Cowboy State Daily.

What It Is

Crawford began hunting with birds of prey in the 1970s and is founder of the Wyoming Falconers Association. 

Falconry involves hunters using birds of prey such as eagles, hawks or falcons to pursue and kill small game, upland game birds or waterfowl.

“When I first started falconry, everything was different. We used wild-caught raptors,” he said. “Now there are captive breeding programs and radio telemetry devices people can attach to their birds.”

He used mostly hawks. Either longer-winged breeds that like to soar high and take game fowl in mid-air, or broad-wing hawks that prefer nailing ground-based small game such as rabbits. 

“You usually let your bird eat some of what it caught,” he said. “It has to have some kind of reward.”

An Ancient Art

“It (falconry) is one of the most ancient forms of hunting,” Mike Barker told Cowboy State Daily. 

He grew up in Casper and was introduced to falconry by his wife Jocelyn when they first met in the 1970s. The couple, who now live near Bozeman, Montana, also were among the first to bring the sport to Wyoming. 

“That was back when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was just starting to talk about applying regulations to falconry,” he said. 

Falconry is now a recognized and regulated form of hunting in the Cowboy State. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department includes falconry section in its hunting regulations.  https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Permits/Falconry

Barker and his wife have worked extensively with golden eagles. That’s likely one of the first raptor species to be used by human hunters, he said, perhaps starting in central Asia.

“There are plenty of golden eagles and they are circumpolar, meaning they live in suitable habitat at certain latitudes all around the globe,” he said.

Not Really ‘Tame’

To say that eagles, hawks, falcons and other raptors used for falconry hunting are “tamed” wouldn’t be accurate, Crawford and Barker said. 

Instead, it’s a matter of somewhat harnessing and directing a bird-of-prey’s instincts and offering it enough of a reward to coax it into a mutually beneficial working relationship, they said. 

“They’re not really affectionate,” Crawford said. “It’s not like bonding with a dog.”

Instead, it was more like the hawks he worked with decided to stay with him because he offered them hunting opportunities and regular food rewards, he said.  

To coax a raptor off a fresh-killed game or game bird carcass, it’s best to have a tempting alternative food reward, like pigeon meat, Barker said. 

Barker said he and his wife sometimes would let eagles perch in their house. However, they generally keep their raptors in an outbuilding because it’s important for them to be acclimated to whatever weather they might encounter while out hunting. 

A raptor will effectively hunt only so long as it’s interested, Crawford said. 

“If you’re hunting waterfowl, you have to do it on small ponds, where you can scare the ducks up into the air” because the raptors prefer to strike the ducks in flight.

“If you’re on a river or irrigation canal, the duck might just fly long enough to get away from you,” he said. “Then it will go back down to the water and the hawk will lose interest in it.” 

A Dog Can Complete The Team

One way to take falconry to the next level is to bring a dog into the mix, particularly when hunting upland birds, Barker and Crawford said. 

A dog can “hold a point” on a game bird’s position while the raptor soars aloft to observe from above, Barker said. Then the hunter can move in to flush the game bird, giving the raptor an opportunity to swoop in for the kill.

It’s important to have a well-trained dog, Crawford said. 

“You need to have a ‘hard dog,’ meaning one that will really hold a point,” he said. 

“It doesn’t really work well for pheasants,” he added. “Pheasants tend to run along the ground away from the dog.”

Grouse, partridge or other game bird species will hunker in place, giving the hunter a better chance of flushing them, Crawford said. 

It’s amazing and rewarding when everything clicks into place, Barker said. 

“A human, a dog and a raptor can all learn to reach each other’s cues and work together as a team,” he said. 

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Not A Good Year For Deer Hunting In Wyoming; Warm Weather, Drought And Disease To Blame

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Wildlife disease, particularly “blue tongue disease,” hit deer populations in parts of Wyoming hard this year, seriously diminishing hunting opportunities in the Black Hills area, a Game and Fish spokesman said. 

Meanwhile, deer hunting was mediocre in some parts of the state but better in others, Doug Brimeyer, deputy chief of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Division, told Cowboy State Daily. 

“If you hunted in the Wyoming Range, for instance, you had better odds,” he said. “Overall that area, we saw a lot of really successful hunts and a lot of satisfied hunters.”

However, across much of southern Wyoming and in the Black Hills, things weren’t so great for deer hunters, he said. 

Many deer seasons in Wyoming wrapped up Oct. 31. 

Disease Outbreak In Black Hills

A blue tongue outbreak among whitetail deer in the Black Hills region of Wyoming prompted an emergency ruling to cut doe-fawn hunting there by nearly 1,000 tags, Brimeyer said.

Blue tongue disease is the common name for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The fatal infection doesn’t infest humans nor spread between deer. It comes from gnats that can breed in stagnant water and bite the animals, Brimeyer said. That means outbreaks usually pass after the first hard frost.

Early symptoms can include lethargy, fever and swelling in a deer’s heads, necks and tongues. Later symptoms can include a lethal buildup of fluid in the lungs. 

EHD has primarily killed whitetail in Wyoming, although it is starting to appear in some populations of mule deer, Brimeyer said. Mule deer are already struggling with widespread outbreaks for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Some Areas Better Than Others

In southern parts of Wyoming, particularly along the Utah and Colorado borders, deer hunting was likely slow this year, Brimeyer said. Drought conditions also limited the movements of herds. 

Unusually warm weather kept deer from migrating to lower altitudes, where hunters might have been used to finding luck in years past, he said. 

“Also in the central part of the state, from Cody and down through Lander, the warm fall conditions hurt the deer hunting,” he said. 

One Good Hunt

Shawn Blajszczak of Powell is a hunter and regional director for the Mule Deer Foundation who agrees that the warm weather made things rough in some areas of the state.

“When the cold weather didn’t come in as early as usual, the deer didn’t come down out of the high country,” he said. 

Even so, he said his daughter managed to drop a large four-point mule deer on a hunt near Cheyenne. 

“She’s as happy as she can be,” he said. 

Recent cold weather might help prime a yearly large migration of mule deer into the low country around Cody, Blajszczak said, which could help a few late-season hunting tag holders. 

“That can be random luck if you happen to be in the right spot as the deer are moving through there,” he said. 

Effects On Next Year Unknown

It’s still too early to determine whether or how the combined effects of disease and drought might change the 2023 deer hunting seasons, Brimeyer said. 

