SHERIDAN, Wyo. — In addition to offering visitors a unique educational and cultural experience, the Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site offers hunters the opportunity to harvest big game and game birds from the 700-acre site.
For the past several years, the fort site has been signed up as a Hunter Management Area through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. As a HMA, the site offers hunters the opportunity to reserve the entire site for a day of hunting for themselves or a group.
"What we offer with the HMA is when they come in and get permission, they and the people they are with have the site to themselves for the day," explained Fort Phil Kearny Superintendent Misty Stoll. "That is how it is different from a walk-in area. With a HMA, once you have permission from us you know you are the only person on site for the entire day. That is what sets it apart from a walk-in area and makes it attractive to people."
The site is available for resident or non-resident hunters. The cost for using the site is the regular daily use fee of $2 for residents and $4 for non-residents. All regular game and fish laws and regulations apply, as well as some other rules specific to the site, such as no driving on the site.
"We are managing a natural area as well and a grazing area so we are trying to keep it balanced," said Stoll, about why vehicles and ATVs are not allowed on the site. "And it has not been a problem. I have heard no complaints at all. We've had great hunters."
Although fielding calls from hunters, monitoring the site for improper use and managing permission slips adds to the fort staff's workload, Stoll said the arrangement is overall very beneficial.
"It kind of diversifies what we can utilize the site for and it works well with game and fish for their mission to manage wildlife populations in the area," she said. "It just gives us an even broader audience. We do work for the public, so it is one more thing we can help provide in terms of public access."
Stoll added that having a HMA instead of allowing open access lets the site have a measure of flexibility and control. She said that when hunting season begins, the tourist season is winding down and fewer visitors are on site. However, if she has a demonstration or school tour planned one day, she can block off that day and make it unavailable for hunting.
This control is what WGFD Regional Access Coordinator Matt Withroder says is appealing to landowners wanting to allow hunting access, but still wanting to tailor the rules to fit their situation.
"What we do is we go and lease the private acreage for enrollment in the HMA program," explained Withroder. "We sit at the table and discuss what animals they have there and which ones we want people to be able to harvest. They can also limit the number of hunters who have access to that property. We establish ranch rules with the landowner, such as no driving on muddy roads, no driving in meadows or no ATVs. It just varies from place to place."
Hunters and anglers also benefit from HMAs since many of the areas would have no public access otherwise.
"A lot of folks I have talked to really enjoy the opportunity," said Withroder, about the Fort Kearny HMA. "It is relatively small in acreage but folks are able to successfully harvest big game and just enjoy the opportunity to be out. It is pretty popular for pheasant hunting also."
One recent successful hunter was Jedediah Johnson, a former Sheridan resident now living in Gillette. He and a friend harvested a whitetail buck and doe during their hunt Nov. 8.
"With Fort Kearny, I can walk in and say I want these days and know the only people allowed are me and my friends who are signed up with me," he said. "It is a little more work (signing up), but you are guaranteed that just you and your group are going to be in there those days. It just shrinks that number of hunters down to increase your chances of harvesting an animal. It is a great little tool."
Johnson first hunted the area last year and was able to harvest a doe, which encouraged him to visit again this year. He noted the arrangement is also beneficial for new or young hunters. In fact, he accompanied a friend from Cheyenne and her two sons who drove up last weekend to hunt the HMA.
"I can take a kid in there and instead of having to fight and really work hard, I have a better chance of having this new, young hunter harvest a deer his first time," he said. "It is not as pressured and I think that is what HMAs are good at."
Fort Kearny regularly makes youth hunting available and will host its popular annual pheasant hunt for youth on Nov. 24 and 25. Youth under age 18 and their parents are welcome to attend the hunt, but must register in advance, since space is limited. There is no fee for youth to participate, but regular daily fees apply for accompanying adults. Hunters must have a valid license and conservation stamp. Stoll encourages interested hunters to call or stop by the site soon to ensure participation.