Outdoor Report

‘Unsuccessful’ is the ugliest word in elk hunting

Posted 6/25/20

On June 18, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced the results of their limited quota hunting lottery. The night before the annual announcements must seem like Christmas Eve to many resident …

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Outdoor Report

‘Unsuccessful’ is the ugliest word in elk hunting


On June 18, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced the results of their limited quota hunting lottery. The night before the annual announcements must seem like Christmas Eve to many resident hunters.

This year, I was afraid to dream. It took me back to those nervous Christmas Eves when I was a kid.

I had a great offer to hunt elk with an experienced mentor — important to someone new to the species — but I needed a special tag. The likelihood of harvesting my first wapiti, filling my freezer with excellent meat and having a sweet memory I could carry to the grave — if scoring the tag — made it hard to hold back. I eventually gave in under the cloak of darkness and dreamed of my first bull.

“This is my year,” I kept telling myself.

I attempted to stay busy. I tried not to stare at the clock. Yet, the dreams were there, keeping me awake. Time seemed to stand still, just like when I was a kid on Christmas Eve, desperate to open a colorfully wrapped gift with a Johnny West action figure inside. I had the suggested gift prominently displayed at the top of my wish list, which I taped to my bedroom door at least a month before Christmas, if memory serves. I may have even moved that list to the fridge as the holiday neared. I had faith in Santa, but a little reminder couldn’t hurt, right?

Unfortunately, there is no limited-quota-tag Santa. It’s a completely random drawing for which fairness based on the previous year’s naughty list isn’t accounted.

We’ve all heard from friends, both ecstatically proclaiming they were successful in every tag for which they applied and from those who got skunked. Last year, I remember a friend actually saying their family got so many tags, including a bison license, that it was going to be hard to work in all the hunts.

On the 2020 results day, a friend called a few minutes after 10 a.m.

“No elk, no deer, no antelope,” he complained. I hadn’t even had time to look, so I called up the Game and Fish website as he groused about his misfortune. Thanks to TCT’s hyperfast broadband, the moment of suspense didn’t last long enough for me to put on my game face.

Let’s just say there was no Johnny West action figure under the tree this year. Elk tag: Unsuccessful. Antelope tag: Unsuccessful. Deer tag: Unsuccessful.

But unlike my response when I was a fairly innocent 6-year-old, I said a naughty word.

First, I apologized to my friend on the phone. Then I apologized to the entire Powell Tribune office.

Unhappy, I allowed my grumpiness to affect others. I was that 6-year-old boy, unappreciative of the effort that went into selecting my three-pack of white tube socks with the red calf stripes. All I knew was the action figure with moving arms and legs and a side iron wouldn’t be mine until my next birthday, if ever.

I wasn’t the only one disappointed.

“I haven’t scored an area 62 tag in seven years,” said David Rael, former president of the Game and Fish Commission.

Rael had another way in; buying extremely expensive commissioner’s tags for his hunting adventures. Yet, he understands the disappointment that comes with being skunked. While he’s not against the limited quota system — which makes for better hunts for those who can score a tag — he’d like to see the commission discuss some changes.

In Wyoming, all resident hunters who get skunked in the initial draw can buy a general license for elk. In Park County, there are three general hunt areas: Area 56 (Wapiti Ridge), 59 (South Fork Boulder Basin), and 66. The latter area is being managed for zero population to “address elk causing damage on lower Greybull River,” said Scott Werbelow, supervisor of the Cody Region game wardens.

“There are very few elk out there right now,” he said.

Werbelow suggests looking into leftover tags that are still available. While most areas are sold out, there are some that offer a fair chance at a cow or calf.

Rael, who will end his stint on the commission this year, said he would like to see a system of making hunters who score a limited quota tag wait a year or two before they can reapply for the same area. He worries that those who get skunked for several years, like he has, will look for other hobbies, possibly hurting outdoor sports by lowering the number of participants. The department relies on the sale of hunting licenses and tags for a large portion of its revenue and is an important source for the department’s expensive conservation work.

The commission has also looked into the prospect of making elk hunting a preference points species, like moose and sheep, though Werbelow offered that “I’d rather take my chances in the draw than moving to preference points.”

Me? I haven’t grown up much. While I did eventually get the Johnny West action figure, I wasn’t a happy camper that Christmas. And no matter what is said in consolation in the next few weeks, I’m going to be a brat, and stick out my lower lip.

I’ll likely try again next year, but I’ll probably look at the results in the privacy of my home this time.

Outdoor Report