Committee considers splitting deer licenses
Casper – The Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee met May 9 to discuss several issues. Committee members, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Brian Nesvik and several concerned hunters weighed in on a 2023 bill draft memorandum – splitting the Wyoming deer license into a Wyoming mule deer license and a Wyoming white-tailed deer license.
At a recent Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce meeting, the committee voted on a proposal to the Wyoming Legislature to split the Wyoming deer licenses into two separate licenses for mule deer and white-tailed deer, explained Nesvik.
“Currently, and for many decades, both species have been managed under the same Wyoming deer license and statue,” he said. “There is no separation between the two.”
Nesvik suspects the reason is because when these laws were initially made, there were very few white-tailed deer in the state, and today there are many.
Today, the WGFD manages deer under one deer license with different types – applying to either a mule deer or white-tailed deer. So far, WGFD has managed the two species separately through the existing license system for a very long time, he explained.
“This idea of splitting the licenses came from one of the members of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce, and it has been in front of the legislature two different times,” he said. “Both times the bill was defeated, but essentially the discussion behind this change was there are no other two species combined into one license for big game.”
The combining of licenses can be found for small game and game birds, but in regards to big game, there are separate licenses for moose, elk, antelope, Bighorn sheep and mountain goats, but not for mule and white-tailed deer, he said.
Concerns with proposal
Several arguments against the proposal have been brought up in recent Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce meetings. Some of the questions and concerns revolved around changing drawing odds – it would have a consequential impact by splitting the two. There are several reasons this might occur, Nesvik shared.
“Currently, a person who wants a really hard-to-draw white-tailed deer license and a hard-to-draw mule deer license have to pick which one they are going to apply for in the draw,” he said. “They don’t get to pick both. At the end of the day, they can have a license for both species with a white-tailed buck license and a general license to be used on a mule deer, but in the initial draw they have to pick one that is hard-to-draw.”
Hunters are also concerned the flexibility of the current system will be impacted and splitting of the two species would increase the number of landowner tags.
“I believe we can manage the two species separately under the current system,” mentioned Nesvik.
Several ranchers and hunters were present to share their concerns in regards to the proposed changes to deer licensing.
A Wyoming resident shared he was against the legislation and foresaw the only positive thing for the change was more revenue for the WGFD. He said splitting the two species into two different licenses will put more pressure on mule deer and it would negatively affect drawing odds.
Another Casper native, Jeff Muratore, shared his perspective on the proposal.
“With all due respect, I think this topic was not adequately vetted in the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce meeting,” Muratore said. “There has been a lot of great questions from the committee today about this, and I think it has opened a lot of eyes.”
He mentioned there has been three different studies in the WGFD in regards to species-specific licenses, and in all three cases it was determined to leave it the way it is.
“Currently, the WGFD could change the mule deer to a limited quota or they could implement an October-season-only on mule deer,” he said. “This way there wouldn’t be an overharvest on them.”
Buzz Hettick, a Laramie native, also expressed concern on the proposal.
He shared, “This is a solution looking for a problem. The WGFD already has all the tools they need to split these seasons with the type three tags.”
He expressed many hunters choose to hunt a white-tailed deer over a mule deer, but if this split occurs, hunters will more than likely harvest more mule deer.
“I think we will set ourselves up to killing more mule deer by splitting these licenses,” he added. “I like the flexibility of the general tag and in my opinion, it saves mule deer – people like me won’t shoot a mule deer unless it’s something special because I have the flexibility to take the license elsewhere for a white-tailed deer.”
Another Casper native, Kevin Brainard, expressed, “Any chance to increase mule deer harvest is just a bad idea. I’m concerned this will decrease the quality and number of mule deer because people will take the general mule deer tag and hunt a small buck – which is already kind of an issue.”
“The general hunter realizes mule deer are on the decline across the entire West,” he added. “My worry is this will kill more mule deer.”
“I think we are conflating two different issues here,” said Wyoming Sen. Larry S. Hicks. “So, we have a statutory definition of deer covering two separate species. Most of the concern I hear from the public – I think they have some valid concerns – is about the management and how the management would roll out this change.”
“As a legislature, we have been asked not to prescribe how to manage those species because management still resides with WGFD and commission, but there is some presumption once a statutory change is made, this will make a significant management change in the department, and I don’t think this is the case,” Hicks stated. “I’m worried we are confusing management with designating these statutorily as two different species.”
Changing the statutory definition of a white-tailed and mule deer would not impact management, mentioned Nesvik.
“WGFD manages populations not by the way we harvest buck deer,” said Nesvik. “Populations are about does with fawns, and what we are talking about here is changing Wyoming law to where a person who wants to have the opportunity to hunt both a white-tailed and mule deer, regardless, would have to have two separate licenses instead of hunting both on the same license.”
He noted hunters can still hunt for both a white-tailed and mule deer license under the current system. The change would allow a hunter who wants the ability to hunt both species to always have two separate licenses.
“Our job is to not influence personal choices and behaviors, but provide a system that is simplistic, consistent and something we can work with,” concluded Nesvik.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.