About Snowy Range moose

Moose

A cow moose is alert to hikers following a trail in the Pole Mountain unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 2, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “About Snowy Range moose.”

2014 Update: This is the sidebar that accompanied “Letters from a Moose Hunt,” posted yesterday.

By Barb Gorges

The moose that live in the area roughly west of Laramie and east of Saratoga are part of the Rocky Mountain subspecies known as the Shiras moose. Adults average 600 to 800 pounds and stand 5 to 6 feet at the shoulder.

In the summer, 60 to 90 percent of their diet is willow shrubs, said Eric Wald, a University of Wyoming graduate student. They supplement it with grass, sedges, wildflowers and aspen leaves. In winter if willows run short, they may resort to other shrubs, aspen bark and subalpine fir.

Generally, moose are most active foraging at dawn and dusk. They like to stay cool so on a hot day they go into thick timber or deep willows to ruminate.

A moose’s four-chambered stomach digests woody material so well their winter droppings are like sawdust pellets.

Moose tracks show two toes a little over 5 inches long followed by two nickel-sized indentations made by the dew claws.

Wald estimates the Snowy Range moose population at 150 to 200, but because moose are loners, normal big game herd survey techniques are not accurate.

Wald has radio-collared eight moose to find out more about their seasonal migration patterns and what corridors they use. One young bull this fall used a road and collided with a vehicle.

Moose were transients in the Snowy Range area before 1978 when Colorado transplanted a population to nearby North Park. The young quickly dispersed over the border into Wyoming. In the 1990s the population took off and by 2000, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department set up Moose Hunt Area 38.

This year the area’s quota was 10 licenses for any moose (hunters usually read that as bulls) and 10 licenses for antlerless (cows). Neither category includes cows with calves. The quota was allocated between resident and non-resident preference point and random drawings.

Al Langston, Game and Fish biologist, said odds ranged from 0.21 percent for the 966 residents who applied for the two bull licenses drawn randomly, to 100 percent for the non-resident who was the only one to apply for the preference point draw for the two non-resident antlerless licenses (the other license then went in the resident drawing).

This year a non-resident moose tag cost $1,201 and a resident tag $91. If your name wasn’t drawn, the license fee was refunded and you were awarded a preference point.

If you draw a moose tag, you are not eligible to apply again for five years. But once you have your license, getting your moose is almost a sure bet. Wald said last year’s success rate in Area 38 was nearly a hundred percent, except for the hunter who had a shot at a bull moose but waited for a bigger one.

Moose license applications are taken in January and February. There are a total of 42 other, mostly smaller, moose hunting areas in Wyoming in the western quarter of the state, the Big Horns and the Jeffrey City area. Contact Game and Fish, 777-4600, for more information.

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Letters from a Moose Hunt

Moose

A bull moose browses willows on the edge of a beaver pond near the campground at Vedauwoo, in the Medicine Bow National Forest, October 2014. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 2, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Letters from a Moose Hunt. Writer Barb Gorges documents the pursuit of Snowy Range moose.”

2014 Update: Moose have also moved into the Pole Mountain area of the Medicine Bow National Forest located between Cheyenne and Laramie. I’ve been coming across them about once a year while hiking with friends at Vedauwoo and the Headquarters Trail areas, and also outside the forest at North Crow Reservoir.

By Barb Gorges

A series of letters to my sister, Beth

Mountain Home, Wyoming, Friday evening, September 30

Dear Beth,

Mark’s finally winning the lottery for a moose license is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event so I thought I’d document it like Elinore Pruitt Stewart did in “Letters from an Elk Hunt by a Woman Homesteader.”

If you remember, she was writing to her former boss in Denver about the trip by wagon in 1914 from Burntfork in southwest Wyoming to somewhere north of Pinedale. Elinore and her husband, older children and friends spent several weeks just getting to elk camp and another two weeks hunting.

We drive two hours from Cheyenne, but only for weekends. Instead of tents, we stay at Wiggams’ cabin up here between Foxpark and Mountain Home.

