With Wyoming’s big game still reeling from a devastating winter, some of the state’s hunters are thinking about not buying tags and forgoing this year’s hunting season altogether. But Zachary Key, a hunter in LaBarge, has an even better idea for how to give hard-hit herds rest while supporting the state’s wildlife conservation efforts. He still thinks resident hunters should buy their annual tags, but instead of filling them, they should use them as raffle tickets.
“I’ve probably talked to more than 200 people already. Everybody’s saying, ‘I’m not even going to buy a deer tag, I’m just not going to to buy one,’” Key told Cowboy State Daily. “And I’m saying, go ahead and still buy one.”
As the president of the Upper Green River chapter of the Muley Fanatic Foundation, Key recognizes the toll that the unusually harsh winter has taken on Wyoming’s elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Winterkill has been exceedingly high in portions of the Cowboy State, with mortality rates as high as 50 percent in some of the states pronghorn herds. As a result, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission announced drastic cuts to pronghorn and mule deer tags earlier this month. Roughly 10,000 fewer pronghorn tags and 4,000 fewer mule deer tags will be available statewide compared to last year.
But Key believes that no matter how many tags get cut this year, hunters should still purchase whatever tags are available. That’s because money from these sales directly fund wildlife conservation efforts in the state, and struggling mule deer herds need all the help they can get with recovery.
“I know herd management is generally done by preserving does, because they’re the ones that produce fawns,” Key said. “But why not leave a few more bucks out on the landscape too?”
Key is still working out the details for the raffle program, but his general idea is to partner with private businesses that would donate high-dollar goods as raffle prizes. He estimates having at least $50,000 in prizes. Basecamp and Evanston motorsports have already donated a Polaris ATV, and Weatherby has offered up a brand-new hunting rifle that isn’t on the market yet.
Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Rusty Bell, a taxidermist in Gillette, is also donating his 2024 commissioner’s hunting tag for the raffle. Such tags in past charitable auctions have sold for as much as $30,000. General Wyoming or quota deer tags can be used to enter the drawing. Key is working on details of where licenses should be sent.
“[Ensuring] stable wildlife populations into the future for Wyoming is a priority,” Bell said about his easy decision to donate his hunting license. “Who better to work with than our resident hunters?”