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Hunting traditions: Walk-in areas offer habitat to local hunters

Jeff Capron and his father’s hunting dog, Prince, hunt a walk-in field east of Powell. The Capron family has chased pheasants on opening day for the past 36 years. Jeff Capron and his father’s hunting dog, Prince, hunt a walk-in field east of Powell. The Capron family has chased pheasants on opening day for the past 36 years. Tribune photo by Mark Davis

At sunrise on the morning of the Wyoming pheasant opener, a light dusting of fresh snow covered the fields east of Powell. Jeff Capron and his father, Bob, jumped out of their truck excited to start hunting — just like they’ve been doing for more than three decades. Prince followed right behind, excited for his first hunt.

“We haven’t had snow on opening day for years,” Bob said. “They’re easier to track in the snow.”

The father and son team were finding it hard to find birds in their first field, but had a few more places to try before the end of the day. Prince, a rescue Lab, gave the two all the entertainment they needed for the first walk of the day.

“It’s his first time on a bird hunt. He still doesn’t know what he’s looking for,” Bob said.

The father and son team has been afield together every year since Jeff was 12 years old. It’s a long, family tradition they’ve honored. They hunt birds at least once a week through the end of the season on Dec. 31. Despite striking out on their first walk, they remain optimistic.

“It’s never really as good hunting here as places like Nebraska or South Dakota, but we get some birds,” Bob said.

The time hunting isn’t about the harvest, rather a chance to get out in nature with some great company, Jeff said.

“It’s about family,” he said. “It’s perfect weather, a beautiful day to hunt.”

Thousands of hunters will be out during the season. The exact number of hunters in the state is hard to tabulate because the licenses that can be used to hunt upland game are diverse. About 10,000 hunters buy resident game bird/small game annual permits each year. Thousands more buy resident game bird permits, daily permits and other combined licenses.

The Middleton brothers, Hayden and Hunter, are pushing each other to start new traditions. They didn’t grow up hunting. But now they’re learning to hunt many different species together — one at a time.

“I got my first goose last year,” Hunter said.

It doesn’t matter much what they’re hunting; they simply enjoy getting out in the beautiful Wyoming country, Hayden said.

“We’re thinking about pheasant,” Hayden said. “But our hunts are more about brotherly love.”

The hunters chose to hunt Walk In Areas, tracts of private land the Game and Fish Department leases for public hunting opportunities.

“It’s great because they’re close to home,” Jeff Capron said.

There are thousands of acres available along the Shoshone River from Ralston to just south of Byron. The largest tracts start east of Jim Bridger Trail on the south side of the river and straddles the Big Horn County line, following the river northeast to just south of Byron.

Public access to Walk In Areas is typically limited to hunting by foot traffic only — including all travel and game retrieval — unless the landowner designates roads open to vehicle travel, according to the Game and Fish.

Each area has a specific set of rules. Not all are open to pheasant hunting, said Tara Hodges, Game and Fish information and education specialist. The department’s website has county by county maps of WIAs as well as each property’s specific rules. There are also signs posted in the parking lots for each property.

To help supplement wild pheasant populations, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department raises 30,000 farm-raised birds, releasing them in prime habitat in the state. Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area — 19,214 acres of public hunting access located 6 miles east of Lovell — is the only area in the Big Horn Basin that the Game and Fish stocks. Hunters at Yellowtail are required to buy a pheasant management permit, as they are in all hunt areas where pheasants are stocked from department bird farms.

About 2,500 hunters buy pheasant special management permits each year.

“Game bird hunters are not required to wear hunter orange, however, we highly recommend it,” Hodges said. There are some exceptions to the rule: Game bird hunters are required to wear hunter orange while hunting on Wildlife Habitat Management Areas such as Yellowtail.

“If you have any questions about the rules, give us a call,” Hodges said.

The Cody Region office is located at 2820 State Highway 120, in Cody and can be reached at 307-527-7125.

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