A stuffed wolf poses, forever. A bill being considered in the Wyoming Legislature would require hunters to haul out their wolf, lion and bear meat, and not just trophy parts of the animals. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

As an avid hunter, Lander resident and Wyoming Wildlife Federation staffer Jessi Johnson finds dwindling tolerance for large carnivore hunting to be “scary.” 

Squeamishness about humans preying on carnivores is evident in frequent headlines across the country, she said, whether it’s about bear hunting in Washington, cat hunting in Colorado or Vermont’s issues with bear hunting dogs.

In rural, conservative Wyoming, carnivore hunting opponents have made no real inroads affecting regulations, although there have been some creative attempts. Still, Johnson seeks to proactively disarm those who aim to disband seasons for toothy species.

“We have this unique ability, for once in our damn lives, to be ahead of the game on communications as hunters,” Johnson said. “People relate to things through language. And if we’re calling these animals trophies, we’re losing the game.” 

“We have this unique ability, for once in our damn lives, to be ahead of the game on communications as hunters.”

Jessi Johnson, Wyoming Wildlife Federation

To that end, Johnson conceived of and ferreted out sponsors and co-sponsors for complementary bills that change the language and regulations around hunting for Wyoming’s trophy game species: Wolves, mountain lions, grizzly and black bears.

Jessi Johnson, government affairs director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

One, House Bill 217 – Trophy game animal-change to large carnivore game animal, does just what its title says. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), is essentially a rebrand, scrubbing out the word “trophy” from 38 pages of statute and replacing it with “large carnivore.” The idea was born from Johnson’s experience working on the grizzly delisting issue, and listening to people’s comments. 

“I was sitting there realizing how problematic trophy language has become,” Johnson said. “It detracts from constructive conversations, whether they’re for or against something, because it gets people’s hackles up on both sides.”

The proposed name-change spoke to Newsome, who’s not a hunter. 

“When we call animals ‘trophy game,’” she said, “that’s not the connotation that we want.”

Sens. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer) and Reps. Donald Burkhart (R-Rawlins), Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), J.T. Larson (R-Rock Springs), John Winter (R-Thermopolis) and Cody Wylie (R-Rock Springs) signed on as co-sponsors. 

Notably, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has already drifted toward referring to the aforementioned species as large carnivores, not trophy game species. 

The second Johnson-conceived bill Newsome sponsored is House Bill 247 – Trophy game animals-wanton waste. In essence, it would require hunters to haul meat out of the field after killing wolves, mountain lions or black bears. Those trophy game species (proposed via HB 217 to be “large carnivore” species) would then be under the umbrella of wanton waste laws already applied to other Wyoming wild game, be it birds, fish or ungulates.  

Currently, trophy game hunters must take hides, but otherwise they can legally leave behind their quarry’s carcass and edible meat — and they do. 

“There’s a lot of folks who are avid bear hunters who just will not take the meat out of the field,” said Joe Kondelis, a Cody resident who presides over the American Bear Foundation. 

Even so, Kondelis eats his bear meat and he backs both HB 217 and HB 247. Partly, he said, it’s because of his board of directors, which is trying to take steps to “ensure that bear hunting is going to have a future.” 

“We’re probably going to have some people that are upset with us,” he said. 

Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) at the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 general session. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

Although roughly 80% of Americans approve of hunting to harvest meat, the citizenry at large finds killing only to retain a trophy portion of an animal much less palatable. That’s according to an Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ 2019 survey, which found that “less than a third” of Americans approve of trophy hunting.

Mountain lion meat is also consumed with some regularity. That’s less true of wolves, due partly to an American stigma against eating canines. Still, Johnson doesn’t think that it’s an unrealistic requirement. The wanton waste laws, she said, don’t require consumption, just meat retrieval from the field. 

“You’re already skinning it,” Johnson said. “Also, if you can hike an elk out you can hike out any of these other animals.” 

House Bill 247 also amassed several co-sponsors: Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) and Reps. Larson, Wylie and Western.

An array of hunting groups — 14 in all — support Newsome’s trophy hunting bills, according to a press release that Johnson and Kondelis distributed. It’s a diverse bunch, ranging from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to the Boone and Crocket Club.  

House Bill 217 has been referred to the Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee. House Bill 247, meanwhile, was just received for introduction Wednesday and has not yet been assigned to committee. 

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. “We have this unique ability, for once in our damn lives, to be ahead of the game on communications as hunters.”