Game and Fish will need a clear assessment of the losses to EHD and CWD before recommending any changes to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which determines hunting regulations. 

For general deer tags, Game and Fish adjusts the lengths of hunting seasons to regulate hunting pressure in any given area, Brimeyer said. 

General tags are those that may be bought over the counter. Other tags, specific to hunt areas with set harvest quotas, must be applied and paid for in advance for drawings. Hunters who fail to draw tags have their money refunded.

Game and Fish in some hunt areas also applies “point restrictions” for bucks, he said. That means a buck must have a certain number of points on each side of its antlers before it can legally be shot by a hunter. 

Those restrictions are usually temporary, Brimeyer said. 

“Antler point restrictions are one thing the public has told us they would like to see removed,” he said.

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Bird Flu Won’t Hurt Waterfowl Season, Say Wyoming Hunters

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Widespread outbreaks of bird flu this year have wiped out some domestic flocks and also killed wild waterfowl, but two Wyoming duck and goose hunters says they’re not concerned about it having any impact on this year’s hunting seasons. 

Instead, they’re focused on expected winter storms to the north, which should drive waterfowl down into the Torrington/Goshen County area, which is Wyoming’s duck and goose hunting hot spot. 

“The goose hunting here in Goshen County is a good as anywhere in the country,” Michael Kahler told Cowboy State Daily, and the bird flu outbreak won’t change that.

He runs WyoBraska Waterfowl outfitting and said his business is booked full from the first scheduled hunts beginning Saturday through the last goose seasons in February. 

“All the hunters north of here that I follow on social media are doing well,” Wheaton Kremke of Torrington told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re still smoking them (ducks and geese) up in Canada. 

The bird flu hasn’t put any damper on plans for Torrington’s Two Shot goose hunt and banquets, a longstanding tradition that is scheduled for Dec. 9-10, said Kremke, one of the event’s organizers. 

That event also is fully booked, he said. 

He and Kahler said they have high hopes that storms predicted later this week in the north country and into Wyoming will bring with them the annual bounty of huge flocks of geese and ducks. 

Low Risk To Humans

The strain of bird flu now circulating has taken a heavy tool on domestic flocks, causing shortages and rising prices on poultry, just in time for Thanksgiving. 

It’s also potentially transmissible to humans and can cause severe, or even fatal, illness in people, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. However, the risk for large outbreaks among humans remains low. 

Even so, the CDC recommends that waterfowl hunters take extra precautions this year, such as wearing gloves when gutting their kills and making sure that wild ducks and geese are thoroughly cooked before eating them. 

Kremke said he hasn’t heard of any concern among waterfowl hunters about getting infected with bird flu. Kahler said his clients also are unconcerned. 

Honker Paradise

If the bird flu has been killing any Canada geese, it hasn’t been enough to squelch the anticipated numbers that should start pouring in once the storms produce their expected results, Kahler said. 

Goshen County has all the right elements for great goose hunting, including ample grain fields and large swaths of wetland habitat that have been set aside as bird refuges and are closed to hunting, he said. 

The refuges are particularly important, he said, adding that, “The birds need a place where they can go and rest.” 

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Wyoming Hunter Has 5-Minute Stand-Off With Black Bear: “If He Pounces, I’m Done”

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Standing in thick timber locked in a stare-down with a huge, irritated black bear perched above him in a tree, Preston Stryker was having the longest five minutes of his life. 

“For me, it felt like an eternity,” said Stryker, of Evanston. 

“I’m on the ground, he’s about 30 feet up in a tree,” Stryker told Cowboy State Daily. “I’m thinking, ‘If he pounces, I’m done.’”

Started As An Elk Hunt

Stryker was hunting with family and friends in elk hunt area 104 near Cokeville on Oct. 18. He also had a black bear hunting tag but wasn’t really expecting to get an opportunity at a bear – much less one huge enough for the record books. 

They’d tracked elk to a rugged spot with patches of thick, dark timber and rife with tangled deadfall. They’d seen elk go into some of the timber. Stryker knew it would be rough going in there, but he figured it was worth a try. 

He’d pushed maybe 75 yards into a timber patch when things got interesting. 

‘I Could Feel It In My Chest’

“About 20-30 yards ahead of me all hell starts breaking loose, and I’m thinking it’s elk,” he said. 

Then the noises started. 

“I heard a growl, and a sound that maybe like a dog bark, but it was more deep and raspy,” Stryker said. “My buddy was asking me what I had found back there in that mess, and I said, ‘I don’t know, but I think I’m about to find out.’”

He kept pushing forward. 

“I got about 10 yards further back in,” Stryker said. “The noise was getting louder. I could feel it in my chest.”

He finally spotted a bear’s rear paw, up in a tree, and then moved to where he could see the entire bear. 

It was huge. 

Stryker was amazed he’d even been presented an opportunity to fill his bear tag, much less with a monster like this one. 

But he couldn’t shoot yet. 

‘Mortality Limit Hotline’

Black bear hunting in Wyoming is allowed according to a mortality limit in each hunt area. That means only so many bears can be killed in that area before the hunt is shut down, regardless of how many hunters are left holding tags. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a Black Bear Mortality Limit Hotline – a 1-800 number. It provides hunters with up-to-date information about the kill quotas in their areas.

So, Stryker wasn’t about to shoot until he knew for absolute certain that killing that bear wouldn’t exceed the quota. 

He shouted back to his father to call the hotline. 

Then he waited, locking eyeballs with the bear. 

Word finally came back from his father – he was in the clear to shoot. 

Courtesy Photo

‘We Had To Stop Every 10 Steps Or So’

Stryker made a couple of good hits with his rifle, but the limp bear remained in the tree. Members of his hunting party stated to gather around, trying to figure out what to do next. 

And at last, the bear came crashing down. 

“When he fell, he took half of the tree with him. It was something else watching all of that come down,” Stryker said. “I kind of had to sit there for a moment, just to calm down.” 

They gutted the bear and tied it to a pole to pack it out. It was about 450 yards, but even with several strong men shouldering the pole, it took a long while, Stryker said. 

“We had to stop every 10 steps or so to catch our breath and switch new guys in,” he said. 

One For The Record Books

Stryker took the bear’s skull to Timberline Taxidermy & Antler Décor in Afton. There, the skull got an unofficial “green” score of 20 ¾ inches, according to the Boone and Crocket (B&C) measuring system. 

