More hunters in Wyoming may soon be chasing coyotes and other predators with the aid of night-vision optics, including thermal scopes. House Bill 104, “Hunting of predatory animals-amendments,” passed the Wyoming House in late January 2023, and the Senate advanced the bill with a 27-4 vote on Monday, February 13. The measure would allow “any person taking a predatory animal on public land to use artificial light, including thermal or infrared imaging.”
As the rules are currently written, hunters can pursue predators on public land at night—but they can only use night vision optics on private land. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson of Wheatland, Wyoming, says that’s not enough. He’s proposing that public land hunters outfitted with expensive thermal imaging scopes be given the green light to chase coyotes, red foxes, skunks, stray domestic cats, raccoons, and certain non-predatory critters like porcupines and jackrabbits.
According to local news outlet Cowboy State Daily, Haroldson and other proponents of HB104 believe that coyote populations in the Cowboy State have gotten out of control. They say that the predatory canines are putting a major dent in big game herds by taking out elk calves and deer fawns. They also worry about the impacts that coyotes have on livestock. Putting thermal optics into the hands of public land predator hunters could knock down swelling coyote numbers and give their prey a much-needed reprieve, proponents argue.
The Move Doesn’t Come Without Controversy
During a meeting of the Wyoming House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee, Wyoming’s head game warden expressed reservations about Haroldson’s bill. He fears it will attract more public land night hunters than his labor-strapped agency could effectively monitor.
“Our folks are feeling the pressure of their significant workload that is not shared by as many people as it should be right now,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Warden Rick King. “Our folks work really hard and they’ll do the best they can, but that’s really one of the things I worry about: The workload on our existing personnel.”
A representative from Wyoming’s oldest hunter advocacy group, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation (WWF), echoed King’s concerns with her testimony before the Committee. “We’re pretty tentative on this bill,” said Jess Johnson, WWF’s government affairs director. “I would go so far as to say we would rather not see it pass.”
Representatives from the shooting sports industry voiced support from removing the current restrictions on thermal and infrared optics on public land in Wyoming. “These restrictions make one half the state of Wyoming off-limits to this activity,” Gun Owners of America Hunter Outreach Director Mark Jones said, during the meeting. “And [public land] is the only place that many people have to hunt. Many people do not have the luxury of going on private ranches and hunting, so there is an issue with hunter opportunity.”
Nephi Cole, Government Affairs Director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the co-host of the Your Mountain Podcast, advocated for the bill as well. According to WyoFile, he applauded a provision in HB104 that would grant the Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Commission the authority to regulate the use of thermal and infrared optics should the bill be signed into law.
The bill has now been referred back to the Wyoming House of Representatives where it will have to concur with amendments before it can be advanced onto Governor Mark Gordon’s office for signature.