Three men sentenced for illegal mountain lion hunt in Yellowstone

Three Livingston, Montana, men were sentenced in federal court for illegally hunting a mountain lion in Yellowstone National Park.

Austin Peterson, 20, last week was ordered to serve a three-year deferred sentence and is banned worldwide from hunting, fishing and trapping during that time, according to a Yellowstone National Park news release. Peterson was also ordered to pay $1,700.

Trey Juhnke, 20, and Corbin Simmons, 19, received similar sentences at hearings in April, the park release said.

The three men were charged with illegally hunting a male mountain lion in the northern section of the park, north of the Yellowstone River, on Dec. 1, the park release said. Peterson, Juhnke and Simmons pleaded guilty to the charge at later hearings.

Each admitted to shooting the mountain lion and taking the carcass back to their car, the park release said.

Simmons lied that he harvested the animal north of the park boundary in Montana, the park release said. That affected the state’s quota system by denying a hunter the opportunity to legally harvest a lion.

The park release said biologists estimate that 20 to 31 adult cougars live year-round in the northern range of the park, an average of 12 to 18 females and eight to 13 males. Those estimates are based on field surveys and statistical analysis conducted from 2014 to 2017, and does not include kitten and sub-adult cougars that accompany a portion of the adult females each year.

The park release said monitoring efforts since 2017 suggest a stable mountain lion population.

Separating the sheep from the goats, national park wants goats gone

Just so you know, Wyoming Game and Fish doesn’t hate mountain goats. But the growth of the non-native critters in the Teton Range is posing a problem that has wildlife managers considering lethal measures.

An aerial count this past winter found, for the first time, invasive mountain goats outnumbering native bighorn sheep.

Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Aly Courtemanch counted 88 mountains goats to 81 bighorns. Some estimates put the goat numbers at 100. Grand Teton National Park is reviewing a plan it hopes to implement this year to remove the invaders mostly by catching them alive or possibly shooting the hard-to-catch goats.

Why the bounty on mountain goats?

Four of Wyoming’s native bighorn sheep populations have been given highest priority and wildlife managers hope to protect them from the threat of diseases from goats and domestic sheep where habitat overlaps. The other issue is that habitat in mountain country provides a limited amount of groceries that a small bighorn sheep herd can’t afford to share.

“Where we think that issue really becomes significant is on winter ranges,” said Doug McWhirter, Game and Fish wildlife management coordinator.

“In the Tetons, those winter ranges are very restricted, high elevation, wind-blown areas and they don’t support a lot of mouths.

“It’s a situation where although we like mountain goats, this is a situation where with these high-priority sheep herds we’re favoring bighorn sheep. We basically support the park service in the identification if this is an issue.”

sheep

A few bighorn sheep rams rest high in the Teton Range of Grand Teton National Park.

Bighorn sheep once numbered in the millions across North America, but their population numbers crashed in the early 1900s to several thousand due to diseases introduced by domestic sheep and by over-hunting. Now bighorns are mostly confined to remote mountainous areas across the West. The national park plans to protect the bighorns that fall within park boundaries and Game and Fish is backing it up by encouraging mountain goat hunting on the west side of the Tetons.

“What we are doing is we have created some new hunt areas in the Tetons and the Absarokas and initiated a whole new license type for mountain goats which allows us to much more liberally hunt those goats,” McWhirter said. “What we are looking to do is to minimize goat numbers in the Tetons.”

Game and Fish plans to issue 48 licenses to shoot goats west of the park this year.

He said another native bighorn herd under encroachment by mountain goats is around the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park in the Absaroka Range.

McWhirter said the bighorn herd in the Tetons “is what we call the coordinative herd. It’s a population that has never been extricated, never been supplemented. It’s a native sheep herd and one of our highest priority herds.”

Besides the threat of disease, bighorns also face fragmented habitat and being pushed into higher elevations with poorer conditions. Courtemanch told a public open house meeting on goat management that avalanches are a major cause of death for bighorns occurring at a higher rate than predation, according to a WyoFile report of the meeting.

That also brings up the pressure bighorns receive from backcountry skiers. A map of viable winter habitat south of Grand Teton National Park overlaid with skier and bighorn activity tracked by GPS devices on both groups showed few bighorns entered the skiers’ zone, according to research presented at the open house.

goat

A mountain goat in Idaho’s Snake River Range.