It’s humble, but it has heat, lights, a stove, a refrigerator and an indoor composting toilet.

We went out twice on scouting trips earlier this month. Mark’s moose area, the Snowy Range, overlaps areas for his deer and elk licenses. We had beautiful fall weather, but didn’t see any big game, just tracks and scat. At least it’s easier hiking in preferred moose habitat along the creeks, than stepping over downed trees in deep timber where Mark hunts elk.

We left today as soon as Jeffrey got home from school. It’s hard to believe at age 16 this is his fifth hunting season.

Tomorrow is also opening day for deer for both Jeffrey and Mark and since the weather is supposed to be warm, Mark wants to concentrate on finding deer. As thick-bodied as moose are, temperatures in the 70s could mean the meat wouldn’t cool down fast enough to prevent spoiling.

Mike Wiggam will be in soon. He has a deer tag too. I don’t have any tags this year. Ever since that antelope I’m happy enough to let Jeffrey use my rifle while I help spot game and carry it out. What do you and Brian have for tags this year? When do seasons open in Arizona?

I often wonder what Dad would think of his daughters taking up hunting and fishing–things he never did. But remember how much he liked climbing mountains!

Love, Barb

Mountain Home, Wyoming, Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1

Dear Beth,

Boy, are we going to be sore tonight from all this walking! We got up at 5 a.m., had the standard Gorges hunting breakfast of instant oatmeal and V8 juice and were in the field by the beginning of shooting time, half an hour before sunrise.

There were lots of stars, but they faded fast and the tops of the aspens quickly lit up in neon yellow.

Mark and Mike have an amazing sense of direction. They rarely follow any of the numerous roads and after two hours or so, we always break out of the trees right at the vehicles. Of course, Mike’s been hunting around here all his life and Mark’s been hunting with him the last 15 years.

This morning we heard several shots but saw only squirrels. Back at our vehicles by 8:30 a.m., we ate the first half of our lunches.

On our second foray we were luckier. I was bringing up the rear when we crossed over a beaver dam on a small creek. There’s always some ankle-breaker hole waiting under the long grass so I take my time. I thought everyone was waiting for me. Instead, they were watching a bull moose playing peek-a-boo among the tree trunks.

Mark’s license is for a cow moose, but one without a calf. He followed the bull and discovered the cow and calf in the willows not more than 20 yards from where I’d floundered across. Mark says though it looks like a family unit, the bull is usually not the calf’s sire and is only following the cow because it is rutting season.

This was also the excursion when I noticed something dark along the game trail decorated with what looked like red seed beads. They were seeds from rose-hips. It was bear scat. Good thing in south-central Wyoming we only have to worry about black bears, but still….

We ate the second half of our lunch on a sunny ridge within sight of the sparkling dome of the observatory on top of Jelm Mountain, along a narrow track that was a regular highway for pickups and ATVs. Everyone drove sedately and nodded greetings. One couple stopped to chat. The woman was the only female hunter I’ve seen so far.

It seems like hunting outfits come in two types, either an old beater like Mike’s (and at 9 years old, our Explorer is heading that way) or a brand new, $40,000 extended cab 4×4 diesel. However, maybe in deference to high gas prices, most of those giant trucks were carrying three or more hunters.

I’ve noticed too, some hunters dress like Cabela’s catalog models. We, on the other hand, wear old jeans and flannel shirts with orange vests, though Mark likes his loose wool pants.

Remember those matching flannel shirts with the geese on them I got for us when we went to the Becoming an Outdoor Woman weekend in Raton, N.M., one red, one blue? Mine is wearing out, perfect for the dirty end of hunting.

We spread out to walk the ridge after lunch. Mike got to the end first and glassed the opposite mountain, finding a cow moose on an open hillside, followed by a bull. They are a wonderful chocolate color. But the funny thing is their legs are whitish, looking like they’re wearing Mom’s white nurse’s uniform stockings over brown hair.

We decided to get a closer look, following a game trail that took a near vertical dive. All of us were thinking how the heck would we get a moose back up this mountain?