A “green” score means that an animal’s skull, antlers or horns hasn’t had time to dry completely. The measurements might shrink once the trophy is dry.

B&C scores for black bears are calculated according to the length and width of the skull. A measurement of 20 inches qualifies a black bear for entry into the B&C record book “awards” category, according to the organization’s website. Anything 21 inches and up qualifies for the “all time” record book category. 

“Once I get it back from the taxidermist, I want to get an official dry score on it,” Stryker said. 

Game and Fish agents estimated the bear to have been about 15-20 years old, 7 feet tall on its hind legs and 300 to 400 pounds, he said. 

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Despite Shooting Himself, Wyoming Hunter Says Handgun Saved Him From Grizzly

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

In those few moments of furious violence in the remote high country of the Gro Ventre mountains, Lee Francis knew his life hung in the balance between a grizzly’s teeth and claws and his trigger finger. 

“He was probably less than 1 foot away from the muzzle of the pistol, and it was just ‘bam, bam, bam, bam!’ As fast as I could shoot,” Lee Francis, 65, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday as he described tangling with grizzly late Friday in the Wyoming back country.

And even though he ended up shooting himself in the left foot during the frantic struggle, Francis said his 10 mm Glock ultimately tipped things in his favor. 

He’s glad to have escaped a severe and quite possibly a fatal mauling from the grizzly he’d startled in its den. 

“Although a pistol shot isn’t good either, it’s still been hurting me a lot,” he said, speaking over the phone as he continues to recover at his son’s house in Provo, Utah.

Lee Francis and his son, Josh, found this bear den while on a hunt in the Group Ventre mountains of Wyoming on Oct. 21. The den is shown here afterward as it was inspected by Wyoming wildlife officials. Lee was attacked by a grizzly bear and used his pistol to scare the bruin off. Although the not seriously hurt by the bear, he did suffer a gunshot wound to the leg. (Courtesy Photos, Lee Francis)

‘Oh, Crap!’

On Friday, Francis and his son, Josh Francis, had been hunting in the high country above timberline. They were hoping to find big mule deer bucks to fill hunting tags they’d drawn for deer hunt area 141. 

Leaving his son perched on a good viewpoint to “glass” (use binoculars) for deer, he started back down to where they’d left their horses and mule right at the timberline.

“It was just kind of empty country, so I wasn’t looking down,” Francis said. “I was still looking up and across the canyon for deer.”

Suddenly, he ran right into what he recognized as a bear den.

“I ran into a fresh dig, I could see the fresh dirt right there,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, crap!’ I started backing away. And as I was backing away, I drew my pistol and put a round in the chamber.”

‘He Came On Full Blast’

Lee Francis has plenty of experience with bears. He and his son had already seen two grizzlies during their hunt. He’s also hunted black bears in the Lower 48 and brown bears in Alaska. He once killed a massive Alaska bruin with a bow. 

So, he instantly recognized the muzzle of a mature grizzly coming out of the den. 

“He came right at me, and he came on full blast,” the elder Francis said. 

Counting the cartridge already in the chamber, he had 14 rounds loaded with 130 grain hard cast bullets in his Glock. 

“I just remember shooting three or for times, right before he hit me,” he said. “Then I went down on my back.”

Lee Francis continued shooting while trying to kick the bear in the face. At some point, he accidently shot himself in the left foot. The bullet traveled up his leg and exited his calf. 

Thinks He Might Have Killed The Bear

As quickly as it had started, the attack ended. The bear fled, disappearing over a rise. Lee Francis said he wasn’t bitten or clawed by the bear during the fight, but did suffer some bruising to his upper left leg.

Investigators who came to the scene later didn’t find any evidence that the bear had been wounded or killed, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily. 

But it snowed overnight after the attack, Lee Francis said, so that might have covered up the bear’s blood or other evidence. He said that he’s reasonably sure the bear took several hits at nearly point-blank range. 

The bear den. (Courtesy Photo, Lee Francis)

Excruciating Journey 

Josh Francis came running as soon as he heard his father’s shots. 

“Luckily, my son is pretty handy, so he was able to stop the bleeding and get a good field dressing on the wound,” the elder Francis said. 

“If my son had not have been there, I probably would not have made it out,” he added. “I would have bled to death, or I would have frozen to death. Because even if I had been able to crawl back to my mule, I would not have been able to get up on the mule without help.”

The journey out was painful.

“Every time my leg twisted on the back of that mule, it hurt like hell,” Lee Francis said. 

They finally reached a spot where they had enough cellular reception to call for help, but the excruciating journey wasn’t over yet. 

“It was dark, and the wind was blowing really hard, and there was a storm coming in,” Lee Francis said. “There just wasn’t a way to safely fly a chopper in there.”

So, it took another three hours to reach a spot where rescuers could load Lee Francis into a UTV and drive him to waiting helicopter. He was flown to the University of Utah Hospital. 

The Right Firearm And Ammunition

Lee Francis said his son plans to go back into the same area Friday, hoping to fill his buck tag. 

“I don’t want him to go alone,” the elder Francis said. “If I wasn’t hurt, I’d go back in there with him.”

Whenever he does return to the back country, Lee Francis plans to keep carrying his Glock, loaded with hard cast bullets. 

He recalls that last year when he and some family members were hunting black bears in Idaho, one of the men in their party tried to finish off a wounded bear with a Glock 10 mm that had been loaded with hollow points. 

“Those hollow points can’t penetrate all of the thick hide, muscle and bone on a bear to reach the vital organs,” he said. 

Hard cast bullets will punch through a bruin’s body, instead of rapidly expanding and expending their energy in massive, shallow wounds the way that hollow point bullets do, he said. 

“Hollow points are meant for stopping people, not bears,” he said, adding that it was also fortunate for him that his weapon was loaded with hard cast bullets. 

“A hit from a hollow point would have probably just exploded my whole foot,” he said. 

He also said he favors the high-capacity, semi-automatic Glock over magnum revolvers. 

“There isn’t as much muzzle rise with the recoil from the Glock,” he said. “And you have 14 or 15 shots.”

Lee Francis has sometimes also carried bear spray, and says there’s nothing wrong with it. But he’s not sure it would have worked in his attack. 

“He was so close and came at me so fast, and the wind was blowing, so I don’t know how much of the spray would have hit him (the bear), he said. “And he was so determined, I don’t know if spray would have stopped him.”