The mountain goat expansion into the park was decades in the making but has ballooned in recent years. Local biologists believe the goats migrated into the Tetons from a group established in the 1960s and 1970s in the Snake River Range of Idaho east of Palisades Reservoir. The goats were introduced into the area to give Idaho hunters a new critter to chase.

“That’s the most likely source for the goats in the park,” said Hollie Miyasaki, Idaho Department of Fish and Game bighorn sheep biologist. “The goats were introduced into Idaho, they moved into Wyoming. It’s probably likely that they moved from the Wyoming side north into the park.”

McWhirter said annual aerial goat counts conducted with Idaho Fish and Game puts estimates at 250 mountain goats in the Snake River Range and south of Teton Pass.

Occasional goats were seen in the park during the ’80s and ’90s. “But it wasn’t until 2008, when it was actually documented that there were nannies with kids,” McWhirter said. “So that population was reproducing. So in the last 10 years, we basically go from a sporadic observation of a single goat to a hundred goats. It’s a dramatic increase.”

Grand Teton National Park is reviewing public comment on its plan to remove mountain goats. Its next step is to publish findings and issue an environmental impact statement on its eradication plan.

“We probably won’t be doing anything until late summer,” said Denise Germann, park public information officer.

McWhirter said Wyoming hunters have benefited from having mountain goats in the region south of Teton Pass.

“It’s what we call the Palisades herd, and it’s one that we benefited from the transplant in Idaho,” he said. “Those goats moved into Wyoming and established a population and we began hunting them 20 years ago. The point I’m trying to make is we do value those goats. We want to manage for a thriving goat population there for hunting and viewing opportunities. The issues for bighorn sheep don’t exist there. We have to make it really clear, we don’t hate mountain goats.”

Favorite calibers

This column may sound a little disjointed, but I thought I would clear the air about my preference of hunting calibers, even though many couldn’t care less what my preferences are.

A few days ago, I was in the gun shop and purchased a couple of boxes of Remington Core-Lokt 180-grain cartridges, which I have been using in my .30-06 for as long as I have had the rifle. The salesman who knows me asked, “Don’t you prefer a .300 Weatherby Magnum for big game hunting?” I told him that it depended on what and where I was hunting.

I am not a one-rifle hunter and have several rifles I enjoy hunting with. I also have some favorite calibers that I have never owned but have shot at the shooting range or seen in action because one or more of my friends hunt with them.

So I will start with the calibers I actually own. First of all, I still have the .177-caliber BB rifle I used as a small boy to stalk dragon flies, as well as other insects, birds, squirrels and snakes I found on my father’s horse ranch. The BB rifle was a real challenge because it didn’t shoot exactly straight, but would veer a little to the right each time I fired. I had to guess how far left of the target to hold in order to hit my mark. I got pretty good at the Kentucky windage guessing out to about 30 feet, but had a problem hitting anything small beyond that range. I still have a large supply of BBs and shoot that rifle for fun every once in a while.

I absolutely love my .22-caliber, rim fire rifle. This is the rifle I learned marksmanship with on jack rabbit hunts on the Arco Desert with my father. It is also the rifle I first taught my children the principles of firearm safety and marksmanship with before moving them up to a .243 Winchester and .30-30.

Once my own children were grown and had their own children, I gave the .243 to my son-in-law so he would have a soft recoiling rifle for his own sons to hunt with. I wish I still had it and kick myself every once in a while for parting with it.

I still own the .30-30 my father purchased for me to hunt deer with when I was 12 years old. I haven’t hunted with it for several years, but still take it with me if I am scouting for game prior to hunting season, hiking or camping in the back country. I would rather have it with me and not need it than to need it and not have it. So far, I have not needed to use it when not hunting.

I have an AR-15 with a 4-power telescopic sight that I hunt coyotes with. The caliber is .223 Remington or 5.56mm.

I still hunt deer, pronghorn and elk with a .30-06 if I feel that the distance I will have to shoot will be 400 yards or less. It also will do a memorable job on bears or any large ungulates in North America.