Jeffrey, Mike and I waited at the bottom. Mark crossed the creek and headed up toward the cow moose on the other side. Another bull appeared. Then there was a lot of bawling which Mark determined came from twin calves hidden in the trees.

We’re back at the cabin now, taking our mid-afternoon nap before having an early dinner, the traditional pan of lasagna Mark makes and freezes at home. Then we’ll head out again until shooting time ends.

Love, Barb

Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sunday evening, October 2

Dear Beth,

No more moose yesterday or today. An hour before sunset last night Mark got a nice buck deer, a 3 by 3, and we all worked hard getting it and our gear uphill, thinking what it would be like to pack out a moose that weighs three or four times more.

On the way, Mark gashed the top of his bare head on a lodgepole pine branch and spilled more blood than the deer. We realized we had three first aid kits–back in the vehicles–so Mike and I sacrificed our personal wads of toilet paper and Mark stuffed them under his knit cap.

This morning Jeffrey got a small buck near the road between Foxpark and Lake Owen. I was the one who spotted it. Looked sort of like a stump with mule ears. Mike didn’t get anything and can’t come out again this season, but we always share since he is so generous with the cabin. Mark will be busy cutting and wrapping deer meat evenings this week.

Love, Barb

Mountain Home, Wyoming, Friday evening, October 7

Dear Beth,

We stopped in Laramie to drop off some deer steaks with our starving college student. Bryan has too much school work to come with us.

We drove up to the cabin later than last week. The sky was that rich turquoise, the moon just a new crescent and the mountains black. Saw only one deer with a death wish standing on the side of the road.

This weekend is cool enough to take a moose. It may snow by Sunday or Monday.

Love, Barb

Pelton Creek, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming, Saturday, 10:30 p.m., October 8

Dear Beth,

We have moose! After a whole day of hiking around and not seeing anything but tracks, just as I’m about to pull onto the Pelton Creek Road and turn towards the highway and the cabin, Mark says, “Let’s go down the creek instead.”

There was still the half hour of official shooting time after sunset.

Then Mark says, “There she is! Stop! Stop!”

As I pulled over he wondered if it would be too hard to haul her across the creek, but Jeffrey and I said, “Go for it!”

We waited while Mark went down the bank and made sure she didn’t have a calf hiding. Then came the shot. I don’t know how Mark manages to be so accurate since he never practices. Maybe it’s because he’s had the same rifle for 32 years.

I was official flashlight and leg holder for over three hours and finally had to come back to the Explorer and put on some more layers. The work is about as slow as that ranch buffalo you helped us with in Montana years ago, even though we have a Wyoming knife this time.

Mark suggested I take a nap while I’m here so I’ll be the one in shape to make the 20-mile drive back to the cabin. I can see two little stars of flashlight bobbing in the distance below. The stars above are covered with clouds.

Moose have such expressive faces compared to antelope and deer, or maybe I’ve seen too many Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. But if I’m going to be a meat eater, I need to be brave. Anyway, in Wyoming animals are the most efficient way to harvest and process the vegetation that grows here.

Both Elinore and her friend, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, shot elk on their hunt. But they let the men deal with the rest of the process.

It’s a little spooky out here. The wind keeps sounding like someone is walking back up the bank.

Love, Barb

Cheyenne, Wyoming, Monday morning, October 10

Dear Beth,

We got half the moose back to the cabin late Saturday night, or rather, Sunday morning. It was nearly 2 a.m. when we rolled into bed. Then, later that morning it took another two to three hours to get the rest of it. Everything would have taken substantially longer without Jeffrey’s tireless teenage energy.

Unbelievably, Mark and Jeffrey got the moose and our gear to fit in the Explorer and we drove home very carefully in snow mixed with rain.

We had our first bites of moose meat for dinner last night. It’s not tough or gamey-tasting despite the fact that moose eat mostly willow.

I’m glad it doesn’t have a strong taste, the way antelope meat can sometimes be like a mouthful of sagebrush. We won’t have to disguise it in sausage and spaghetti sauce.