Conditions seemed perfect as Lee and Josh Francis trekked into the Group Ventre mountains of Wyoming to fill their mule deer tags. (Courtesy Photo, Lee Francis)

Eager To Get Back To Work

Lee Francis underwent two surgeries at the Utah hospital, including one to insert a metal rod into his foot and lower leg. On Wednesday afternoon, he said his leg still hurt too much to drive home to Evanston, where he works as a dentist.

“I’m just going to stay here (at his son’s) and recuperate for a couple more days before driving home,” he said. 

“They say I can’t return to work for six more weeks, but I’d like to be back to work in two weeks,” he added. “I can sit on a stool while I work if I have to.”

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Remains Identified As Wyoming Hunter Who Went Missing In 2019 Snowstorm

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Nearly three years to the day after he went missing in an early-season snowstorm while elk hunting, human remains found recently have been identified as those of Mark A. Strittmater, the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday afternoon. 

Strittmater’s remains were found about 325 yards away from prior search areas, according to the sheriff’s office, and identification was made though “examination of the remains and known dental records of Mark Strittmater.” 

The Carbon County resident was 44 when he went missing Oct. 19, 2019, while elk hunting in the Medicine Bow National Forest and an early-season snowstorm rolled in. 

His disappearance set off several searches. His binoculars were found by a hunter in November 2020.    

The remains were discovered shortly after some hunters from Wisconsin found a firearm on the ground in the general area where Strittmater was thought to have disappeared.

The Wisconsin hunters found the firearm “in the vegetation” at about 8 a.m. Oct. 16 south of Rawlins, according to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office. The hunters alerted a Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden, who in turn called the sheriff’s office and Carbon County Coroner’s office. 

An initial search of the area uncovered partial human remains and personal belongings, according to the sheriff’s office. A more thorough search Oct. 20 resulted in the recovery more remains and personal items. That search involved personnel from the University of Wyoming Department of Anthropology and the Wyoming State Archaeologist’s Office, along with county officials. 

Strittmater’s disappearance was one of Wyoming’s most prominent missing persons cases.  

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Non-Resident Wyoming Hunting Tags Could Get Huge Price Hike

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Prices could rise dramatically for nonresident hunters wanting to get to the front of the line to draw Wyoming big game hunting tags. 

The cost for some nonresident elk tags could scrape the $2,000 mark under a draft bill forwarded Tuesday by the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Joint Committee.

The price hikes were recommended to the committee by the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force. The bill is set to go before the Legislature during its next general session, set to begin in January.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, the new fees would take effect in January 2024. That’s the month in which nonresident hunters would have to apply for fall 2024 hunting tags. 

There also was some discussion about possibly hiking nonresident fees for Wyoming’s “big five” trophy game species: moose, bison, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and grizzly bears. However, that motion died. 

Paying To Be First In Line

The fee hikes would apply for “special application” tags, which would make up 40% of nonresident tag applications for Wyoming’s primary big game species – elk, deer and antelope. The price hikes would not apply to the other 60% of out-of-state hunting tag applications. 

Nonresident hunters willing to shell out the extra bucks for special application tags would move to the front of the line to draw tags. That means they’d have better odds in the drawings.

The draft bill would boost the special application fees that are tacked onto the base price of nonresident hunting tags. Nonresident hunters willing to take their chances in the general drawing pool would still pay only the base tag fees. 

For example, the current base price of regular nonresident elk tag set by state statute is $690. The current special application fee for that tag is $576. The draft bill would raise that fee to $1,258. That means the tag would cost hunters entering the special draws a total of $1,948. 

The end cost for special draw privileges would hit $1,208 for deer tags and $1,198 for antelope. 

Matching The Market

Those cost hikes would bring Wyoming’s special draw tag fees for nonresidents more in line with other Western states, Wildlife 

Task Force member Sen. Larry Hicks, R- Baggs, told the committee. 

The price hikes shouldn’t discourage nonresidents because of the allure of hunting in Wyoming, he said. 

“Just because you draw a license, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to come out here and shoot something. We’re selling an experience,” he said. 

Too Much?

Committee member Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, was skeptical of hiking the fees so much. Some of Wyoming’s premiere mule deer herds have been hit hard by drought and chronic wasting disease, which has made hunting tough this year, he said. 

“If a guy spends that much money to come out here and doesn’t see anything bigger than a 2-year-old buck, we’ve got a problem,” he said. 

However, two hunting outfitters who sit on the wildlife task force told the committee that they don’t think the fee hikes would hurt their business. Plenty of nonresidents are still willing to pay whatever it takes to hunt in Wyoming, said Lee Livingston and Sy Gilliland. Livingston is an outfitter and Park County commissioner. Gilliland is president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. 

One Wyoming hunter said that he doesn’t think the proposed fee hikes are a good idea. The proposal is “too narrow” because it covers only the special draw tags, Rob Shaul of Hoback told the committee via Zoom. 

If legislators are to reconsider the nonresident tag prices, they should consider them across the board and for all game species, he said. 

That’s because all of the state’s nonresident hunting tags are below market value, said Shaul, president of Mountain Pursuit, a hunter advocacy group. 

If the Legislature doesn’t consider nonresident fees as a whole during the next session, it will have to keep revisiting the matter, he said. 

What About The ‘Big Five’?

Some members of the committee said the task force should consider fees for the “big five” during its next meeting Nov. 18 in Casper. 

Tags for the big five are generally considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for resident and nonresident hunters. And currently, hunters may pursue only four of those species – mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose and bison.

Grizzly bears remain under federal protection and may not be hunted in Wyoming. However, state statue has put a $6,000 price on nonresident grizzly tags if and when a season opens here. 

That price could be hiked to $7,500, some committee and task force members said, adding that fees for the other four species could be raised significantly.

Still, such a move needs more consideration rather than being done “on the fly,” said committee member Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.

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Two Men Charged With Beating, Robbing Wyoming Hunters

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Two men – one from Colorado and another from Wyoming – have been charged with aggravated assault and battery in connection with the beating of two Wyoming hunters in Lincoln County on Oct. 15. 

Jared Michael Olguin, 35, of Elizabeth, Colorado, and Shea Patrice Sanchez, 30, of Green River also have been charged with theft, according to documents filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court. 

The charges stem from allegations that they assaulted a pair of Wyoming hunters, Dawson Handley and Joseph Boster, and stole Boster’s backpack, which contained several expensive hunting-related items. 

Handley suffered multiple jaw fractures during the assault, according to court documents. 