I also have two percussion, black powder, 50-caliber rifles I like to hunt with. Out to 200 yards, they are very effective on deer-sized game if one understands the drop of a round, 300-grain lead ball.

I also hunt water fowl and pheasants with and old Winchester Model 50, 12-gauge shotgun.

That brings me to the .300 Weatherby that the gun shop salesman thought I hunted deer, pronghorn, elk or possibly moose with if I can ever get the tag for one. He was partially right. I choose the Weatherby if I think the distance I will get a shot is likely to be in excess of 500 yards. I prefer to sight that rifle to hit point of aim at 300 yards. That way I can aim at the center of the vitals of game and not be more than 6 inches high or low out to 400 yards and can hold over beyond that range.

Among my favorite rifles that I never have owned are the .240 Weatherby Magnum, .25-06, .257 Weatherby Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300-378 Weatherby Magnum, .340 Weatherby Magnum and the .375 H&H Magnum.

I’m not very impressed with the .264 Winchester Magnum because there is no reason in my mind for both the .264 and .270 Winchesters, and I prefer the 270.

I also don’t like the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum because the bore is too small for the amount of powder in a .300 Weatherby case and there are better, more efficient, calibers for long-range hunting of deer, prong horn, sheep, elk, moose, or any of the large ungulates in North America.

So there you have it. Basically I like most calibers that serve several purposes well or specific purposes magnificently. I prefer to get as much performance out of a caliber as I can without a disproportionate amount of gut wrenching recoil, but several of my favorites recoil harder than most people want to endure. Sometimes one has to decide if the advantages are worth the recoil.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

Researchers to trap Yellowstone bears starting Monday

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (AP) — Wildlife biologists will be baiting and trapping grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park from Monday through July 31 as part of ongoing research.

The research by the National Park Service and Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team is to monitor the population of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Officials say none of the trap sites in the park will be located near any established hiking trails or backcountry campsites and closure warnings will be posted around all trap sites for any recreationists in the area.

Backcountry users who come upon any of the posted areas need to stay out of the area.

In 2010, a man was killed near Yellowstone by a grizzly bear that had recently been captured and released by researchers.

Grand Teton National Park announces opening dates for facilities

Grand Teton National Park has announced the opening dates for campgrounds, roads and other facilities.

The Gros Ventre and Jenny Lake campgrounds are open now. Other campgrounds are slated to open this weekend — Signal Mountain and Colter Bay campgrounds — and others will open toward the end of the month or the beginning of June.

Lodging will open with the Signal Mountain Lodge starting May 10. Other lodges — Jackson Lake Lodge, Colter Bay Cabins, Triangle X Ranch, Jenny Lake Lodge and Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch — open later in May and the first of June.

The Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch (which offers simple cabins for climbers) will open June 8.

The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center opened April 1. The Colter Bay Visitor Center will open May 10. Other visitor centers in the park, such as the Jenny Lake Visitor Center will open the first week of June.

The Jenny Lake Ranger Station will open for business June 1.

The Teton Park and Moose-Wilson roads opened to motorized traffic May 1. Other roads, such as the Signal Mountain Summit Road, Grassy Lake Road and Two Ocean Road, are not plowed and still have some drifted snow. These roads are expected to open by mid-June depending on the weather.

For additional information about activities and services within Grand Teton National Park or the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, visit the park’s website at nps.gov/grandteton, stop by open visitor centers or call 307-739-3300.

The park entrance fee is $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle or $20 per person. An annual park pass is $70. A two-park pass for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks is no longer available. The Interagency Annual and Lifetime Senior passes, valid for entrance at most federal recreation sites including national parks, is $80.

Grand Teton National Park holding ranger-led bird-watching day

Grand Teton National Park is inviting bird lovers to join in a bird-watching caravan on Saturday.

Park ranger and naturalist Andrew Langford will lead the caravan to visit areas throughout the park that provide “opportunities to locate, identify and record birds as part of the North American Migration Count,” according to a park news release.

The free activity starts at 8 a.m. in the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming, and will finish at 4 p.m. at Christian Pond near Jackson Lake Lodge. Reservations are not required and all are welcome to join in.

“Throughout the day, participants will take short walks at various locations, so those attending should wear comfortable shoes and bring a lunch, drinking water, warm clothing and rain gear,” the news release said. “Bird field guides, binoculars and spotting scopes are also recommended items.”

