Antler Hunters/Dogs bad news for wintering wildlife
by Wyoming Game & Fish
February 22, 2008
After responding to complaints of dogs chasing and killing deer, and complaints of people on snowshoes running off deer and elk to get their antlers, one local game warden suggests it's time that people take control of their ethics and their pets and stop harassing the wildlife.
Cokeville game warden Neil Hymas, a 30-year veteran of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, has responded to calls involving unethical antler gatherers and deer-killing dogs before, but the recent tough winter makes these sorts of calls more distressing.
"Anyone who has driven through Cokeville lately can't help but notice the deer, elk and antelope moving alongside the highway in search of food," Hymas said. "The influx of wildlife watchers has increased because these animals are so visible and close to Highway 30. The reality is these animals are starving and they can't afford to waste energy from any actions that cause them to move away from where they are trying to feed."
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the Game and Fish Stop Poaching Hotline received calls from dismayed wildlife viewers near Sage Junction south of Cokeville. Warden Hymas says winter conditions have been stressful for wildlife, and several groups of deer and elk were using the more favorable south -facing slopes to forage and use the sunís warmth to conserve energy.
"Some concerned citizens watched as two men on snowshoes crossed the snow-covered slopes, causing large numbers of deer and elk to flee from the slopes into the deeper snows," Hymas said. "The observers recognized that this disturbance was going to result in the animals burning up critical reserves and felt that this unnecessary harassment violated wildlife laws, so they reported the disturbance to the Stop Poaching Hotline."
"When I responded to the report I discovered that two men from Utah had driven to Wyoming to hunt for shed antlers, even though the slopes were still covered with snow.
They informed me that the Northern Region in Utah was closed to the hunting of shed antlers from February 1 through April 12 to prevent the molestation of wintering wildlife, so they had driven to the Sage Junction area of Wyoming to hunt for antlers because Wyoming has no season on antler gathering."
During the same week, Game and Fish biologist Ron Lockwood encountered a similar situation south of Kemmerer along Wyoming Highway 189. Lockwood watched as Utah antler hunters waded through knee-deep snow and deer scattered from the slopes and draws they were seeking shelter in. Once again, the antler hunters explained that they had come to Wyoming because from Utah wildlife officials had closed the Northern Region to antler hunting.
Hymas says during a winter when sportsmen and wildlife officials are concerned about the survival of big game, it is difficult for wildlife managers to protect big game from unnecessary disturbance.
"The current laws on harassment of wildlife in Wyoming pertain mainly to the use of motorized vehicles, and the Legislature in Wyoming has not granted specific authority to the Game and Fish Commission to regulate antler hunting," Hymas said. "Due to the competitive nature of many antler hunters, good ethics alone have not been enough motivation to get some hunters to wait until wintering animals can leave the crucial winter ranges before scouring the areas."
In addition to the problem of human disturbances to wildlife, game wardens in southwest Wyoming have also responded to several recent cases of dogs chasing and injuring big game recently.
"I discovered a deer that had been forced into Pine Creek, killed and fed upon by dogs that were running at large," Hymas said. "Another complaint was filed by wildlife watchers that observed two sheep guard dogs attack a herd of deer and drag down a small deer in Nugget Canyon along US Highway 30 on Feb. 18."
Kemmerer game warden Jim Olson also cited a dog owner on Feb. 18, whose dog had attacked and injured deer in the deep snow near Kemmerer.
Wyoming law allows peace officers to kill any dog in cases where big game animals have been injured or are being threatened with immediate injury by dogs. A peace officer may also arrest or issue a summons to the owner of any dog injuring or threatening a big game animal with immediate injury, unless the dog has been trained, and was attempting, to protect livestock.
"This is a crucial time for wintering big game. Deep snows often result in big game animals congregating in close proximity to towns and roads as they seek shelter and food," Hymas said. "Wildlife managers are asking everyone to help our wildlife survive the winter months by being considerate of their needs. More animals can survive if they are allowed to conserve their energy and forage undisturbed."
The best advice is to stay away from wintering wildlife. If you must look for antlers then do so later on when the snows have melted and the game animals can move up to higher ground away from humans and dogs. Show respect to the very animals providing the recreational opportunity. Give wildlife plenty of space and if you do see anyone harassing wildlife call your local game warden or the Stop Poaching Hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP."