CHEYENNE - Everyone makes honest mistakes at one time or another: you, me, our kids and maybe even our fifth-grade teacher. Sometimes those honest mistakes happen when hunting.
In the world of Wyoming big game hunting, a fairly common honest error is mistaking a yearling pronghorn buck or a spike whitetail buck for a doe. Shooting a spike bull elk on a cow license or a mule deer on a whitetail-only license can also easily be honest mistakes.
Game wardens are human like everyone else. They have made mistakes of one kind or another in their lives, and almost all of them are hunters, too. So they understand the difference between honest mistakes and someone trying to get away with something serious—as long as the mistake-maker promptly alerts the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“We all agree that honesty is the best policy, and more often than not the person receives a written warning and is often times allowed to keep the animal,” said Joe Gilbert, a 33-year veteran of Wyoming wildlife law enforcement, currently serving as wildlife supervisor for the Sheridan Region. “We do not have a one-size-fits-all policy. We look at the situation and listen to the explanation and then make a fair decision based on the circumstance.”
Gilbert said citations are sometimes issued if the person made a bad decision, such as shooting into a flock of turkeys or shooting two big game animals with one shot in open country where it was easy to identify what was behind the target. A bad decision might also include not using binoculars to look for the buck pronghorn’s black cheek patch or the deer’s spike antlers, particularly in low light. A hunter with a past warning for the same violation might also be grounds for a citation.
“What happens too often,” said Gilbert, who previously worked as a game warden in the Green River, Medicine Bow and Torrington areas, “is the person tries to recruit a friend to tag the animal or just leaves the mistaken carcass to waste.”
Should a hunter do so, he or she enters the realm of a serious violation—namely wanton destruction or transfer of license—both of which carry serious fines and probable suspension of license privileges. Possibly worst of all, the person carries the guilty conscience of wasting an important Wyoming resource.
Gilbert said that some other honest mistakes might include:
• having a bullet pass through an animal in heavy cover and killing an additional animal that you couldn’t see
• mistaking a hen pheasant or turkey for a rooster or tom
• catching a mountain lion, deer, eagle etc. in a snare or leg-hold trap set for a predator (sometimes resulting in the animal’s death).
• discovering that you have hunted before the season opens or after it has closed
• mistakenly killing an over-limit of game.
“Whatever the mistake is, the important thing is to contact Game and Fish to get the matter taken care of before it might lead to something way more serious,” Gilbert said. “We will do our best to fairly evaluate the situation.”
To report your mistake (or any wildlife violation), call the Stop Poaching hotline at (877) WGFD-TIP.
(Contact: Jeff Obrecht (307) 777-4532)