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Hunters in Wyoming could soon be chasing coyotes and other predators on public land with the aid of powerful lights and thermal scopes. House Bill 104, “Hunting of predatory animals-amendments,” passed the Wyoming House in late January 2023, and the Senate advanced the bill with a 27-4 vote on Monday, February 13. The measure would allow “any person taking a predatory animal on public land to use artificial light, including thermal or infrared imaging.”
As the rules are currently written, hunters can pursue predators on public land at night—but they can only use night vision optics and artificial light sources like spotlights on private land with written consent. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson of Wheatland, Wyoming, wants to change that. He’s proposing that public land hunters outfitted with expensive thermal imaging scopes be given the green light to pursue coyotes, red foxes, skunks, stray domestic cats, raccoons, and certain non-predatory critters like porcupines and jackrabbits.
Haroldson and other proponents of HB104 believe that coyote populations in the Cowboy State have gotten out of control. They say that the predatory canines are putting a dent in big game herds by taking out elk calves and deer fawns. They also worry about the depredation impacts that coyotes can have on livestock. Putting thermal optics into the hands of public land predator hunters could knock down swelling coyote numbers and give their prey a much-needed reprieve, Haroldson and other proponents argue.
It could also make night time predator hunting safer, the representative told Field & Stream. “Right now, you can go out and shoot predators on public land at night, with a gun, in the dark,” he said. “But what happens when the [white] Charolais cow is out there on the snowy hillside behind the coyote and gets shot? This is an attempt to catch up our state with technology that is available today and to bring the opportunity to sportsmen who want to use this technology to help manage predators in the state of Wyoming.”
The Move Didn’t Come Without Opposition
During a meeting of the Wyoming House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee, Wyoming’s head game warden expressed reservations about HB104. He didn’t oppose the bill. But he said he worries that it could attract more public land night hunters than his labor-strapped agency could effectively monitor.
“Our folks are feeling the pressure of their significant workload that is not shared by as many people as it should be right now,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Warden Rick King. “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.”
A representative from Wyoming’s oldest hunter advocacy group, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation (WWF), expressed concerns of her own during testimony before the Committee.
“This will inevitablly get our hunters into some murky ethics, fair chase issues, and there are concerns about the safety of public land users,” said Jess Johnson, WWF’s government affairs director. “I think we do just fine with the technology that we have. We’re pretty tentative on this bill. I would go so far as to say we would rather not see it pass.”
Representatives from the shooting sports industry voiced support for removing the current restrictions on thermal scopes and infrared optics on public land in Wyoming. “These restrictions make one half the state of Wyoming off-limits to this activity,” Gun Owners of America Hunter Outreach Director Mark Jones said, during the meeting. “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.”
Nephi Cole, Government Affairs Director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the co-host of the Your Mountain Podcast, advocated for the bill as well.
“Taking predators on public lands at night is legal right now,” Cole said. “What is not legal is utilizing this technology that makes that process safer. We support the bill and we support Game & Fish’s ability to craft rules and regulations that are protective. We think it makes sense for Wyoming, just like it makes sense for all of the states that surround Wyoming, which do allow this.”
The bill has now been referred back to the Wyoming House of Representatives where it will have to concur with amendments before it can be advanced onto Governor Mark Gordon’s office for signature.