New group seeks to become ‘Rand Corp.’ of hunting

By Mike Koshmrl

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Hunters should be prohibited from blasting a rifle at an elk that’s any farther away than 300 yards to give the animal a fair shake, says a Jackson bowhunter who wants to make hunting more ethical. Same goes for bowhunting: Letting arrows fly more than 50 yards should be illegal.

Regulation demanding ethical behavior is needed to save big-game hunting, says Jackson Hole hunter Rob Shaul, who is starting a new nonprofit to advance his cause.

Shaul takes other unapologetic positions on issues he believes violate “fair chase” principles of hunting. People who drive all-terrain vehicles onto closed roads and trails during the fall seasons should lose their privilege to hunt. Bear baiting should be banned in Wyoming. Running down coyotes with snowmobiles “is just stupid,” he says, and should be criminalized.

“One of the things that is disappointing to me as a hunter is that we have kind of relied on green groups to do the hard work for us,” Shaul said. “We need to take stronger stances.”

Disillusioned with mainstream hook-and-bullet groups that can become beholden to their big-dollar donors, Shaul is starting his own.

The fifth-generation Wyoming resident and small-business owner, who founded the Mountain Athlete gym south of Jackson, has filed his paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to register a new nonprofit advocacy organization that he’s dubbed Mountain Pursuit.

“We want to represent the subsistence-based resident hunter,” Shaul said. “We just like to go out and get an elk or a deer, cut it up and eat it. There’s no one representing that guy right now, and we want to represent that guy.”

Part of what attracted Shaul to the advocacy world was a desire to uphold hunter ethics. Improving technologies, like specialized long-range rifles, blur the lines of what’s right and fair, he said.

“When it comes to ethics, our focus is not only to maintain the balance of fair chase, but also to understand what nonhunters think and perceive about hunting,” Shaul said. “Hunting is primarily a rural America sport, and rural America is declining.”

Another focal point of the nascent advocacy group is license allocations. Shaul wants to reel back what’s available to nonresident hunters to the benefit of those who reside in western states.

Mountain Pursuit’s public debut came in the form of a report that analyzed and criticized the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s complimentary license program. The report shined a light on a program with a main goal of fundraising for charitable organizations, but that has unintentionally become a fast pass for wealthy nonresident hunters to easily acquire hard-to-draw licenses.

Similar research and reports on hunting-related issues will be commissioned by Mountain Pursuit in the future, Shaul said.

“We kind of want to be like the RAND Corp. of hunting,” he said, “and come in and do in-depth studies on things like this.”

The study on the commission’s complementary licenses recommended that Game and Fish kill the program and instead auction off five pronghorn, 10 deer and 50 elk licenses and send the proceeds to the state agency’s general fund.

Armond Acri is one Jackson Hole hunter who on paper is a prospective constituent of Mountain Pursuit. He’s out in the field annually and his foremost concern is to fill his freezer, not the number of inches of bone that protrudes from his quarry’s head.

Acri said he’d need to learn more to judge his interest in Shaul’s endeavor, but at first blush he disagreed with some of the proposals. Requiring Game and Fish to send the commissioners’ tags to auction, he said, would betray the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation’s standards about allowing hunters equal access. That model is considered the gold standard set of principles that guide wildlife management and conservation.

“With the auction,” Acri said, “if you’re worried about those tags all going to rich guys, that’s where they’re all going to go.”

Shaul’s intention is to grow Mountain Pursuit into a regional organization that advocates on behalf of resident hunters in the Rocky Mountain states and also Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

At this point the group is still in the early going: Membership recruitment has not yet launched, and it’s being guided by a three-person board that consists of Shaul, his son, and friend and schoolteacher James Howell. For the time being the group’s founder is footing all the bills.

An experience Shaul had hunting in the fall of 2017 first sprung the idea of Mountain Pursuit. He was in the Wyoming Range — a popular area to pursue trophy mule deer — and was several miles from the nearest trailhead in a remote basin when he came upon eight nonresident bowhunters.

“I was just taken aback by that,” Shaul said. “I started thinking about nonresident license allocation.”

Hunting for an existing nonprofit organization that would effectively represent his interests, Shaul said he couldn’t find one.

“My general position is that they’ve become too corporate,” he said. “We’ll have a paid staff eventually, but I’m not too sure that the head of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation should be making three times as much as the governor of Wyoming.”

Shaul admitted that he’s not yet sure how other hunters will receive Mountain Pursuit.

“We’re not going to be for everyone,” he said. “If you’re a guy in Michigan and want to go hunting in Wyoming you’re probably not going to like us, because we’re going to cut you off the team.”