We’ll have over 250 pounds by the time the butcher is finished with the quarters and Mark cuts up the rest.

Mark took the hide to a taxidermist. It’s been promised for about June. Mark took the head to Game and Fish so they could get the lymph nodes tested for chronic wasting disease.

I’m a little disappointed that we won’t have to hike around the other three weekends of moose season. I love abandoning town commitments for an off-trail ramble and was having fun taking nature shots to enjoy on my computer desktop this winter.

Jeffrey still wants to see about filling his elk tag. I don’t know what we’ll do for freezer space if he gets one–maybe we’ll have to throw a potlatch. I think you’ll be getting some moose jerky from us anyway.

It’ll be five years before Mark is allowed to try his luck drawing for another moose. Too bad we can’t make the meat last at least that long without freezer burn. I suppose now Jeffrey will want to get his own moose. Hope he’ll take Mark and me along!

Love, Barb

Stop the poaching of Wyoming’s wildlife

Mule deer

Mule deer is only one of the big game species targeted by poachers in Wyoming. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Nov. 29, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Stop Poaching” campaign adds new poster, book and bumper sticker.”

2014 Update: From the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish website, http://wgfd.wyo.gov: “The “STOP POACHING” program is an opportunity for you to help protect your wildlife resource. Rewards are paid when an arrest is made or a citation issued. Your call will make a difference – report all wildlife violations.

“Text keyword WGFD and message to 847-411. Android based cell phone users may download a free app to their phone to facilitate these text messages. iPhone users do not have an app available for this purpose yet (Remember you can still text to 847411).

“The “STOP POACHING” Hotline phone number is 1-877-WGFDTIP (1-877-943-3847) or 1-307-777-4330 for out-of-state “STOP POACHING” calls only.”

By Barb Gorges

If you enjoy Dragnet, a good “who dunnit” or tales of good winning out over evil set in Wyoming, there’s a new book out this year you might enjoy.

The third edition of “The Quest to Safeguard Wyoming’s Wildlife Resource,” is a collection of short stories, 50 case histories of poachers convicted of all kinds of transgressions against Wyoming’s wildlife, to be exact.

It also gives an inside look at what Wyoming’s wildlife law enforcement officers do and how the wildlife forensics laboratory contributes to solving cases.

The 144-page book is compiled by Russ Pollard, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife law enforcement coordinator, and published by the department in cooperation with the Wyoming Wildlife Protectors Association.

Available free from Game and Fish, the book is part of an ongoing campaign to publicize the department’s Stop Poaching Hotline, a joint effort of the department and the association since 1980 for reporting suspicious activities related to wildlife.

The toll-free number is also appearing on newly redesigned bumper stickers and posters.

“We have seen a fairly sharp increase in calls,” said Jay Lawson, Game and Fish’s chief game warden, but not necessarily an increase in violations.

The increase in the number of people carrying cell phones is responsible, Lawson thinks. “It’s almost like having this giant Neighborhood Watch,” he said.

Besides the use of cell phones, wildlife law enforcement has benefited from a change in public perception.

Back in the old days, poaching was sometimes considered to be a way for a poor man to feed his family. However, a survey of Wyoming residents conducted for Game and Fish published this spring shows that food is considered by respondents to be only a minor reason for poachers’ violations today.

The violation that irked survey respondents the most was the wasteful taking of game and fish, when an animal was killed and the meat allowed to go to waste.

“The Quest to Safeguard Wyoming’s Wildlife Resource” documents case after case of violators killing for the thrill, killing for trophy antlers or abandoning their kills when they felt threatened by law enforcement.

In many of the cases, a tip from an observant citizen, whether they be hunter, angler or outdoor recreationist, leads to an investigation. The cases, written with professional understatement, don’t mention the bravery necessary for officers confronting alleged poachers who may or may not be carrying weapons.

The various authors sometimes let the villains speak, “I wondered when you guys would catch up with me,” said one.

“Goodness me, I don’t know anything about elk,” said another, eventually confessing to an overlimit of elk because he was so entranced with using his new gun.