World Migratory Bird Day is observed each year in May to celebrate and support bird conservation. The day is promoted by Partners in Flight, an international conservation program with a goal of reversing the decline in populations of migratory birds worldwide.

For more information about the ranger-led program, World Migratory Bird Day and the North American Migration Count, call the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at 307-739-3399. Participants are reminded that a valid park entrance pass is required.

Texas hog hunt

When my buddy Bill Olson who owns Texas Outdoor Journal told me to grab a plane ticket because he had a hog hunt lined up with Slow Glow, I was ready. While at the gun range at the SHOT Show I’d talked to Jeff at the Caracal booth and told him we were working on lining up a hog hunt. He had me shoot their CAR814 A2 PATROL .300 Blackout. I fell in love with it right away. So when this hunt jelled, I contacted him about testing one out on a Texas hog.

Next decision — what scope should I put on it? We would be hunting over Slow Glows, which are LED lights that are motion activated and start slowly illuminating if something triggers them. So I decided to mount on a Riton Optics 2-7x scope. That would allow for fast target acquisition. Their marketing genius Justin also told me to take along their red dot sight and 3x magnifier. He thought I’d favor that for the close-up night hunting.

Now what ammo? I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nosler, so I went with their ballistic tip 125-grain Boattail ammo. The Slow Glow system is unique. If hogs are at the station, you come up behind the light and they can’t see you. Last year, the owner’s son Clint wanted to shoot one with his bow and four of us stalked up to within 15 feet of a whole sounder of hogs. So I sighted in the .300 Blackout for 20 yards.

And lastly what knife should I use? I’ve wanted a Puma skinner ever since I was a kid so that’s what I took to test on this hunt. I was now good to go.

I jumped out of bed at 3:30 a.m. and was off to Austin. Bill picked me up at the airport and we headed to the ranch. We met up with Murray and Clint Choate with Slow Glow and Eric Anderson with Roxor, which is an India-based quad company. They became famous for making parts for the Willy’s during World War II and the Korean war. Their quad looks just like a Willy’s to me.

Bill and I sat at one site and the others took off bow hunting. There was a full moon and with my 10×42 Riton Optics binoculars, I was able to pick out two hogs about 150 yards away and then two more behind us. Then a bunch of smaller ones ran out behind us.

We held off shooting them thinking they would come into the Slow Glow. They eventually started working that way but when they got to our side they must have winded us and shot off for the brush.

The next day, we moved to a different ranch. During the day we tested Roxor and did some filming. Clint is a super good photographer and has all the cool cameras and drones. In fact, last year he filmed an ad for the Super Bowl.

During the middle of the day, Clint took me around to get the layout of our hunting spots. Near dusk, we sat on a hill between our spots and waited. They have an app that alerts them if hogs are hitting a spot and then you scoot down there and do a stalk.

We had an alert but messed up the stalk. We went to check another spot, and they were moving in right when we got close. They were all around us in the brush and spooked every which way, but due to it being dark and in the brush we didn’t have a shot.

We went back and waited some more. Suddenly Clint said we’re up. We sneaked down to the site. Murray had thrown corn in a shallow pool. The hogs were out rooting in the mud and sounded like a herd of carp sucking. Clint and Murray call it snorkeling. You can hear them snorkeling before you even get close enough to see them.

Clint started filming and pretty soon gave me the thumbs up. They were on the other side of the pool snorkeling, probably 25 yards away. The Slow Glow had fully illuminated. I picked out the biggest hog and when the Caracal barked, hogs ran away squealing.

In the melee, I didn’t notice but the hog I shot at ran through the pond and come up over a small rise. When I saw her, she was coming in at 40 mph and didn’t turn until she was a mere 13 to 14 feet away.

We waited a few minutes and then started tracking. Good trail. There was blood on both sides of the trail which was good. That meant it had passed through and double lunged her. After a 60-yard trek, we came upon her. She was a huge 175-pound sow. We took a lot of pictures and then skinned her out with my new Puma skinner.

What a great night.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.

First Super Hunt drawing entry deadline is May 31

Hunters hoping to enter Idaho’s first Super Hunt drawing have through May 31 to apply. With every entry in Fish and Game’s Super Hunt drawings, hunters get a chance at winning the hunt of a lifetime, and each entry helps support hunter and angler access to and across private lands.

