- The birth of Wyoming’s ‘Let a Deer Walk’ program and its success.
- Hunters Chuck Melman and David Stiltner’s admiration for ethical hunting.
- The significance of wildlife conservation for mule deer and the environment.
- The shared values of Wyoming hunters across state lines.
- How businesses and hunters came together for a common cause.
A novel initiative born from the concern of a Wyoming deer hunter, in response to the devastating impact of winterkill on the state’s prized deer herds, has struck a chord with outdoor enthusiasts nationwide and may even set a precedent.
Two dedicated Wyoming hunters, hailing from North Carolina and West Virginia, reached out to Cowboy State Daily after learning about Wyoming’s “Let a Deer Walk” program. The program deeply resonated with their shared reverence for the wilderness and its inhabitants, transcending geographical boundaries.
Chuck Melman of North Carolina, deeply involved in various conservation organizations, revealed that the story had circulated widely among his circle of friends, all of whom lauded the program as a testament to ethical hunting practices.
David Stiltner, a West Virginia resident with five decades of hunting experience, shared a similar sentiment. He empathized with the nearly 1,200 hunters who voluntarily surrendered their Wyoming hunters deer tags this year, allowing the ailing Wyoming deer herds a better chance at recovery.
While moved by the act, Stiltner also recognized the deep connection hunters have with the hunting season, considering it an integral part of their culture and tradition.
“Let a Deer Walk” was conceived by Zach Key of La Barge in response to the extensive winterkill, particularly affecting the renowned Wyoming Range mule deer herd.
The severity of the winter took a heavy toll, leading to the starvation and freezing of many adult deer, while the brutal blizzards continued well into spring, likely wiping out an entire generation of fawns. Key’s solution was elegantly simple: hunters could purchase their deer tags as usual but, instead of hunting, they could submit them to Key for a prize drawing.
Wyoming and neighboring state businesses rallied behind the idea, contributing items and services such as taxidermy and an ATV as prizes for 21 fortunate winners.
The response exceeded Key’s wildest expectations, with nearly 1,200 hunters relinquishing their tags and contributing roughly $43,000 toward wildlife conservation.
Stiltner, an experienced hunter, had witnessed similar crises afflicting West Virginia’s beloved whitetail deer herds, primarily due to diseases. He recalled one outbreak of “bluetongue” disease in 2012 that decimated the deer population and led to a collective decision among hunters to forgo hunting for a season.
He praised the Wyoming hunters’ actions and noted how “Let a Deer Walk” raised the idea to a higher plane. He complimented the companies that backed the project, even at a loss to their bottom lines, understanding the crucial role hunting dollars play in these businesses.
He recognized the shared values of Wyoming and West Virginia hunters in their appreciation for large game creatures.
Despite his limited experience hunting out West, Stiltner was captivated by the vast landscapes, diverse hunting methods, and the allure of Wyoming’s pronghorn. He expressed a strong desire to hunt in Wyoming someday.
Similarly, Chuck Melman, who resides in a state without mule deer, has been enamored with these iconic creatures since he first encountered them during a pheasant hunting trip in Idaho 25 years ago.
He made several journeys to Wyoming as a result of his obsession with mule deer, where he acquired a special fondness for hunting in the Bighorn Mountains south of Sheridan, close to Buffalo.
He feels that mule deer serve as a barometer for the ecosystem and are a symbol of the West. Mule deer are a sign of a healthy ecology when they are thriving. Despite the mule deer being far from his home state of North Carolina, his enthusiasm for protecting them led him to join the Mule Deer Foundation.