WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE, OK (TNN) - More than 50 people spent the day hunting elk in the restricted area at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday. This hunt is the second out of three hunts. It was supposed to happen last week, but the refuge was closed because of the partial government shutdown. The refuge has since been allowed to temporarily re-open.
Refuge officials said they have fewer hunters than normal. 90 people were supposed to hunt this week, but about half of them showed up. Since it happened at a different date than originally planned, the hunters were allowed to defer to next year's hunt.
Hunters believe this is a once in a lifetime hunt because more than 20,000 people enter the drawing to participate every year. Chris Hood was one of those lucky people who had his name drawn. He's been entering his name for more than 20 years and said it was a special hunt.
"I've been to the Wichita Mountains several times, but I had no idea what it was like in the back county," he said.
Hood, who spent his birthday hunting at the refuge, was one of the first hunters back.
"I looked, and I saw three bulls out about 400 yards and then another two bulls about 900 yards, and this was the biggest bulls out of the group,” Hood said. “I was able to get a shot at him at about 390 yards."
Edward Burt also got an elk. He lives in Lawton and hunts on Fort Sill but had never hunted or fished at the refuge until now. He used notes from Monday’s briefing to help him.
“Finally, I saw them come over probably 500 or 600 yards to my left,” Burt said. “So, I got down off the rocks and cut across here to get in front of them. I got about a 250-yard shot at a big cow.”
They check the animals as they are brought in to give them a better idea about the herds. Dan McDonald, a wildlife biologist at the refuge, said they have this hunt to control the population. He said the elk, bison, and longhorn would have to compete for food otherwise.
“If we didn’t remove animals they would overgraze and eventually they would start starve,” McDonald said. “There wouldn’t be enough food to sustain the animals on the refuge.”
David Farmer, the acting refuge manager, said if the partial government shutdown prevented the hunt from happening they would've been monitoring the area closely.
"So having this hunt is actually very beneficial and it was great timing for this to come together," Farmer said.
The refuge is one of 38 that were allowed to reopen for 30 days during the shutdown.
Burt said he tried not to worry about whether or not the hunt was going to happen because they were told they could do it next year if it didn’t happen this year.
"There's always next year if I'm still living," Burt said.
But Hood didn't want to pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity because he said he doesn't know what the future holds.
"And I thought I'm healthy I can go, let's go do this. You never know what next year brings, so I was glad they could push it where we could do it."
Since they have fewer hunters than usual, they didn’t have to close any public use areas, but they could shut some down during the third and final hunt. If they do, they’ll post it to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge page on Facebook.