OUT: Ranchers contract with state to allow hunting

A sign posted on a gate at a cattle guard crossing on the Harris Ranch is seen, Friday Nov. 7, 2008 in rural Albany County, Wyo. (AP Photo/Laramie Boomerang, Andy Carpenean)

LARAMIE, Wyo. — It used to be that antelope season at the Harris Ranch northwest of Laramie brought hundreds of hunters crowding onto the ranch on opening day.

“It was a zoo,” said manager Ryan Wilson. “I said enough.”

But instead of closing the 20,000-acre ranch to the public, Wilson enrolled it in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Hunter Management Program. The entire area — which also includes 10,000 acres of leased public land — is open for pronghorn and waterfowl hunting, and Wilson even convinced his neighbors to join the Harris Ranch as part of the six-ranch Laramie River Hunter Management Area.

“We don’t make a lot of money off it, but we make a little bit, and it still provides people with a place to hunt. And that’s what I would want, is a place to be able to go,” he said.

For that work to keep the ranch open to the public, Wilson was named Landowner of the Year for the Laramie Region by Game and Fish.

Wilson said he considered running a private outfitting company on the ranch, but that didn’t seem right.

“I didn’t agree with charging that much to take people hunting, as far as the outfitting goes,” he said.

As part of the Hunter Management Programs, hunters go through Game and Fish for permission to access the land. Wilson said at least 100 pronghorns are harvested each season, but now he may
see a couple hunters at a time.

“Most of the time, it’s pretty comfortable,” he said.

On a recent afternoon, wind shook the house where Wilson lives with his fiancee, Samantha Hatfield. Wilson had just shipped out the ranch’s calves, and the remaining several hundred cattle bunched near the farmhouse, mooing steadily.

In the corral, Wilson was weaning two foals from their mothers. Named Darkness and Peggy Sue, the two foals darted around the corral, neighing into the wind. Then they bunched together and resisted Wilson’s attempts to lead them, necks stiff, legs locked.

Wilson has been running the family-owned ranch for the last 11 years, and it’s been in the family for the last century. His great- great-uncle homesteaded the ranch, then bought up surrounding land as his neighbors went bankrupt.

“He put the whole ranch together that way,” Wilson said.

The land was advertised as prime farming ground, with brochures attesting the bushels of corn and alfalfa that were possible.

“They really talked it up,” Wilson said.

Wilson moved to the area from Florida and in an understated way, declared the move a “bit of a culture shock.” His grandmother still lives nearby.

Hatfield said hunting season “is like Christmas for us,” as hunters bring all kinds of gifts for the landowners, from candy to homemade jams and jellies to tools to fruit.

“Anything and everything,” she said.

The couple even recently visited a hunter from Missouri who had been coming for 35 years, until his health wouldn’t allow it this year. His family still made it to Wyoming for the hunt, though.

Wilson works with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to help the ranch benefit wildlife, and has installed wildlife escape ramps in his water tanks and wildlife-friendly fences.

Laramie Boomerang



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