Big changes set by park for elk hunt
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., Jackson Hole, Wyoming
March 14, 2013
Grand Teton National Park will make sweeping changes to its controversial elk hunt to reduce danger to grizzlies and hunters and curb the number of wounded elk.
The changes, to begin this fall, include closing a timbered area along the banks of the Snake River where a grizzly was shot and killed last Thanksgiving. The park also will limit hunters to no more than seven cartridges a day and prohibit them from taking more than one shot at a herd of running elk.
Grand Teton also will ban lead ammunition to avoid poisoning scavengers. To replace hunting acreage lost to the river-bottom closure, officials will allow hunting south of the Gros Ventre Road to Kelly.
The changes were designed after Teton park officials consulted with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The rule changes come on the heels of an investigation that concluded that a family of elk hunters from Cody that killed the grizzly last year appeared to have acted in self-defense.
The changes brought cautious approval from the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
“The alliance thinks that’s some steps in the right direction,” Wildlands Director Cory Hatch said.
A longtime critic of the hunt, officially called an elk reduction program, was less enthusiastic.
“Just close the park hunt and get it done with,” wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen said. “It’s still dangerous. You’re putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”
Grand Teton is authorized, when necessary, to host the hunt, in which civilians are deputized to shoot elk. Park biologists have said the hunt will probably be necessary as long as elk are fed during the winter on the National Elk Refuge, boosting their numbers.
The ammunition limit mirrors restrictions on the nearby elk refuge, which also holds an annual hunt to cull the herd. Limiting hunters to a single shot at a herd of running elk will reduce the potential for “wounding loss,” the park said in announcing the program.
“It’s a way to make a hunter slow down, focus on a single animal,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.
Park senior biologist Steve Cain agreed.
“It is to encourage appropriate hunter behavior,” he said.
While shooting at herds instead of an individual animal is not common, he said, rangers have witnessed a hunter fire 20 rounds at running elk from a long distance.
“It will be enforced with discretion,” Cain said of the rule.
The river-bottom area to be closed extends from Deadmans Bar road to Ditch Creek. Leaving that zone hunter-free should “decrease the probability of grizzly bear-hunter conflicts in an area of thick timber and poor visibility,” the park said.
Banning lead ammunition also copies a refuge policy. Park rangers already are required to use lead-free ammo for dispatching sick or wounded animals.
Because the hunters are deputized rangers, the requirement is simply a strict application of existing rules, Hatch said.
“It’s good for scavengers and the hunters and their families that eat the elk,” he said.
The park will open to hunting the area south of the Gros Ventre Road between the Gros Ventre Junction and a point just west of the Gros Ventre campground. It also will make other changes to hunt areas to spread hunters out and target elk that live in the park in the summer.