CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming hunters could use silencers on firearms for all types of hunting under a bill that cleared the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The House stripped off an amendment it had adopted earlier this week that would have allowed silencers for hunting predators and small game but not for big-game species such as elk and deer. It passed the final bill 44-14.
The measure earlier cleared the Senate and now heads to Gov. Matt Mead for his consideration.
House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, sponsored the amendment to allow silencers for big-game hunting, reversing his position from the day before.
Lubnau said Wednesday he supported silencers as a public safety matter because he's heard from hunters that grizzly bears learn to associate the sound of their rifles with the resulting elk gut piles. He also said silencers could help prevent hearing damage.
On Tuesday, Lubnau voted against removing the amendment to allow using silencers for big game. He objected to a request from Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, for roll-call vote that would create a record of how each lawmaker acted on the issue.
Lubnau said recording the vote would "create fodder for what I believe to be some unethical lobbying organizations who then send out blast emails and fundraising approaches."
The Wyoming Gun Owners Association has criticized Lubnau for his handling of gun bills.
Anthony Bouchard, the association's director, said after Wednesday's vote, "To me, it's no surprise that they had to do the right thing after yesterday's charade."
Todd J. Rathner of Tucson, legislative liaison with the American Silencer Association, was in Cheyenne Wednesday to track the bill. He said his group is pushing similar legislation in Montana, Georgia and Vermont.
The federal government regulates silencers, and 39 states allow civilian ownership. Of those states, 27 allow hunting with them.
"It's just another tool to be able to use in the field for safety reasons," Rathner said of silencers. "It helps to protect hearing, and it also gives hunters a choice whether or not they want to use them."
The Wyoming Game Wardens Association has opposed the bill, saying silencers could help poachers and would give hunters an unsporting advantage over game.
Roger A. Bredehoft, lobbyist with the wardens group, said after the House vote that the association is concerned that the general public may turn against hunting if it perceives that the increasing flood of high-tech gadgets are giving hunters an unsporting advantage.
Modern, high-tech scopes can allow hunters to kill game animals at 1,000 yards, Bredehoft said. Hunters could shoot as many times as they wanted at that distance because the animal wouldn't be able to hear it, he said.
"We consider that unsportsmanlike," Bredehoft said. "That would not be fair chase, but it would be legal."