Dispute Over Elk

The altercation stemmed from a dispute over elk that the suspects claimed to have shot and also claimed that Handley, Boster and other members of their hunting party took. That’s according to an affidavit written by Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jody M. Gardner.

On the morning of Oct. 15, Handley, Boster and others were hunting elk near Shale Creek in the Upper Greys River area, where they encountered another group of hunters that included the suspects, according to the affidavit.

The other group of hunters said they had shot a bull and cow elk. Handley told investigators that the other group of hunters were discussing how they had shot the elk from the road and also were contemplating cutting the bull’s antlers off with a chainsaw once they located the carcass, Gardner writes in his affidavit.

One of the younger men in the group had a cut on his face consistent with being “scoped,” Handley told investigators. That’s a common term for an injury that happens when a rifle’s recoil drives the edge of the weapon’s scope into the shooter’s face. 

Found Carcasses

Handley told investigators that he later found the carcass of a cow elk that had been partially processed, but still had much of the meat left on it. So, he took the tenderloins off the carcass.

Handley and Boster said their hunting party also later found the untouched carcass of a bull elk. After contemplating what to do, one of the hunters in their party put his hunting tag on the bull’s carcass, the affidavit says. They processed the carcass and took the meat back to their camp. 

Handley and Boster said they split off from the other members of their party and took Boster’s UTV to go hunting – Boster was driving and Handley was in the passenger’s seat, the affidavit says. When they were returning late that afternoon, Boster and Handley were “flagged down” by some of the members of the other party they had met that morning. 

The pair told investigators that the man with the “scoping” injury was there, and the men were demanding that Handely and Boster tell them where their elk were. 

Alleged Altercation and Theft

Gardner’s affidavit states that Handley and Boster claimed that two of the other men approached their UTV and started rifling through items in the back. When Boster got out of the driver’s seat and told them to stop, a fight broke out. 

Handley told investigators that at some point during the altercation, he took a knee to his face, which probably caused the worst of his injuries, the affidavit says. The altercation ended when an older man, who had stayed inside the defendants’ truck, shouted at the defendants to stop. 

Sanchez later told investigators that the older man was his uncle. 

Handley and Boster said that as the two men who had assaulted them returned to their truck, they took Boster’s backpack with them, allegedly in an attempt get even over the perception that their elk had been stolen from them, according to Gardner’s affidavit.

Sanchez told investigators that the driver of the UTV had thrown the first punch but quit fighting after he as “double-legged” and knocked to the ground, according to the affidavit. Sanchez said he saw Olguin and the man on the ground “hockey punching” each other. 

Investigators noted that Sanchez told them he had “scoped” himself while shooting at elk, according to the affidavit. Olguin’s right hand was “significantly puffy and swollen with two abrasions on his right index finger.”

The backpack and the items in it that Boster claimed the suspects stole from him were recovered from Sanchez, according to the affidavit. 

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Wyoming Girl Bags First Elk While Wearing Crocs

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Danner, Schnee’s, Kenetrek – or how about a pair of good old Red Wings?

The debate over what’s the best footwear for hunting big game has been long and, at time, intense. A girl from Lander may have finally settled the longstanding argument. 

It’s Crocs. 

‘They’re My Lucky Crocs’

That’s what Sadie Putnam, a freshman at Lander High Valley School, was wearing last week when she killed her first bull elk. She wore the floral-printed slip-ons to school the next day still stained with the elk’s blood.

“I’m never going to wash them,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re my lucky Crocs.”

That logic is difficult to refute considering the results, said her father, Darren Putnam. 

“She told me, it (the elk’s blood) just added to the coolness of the Crocs,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Sadie said her schoolmates were impressed. 

“Most of the kids I go to school with are ag kids,” she said. “They were like, ‘Oh, that’s so awesome!’”

Darren said his daughter has had an affinity for Crocs for awhile, so he wasn’t surprised she chose to wear them on their hunt.

“Her mentality is if you’re not Crocin’, you’re not rockin’,” he said. 

They’re very versatile and are a comfortable, easy choice for doing chores, Sadie said.

“I just love how easy it is to just slip them on and go,” she said. “Like, when I have to go feed the cows really quick.”

Photos Courtesy Darren Putnam

When A Plan Comes Together 

Sadie, her dad and her brother Michael Putnam have hunted together many times. They’ve frequently had to hike long distances through rough country in the sorts of places where even Sadie had to wear traditional hunting boots. 

But when the opportunity came for a quick “after school” hunt last Tuesday, there wasn’t time for Sadie to go home and change when her dad came to pick his kids up. 

Darren said he knows of a “little piece” of BLM land within short driving distance where his kids’ elk tags would be valid. So, they headed that way, hoping to find elk and an opportunity while daylight lasted. 

“We just happened to catch them (the elk) crossing that BLM property,” he said. 

The trip parked their truck and donned their required florescent hunting vests, per regulations (Sadie said she wears florescent pink). 

She also grabbed her Howa .308 rifle with a “muddy girl” pink camouflage stock.

“Her grandpa loaned her that rifle to shoot a few times, and she decided she was going to keep it,” Darren said. 

Reaching a spot where they would have a chance at getting shots required a bit of hiking through native grass, brush and shrubs. 

Sadie said she was thankful to have worn socks underneath her Crocs.

“It was pretty good, honestly,” she said. “My feet were pretty comfortable, but I did get a couple of little stickers in them.”

Michael Putnam, left, also bagged an elk during a hunt with his father and sister last week. (Courtesy Photos)

Clean Shot

But the casual footwear didn’t hamper her ability to stalk the animal.

“We had to set up a little bit (before getting shots),” she said. “We didn’t have much time. They elk didn’t like us being there and they were on the move.”

When Sadie got an opportunity for a clean shot at about 160 yards, she didn’t hesitate and was excited to get her first bull elk.

“I’d never shot anything bigger than a forky (fork-horned deer),” she said.

Michael also dropped a bull, which had a unique extended brow tine on its antlers. 

“He told me, ‘I didn’t shoot a bull elk, I shot a unicorn,’” Darren said. 

More Hunting In Crocs?

Sadie isn’t done hunting this year. She still has a cow elk tag and a general deer tag to fill. 

And she’s willing to hunt while wearing Crocs again if the circumstances are right.

“Yeah, I think I’d try it,” she said. 