Not only are poachers shown to be stupid and/or greedy, they often have histories of other kinds of violence and lawbreaking, making wildlife law enforcement even more dangerous.

Since 1980, 25 percent of calls to the “Stop Poaching” hotline have led to arrests.

Callers are not required to reveal their names, testify in court or sign a deposition, but they can be rewarded when an arrest is made or a citation issued. More than $130,000 has been paid so far.

“Stop Poaching” books, posters and bumper stickers are available at the Game and Fish office located at Central Avenue and Bishop Boulevard.

Finding the bird (or elk) that got away

Elk

Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to hunt elk with your camera in the fall. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 1, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Did you happen to see the one that got away?”

2014 Update: Elk are hard to find during hunting season. However, Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to hunt them in the fall with your camera.

By Barb Gorges

Several times lately I’ve flushed a small brown bird out of the front bushes, but it seems rather late in the season for it to be a warbler searching for bugs, and it’s the wrong color, too.

I never think to look for birds out front. We had a feeder full of finches there briefly, before the squirrels destroyed it, but the way this brown bird skulked in the bushes, I didn’t think it was one of those constantly exclaiming house finches.

Once, when I was getting the mail, the brown bird flushed and then dropped back in the bushes instantly. So, letters in hand, I decided to stalk it. Shouldn’t I be able to see it move again if I stared at that one spot? And I did, for a tenth of a second.

On a bright snowy day in the Medicine Bow Mountains soon after, I was gazing at a vista of coniferous tree trunks, wondering which ones were legs of elk standing still. I’ve seen so few elk in timber, I wasn’t sure I could identify them by just one body part.

I was following Mark, who was slowly and warily following elk tracks in the snow–too slowly for my left big toe, which needed a brisker pace to thaw.

There was no wind and I could hear nothing but perhaps my own blood circulating.

We didn’t talk. We hardly snapped a twig. However, the snow was incredibly loud, making a weird, hollow “skrunk” as our boots compacted it with each step. I was so busy watching where I walked (did the elk really barge through here and not break the branch threatening to poke my eye out?) that my seeing any game was unlikely.

Finally we headed back, having gotten too far out to want to drag an elk that distance. We loosened up. The squawk of the occasional gray jay, the inquisitive voice of a mountain chickadee and the chatter of squirrels no longer seemed like signals to our quarry.

And then of course, we caught movement. I could only pick out the curve of its neck and the color of its hair, but knew it was only a deer disappearing over the ridge.

The next day the wind was back. The sound of it in the trees, like huge, long trucks rushing past on a wet street, drowned out the noise of our boots on snow and the spitting flurries hitting our hats and coats.

We moved faster and stayed warmer walking logging trails, following game trails and crossing beaver dams, but saw not a single track, though everywhere trees glistened in the dim light where elk had recently rubbed their antlers and removed the bark. Lack of tracks had us mystified.

The coniferous forest is a colorless place on a dull, snowy day: dark gray tree trunks, dark green, nearly black, needles, gray snow and gray sky. But the snow wasn’t deep enough mid-October to cover the scattered bunches of fresh green grass everywhere. Since elk are grass grazers, rather than browsers of twigs like deer, their absence seemed even more mysterious.

Finally we began to parallel Fox Creek, bright with tawny dried grass and red shrub stems. A handful of ducks whistled away and suddenly short-lived sunshine shimmered silver on the open water and fluttered gold on remaining willow leaves.

But of course, we weren’t over there along the creek. We were back in the dark timber, negotiating a giant’s game played with unpainted pick up sticks left from a forest thinning project.

We saw only one party of hunters while walking, but driving again, we were soon blocked by two pickups parked side by side in the narrow road. About 20 yards into the timber, munching leavings of a fresh forest thinning job, was a moose. Then another materialized to make a pair, a bull and a cow.

It isn’t moose season in the Medicine Bows very often, so we all enjoyed just watching, as if we were in our own private Yellowstone. Moose are so huge, I think their bellies would come even with our four wheel drive’s windows. And talk about legs looking like tree trunks!

