Why Are Some Wyoming Hunters Scrapping Their Deer Tags?

Wyoming's famed pronghorn and mule deer herds took a big hit during the winter of 2022 and 2023.
Wyoming's famed pronghorn and mule deer herds took a big hit during the winter of 2022 and 2023.

Hundreds of Wyoming mule deer tagholders are choosing not to hunt this fall. The grassroots initiative, known as the “Let a Deer Walk” campaign, was started by Zack Key of La Barge, Wyoming. Following particularly devastating winter conditions for big game in the West, Key organized a raffle; The entry fee was choosing to buy—and then scrap—a mule deer tag. The idea was to foster a recovery in the state’s deer population, particularly in the hard-hit Wyoming Range.

Key was able to convince individuals and organizations to donate prizes, which included truck and ATV customization packages and a Commissioner’s Tag—a highly-sought-after tag that each Wyoming Game and Fish Commission Member may donate to the cause of their choice.

Key told Cowboy State Daily that 1,181 people chose to eat their tags and participate in the raffle. The total in licensing fees paid to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD) that were scrapped came to $42,934. Key conducted the raffle earlier this fall.

“To open the ceremony, I took my own 2023 Wyoming resident deer tag and stuck it in the shredder on livestream,” Key said. “I’ve talked to some big-time mule deer hunters…They decided to turn their tags in to me after scouting this summer. They weren’t seeing any bucks over about 140 inches, and in some drainages, they weren’t even seeing does.”

Fish and Game Officials Didn’t Back the Initiative

WGFD officials lauded the spirit of the campaign, but they weren’t affiliated with it. “We really appreciate the passion behind the “Let a Deer Walk” campaign. It shows the concern that sportsmen and women have regarding WGFD revenues amid significant reductions in license tags, which may impact funding for wildlife management,” said WGFD Public Information Officer Breanna Ball in an interview with Field & Stream. “But the department does provide licenses to facilitate hunting opportunities and encourage sportsmen to participate. The number of allocated licenses for this season were approved by the Commission and are sustainable. They will support the rebound of impacted big game populations.”

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According to Ball, WGFD had already slashed limited-quota mule deer licenses by 43 percent statewide, among other management actions. “We made the most significant cuts to the mule deer doe harvest. Does obviously play a big role in determining the overall population. We also made other point restrictions and shortened seasons,” she says. “But we’re still allowing folks to go out and go after bucks. We are still encouraging folks to go out and hunt this year.”