CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is pushing to change state law to allow baiting of big game animals, a tactic it says could allow hunters to lure nuisance whitetail deer away from towns to spots where it would be safe to shoot them.
The Legislature's Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee is sponsoring a bill in the legislative session that starts next month at the request of the game department.
In addition to giving the state Game Commission authority to bait wildlife, the proposed bill would simplify state law in regard to what specific weapons are allowed for hunting particular game animals.
State law currently specifies minimum calibers of guns and minimum bullet weights for hunting different animals. It also sets minimum arrow weights and strengths of bows required for archery hunters. The bill would remove that language and leave those decisions up to the Game Commission to set equipment requirements by regulation.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, is co-chairman of the legislative committee. He said Wednesday he expects towns in his region would take advantage of the new law to allow hunters to thin out the herds of whitetail deer.
Burns said the game department brought the bill to the committee asking for its support. "It's in response to the problem of overpopulation of deer in population congested areas," he said.
Speaking of whitetail deer, Burns said, "On the eastern slope of the Big Horns, they're like flies up here."
Burns said he's always believed that the game commission should set specifications for such details as the permissible weapons for hunting certain species.
"We come in annually," Burns said of the Legislature. "And to dictate things like that smacks to me of micromanagement. We've got Game and Fish set up for a reason. And they're the experts in this area."
Scott Edberg, assistant chief of wildlife division, said Wyoming's seeing increasing problems with whitetail deer getting into towns, particularly in Sheridan and Johnson counties. He said mule deer can also be a problem in other areas of the state.
Edberg said passing the bill would allow the game commission to authorize the baiting of deer, or other big game animals if they became a problem, into areas where they could be killed either within or outside a municipality's limits.
"It would be strictly to deal with urban deer, or some type of conflict situation, and not just routinely being able to bait out in the open prairie or something like that," Edberg said of the baiting authority.
Changing state law to allow the game commission to determine appropriate weapons for hunting would allow the state to keep up with changes in technology and the development of new calibers of guns, Edberg said. He said Wyoming currently one of the most restrictive states on setting minimum calibers and bullet weights for hunting.