    That’s funny. With the internet, even the clueless can see that many hunters practically wet their pants when they talk about hunting no matter the prey, and it’s never about how much meat they are putting on the table. Hunters parade their trophy kills like a Kardashian posting a BFF selfie. Their ego is tied up in the hunting culture. Do grocery shoppers post their chicken purchases on the internet? Of course not.

    Hunters lost the communications “game” on trophy kills a long time ago.

    Focus on public safety, resource management, and fewer selfies.

  2. So…, pack your bear carcass out of the hills where it would have been consumed by scavengers to have it take up space in the local landfill. Okay, I see how that is much less objectionable.

  3. They can change the name from trophy and call it whatever they want, but the fact is they want to kill animals they consider a trophy. Anyone that kills animals that they do not eat are not hunters, but killers. They just love to kill animals. I have been a hunter all of my life, but the blatant disrespect for wildlife in Wyoming astounds and disgusts me.

  4. These two bills won’t change any minds when it comes to hunting large carnivores. In fact, all they will do is fire up the opposition.

    What’s next ? Including furbearers to the wanton waste statute?

  5. Every animal harvested is a “trophy”. Progressives get hung up on language and labels as realities in this world make them uncomfortable.

  6. Nobody reading this will live long enough to see the day when our Legislators, leadership, Wyoming Game and Fish , Wildlife (Dis)Services, and especially the Great White sport hunting moguls suddenly gain a solid understanding of the Predator-Prey relationship. Especially as it applies to trophy, sport, and subsistence hunting at any point.
    This bill is not about wildlife conservation in any real way. It is just semantics… varnishing and buffing with a new coat of words to hide the bruises. The same 150-year old bad attitudes and entrenched intolerance of all large carnivores ( especially apex predators ) not only remain intact, they are given an extension. It is a terrible time to be a Grizzly bear, Black bear, Grey Wolf, or Cougar anywhere in Wyoming besides Yellowstone Park. Don’t even get me going on the wanton intolerance of mesopredators like Coyotes and Foxes . Under my breath I also mutter Golden/Bald Eagles in certain contexts.

    Face-saving words to obfuscate and deflect the rightful criticism of Wyoming’s state sanctioned wildlife mismanagement policies and practices ( not excusing the Feds here…) . The terms ‘ predator-prey relationship ‘ and ‘ landscape scale ecology ‘ do not appear in the working lexicon of the legislature’s seated lawmakers . We need to give them all a mandatory refresher course in 7th grade level Mammalian Biology. Followed by a pass/fail quiz to certify their competency to legislate on wildlife issues in the first place.
    Right now, they would nearly all flunk.

    1. As a supporter of both bills, and career biology educator I’d like to share a few facts with those opponents. First when my friend Dewey says “it’s a terrible time to be a predator in Wyoming, let’s look back. In 1977 there were so few lions in Wyoming that only 7 were taken by hunters with no license or seasons. The last few years with strict mortality quotas about 350 are taken which is about 20% of the total population annually. Grizzly numbers were less than 200 in1976, now there are at least 1000. Wolves were 0 in the 1970s now approx. 250. Black bear numbers have changed less, but still increased. The basic rule of wildlife management, “carrying capacity” should be understandable to all. You can only fit 5 gallons of water in a 5 gallon bucket! Wyo predators are thriving, let’s all appreciate reality

  7. This is a great idea! I hope that neighboring states will join in. Descriptions mean a lot to the Woke progressives! Large carnivores are important to the overall populations of game. However they are certainly pretty easy to love “from a distance”!

  8. “Don’t address the issue, just modify the language.” Always heartening to be reminded of how the time and money consumed by our political interest-groups continues to pay dividends back to the people by addressing meaningfully a population’s concerns.

  9. I support HB217, I do think though and it is my opinion we should call these animals what they truly are and that is ” Dangerous Game”. I believe with the popularity of large carnivores and how they have become a celebrity species across the nation, this bill, by changing the terminology to “large carnivores” will not have the effect some believe it will.
    I also support HB247. I know plenty of hunters that consume Black bear and Mt. Lion that they take. I do not know of anyone that has consumed a Wolf, but some cultures do.

  10. I don’t get it. Why hunt large carnivores? For what purpose? It can’t be for the meat. If you want meat that badly, go to the market and buy it. It costs a lot less. That then leaves the “trophy” part. Are you hunters so enamored with the animal that you get pleasure in killing it to stuff it or put it on your wall. Please explain.

  11. Ingrate’s that call themselves “hunters” ! Despicable. Shameful. I guess that only in places like Wyoming can that pathetic thought abound.