CHEYENNE—An “unprecedented” shortage of Wyoming game wardens is adding to angst about a legislative proposal that would attract coyote hunters onto public land at night, adding to the thinned corps’ around-the-clock duties.

“Our folks are feeling the pressure of their significant workload that is not shared by as many people as it should be right now,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Warden Rick King testified last week. “Our folks work really hard and they’ll do the best they can, but that’s really one of the things I worry about: The workload on our existing personnel.”

King was addressing the Wyoming Legislature’s House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, as it considered House Bill 104 – Hunting of predatory animals-amendments. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), would make it legal to use thermal and infrared technology to hunt species Wyoming classifies as predators on public land: coyotes, red fox, skunks, stray domestic cats, raccoons and non-predatory porcupines and jackrabbits. Already, those light-amplifying technologies are legal to use for predator hunting on private land. So is hunting predators at night on public land using only moonlight. 

Still, King and Game and Fish warden Bill Brinegar, who spoke on behalf of the Wyoming Game Wardens Association, were leery of the prospect of lawmakers adding another sporting pursuit to police in the dead of night. 

Currently, around 20% of Wyoming game warden posts — 13 out of 65 field-level positions — are unfilled, King said. Seven of eight warden districts were recently vacant in the Laramie Region, he said. 

“For our agency, it’s unprecedented,” King told WyoFile after the committee hearing. 

The chief warden worried about adding to his overtaxed wardens’ already heaping workloads. Some wardens routinely put in the maximum number of hours the state allows: 259 hours a month, or about 65 hours a week.

“I worry about maintaining work-life balance,” King said. “It’s going to be a struggle.”

Rick King, chief warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, listens to a legislative committee meeting in the Wyoming Capitol in January 2023 (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Brinegar, one of those wardens, said that he could recall only one instance in his career of checking a coyote hunter who was hunting by moonlight. 

“Not many people do that,” Brinegar said. “And I don’t believe [artificial light devices] make it safer, you still don’t know what’s beyond your target.” 

Coyote hunter Devan Reilly, who called in to testify, also expressed safety concerns. Even after spending $15,000 on a thermal scope there was a “heck of a learning curve”, he said, and it can be tough to distinguish coyotes from pronghorn fawns or domestic dogs. 

“My biggest fear … is that one big accident happens and then no one gets to do it at all,” Reilly said. “One bad apple burns down the whole tree.” 

At least one Wyoming hunter advocacy group was equally leery of the proposed reform. Jessi Johnson, Wyoming Wildlife Federation’s government affairs director, listed off worries: hunters’ misidentifying their targets, having to make “murky” ethical decisions and conflicts with different public land users. 

“We’re pretty tentative on this bill,” Johnson said. “I would go so far as to say we would rather not see it pass.”

The gun lobby came out in support of HB 104.

“These restrictions make one half the state of Wyoming off-limits to this activity,” said Mark Jones, the national hunter outreach director with the Gun Owners of America. “And [public land] is the only place that many people have to hunt. Many people do not have the luxury of going on private ranches and hunting, so there is an issue with hunter opportunity.” 

Reps. Donald Burkhart (R-Rawlins), Daniel Singh (R-Cheyenne) and Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) listen to testimony during a House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee meeting in January 2023 (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Nephi Cole, government affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, pushed for the bill to move forward and he applauded a provision that allows the Game and Fish Commission to regulate thermal or infrared hunting of predator species at night. 

The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee advanced HB 104 Tuesday with an 8-2 vote. 

Committee members beefed up language enabling Game and Fish to regulate night hunting of public land-dwelling predators. An amendment worked into the bill would keep public land closed to light-enhanced predator hunting from Aug. 1 through Jan. 31 — when big game hunting seasons occur. The amended section also lets the state create zones and regulate methods for killing predators using artificial light or lighting devices. 

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

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  1. The last thing we need in this state is night hunting for anything. It is unfair and very dangerous. Just an opportunity for poaching as well.

  2. Let the poaching begin. Institute this and the should be the death knell for all our herd animals. Another tool for poachers and out of state kill freaks. Possibly coyotes are running rampant in Wyoming? Let the wolves figure it out. No love lost there. No way, no how, should any hunting be allowed after the sun goes down. Just totally unfair and dangerous. BS

  3. Years ago when night jack hunting was still legal my two friends were out several times a week and shot a lot of rabbits. They also had large extended families that asked them to get a deer if you have a chance. There were almost too many deer in the Encampment, Wyoming area at that time and my friends obliged their family members. They shot about 45 deer that one winter with 22 long rifles. They never had even a close call as to being caught. Although the deer are gone, plenty of tempting big are still out there and are an easy kill at night. We used to carry a rifle during big game seasons after our tags were filled. We were “coyote hunting”. Allowing any night hunting of predators is a horrible idea and is almost an invitation to more poaching and almost impossible to catch offenders.

  4. In Montana Eastern side where they have been night hunting the deer and antelope have all moved off state ground! Day and night pressure it was inevitable wonder if make the state ground a wasteland with no deer, antelope or elk!

  5. Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean it should be used. Give the dogs and the wardens a break.

  6. During the above mentioned committee meeting it was mentioned that 34 states already allow night hunting on public lands at night using light-amplifying technologies. A question arose at this asking if problems occurred in these states by allowing the use of these technologies at night. The answer was that 19 states reported no problems. The committee accepted this answer as proof problems due not occur. No committee member followed up asking about the 15 states that did have a problem occurring from this type of hunting. when slightly less than half of the states do have problems with this type of hunting more research is need before Wyoming passes any bill of this nature.

  7. Overworked game wardens? I’d like to as Chief Wy. Game Warden Mr. King on how a former warden working out of Powell WY was allowed to write 2 extremely back tickets, both cases went to court with the defendants winning big and then they turn around and are suing the G n F for Millions ?! $$$$ Yet, the warden in question was allowed to “retire” with full benefits and is sitting pretty (and can’t be prosecuted). The G n F has bigger problems then night hunting predators….

  8. I am against this. We should listen to our local hunters and local groups not out of state gun lobbies. The game and fish personnel don’t need this extra workload and it certainly is fraught with a lot of chances for unethical and illegal behavior. By the way I am a gun owner and a hunter myself. I hunt coyotes and other predators on public land during the day.

  9. game wardens are over worked ?
    then quit,there are millions of illegal immigrants flooding into the country that would probably work for minimum wage & be happy for the opportunity.

    p.s.i have never had a problem hunting on private property.
    just ask the property owner,most will say yes.some say no.

  10. I have heck of a good night scope that didn’t cost $15,000 and one can tell the difference. But lot of “hunters” can’t tell difference in day lite. I use mine too teach grandkids how much moves around at nite. Only thing I hunt at night any more is hogs in Texas