Winners can participate in any open hunt in the state for deer, elk, pronghorn or moose, including general hunts and controlled hunts, in addition to any general season or controlled hunt tags they also hold. All other rules of individual hunts apply.

Super Hunt entries are $6 each. Super Hunt Combo entries are $20 each. No license is required to enter a Super Hunt drawing, and hunters can enter as many times as they like.

The first drawing will be for eight elk, eight deer, eight pronghorn and one moose hunt. One Super Hunt Combo entry also will be drawn that entitles the winner to hunt all four species — elk, deer, pronghorn and moose. Winners will be notified by June 10.

A second drawing will be for two elk, two deer, two pronghorn and one moose hunt. Another Super Hunt Combo entry will also be drawn. The entry period for the second drawing is June 1 through Aug. 10, with winners notified by Aug. 20.

Hunters may enter the drawings at license vendors, Fish and Game offices, online at idfg.idaho.gov/superhunt or by calling 1-800-554-8685.

For more information, including frequently asked questions and photos of previous winners, visit the Super Hunt page on Fish and Game’s website at idfg.idaho.gov/superhunt.

10 reasons why you should consider applying for a controlled big game hunt

Controlled hunt application period for deer, elk, pronghorn and fall bear hunts runs May 1 to June 5, and it’s an excellent opportunity to try for a chance at Idaho’s best hunts. For new hunters, or people who’ve recently moved to Idaho, controlled hunts may seem complicated, but there are good reasons to apply for them.

While fall hunts may seem far away, the 2019-20 Big Game rules booklets are now available online and in print, and now is a good time to check out what’s available for general and controlled hunts. Winners will be posted online by July 10.

General hunts provide a lot of flexibility, and in most cases, there’s an unlimited number of tags for residents. (Some elk zones have a limited number of tags available, but are still sold over the counter.)

While it takes some research to determine which controlled hunt is right for you, and you’re limited to that hunt in most cases, there are still many advantages to controlled hunts, and here are some:

1. Controlled hunts have a higher success rate, typically about double the success rates for general hunts. In 2018, for example, elk hunters who participated in controlled hunts had 42 percent success versus 18 percent in general hunts. Mule deer hunters in controlled hunts had 55 percent success versus 27 percent for general hunts. The difference was less for white-tailed deer hunters with about 54 percent of controlled hunt hunters successful versus 40 percent for general season.

2. It only costs $6.25 for residents to apply for deer, elk and pronghorn controlled hunts, and $14.75 for nonresidents to apply, but you have to buy a 2019 hunting license to apply. If you don’t get drawn, you can still buy a general tag.

3. There are many antlerless controlled hunt opportunities for deer, elk and pronghorn. Doe deer and pronghorn and cow elk are typically easier to find because there tends to be more of them, so antlerless hunts are an excellent way to put meat in the freezer and introduce someone to hunting.

4. There’s less competition. Controlled hunts are limited by the number of tags, so there are fewer people hunting in a particular area.

5. For pronghorn, general hunts are extremely limited, so if you want the opportunity to hunt this unique and exciting animal, controlled hunts are the way to go.

6. Controlled hunts provide an opportunity for a mentor to help a young or inexperienced hunter and still have time to focus on a general season or other controlled hunt for themselves. There are also controlled hunts set aside for youth so only they can apply for those tags.

7. If you’ve already bought a general season tag, you can trade it for a controlled hunt tag if you draw one.

8. Some controlled hunts are “extra” tags, so you can still hunt during a general season and a controlled hunt for that same species.

9. Drawing odds can vary from 100 percent to less than 5 percent, and you can see the previous year’s drawing odds in the Idaho Hunt Planner and get a general idea whether there’s low or high odds of drawing.

10. There are some amazing animals available. While there are plenty of big bucks and bulls taken during general hunts, many hunters feel they have a better chance of harvesting one during a controlled hunt.

Note: Controlled hunts aren’t the only way to get premium hunts. You can also apply for a Super Hunt tag, which allows you to hunt in any unit open for that species — general and controlled hunts — and you can enter for a Super Hunt tag as many times as you like.