Michele Bau isn’t sure who was more disappointed to hear the Wyoming Game and Fish Department canceled its annual outdoor Expo this year due to coronavirus, her or her students.
The fifth grade teacher at Prairie Wind Elementary in Gillette had taken her class to Expo the past two years and soaked in the offerings. She planned to go again this year, but then heard the event – which was scheduled for May 7-9 – would be canceled.
She wasn’t surprised. An event that brings thousands of school-age children and adults into the Casper Events Center for countless hands-on activities would obviously not be an option right now, but she was also a bit skeptical when she heard the activities would be moved online.
“Then I went to it, and it was pretty amazing,” she said. “I’m trying to be very cautious about what I put on my lessons for children to go to because it’s easy for them to spend a lot of time online, but this isn’t mindless. It’s something they can engage in.”
After a brief hiatus due to budget cuts, Game and Fish started hosting their Wyoming Outdoor Expo again in 2018. The event draws between 6,000 and 8,000 people each year, a mix of student groups like Bau’s, families and anyone else curious about the outdoors.
But this year, as the event transitioned online and was coined Expo at Home, organizers worked to figure out what could and couldn’t translate to the internet. They found a surprising amount could, said Kathryn Boswell, Game and Fish’s hunter and angler participation coordinator and the Expo organizer.
Dozens of videos, activities and learning opportunities are on the website. They’ve had more than 4,000 people on the website so far, with up to 150 people watching some of the Facebook Live videos.
Offerings began formally in early April and new ones will be posted daily on Facebook until May 10, the last day of the original Expo. Many of them will remain on Game and Fish’s website for the foreseeable future.
Like the in-person Expo, the virtual event includes lessons, tips and tutorials from partner groups around the state like a fly tying session from the Ugly Bug Fly Shop. It will also have live lessons including a fruit DNA extraction by Game and Fish’s lab personnel.
And while it’s often marketed to classrooms and students, it’s definitely not just for kids, Boswell said.
Dr. Joe Primrose, a retired physician in Casper, went online this year and took a deep dive into the fishing section. He’s fly fished for years, but is now – because of Expo at Home – learning about spin fishing. His wife has been scouring the birding resources. He’s now sent the links to various family members of all ages.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are 11 activities, lessons or tips to get you started.
* Catch more kokanee: Watch an 8 minute tutorial about how to target Wyoming’s only salmon. The video walks you through a variety of rigs from downriggers to leaded and bait to put on them (like white shoepeg corn). Even if you don’t fish for kokanee, check it out for a little lake escape.
* Learn to tie more knots: Between the stay-at-home recommendations and the snow, chances are you’ve got some time on your hands. Use it to figure out how to tie new knots. Game and Fish links you to an easy lesson by takemefishing.org. While they’re designed for fishing, they’re also just good knots to know for any outdoor excursion.
* Learn how to read a bathymetric map: If you don’t know what this is, that’s fine. Simply: it’s a topographical map for underwater features. It allows you to identify ridges and gullies, read features and identify where the fish are biting. In a 2-minute video on it’s YouTube channel, Game and Fish shows you how to use them.
* Tour a hatchery: Wyoming’s hatcheries supply the state’s lakes, reservoirs and many of its rivers with the fish we’ve all become accustomed to catching. If you’ve ever wondered what they’re like inside, now is your chance to tour one in your living room. If an 8:42-minute video “Fish Hatchery- Daniel, Wyoming” isn’t enough, plan to go in real life when social distancing requirements are lifted.
* Learn to pack a backpack: Stone Glacier Founder Kurt Racicot walks viewers through everything they need for a 7-day hunt (or other backcountry excursion) that still weighs less than 40 pounds. Use the “Stone Glacier—Kurt Racicot Bag Dump” video on YouTube as inspiration for your own summer trip into the mountains or fall hunting journey.
* How to break-in and clean a rifle: Caring for your new rifle is as important as it sounds. Settle in for a 40-minute YouTube video “On Our Mark: Episode 11” from Weatherby Inc on everything you need to know about bullet selection, cleaning options, theories behind breaking a rifle in and accuracy expectations.
* Cook lake trout: Use the Parmesan crusted lake trout recipe on the Wyoming Game and Fish Departments YouTube channel for fresh fish you caught while social-distancing, or one of the filets still in your freezer from last summer. The parmesan-crusted baked fish is worth it. And if you start down the recipe rabbit hole, watch more of Game and Fish’s surf and turf videos for recipes about burbot, pheasant, goose or elk.
* Tour a wetland: Go on a virtual tour of one of Wyoming’s most unique wetlands – then plan a visit for later in the year. The Muddy Creek Wetlands were constructed to help wildlife from birds to big game and cattle. They stretch across public and private land and host everything from the most to the least common shore birds seen in Wyoming.
* Test your bison knowledge: Male and female bison can be tough to tell apart. Test your skills, or run a quick lesson for your kids and see what they remember with Game and Fish’s bison identification exam.
* Play nature BINGO: When you can’t stay home anymore and need to retreat to the mountains or your neighborhood patch of prairie, print Game and Fish’s nature BINGO game out and take it along for a little more fun.
* Field dress a pheasant: It’s not pheasant season, but it will be soon enough, and there’s a 6:30 minute video offering three easy ways to field dress your birds. Use it to teach yourself, brush up your skills or go over it with the young hunter in your house.