Boat capsizes in river during popular Wyoming antler hunt

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Rangers and law enforcement officers carried out a daring moonlight rescue after a boat full of people capsized in a rushing river and two other boats were swept downstream during a popular antler-hunting event in Wyoming.

A crowd of people was trying to cross the Gros Ventre River in boats and on horseback after midnight Friday, in an annual rush to find antlers shed by elk in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

One horse drowned in the cold, fast-running river.

The boat that capsized was carrying five people. Three made it ashore by clinging to the vessel, while the other two were swept downstream.

One of the two eventually got to dry ground under a near-vertical cliff, while the fifth man crawled onto a gravel bar. Grand Teton National Park rangers rescued them using a raft.

"Fortunately, it was almost a full moon," park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. That helped give rescuers the light they needed to find the missing boaters.

The two boats that were swept away were found safe downriver.

Antler hunting is a popular pastime in some Western states.

Many people do it simply because they enjoy the hunt and like to keep what they find as souvenirs. Others sell their haul to artists and craftsmen who use the antlers to make artwork, knives and furniture. Overseas, shed antlers are sold as health or food supplements.

In Wyoming, Grand Teton and the National Elk Refuge — where thousands of elk congregate each winter — are off-limits to antler hunters all year. But the adjacent Bridger-Teton forest allows them in starting every May 1 at midnight.

Every year, collectors arrive at the park early, wait for the closure to be lifted and make a mad dash to the forest. To get there, they must cross the Gros Ventre.

"It's like the Oklahoma land rush," Skaggs said.

This year, the early snowmelt has the river near the community of Kelly running at nearly 1,000 cubic feet per second. That's about double the average for May 1.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer David Bonham said an ambulance was on standby Friday, but two victims suffering from exposure said they did not need to go to a hospital.