All things considered, I think I prefer antelope country, where I don’t have to check my bearings with Mark every ten minutes. Besides, it’s tough looking for game while trying to run a forest obstacle course at the same time. And there are other hazards in the woods.

After Mark indulged me in a walk into the forest in the dark after dinner, he reminded me of how many mountain lions were radio-collared for a study around here a few years ago. It’s creepy, suddenly changing from the stalker to the stalked.

Well, maybe someday you’ll see the ones that got away from me. The little brown bird will show an identifying mark and the tree trunks will turn into elk legs.

Seasonal Note (2001):

Things are picking up at my backyard bird feeders: many goldfinches (now pale), pine siskins and juncos (Oregon race), a few grackles and red-winged blackbirds and one each so far of blue jay, red-breasted nuthatch, mountain chickadee, white-crowned sparrow, white-winged junco (migrating from its summer home in the Black Hills)–and someone’s junco-eating gray cat. How are things in your yard?

Birds make windy hunt bearable

Antelope

Some pronghorn antelope know where to stay safe during hunting season. This is part of the herd at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, on the edge of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 12, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birds make windy hunt bearable.”

2014 Update: We haven’t been antelope hunting much in recent years and miss the flavorful meat.

By Barb Gorges

I made a date with the antelope in Shirley Basin seven months in advance.

When it snowed the week before instead of the week of the hunt, I considered myself luckier than the little warblers caught in the first storm and at least as lucky as the green-tailed towhee that used our patio for a refuge.

By the time Mark and I reached the basin a week later, the snow had melted off to a few streaks secreted in the ripples of the rim, like Styrofoam trash locked in a hedge.

But the wind was relentless, scouring the earth of all loose material.

Most of the sagebrush up there is already barely more than boot-heel high.

We hiked for two hours. At the top of the rim I could raise my foot to take a step and have it pushed sideways by the wind with the strength and noise of a jet engine’s blast. Think blizzard without snow.

Think I’ll ask Santa for an anemometer so I can measure the wind speed at which my breath is sucked away.

Such a desolate landscape still has wildlife. A flutter of horned larks greeted us as we turned off the highway. That one and every flock I saw later flew up and then blew away east with the wind.

How exactly do small birds travel against the wind? Do they wait for a calm day and fly back west? Are their bodies stacked up against some fence in Iowa? Is there an undocumented east-west migration phenomenon?

Maybe they hop back along the ground since wind speed decreases the closer you get to ground level. I saw several beetles casually crawling between wind-dwarfed shrubs, and even a few asters blooming within two inches of the ground.

You notice these things when looking up can cause your sunglasses to be ripped from your face.

Eagles seem to be strong enough to enjoy the wind. We saw three immature golden eagles bouncing through the air like kids on carnival rides.

Finally, we decided to seek protection down on the North Platte and arrived there at dusk. As I checked the wind-worthiness of a campground cottonwood, I realized I was looking up at the bottom end of an owl. It left, soundlessly, but the rest of the evening was punctuated by weird squawks from some other animal in the thicket.

In the morning’s light we discovered the river bottom was decked out in red, gold and green. Accents were provided by red wing linings of a flicker, blue vest of a kingfisher, green heads of male mallards and rich rust-brown feathers of a female northern harrier flying low reconnaissance along the river bank.

Back at our hunting area, herds of antelope blew about in the wind, just out of reach. Unlike birds, you know when antelope are watching you. They stop, turn their heads toward you, if not their whole bodies, and stare.

I’ve often wondered why flies, with the ability to cling to the ceiling, get nailed by cats. So too, I wonder how someone on foot in a bare, endless landscape can bring down an animal that can run more than 60 miles per hour and can see a greater distance than a bullet can accurately travel.

Mark was able to compensate for the wind and bring home one antelope. I, with lesser experience, decided not to try.

As I stood on a hill and looked 360 degrees around me, I saw true open space: All the way to the horizon hardly a sign of man beyond a scratch of dirt two-track in the distance.

