JACKSON — Despite their pleas for antler hunters to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jackson Police Department and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office escorted 186 cars full of shed seekers to the National Elk Refuge early Friday morning.
Friday marked the opening of Wyoming’s shed antler hunting season.
“We’ve been wanting to come do this for years,” shed hunter Sam Simmons said.
Simmons, 17, came over with some buddies from St. Anthony, Idaho, leaving home around 5 a.m. Thursday and arriving in Jackson early enough to be fourth in line Friday morning.
Hunters started showing up in Jackson earlier this week and began lining up at the Teton County Fairgrounds just after 7 a.m. Thursday.
A new system this year led by Jackson Police Sgt. Michelle Weber allowed hunters to line up at the fairgrounds in a first-come, first-hunt fashion.
In past years people lined up all around East Jackson, sometimes camping illegally and creating congestion issues.
“This seemed like a really good solution,” Weber said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for years.”
Electronic signs at the entrance of the refuge redirected hunters to the fairgrounds. Upon arrival, hunters received a flyer and were assigned a number to keep the line orderly.
“We are asking that you keep in mind the several state and county health orders and recommendations currently in place,” the flyer stated.
The Jackson Police Department brought in portable toilets for hunters who camped at the fairgrounds. Those who showed up cooperated with ordinances, Weber said.
Town of Jackson and Teton County elected officials submitted a letter April 20 asking Wyoming Game and Fish to delay the hunt’s opening by a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but by the time commissioners sent the letter the Game and Fish Commission had already indicated a preference to proceed with the scheduled May 1 opening.
Hunters who staged at the fairgrounds came from all over: Utah, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Wisconsin. Anyone from out of state was technically in violation of an unenforceable recommendation from Gov. Mark Gordon that asks people crossing into Wyoming before May 8 to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Of the hundreds of hunters who came to Jackson for the season opener, about half were from out of state, Weber said. The others were from the area or other parts of Wyoming.
Brendan Leehe, of Hudson, Wisconsin, said the pandemic didn’t deter him and a friend from driving out west for the hunt.
“We drove straight through,” Leehe said. “We planned accordingly. We aren’t staying in hotels. We’re sleeping in the truck and making meals on the tailgate. We’re self-sufficient.”
The antler hunt was different in many ways this year. Because of the pandemic, area Boy Scouts didn’t get to perform their annual antler sweep ahead of the May 1 opening, so Bridger-Teton National Forest employees took on that job, which helps reduce antler poaching.
Weber said authorities received positive feedback from hunters about staging at the fairgrounds rather than having to park illegally in East Jackson. She said police will likely try something similar next year, with or without a virus pandemic.