School buses were stacked next to each other as thousands of students filed into the Events Center in Casper last year. From a distance it looked like any other spring sports tournament. But inside, instead of throwing a ball or pinning someone to a mat, the kids were learning about hunting, fishing, navigation and almost any other outdoor pursuit.
Last year marked the re-invention of the Wyoming Outdoor Expo, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department-organized three-day event filled with everything from shooting and fly casting to wildlife demonstrations and fish-rearing tutorials. The event, which is largely geared toward educating and inspiring kids to go outside, originally ran for about a decade before a lack of funding meant it was sidelined in 2012. When it came back last year, organizers hoped to produce the same enthusiasm it inspired in youth and also offer something for adults.
More than 6,000 people attended last year, making it one of the most successful outdoor expos yet, according to Kathryn Boswell, hunter and angler participation coordinator for the department.
“We want people of all ages to bring their curiosity and learn how to safety and effectively get outside,” she said.
This year, the expo will feature some returning popular demonstrations and a collection of new learning opportunities. Here are four you won’t want to miss.
Learn to tie your own flies
If fly tying has always seemed interesting to you, but also perhaps a bit overwhelming, stop by the Wyoming Fly Casters table. Members like Tom Chojnacki will be tying flies for demonstrations, answering questions and letting you try for yourself.
Chojnacki has been tying his own flies for 25 years. It started as a way to save money, and has continued as a labor of love.
“It’s kind of cool when you tie your own flies and catch a fish on your own fly,” he said.
At this point, he figures he’s breaking even more than he’s saving money, but it’s his hobby and one way he socializes in the winter when it’s too dark and cold to fish.
There won’t be formal classes at his tables, but he will be tying everything from small dry flies to big streamers. He will also have extra vices and supplies to help teach anyone interested in trying their hand.
Chojnacki took over as president of fly casters in January and along with vice president Sarah Baird has continued the organization’s mission to bring young people into the sport.
“If we can get one or two kids to pick up fly fishing, it’s mission accomplished.”
At this point, most any outdoors person – and many non-outdoors people – have likely heard of chronic wasting disease. It’s a prion disease that kills deer, elk and moose. It’s the cousin of mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans. It’s been found in deer or elk in nearly all Wyoming hunt areas.
During the final stages of the disease, animals become weak, lethargic and drool. But early on, as it slowly bores holes in their brains, they show no symptoms at all. The only way to test the disease effectively is through removing a lymph node from the base of a creature’s skull.
It sounds tricky, and it can be if you’ve never done it before, said Hank Edwards, wildlife disease specialist for the department.
That’s why for the first time at Expo, Edwards will have a deer head on ice on Saturday prepared to show anyone interested where the lymph nodes can be found.
“It’s more of a way to accommodate those hunters who would like to have their sample tested,” Edwards said.
He will also be available to answer any questions about the disease and its spread from hunters or nonhunters alike.
Most of us are in the field with a camera – even if it’s just our phone – and many of us have probably wondered what we could do to take a better picture of that beautiful vista or bugling bull.
On Saturday you will have your chance to ask an expert.
Game and Fish’s Jackson spokesperson and professional wildlife photographer Mark Gocke will be at the Coffee Corner beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday prepared to look at any photos you bring and offer advice on what makes it great and what could have made it even better.
“If people have questions about how do you get that awesome shot of a strutting male sage grouse so close, or how do you get that awesome shot of a bugling bull elk, or where you go or something like that, I’m a photography nut, so I’m open to talking about anything and all things photography.”
Gocke started taking photographs while earning a wildlife management degree and has continued throughout his various positions with Game and Fish in Wheatland, Sheridan and now Jackson. In each place he tracked the beauty that could be found there from wild turkeys in the Laramie Range to strutting sharptailed grouse in the plains by the Bighorns to grizzly bears and cubs near Yellowstone National Park. His photos have appeared in local, regional and national publications.
“One of the neat things about photography is you don’t need a license, and it’s open season year around.”
Learn the difference
For Teal Cufaude, taking her dog in the field just made sense.
“I’m a dog person, and a lot of people are dog people,” she said. “It’s another way to be in the field.”
She and her husband have been training a specialized breed of pointer, called Spinone Italianos, which have similar bearded faces as German wirehaired pointers, for the past seven years. They also have a cocker spaniel as a flushing dog.
On Thursday through Saturday at Expo, they will be giving demonstrations on how to work each of the breeds, show what they are capable of doing in the field and answer questions on training. Another Game and Fish biologist will show how to work a Labrador in the field and in water.
“We can be helping those who are new to it, and we are also expecting folks who didn’t know that you can use dogs in the field,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes the demonstrations could potentially recruit more bird hunters.
Bird hunting in Wyoming –whether for pheasants and sage grouse or ducks and geese – are often overlooked because of the state’s world-renown big game hunting. But for anyone who wants to spend more time outside with their dogs, it’s a natural fit.