Selfishly I hoped there won’t be too many people coming in the future interested in battling the wind for a look at the play of light on antelope heaven.

Hunting and fishing expo for birdwatchers, too

Brunton compass

A Brunton compass, unlike GPS units, requires no battery.

Published Sept. 20, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Expo is for bird watchers, too.”

2014 Update: Check the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, http://wgfd.wyo.gov, for educational opportunities

By Barb Gorges

It was a gorgeous day. I haven’t used that adjective lightly in years, ever since I took up a last name pronounced the same way.

We had the wind in our faces, the river sparkling in the valley spread out below us, snow sugaring the mountains beyond–and pigeons soaring overhead. We were finding our way through thick grass, yucca and prickly pear cactus.

The boys, Brunton compasses in hand, were taking the bearings and I was providing the pacing. Three years of marching high school halftime shows with steps measured by 10 yard lines has given me a perfect five-foot pace.

Before we reached our last point, the wind was blotting our map with drips, and we nearly stumbled straight into a family of black bears.

Luckily they were only cutouts.

We were at the fourth annual Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo at the Casper Events Center two weeks ago. How about you? Did you go?

If you are a bird watcher who doesn’t also hunt and fish, you might say, “Why bother?” But we bird watchers have much in common with people who hunt and fish. For one thing, we should all practice using a map and compass. And Brunton’s other product line is binoculars, of which they had a good selection on display.

The Expo filled the Events Center floor as well as the upstairs concourses with booths.

Every hour for three days there were three different presentations in conference rooms and one on the main stage, everything from turkey calling, knots and leaders for fly fishing and Theodore Roosevelt in person, to talks about birds of prey, writing about the outdoors, outdoor survival, making a wildlife video and even an outdoor clothing show.

Friday, thousands of school children piled in to explore the hands on nature activities, virtual fishing, casting with real poles, canoeing, and mucking about with stream rehabilitation, besides the compass course.

My sons’ favorite was the chance to try their accuracy throwing darts with a modern version of the prehistoric atlatl. They were so taken with this that the next day at home they used sticks and duct tape to make their own.

There were still a lot of children with parents, grandparents or scoutmasters in tow during my visit Saturday.

I liked having the chance to meet up with old friends. As much as hunters and fishers like their solitude in the field, I noticed they love to hang out and talk shop almost as much.

Down at the Audubon booth there was a bird quiz featuring donated mounted birds. The walls were decorated with the entries for the contest for their first nature photography calendar.

Down the way the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s nongame biologists were discussing birds too, and sponsoring a drawing for bird clocks.

Lois and Frank Layton of Casper attended their fourth Expo with some of the permanent residents of the Murie Audubon Bird Rehabilitation Center that they run. When I dropped by, the short-eared owl, which lost a wing in a collision with a car three years ago, was on Frank’s glove, attentively watching its audience.

The owl, and the other residents of the center, will be temporarily homeless for a couple weeks this month as the old flight barn comes down and the new one, built with donations, goes up.

The Expo is as much about hunting and fishing as it is about wildlife conservation of all kinds, and the associated land use topics.

Bird watchers should be as interested in land management as any of the federal land agencies or the watchdog groups like the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Sierra Club and Biodiversity Associates. This was the perfect opportunity to meet them all, under the auspices of a common cause.

Besides organizations representing all the major game animals, there were a few commercial exhibitors like Coleman and Cabela’s. But nothing is for sale at the Expo, except raffle tickets and food.

There are no entrance or parking fees for the Expo. There are no suffocating crowds unless you’re waiting to try landing a virtual fish.

In the six hours I was there, I didn’t get to see and do everything.

Guess I’ll have to go back next September. You should come too, unless of course you’re out somewhere else bird watching for the whole three days.

Personal Note (2001): Five months ago I contemplated a bird’s eye view from New York City’s highest rooftop. Now it has disappeared, along with the elevator operator with the eight minute comedy routine, the gift shop clerk with the snazzy tie, the morning’s complement of tourists from all over the world, and the invisible mass of office workers (9/11).