Sometimes doing the right thing is dang hard. I remember a hot August Friday about ten years ago. I decided to take the day off from work and head out for some fly fishing. My wife and I hit the river with high hopes of big browns and feisty rainbows on the end of the rod. At that point, the rivers in Montana were shut down to fishing due to the overly warm water temps from the drought conditions and unusual scorching evening temperatures. Oh well, I thought, sucks to be in Montana right now, but I’m in Wyoming and lucky for us, we don’t do warm water shut downs.
My hunch was right, the fishing was good, or at least the first five minutes was, as I buried a fly deep into the jaw of a nice six-pound buck brown hiding underneath a thick Russian olive tree. Although the fish was just shy of spectacular, the fight was not. The big, gasping hooked jaw almost seemed to swim to my boat and into the waiting net in an offering of submission and surrender. As the big fish looked me in the eye, he desperately gasped for oxygen. I quickly plucked the fly from the roof of his mouth and pushed him back down into the luke warm rushing water.
After quickly jumping out of the boat and into the knee-deep water, I began to desperately pump the fish back and forth frantically trying to bring a strong twitch back into his tail. After a very stressful ten-minutes, almost hit and miss revival the disoriented fish slowly swam back under the brush.
I’m still not sure if that fish survived the ordeal or not. Needless to say, the remainder of the float was a scenic trip down to the boat ramp. Not being a golfer, and desperate to get out, I neglected to take into account the resource. I didn’t do the right thing that day. For the responsible sportsman, the resource always comes first. If the water gets too warm, don’t fish catch and release. If the winter is too severe, don’t shed hunt until the deer and elk have left the winter range for the season, two principles I now live by.
Given the winter we’ve seen, the deer in western Wyoming need more than just a break. They need all the help they can get. I really encourage those who enjoy shed hunting on the winter range in western Wyoming to learn from my mistaken lessons and maybe take a minute and think about the resource. It might be a good idea to wait until June this year before heading out to look for the brown gold we all love so dang much. After the winter we’ve had, the last thing those deer need is to be needlessly bounced all over the sagebrush in such poor condition. Even a 200-yard dash for some of these fawns at this point can be a quick and lethal death march.
Unfortunately, the Wyoming Fish and Game Department doesn’t seem to have the tools to do an official shed season extension, but the big game managers are hoping we as outdoor enthusiasts will do the right thing and hold off on our winter range exploits until the deer have finally left the area, which should be about three or four weeks later than usual due to the unusually massive snowpack we’ve seen this year.
I know it can be physically painful to even think of the possibly of getting beat out to those fresh brown sheds, but on a year like this, it might just be worth it to wait a little longer than normal for the long-term benefit of the resource. There’s no doubt, it’s going to take years for these deer to bounce back. The least we can do is whatever is possible to maybe ensure a rebound doesn’t take decades instead. Good luck.