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Rifle, Personal Belongings Led To Discovery Of Human Remains In Carbon County

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By Mark Heinz, Cowboy State Daily

A firearm and other “personal belongings” were found near the site where human remains were discovered in Carbon County on Oct. 16, but the identity of the deceased hadn’t by Monday afternoon been released by the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office.

There’s still no word whether the discovery is connected to the 2019 disappearance of Carbon County resident Mark A. Strittmater, who was 44 at the time. Strittmater disappeared while hunting during a snowstorm and hadn’t been found during organized and extensive searches of the area.

A group of hunters from Wisconsin found a firearm “in the vegetation” at about 8 a.m. Oct. 16 south of Rawlins, according to the sheriff’s office. The hunters alerted a Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden, who in turn called the sheriff’s office and Carbon County Coroner’s office. 

Belongings, Remains Uncovered

An initial search of the area uncovered partial human remains and personal belongings, according to the sheriff’s office. A more thorough search Oct. 20 resulted in the recovery more remains and personal items. That search involved personnel from the University of Wyoming Department of Anthropology and the Wyoming State Archaeologist’s Office, along with county officials. 

The case remains under investigation. 

Strittmater’s disappearance is one of Wyoming’s most prominent missing persons cases.  

He went missing in October 2019 while hunting elk in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Carbon County when an early-season snowstorm hit. Multiple searches for him were conducted that year, as well as during the summer of 2020.

His binoculars were found by a hunter in November 2020.

That set off another search, which included a K-9 unit. Officials at the time said they found “other items” that might have belonged to Strittmater, but no human remains.

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Finding Monster Wyoming Elk’s Missing Antler In Vast Nothingness Of Red Desert Was “Miracle”

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter

Wyoming hunting guide Chance Marshall had been scouting a monster bull elk in the Red Desert since August. 

So he was crestfallen earlier this month when, on the evening before he was going to take a client on a hunt for the bull, he discovered that nearly an entire side of the bull’s antlers was missing. The main beam had snapped off not far from the base. 

He’s not sure how it happened. Bull elk can sometimes snap their antlers while fighting with other bulls over cow elk during the rut (mating season). Or they might break them while slashing at trees and brush in displays of aggressing during the rut.

“I told him (the hunter), ‘Dude, yeah, he’s still there, but his antlers are broken,’” Marshall told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. 

But the hunter, Cody Fuller of Ogden, Utah, was undeterred. 

“I’d passed up a huge broken-antler bull before,” and the regret had haunted him, so he didn’t want to make that mistake again, Fuller told Cowboy State Daily.

The large antler found while tracking a massive bull elk in the Red Desert fit perfectly. (Courtesy Photos)

‘No, I Want That Bull’

Marshall, of Lander, has guided numerous hunters with Extreme Outfitters, but said he’s never met one with Fuller’s determined optimism. 

After discovering that the bull’s antler was broken, Marshall said he offered to take Fuller out after some other big elk he knew were in the same area. 

“Cody just looked at me and said, ‘No, I want that bull. That’s the bull we’ve talked about, and that’s the bull we’re going to hunt. If he has a missing antler, then so be it.’”

The Tag Of A Lifetime

Utah, along with the other southern Rockies states, is better known for its trophy-sized bull elk than most of Wyoming. But the Red Desert, which includes the coveted elk hunt area 124, is one place in Wyoming that can give those southern states a run for their money when it comes to producing eye-popping antlers. 

That’s why Fuller was thrilled to have finally drawn a bull tag there after saving up his “preference points” for years. Applying those points toward hard-to-get hunting tags can increase a hunter’s odds of successfully drawing one. 

“I’ll probably never draw that tag again,” he said. 

Courtesy Photo

Unfathomable Vastness, Unbelievable Luck 

The morning of the hunt went well. Marshall and his father, Kevin Marshall, along with Fuller located the bull. They started closing the distance, hoping to get within rifle range without spooking their quarry. 

“We started to make our move, and literally right in our path we saw what we thought at first was an old shed antler,” Marshall said. 

He said his father was immediately convinced that amid the Red Desert’s unfathomable vastness, they had – in an unbelievable stroke of luck – come upon the bull’s missing antler. 

“My dad said, ‘This was meant to be,’” the younger Marshall said. 

But he was unconvinced. After all the Red Desert is massive. At 9,320 square miles, it’s larger than eight U.S. states including Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

“What was confusing me was a kicker off the royal that I didn’t remember seeing before when I was watching and videoing that bull,” he said in reference to a feature on the antler they’d just found. 

Once they were within range, Fuller quickly dropped the bull. 

Then came the moment of truth. 

The antler fit.

“It slid into place perfectly,” Chance Marshall said. “We just erupted with high-fives.”

The antler held in place by itself, he said, but they decided to use cord, then tape, to secure it to prevent further damage as they processed the bull’s carcass and packed it out. 

“His (Fuller’s) taxidermist said it will be no problem to permanently re-attach that antler for the mount,” he said. 

Along with the big elk, Cody Fuller of Ogden, Utah, bagged a trophy pronghorn. (Courtesy Photo)

A True Trophy

The bull ended up netting 373 inches according to the Boone & Crockett big game scoring standards, Chance Marshall said. 

To qualify for the B&C record books “awards” category, a bull elk must score 360. For the coveted “all-time” category, the minimum is 375. 

A few “missing chunks” at the antler’s breaking point cost some of its mass score, otherwise the bull might have scored “around 380,” Chance Marshall said. 

During his Wyoming trip, Fuller also killed a pronghorn buck that scored “83-plus,” Chance Marshall said, putting into the B&C all-time category. 

Fuller said he was grateful for his incredible Wyoming hunting experience. 

“Even if we hadn’t found the other antler, he (the elk) was still the bull I wanted,” he said. 

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Wyoming Hunting: Elk Hunter Who Avoids Grizzly Country Gets Charged By Black Bear

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Kevin Keen of Arkansas (Photo Courtesy Chuck Long)

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Chuck Long is no stranger to black bears, but an encounter with one last week during a Wyoming elk hunt was still spooky, he said.

“When I heard the ‘huff’, I knew right away what it was. But in that dark timber, it took a little while to figure out where he was,” long told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

Long was helping his friend, Kevin Keen – both from Arkansas – recover a bull elk that Keen had just killed in the Big Horn Mountains.

“Earlier in the day we had seen some bear tracks, and I told him (Kevin) then, the we just needed to be aware, to pay attention,” he said.

