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Supreme Court rules in favor of Native American elk hunter hunting out of season

Wyoming elk hunt court case

Photo credit: Dreamstime

The treaty may be more than 150 years old, but it’s still valid, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. This week, the high court ruled in favor of Crow Tribe member Clayvin Herrera, who challenged his conviction for hunting elk “out of season” in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, Reuters reports.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court sided with Herrera and his tribe, citing the 1868 treaty, which “gave tribe members hunting rights on ‘unoccupied’ lands” even though Wyoming didn’t become a state until 1890, according to Reuters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that “treaty rights do not automatically disappear when a territory becomes a state” and that the Crow Tribe negotiated hunting rights when it made its agreement with the government.

“Yet despite the apparent importance of the hunting right to the negotiations, Wyoming points to no evidence that federal negotiators ever proposed that the right would end at statehood,” Sotomayor wrote in the decision. “This silence is especially telling.”

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While Herrera’s actual conviction (hunting elk without a license during the offseason) could still be upheld because the state could argue that he hunted in territory that is not “unoccupied,” it’s possible that the charges could still be voided.

“We are gratified that the Supreme Court held that the treaty hunting right guaranteed to the Crow Tribe and Mr. Herrera was not abrogated by Wyoming’s admission to the union or the creation of the Bighorn National Forest,” said Herrera’s lawyer, George Hicks, in a statement. 

This isn’t the first time that the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on a hunting-related case. As goHUNT reported, the court recently ruled in favor of an Alaskan hunter and his right to use a hovercraft to hunt moose.


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Tyson C. - posted 1 year ago on 05-25-2019 12:13:08 pm
Lincoln, NH

Yeah this indian cared so much about respecting wildlife, what a complete joke. Get the real details of the story. The guy was a criminal poaching scumbag, and a lot of out of season poaching had been committed in the area by the same people and getting reported by the "supposedly awful whiteman".

“I found a large bull elk that had been shot off the Pass Creek Road, and the only thing that had been taken was a little bit of backstraps and head had been removed,” he said. “I was getting pretty desperate. I mean, you know, the public entrusts a game warden to enforce the game laws.

Kyle N. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 07:03:48 pm
Florence Oregon

Well said Gary H.

David G. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 06:43:29 pm
Fairfield, CA.

Regardless of opinions, which this day in age can go on endlessly, deals are deals. In this case I guess, treaties. No state should try to void any agreement with any organization. However, being this day in age, the scenario is not what it was environmentally or politically during the time of the agreement. Even labor contracts are re-negotiated in a mater of a few years, possibly the better idea was to have some discussions related to responsible hunting while still upholding the terms. Unfortunately this equates to a state government having long term thought over a period of 100 years. Almost not a reality.

While not aware of the situation in Wyoming, I am aware that hunting habitat and animal herds are facing different challenges every day. What I would be curious about is in what way will this decision assist or hamper the forthcoming work to ensure hunting for everyone in the area. And the rest of the region. Unfortunately and fortunately all court decisions show themselves in some way again.

Seth D. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 06:31:30 pm
Public Lands

@ Kristin, yes the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Herrera. But it did it to help Wyoming un-frick their laws. Wyoming needs to adress the law, this doesn't mean that natives will have carte blanche to kill everything they want.

@ Gary the tribal member, there are slobs, jerks and poachers in every race of human. It doesn't matter if your relatives came over the Bering land bridge or came later with the Vikings, Spanish or through Ellis Island all have the ability to treat game with respect or relentlessly abuse it.

There are plenty of cases from all races of killing wildlife and leaving it lay.

matthew a. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 06:26:57 pm
Sheridan, WY

It was all a setup and wyoming took the bait. I feel bad for Indians of,the 17th century. I give 2 sh... about the snow flakes today.

John T. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 04:01:21 pm

I am sorry that you provide such extreme examples, both of which I question. As a tribal member with hunting rights, I can say that most tribes respect the game more than your average hunter, and manage them well. And no, you can't impose your traditional means of harvest argument as if we are all just shooting them for fun and leaving them lay. That has never happened in the history of white man, eh?

Gerald N. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 03:21:37 pm

Now when settles almost wiped out the buffalo, beaver, elk and other game from over hunting. Now least keep an open mind about both sides of this situation.

Gary H. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 11:50:40 am

Bighorn National Forest hunting in Wyoming is going to be a thing of the past. The DOW will have no choice but to cut the tags to account for the tribes over-harvest of the local wildlife as the crows have no idea about wildlife management. The Crow's have killed almost all of the wildlife in their area and will continue to over-harvest wildlife in this "New found" "Occupied Area" That how this whole mess got started. They cannot find elk and deer where they live because they have literally wiped them all out.

I propose that if they want to follow the treaty then they should at least be help accountable to using the weapons of the period of which the treat was made..

Hand made bows and arrows only.

Arguing that they can use spotlights, hovercrafts and long range rifles seems like a bit of a stretch to uphold their "Traditional rights and methods".

All one has to do in Alaska is to see how the "Natives" are killing off the Caribou. Zapping them in the heads by the dozen with .22's as they chase them down in powerboats when they cross the rivers. Is not very "Traditional". Its actually a disgrace.

I understand that there is a treaty in place, believe me I do, but somewhere the line needs to be drawn for the sake of wildlife. There has got to be common ground.