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SHERIDAN — Population growth is causing some problems around Story and Big Horn — especially with a certain crowd that is drawn to the area’s rich, agricultural lands.
No, not the farmers.
White-tailed deer have found a feast in area hay and alfalfa fields. They eat the valuable commodities that are fed to livestock or sold at market, and they propagate, prolifically. According to Wyoming Game and Fish Department Regional Wildlife Supervisor Joe Gilbert, white-tailed deer, after having their first fawn, often produce twins. Fawns then begin to breed within their first year of life, producing twins of their own.
“We need a lot of harvest to keep the populations in check, even more to reduce them,” Gilbert said.
At the same time, the communities of Story and Big Horn are also growing. Open lands that used to have one house every mile are now more densely developed with additional roads, houses and livestock. Hunting with typical long-range rifles is no longer a safe way to keep the deer population under control, Gilbert said, noting the dangerous range for most rifles can be a couple miles.
A few area ranchers allow alternative hunting options — including archery, muzzle loading rifles and shotgun slugs — but those still have an effective range of 100 to 200 yards and are dangerous up to 3,000 yards, according to estimates by Winchester Ammunition. Gilbert and ranchers agreed that there had to be an even better alternative that wouldn’t carry so much liability.
Enter double aught buckshot.
Comprised of eight or nine lead pellets encased in a plastic shell that drops away from the pellets after exiting the rifle barrel, buckshot has an effective range of 20 to 30 yards, making it safer to use in short-range areas like the ranch and farm lands surrounding Story and Big Horn.
Buckshot was considered illegal until recent changes in Game and Fish regulations, Gilbert said, mainly due to a technicality in wording. Regulations allowed harvest of big game animals with a .23 caliber or larger bullet.
Since “bullet” was singular, it was interpreted that buckshot was not allowed since it is comprised of multiple “bullets,” Gilbert said.
The local game and fish office began to research buckshot as a hunting alternative and decided it was worth pursuing. The 2012 Wyoming Legislature gave the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission the authority to change the regulations, which were completed in November 2012. This fall will be the first hunting season that will allow buckshot.
“States east of the Mississippi have used buckshot for years. It’s old hat to those folks, but it’s new to people here,” Gilbert said. “It’s not the silver bullet to handle the deer population, but it’s an added tool.”
Gilbert hopes the revised regulations will open up new areas for local hunting with property owners who wouldn’t allow long range rifles but may be more comfortable with the limited range of buckshot.
Buckshot will also offer hunters something new to try, Gilbert said. It is similar to archery, requiring stealth to approach close enough to fire, and is often done from a tree stand, which keeps hunters out of sight, gets their scent off ground level and enables them to shoot at a safer, downward angle.
According to Gilbert, buckshot should be fired at a range less than 30 yards in order to keep all eight or nine pellets grouped together in a 10 to 14 inch radius upon contact with the deer or other large game animal. This provides more effective penetration and prevents stray pellets from becoming dangerous the further they spread apart.
To encourage the use of this new tool and educate hunters, the local game and fish department will host a buckshot familiarization clinic at the Sheridan County Sportsman Gun Club range located at 89 Keystone Road on Saturday.
Hunters should bring their own 12-gauge shotgun with an open choke or choke tubes and eye and ear protection.
A variety of ammunition brands and styles will be provided so hunters can figure out which works best in their gun. Groups of 10 shooters or less will be asked to choose a one-hour block between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
They will be given an opportunity to learn about buckshot, try different brands of ammunition and fire their shotguns from different distances.
For more information or to reserve a time, call the Sheridan Regional Office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department at 672-7418.