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January 29, 2009 3:53 am

Antler hunting bill squeaks past Senate, kindles debate

Written by Tribune Staff

Senate File 13, a bill giving the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission the power to ban antler or horn hunting in specific areas, squeaked by the Wyoming Senate Friday.

“I voted against it, and it passed the Senate 16-13 and one excused,” said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, in an e-mail Monday.

The bill would not allow the commission to adopt specific regulations controlling antler/horn hunting of big-game animals, but it would allow the commission to ban the collection of naturally-shed antlers or horns in specific locations from Jan. 1 to May 1, where the commission believes the ban is needed, said Dennie Hammer, Game and Fish public information specialist in Cody.

The ban, if passed, likely would target the big open areas of southwest Wyoming, and any proposed bans would be made well in advance of the actual antler/horn hunting ban, Hammer said.

“The purpose of the bill is to minimize the harassment or disturbance of big game populations, primarily on winter ranges,” Hammer said.

Big game endeavor to remain in areas of optimal winter forage, and a human's presence can disturb them, Hammer said.
Coe said the Game and Fish told legislators they are having problems with individuals hunting trophy mule deer antlers in southwest Wyoming.

There already are statutes prohibiting the harassment of wildlife, Coe said.

Eighty-two percent of Park County is public land, Coe said.

“To me it's just another way for the bureaucracy to keep us off of public lands, when the real harassment of Wyoming's wildlife is the wolf,” Coe said.

Ron Nordberg of Cody, who spoke to the Senate Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee in Cheyenne last week, said Monday the bill would give the Game and Fish a blank check to regulate antler hunting.

Nordberg has hunted antlers for 30 years. Recently, Nordberg said his sons have joined him.

Nordberg said the Game and Fish presented no data in Cheyenne to support their claim that ungulates are impacted by antler and horn hunters.

Nordberg said he would support fines imposed on antler hunters who harass big game.

Nordberg said he has heard talk of nefarious hunters chasing ungulates into deep snow or stretching wires that would snatch antlers from bucks and bulls fleeing humans, but he has never witnessed it. And, he said, Game and Fish has no proof of such activities either.

Finding antlers lying on the ground does not kill anything, Nordberg said.

If passed, the bill would ban antler hunters access to specific places, but allow all others access to those public places.

Would the hiker cause less harm if deer or elk are in the vicinity? Nordberg asked.

Not every antler-hunting trip is successful, Nordberg said.

“If I don't find an antler, do I do any less harm?” Nordberg asked.

The hills are busy places. Hunting seasons have been extended into winter months, hunters are chasing mountain lions with dogs, and chainsaws are racketing up the noise level. But antler hunting could be banned? Nordberg asked.

Nordberg said game hunters, antler/horn hunters and the Game and Fish can work together.

Next, the bill will head to the Wyoming House of Representatives to get lawmakers' endorsement or rejection. If it is a go, the governor could next sign it into law, making the bill effective July 1.

If the bill is ratified, Nordberg said he believes the Game and Fish would hold public meetings to discuss proposed moratoriums in specific places.

Nordberg said he hopes public opinion can sway department opinion.