When one thinks about hunting and even more broadly wildlife in Wyoming, I suspect most have images of bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk pop into their head. That is to be …
When one thinks about hunting and even more broadly wildlife in Wyoming, I suspect most have images of bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk pop into their head. That is to be expected.
After all, the state has robust populations of deer and elk, and the pronghorn is maybe the most referenced species when thinking of Wyoming and its vast open spaces. All these species are fairly easy to observe, especially this time of year while they congregate on their winter ranges. One can see large numbers of deer, elk and antelope just driving down one of Wyoming’s many secondary highways or three interstates.
It makes me wonder if black bears could easily be observed in herds on a winter range or were not such solitary creatures or didn’t spend half the year asleep in a winter den, would we as Wyomingites respect and cherish the species more as an iconic representative of Wyoming wildlife.
Black bear hunting in Wyoming has been on the books since 1911. Prior to that they where just considered a predator and with that came no real management. From 1911–1977 the black bear in Wyoming was listed as a big game species and then in 1978 the black bear was listed as “Trophy Game.”
Up until 1988 you could harvest two bears a year and you received a black bear license with your elk tag. In 1994 the state developed a specific Black Bear Management Plan and that plan was revised in 2007. Black bear numbers and black bear hunter numbers have seen a sharp increase over the last nine years.
Per the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, resident bear hunting licenses sold have increased 24% since 2012, In 2021 there were 4,928 black bear tags sold to residents. Even more interesting is the 88% increase in nonresident licenses sold versus 2012. In 2021 the state issued 750 nonresident black bear licenses versus 400 in 2012. Along with increased tag sales and hunter interest we have seen
a 30% increase in black bears harvested in Wyoming since 2012. In 2021, 563 bears where harvested in the state during the spring and fall seasons.
I think it should be noted that black bear numbers across the United States are at incredible numbers; Wyoming included. Black bears are thriving as they are one of the most adaptable and resilient species on the planet. They are survivors. It is thought that we have more black bears in the United States than we did prior to Western expansion or even the arrival of settlers on the Eastern seaboard. This is largely due to strong state level management plans that are guided by science and for sustainability, not eradication.
It often makes me think, how can such an iconic species and representative of our wild landscape not be heralded more by sportsmen and women as one of the jewels in the crown of Wyoming wildlife. I wonder if it because they are not a resource concern? We often don’t appreciate what we have lots of, and cherish that which we have very little of. Or maybe the rampant anti-predator sentiment running roughshod through the hunting community makes us focus less on these omnivores. Black bears are falling victim to the “all predators are bad” mindset and its devaluing the species in the eyes of many. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard someone justify killing a bear by saying “saved and elk calf today” or “saved a fawn today.” Granted bears certainly do kill calves and fawns, but does one need to justify their actions by being a savior to ungulates?
Be proud of being successful on a very low success hunt, be proud of the hunt, the chase, the challenge, the work, the reward. I would say be proud of the great protein and meat you got but in Wyoming that is not something every bear hunter experiences, which brings me to my last point and probably the biggest disservice to black bears in Wyoming.
The State of Wyoming lists the black bear as “Trophy Game.” Remember this as it is important. The title “Trophy Game” is different from “Big Game” in Wyoming and includes grizzly bear, mountain lion, black bear and wolf. Per Wyoming State Statute (23-3-303 A) “No person shall take and leave, abandon or allow any game bird, game fish, or game animal except trophy game animal, or edible portion, to intentionally or needlessly go to waste.”
Except trophy game animals!
See, in Wyoming it’s OK to legally take a black bear and leave the meat to “intentionally or needlessly” go to waste. I, as a bear hunter, have a big problem with this.
How can we ensure we protect our privileges as bear hunters and ensure a future for bear hunting when we are looked at by society as hide hunters only pursuing bears to get another rug for the wall?
If you view this from the anti-hunting perspective, it seems like a pretty easy way to be vehemently against bear hunting from their perspective. In an age where hunting — especially predator hunting and trapping is constantly at risk of attacks — it seems silly we as predator hunters should give them anymore fuel for the fire.
There are so many misconceptions with bear meat that I think has probably prolonged this “Trophy Game” label and the ability to leave bear meat in the field in Wyoming. It’s also in statute, which makes it difficult to change.
“Bears have worms,” “Bears have trichinosis,” “its greasy,” etc.
I have heard them all and yet it doesn’t make leaving meat on the mountain okay. Are we not as hunters responsible for showing the ultimate respect for the animal we harvest? Seems to me the most disrespectful and ungrateful thing we can do with any species we kill is leave the meat “intentionally or needlessly” to waste. I believe our wildlife, our heritage, our beliefs as hunters and our future hunters deserve more than this.
No wonder black bears in Wyoming are not valued by more sportsmen and women. It’s been beat into our heads for over 40 years that they are of so little value we can leave the meat on the hill. We are told it’s OK by someone and, we then we make it part of our belief structure and tell ourselves and everyone else that it is OK. Folks, it’s not OK! And we absolutely must do better!
Like it or not, the fight is coming. I, is it fair? Nope, but it’s the world we live in now.
I wonder though how many of us would be willing to put forth the effort to change if bear hunting in Wyoming was at risk or on the verge of ending. I know I am willing to bend over backwards to keep these hunting privileges we have, and if that means codifying something a large majority of us do into law by requiring we take carnivore meat from the field, I think that is a great step.
(Joe Kondelis is the president of the American Bear Foundation.)