by nathan oster
The first full week of the big-game hunting season didn’t produce any big surprises — and that’s a good thing when it comes to brucellosis testing.
Throughout the fall, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been encouraging Big Horn Mountain elk hunters to assist in the surveillance effort by taking blood samples and either sending them in or leaving them at collection sites.
“As of Saturday, I was hearing that (the state lab) had tested 80 samples already and that there had been no positives at all in the areas we’re most concerned about (areas 38, 39 and 40),” said Tom Easterly, a wildlife biologist for Game and Fish. “Unfortunately, a lot of hunters have been saying that they forgot their kit or didn’t take it with them. Brucellosis is not a big concern for them. But for ranchers, it definitely is.
“Our vet has said that if we get over 200 samples, it’ll be a good sample size. So it’s definitely a positive sign, having 80 something samples by the 19th of October. I’m betting we’ll be able to make the 200-sample goal.”
Easterly said the first week of the season has gone pretty well overall, but that there seem to be fewer non-resident deer hunters in the area. “I don’t know if they went further north or further south, but I suspect our deer harvest will be down a little this year,” he said. “The ones I’ve talked to are enjoying themselves. But unfortunately, (nonresidents) are also the folks who typically take the first deer they see. So most of the ones that have been taken have been pretty small. A couple of locals did nice some nice bucks, though.”
The buck season ends today (Thursday, Oct. 24), but does can still be taken in most hunting areas through at least the end of October. Some seasons run through the end of November. Up around Lovell, some stretch all the way into December.
Game Warden Bill Robertson said the big-game season, “started like molasses. The first two days were pretty miserable, to the point where I wondered what was going on. But then I started getting reports of a good deer harvest. Not a lot of big deer, but of people finding bucks to kill on the forest, which was encouraging.”
Robertson said he talked to a group of hunters from Wisconsin who had filled five of their six tags. “They thought hunting was as great as could be,” Robertson said. “So it depends who you talk to. Some locals may grumble about deer numbers being down — and they may be right to do that because I do think numbers are down.”
Easterly agreed, saying he anticipates that the G&F will consider changes to some seasons in future years.
Easterly said some nice bull elk have been taken. “Folks are having to work for the bulls, but they are getting into them.” Robertson, though, said he’s heard a lot of frustration from people hunting elk. The weather has impacted the hunt, he said. In Area 40, the snow has hampered road access. “People haven’t been able to get to their spots due to poor conditions, particularly around Horse Creek Mesa and Sunlight Mesa,” said Robertson.
“In Area 41, a large number of elk have already moved onto private land, where they aren’t accessible to anyone except for outfitted clients. In other areas, elk have moved into remote canyons.”
One hunter killed an elk from long distance in one of those canyons, but had exhausted himself packing the animal out, piece by piece. “Hunters need to assess their ability to retrieve the carcass before they choose to go after one in those remote locations,” said Robertson.
Robertson said he’s written a few citations, mostly for trespassing.
“It seems a lot of folks get frustrated with not being able to find deer where they are hunting, so when they see deer on people’s properties, for some reason, they feel like they should be able to take them without permission. That’s trespassing.”
Shooting from the road is another big one, he said.
“Again, people get frustrated by not being able to find them where they went, and they get tired easily. So when an opportunity presents itself, they choose, poorly, to shoot from a public road.”
Robertson said he’s also cited hunters for taking an animal of the wrong sex — i.e., for shooting a small buck when they had a doe tag. He encourages hunters who have yet to fill their tags to take the extra time to make a positive ID before firing a shot at their target.