Hunting fanatic Zach Key didn’t drive two hours to the Jackson Town Square to pick a fight with protesters who were calling for the end of trophy hunting.
Key’s task, instead, was education. On the scene, amid a couple dozen protesters and a handful of fellow hunters, Key eagerly handed out a fact sheet titled, “Hunters/Conservationists.”
“I’ve got some facts about how much a hunter, through license sales every year, how much we contribute to wildlife management,” said Key, of Sublette County, from the antler arch on the southwest corner of the square. “We’re not asking for all the grizzlies and wolves and coyotes to be killed. We’re not bloodthirsty killers. There are bad apples in any groups. There are bad-apple hunters that put pictures online that make us look like savages and a bunch of ruthless killers. The point of us being here is to show that we’re not all of the same design.”
Although trophy hunting — or killing for sport, wall mounts or pelts — is a topic that’s quick to stir emotions, the banter on the square was largely respectful. Those who came to the Worldwide Rally Against Trophy Hunting gathering last weekend to condemn forms of hunting they perceive as inhumane mingled readily with a cluster of camouflaged men who clearly differed ideologically.
Kristin Combs, a Wyoming Wildlife Advocates employee who organized the event, said she thinks the public protest was the first of its kind in Wyoming, in that it advocated the prohibition of certain types of hunting. About 30 people wielded makeshift and professionally printed signs that featured slogans like “Trophy hunting is not conservation!” and “Not your trophy” next to a photo of a grizzly bear.
“I agree with the philosophy and mission completely,” wildlife biologist and retired filmmaker Franz Camenzind said. “Killing for fun, it’s just not right. I think it’s time we move on. It’s an evolutionary step, and evolution’s not fun, but it goes on.”
Camenzind, 75, said he does not anticipate wholesale changes to Wyoming’s hunting regulations in his lifetime, but that “if you don’t start, you won’t get there.”
Also gathered was wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who was raised in Nebraska as a hunter but now condemns types of hunting he perceives as unethical and unneeded.
“I’m trying to put a stop to this nonsense of killing animals for fun,” Mangelsen said. “Shooting a deer or elk for meat, that’s fine. Shooting a black bear over bait or if it’s in its den, that’s not.”
The protest, Combs said, wasn’t an attack on all forms of hunting. Besides opposing bear baiting, her employer is trying to end coyote-killing derbies and trophy hunting of predators like wolves or grizzly bears.
Jackson Hole resident and wildlife activist Lisa Robertson mingled with hunters, trying to understand why some of them valued trophy hunting.
She went back and forth with Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner and La Barge resident Mike Schmid, discussing issues like Wyoming’s planned and then judicially thrown-out grizzly bear hunt. Robertson took issue with how meat from hunter-killed wildlife that is categorized as “big game” by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has to be recovered from the field, but carcasses of “trophy game” species like mountain lions, wolves, black and grizzly bears can be left in the field to rot without penalty. Schmid’s take was that the 22 Wyoming grizzly bear carcasses that would have been left in the woods after being shot would not have gone to waste, but would have fed other bears, coyotes, magpies, ravens or bobcats.
“All the animals you guys are defending would have fed off those carcasses,” Schmid said.
Schmid tried to find a middle ground that could gain Robertson’s favor.
“What if we regulate that a trophy animal’s carcass has to come out of the woods, just like big game animals, but you are allowed to use it to feed your pets?” the commissioner asked.
Schmid said that he wished nonhunters and anglers would also chip in money to fund wildlife management in Wyoming, which comes mostly from license revenue.
“We’d like to see everybody buy a conservation tag,” Schmid said. “They’re $12.50.”
Robertson was ready for that one. She was a co-founder of the group “Shoot ’em with a camera,” and explained that she routinely buys licenses not to use them, but for the purpose of funding wildlife management.
“This is what I have,” Robertson told Schmid. “I have a conservation stamp, trapper’s license, two elk tags, two wolf tags, and I have two limited beaver quota permits. I’ve spent a lot of money.”