It took some “hollering” and, ultimately, a rifle shot to convince the 150- to 200-pound black bear to leave after what started out as a stare-down, Long said.

Won’t Hunt In Grizzly Country, Cites Wrestler Mauling

Long recently retired from a 30-year career with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. He’s hunted in Wyoming before and has bagged antelope and mule deer here.

But he and Keen had yet to kill any elk, so they were excited to draw for bull tags in the Big Horns.

They selected the Big Horns partly because grizzlies aren’t known to be there, Long said.

He prefers to not hunt in Wyoming’s grizzly country. He cited the recent mauling of two Northwest College wrestlers last weekend out on a hike near Cody as exactly the sort of reason why.

“I try to avoid contact with grizzly bears,” he said. “I just don’t want to have that in the back of my mind while I’m hunting.”

In the case of the wrestlers, Long said “it sounded like they were totally caught by surprise” and hadn’t done anything to prompt the attack.

“In our deal (with the black bear), it was just a matter of us and the bear both being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Long added that he and Keen probably should have been more cautious going into the dark timber where the elk had died.

“We were excited. It was the first elk that he (Keen) had ever shot,” he said. “And I had never shot an elk either.”

Kevin Keen bagged his first bull elk in Wyoming recently – and also had an encounter with a black bear, along with Arkansas hunting companion Chuck Long. (Photo Courtesy Chuck Long)


It was getting late in the day and they were hunting separately when Keen shot the five-by-five bull elk, Long said. Once it was hit, the bull ran into some dark timber and Keen herd it “crash” down into its dying throes about 100 yards away.

It took Long about 30 minutes to get to where Keen was.

“By then, the elk had plenty of time to expire, and we had a pretty good idea of where he was,” he said.

After they reached the carcass and started processing it, Long heard the warning “huffs” of a black bear, a sound he was familiar with from his career as a wildlife agent.

He first spotted the bear standing with its paws against a tree about 50 yards away.

Doing What Bears Do

Long said he began to move toward his rifle while “hollering” at the bear. The bear dropped down on all fours and, as Long reached his rifle and picked it up, they had a “standoff” going.

Finally, Long decided to fire a shot off to the side of the bear, which was apparently enough to convince the bruin to slowly turn away and amble off. It didn’t bother the men again as they finished quartering the elk carcass and preparing it for the 3-mile pack back to their camp.

“I ended up doing that (firing the shot) because it was late and we were in kind of a hurry,” Long said. “It was getting dark and we had a dead animal on the ground and bear nearby.”

“It didn’t seem to be aggressive. I think it was a young male and it just wasn’t sure of what we were at first. It was doing what bears do and trying to get a meal.”

Hard Work, But Worth It

After so many years of hunting, processing and packing out deer, Long said the sheer size of the elk’s carcass they bagged in Wyoming was “intimidating” at first.

He and Keen put some of the choicest cuts of meat into their packs, but had to leave much of the elk’s quarters hanging in trees overnight. They hoped they’d hung them high enough and that the bear wouldn’t come back and gorge itself after they’d left.

When they returned the next morning, the quarters were still where they’d left them,and showed “only a little sign” of the bear possibly trying to eat their kill.

That’s when the real work began.

“For an Arkansas boy, packing that thing out at 9,000 feet in elevation, it didn’t work out so good,” he said. “It did wind me out a couple of times.”

Nevertheless, they made it back to camp with the meat.

“We’re out to feed our families as much as anything else, so that meat was important to us,” Long said.

‘He Did The Right Thing’

When he heard of Long’s story Wednesday, experienced Wyoming outdoorsman Karl Brauneis of Lander said the experienced Arkansas hunter “did the right thing” when confronted with the black bear and noted that people can easily overlook how dangerous black bears can be.

“Often a shot like that wakes the animal up to the authority of man,” Brauneis, who had a long career as a forester and wildland firefighter, told Cowboy State Daily.

“With a firearm, you never have to shoot to kill, but you can if necessary,” he said. “With a firearm you have options.”

“Black bears can be particularly dangerous,” he added. “In Alaska (with the smokejumpers) a friend was dragged out of his ‘hooch’ – we turned our deployed main parachutes into tents. When the bear got him out, he shot and killed it with his .357.”

Still Enthralled With Wyoming

Long said he has no plans to stop hunting in Wyoming. And even though he didn’t kill an elk this year, he was happy to have helped Keen get his – and to have kept the bear from eating it.

And his family appreciates anything he can bring home from Wyoming.

“My wife’s new favorite steak is antelope meat,” he said. “We’ve got two daughters, and they both really like mule deer. We don’t have mule deer in Arkansas.”

As for his encounter with the black bear, Long said it just drives home the point he always made to hunters as a game agent in his home state about being aware of any hazards they might encounter.

“It’s one of those hunting things that happens,” he said. “Here in Arkansas, it’s more likely to be a copperhead or some other kind of snake than a bear. The way I look at it, it’s just one of those things you need to be prepared for.”

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‘Dirtbags’ Strike Again: Huge Elk Rack Stolen From Backyard In Lander

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

The “dirtbags” are at it again.

Thieves stole a trophy-sized elk skull and antlers from a backyard in Lander.

“I don’t know why people do something like this. It’s pretty low,” David DeAustin of Lander told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. 

Sometime late Saturday or early Sunday, somebody stole a trophy-sized elk skull and antlers from his backyard. 

DeAustin had been processing the antlers and skull to make a European mount trophy for his friend, bowhunter Aron Snyder of Riverton. Snyder is the owner and president of Kifaru International outdoor equipment company in Riverton. 

A European mount involves only the animal’s skull and antlers or horns mounted on a plaque or hook that can be hung on a wall. 

The thieves’ actions mirror an earlier incident in which hunter Jimmy Lynn of Utah said “dirtbags” stole his trophy mule deer head after a hard hunt in a remote area of Wyoming’s Hoback Mountain Range.

DeAustin said he also knows Lynn and was appalled by what happened to him. 

A Great Bull

Snyder bagged the bull elk in mid-September while bow hunting with a friend in the Colorado backcountry, DeAustin said. 

“It took him a handful of days to get that elk, in bad weather, with tons of rain,” DeAustin said. 

The bull was “probably 10 or 11 years old,” he said. “He had mass to where you couldn’t even get both hands around the bases of the antlers. I’d say he was at least in the 350 (inch) range, maybe more.”

DeAustin was refereeing to the highly-regarded Boone and Crockett scoring system for big game animal antlers and horns. Bull elk scoring 360 inches or more qualify for the B&C record books. 

Gone Sunday Morning

DeAustin said both he and his fiancée saw the antlers and skull still in their backyard late Saturday. 

“When I got up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to let the dog out, it was gone,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody could even see them in my back yard, there’s so much brush along the edges back there.”

DeAustin said his neighbors include several law enforcement officers and Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens, so he’s gotten the word out about the theft. Lander police also have been canvassing the neighborhood. 

He said he’s also been in contact with antler collectors, pawn shop owners and others whom the thieves might try fencing the stolen hunting trophy to. 

‘You’d Be Surprised’

Antlers might be stolen for a variety of reasons, he said. 

People might take them to use for dog chews. Or, they can fetch up to $20 per pound on some black markets, DeAustin said. In some foreign countries, ground-up antler powder is thought to have medicinal qualities.

Still others might buy them to falsely boast of their own hunting exploits, he said. 

“You’d be surprised how many people do that,” he said. “A lot of people will hang up animals they didn’t shoot and then brag and tell stories about it.”

Reward Offered

After reading the story about the theft, Colorado outdoor equipment manufacturer Davis Tent has offered a reward.

Anyone who provides law enforcement with information leading to an arrest will get a free Davis Tent.

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Drunken Colorado Men Severely Beat Wyoming Elk Hunters In Unprovoked Attack, Father Says

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Two drunken men with Colorado license plates on their truck allegedly assaulted and severely beat two Wyoming elk hunters without provocation in the Shale Creek area of Greys River in Lincoln County, one victim’s father said. 

“This is more than a ‘he got hit in the jaw’ sort of thing,” Noble Handley told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday. “He got beaten down.”

The suspected assailants claimed that the victims had stolen the carcass of a cow elk that the suspects had killed earlier that day, Handley said. However, the victims hadn’t killed any elk during their hunt. 

He said his son took the worst of the vicious and unprovoked assault. The primary victim, who is in his early 30s, suffered multiple fractures to his jaw, as well as other severe injuries. He was still hospitalized in Jackson on Monday and will likely need multiple surgeries, said Handley, who lives in Clark.

Handley and another close friend of the victims declined to identify either victim by name.

They were withholding the victims’ names, because the victims were still worried about retribution from the suspects. The suspects remained unknown on Monday.

“He (the son) is somebody who has gone through a lot. He’s had friends pass away, and that sort of thing. He’s the strongest person we know,” said one close friend, who asked not to be identified. “And now, he’s in the hospital, shaking like a leaf.”


Handley said both of the victims described the attack as having been completely unprovoked. 

The victims related that they first encountered the suspects – two men probably in their 30s – about midmorning on Saturday. They were butchering a cow elk by the roadside and claimed that they had shot and killed another cow elk. They claimed the carcass should be nearby. 

The end of that exchange was “Basically, ‘We’ll keep an eye out for your elk’” and that seemed like the end of it, the close friend said. 

Suspect Might Have A ‘Dork Stamp’

The suspects’ primary vehicle was described as a white, late-model Ford F-150 pickup with Colorado plates, Handley said.

One of the suspects had a visible cut on the bridge of his nose, he said. It was consistent with a “scoping” injury. 

That happens when a shooter fails to properly control the recoil of a high-powered rifle outfitted with a telescopic sight. The edge of the scope strikes the shooter in the face, often in the bridge of the nose, making a small cut. 

It’s widely considered a novice mistake, and shooters commonly call the wound a “dork stamp.”

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office described the suspects as, “White males, one being in his late 20s to early 30s, medium build and approximately 5-9 with wavy dark hair and a possible scope injury to his nose and eyebrow. 

“The second suspect is described as being in his late 30s with dark straight hair, approximately 5-9. Both men were wearing jeans and hoodies of unknown colors. “

Anybody with information about the suspects should contact the Sheriff’s Office at 307-885-5231. 

Vicious Attack On the Road

The victims said they were returning from an unsuccessful hunt Saturday evening driving a side-by-side UTV down Greys River Road back toward their camp. The suspects appeared again in the white F-150 and “flagged them down to stop” somewhere between mile posts 50 and 55.

“Those guys were like, ‘We told you where our elk was, and you took it!’” the close friend said. “They were really, really drunk, and they just jumped out of their truck.”

Handley also said he was told that the men were intoxicated. 

“One of them (the suspects) threw a partially-full beer can at them,” he said. 

The Wyoming hunters tried to calm the other men, saying they obviously didn’t have an elk carcass with them.

“(The Son’s friend) was like, ‘dude, we didn’t take your shit,’” according to the friend. “But they just kept yelling and trying to look in the back of the side-by-side.”

When the son’s friend excited the driver’s side of the UTV, he was almost immediately punched in the face. He went into a “a kind of defensive fetal position” while the suspects continued hitting and kicking him. 

When Handley’s son exited the passenger’s side, things got worse. 

“The guy came around the vehicle and said, ‘Oh, you want some of this too?’ and started beating the shit out of him,” the friend said. “(The son) had a handgun on his hip, and the other guy kept trying to go for it. He was trying to protect himself while keeping that guy from getting his gun.”

Details were still blurry Monday, but evidently both men ended up ganging up on the son: “They ended it by kneeing him in the face, and that’s when his mouth just started pouring blood.”

‘Headed To The Hospital’

After the suspects left, the battered and bewildered hunters got back into their UTV and headed for Jackson. 

Handley said he got word that something was wrong late Saturday.

His son “sent me a text as soon as they had service to send a text,” he said. “All it said was that he had a broken jaw and they were headed to the hospital.”

Handley said his son and his friend had been talking to deputies and sheriff’s office detectives and were expecting another interview with a detective later Monday. 

Handley emailed Cowboy Sate Daily seeking help in finding out any information about the incident and the suspects’ identities. He said he’d also been sharing the story across multiple social media platforms. 

Besides the F-150, other vehicles that might have been involved were a “possibly flat-black Toyota Tacoma” and a “white or light-colored chevy or GMC 4-door truck, early 2000s model with dark fender flairs or a different color of fender lips,” he said. 

The extent of his son’s injuries was still unclear, Handley said. 

“My son still can’t swallow,” he said. “We’re waiting for an oral surgeon to get involved today. His teeth are messed up and his face is swollen up on both sides.”

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