From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 21 - 1/20/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Elk Versus Cows?
Piney ranchers suspect the G&F of using elk to reduce livestock grazing on BLM land
by Rob Shaul

Rudely awakened by a nip on the end of his nose from his new kitten, Big Piney's Corrie Norby rises in the chill of another early morning for the start of a long day of feeding four legged creatures.

Corrie and his wife Lynnda have lived and worked on Jay and Becky Downs' ranch, the T hanging 7 in Big Piney for the past nine years.

Once the snow flies, Corrie feeds the cattle on the ranch for about two hours in the morning, and then he returns home to gather up his family for an afternoon of feeding the elk in Wyoming Range.

As Corrie draws within sight of the ranch yard, Lynnda begins to scurry around their house, gathering several pairs of gloves drying by the fireplace, handing one pair to each of her two sons, and stuffing the rest into a zip lock bag for the trip up to the feed ground.

Nine year old Chancee, and six year old K.C., appear in their snow pants and stocking feet, looking high and low for their missing boots. Boots having been found, the boys pull on their coats and mittens and head out to the family truck which will take them and their parents 16 miles down the road to a spot where Corrie and Lynnda unload their two Yamaha snowmobiles.

As the boys jump onto their father's snowmobile, Lynnda explains that a little while back, one of the boys was riding with her when she rolled the 500 lb. snowmachine on a sidehill. Lynnda was forced to fling the frightened boy to safety, and she is happy to let the boys ride with their father. The Norbys ride five miles over hill and dale, hell bent for leather in a race with the possibility of deteriorating weather conditions, to reach the Finnigan feedground and the three hundred elk waiting for lunch.

At the sound of the approaching snowmobiles the elk raise their heads expectantly, watching to see if their minders have arrived. The elk which have been on the feed ground the longest pay little mind to the noisy machines, while the newcomers make a mad dash for the safety of the trees.

The family pulls to a stop next to the small corral where Kent and Doug, the 20-year-old team of workhorses that pull the hay sled, live all winter long. As Corrie opens the gate, the team moves into the shed where their harnesses hang, ready and waiting. Doug is the pussycat of the two, bowing his head to allow Lynnda to slip the collar of his harness on more easily. Corrie works with Kent who is a wee bit head shy. The pair constantly talk to the horses as they harness them, and Lynnda says that this is one of the best teams she has ever worked with. "Doug is a sweetheart, but given a chance, he will tip over the sled," she smiles, adding " Kent has really gotten much better about his head during the past two years." Meanwhile, the Norby boys are fully engaged in a rip roaring snowball fight which leave both covered in snow and grinning from ear to ear.

Three years ago, Lynnda heard that the Game and Fish was looking for a feeder for the North Piney and Finnigan feed grounds near Big Piney. She called Scott Werbelow at the Department and told him that Corrie was interested in the job. About a year went by and Lynnda thought that perhaps the position had been filled. To her surprise, Scott called and asked if Corrie still wanted the job. Without consulting her husband, Lynnda said he was, indeed, still interested. Thankfully, Lynnda knows her husband well, and he eagerly jumped at the chance to feed the elk.

Corrie hitches the horses up to the sled and the family jumps on for the short walk to the hay corral. Enormous stacks of hay sit protected under high roofs surrounded by fences even an elk won't bother to tangle with. After expertly maneuvering the sled up to the haystack, Corrie speaks softly to his trusty team, asking them not to move as the hay bales thump onto the deck of the sled.

As Corrie climbs up the haystack, his wife and children prepare to catch the flying hay bales and stack them neatly on the sled. It only takes about ten minutes for the family to load about three quarters of a ton of hay and climb on the sled to begin feeding.

Doug and Kent know the drill, and Corrie only needs to give them a little bit of direction. Most of the elk being fed are cows and young spikes and calves. The big bulls, Corrie explains, will come down when the snow really gets deep up in the high country. He notices a few new animals who have come wandering in, and estimates he is feeding around 300 head of elk on this day.

The scene is majestic as the fog burns off, the elk move in closer and beauty of the Wyoming range is revealed under the warmth of a mid-winter sun. It is a beautiful day!

Lynnda and Chancee man the rear of the sled, pocket knives glinting in the sun as each strand of bailing twine is cut and carefully removed from the hay. Chancee is working hard, keeping up with his mother bale for bale. Lynnda is pleased and tells him so. The tough little guy acknowledges the compliment with a grunt and a nod, pausing not a moment, for he may lose his rhythm. Young K.C. asks if he can help throw hay on the next load, and grins when his mother says yes.

The sled cuts two tracks in the fresh snow, and Lynnda and Chancee regularly throw fluffy sections of hay from the deck. The appetite of the elk overcomes their fear of man as they begin to follow the moving hay pile ever more closely. The first load of hay has been fed out, and the family pauses a moment to tie up all the bailing twine and kick whatever hay remains off the deck.

Corrie watches the herd for new comers, while Lynnda and the kids look for certain animals they have given names. "Runt" is a small calf who apparently lost his mother, and "droopy" is a cow with an ear that kind of droops over. The herd inches ever closer to the sled, and the chatter of the children naturally becomes quieter.

A few squabbles break out during the feast, as the cows stand on their hind legs and lash out at one another with their sharp front hooves. The bulls simply lower their heads and poke each other. The exception is the one bull with the biggest rack. No one gives him any trouble. The young five point undoubtedly is enjoying his position of authority, which will end soon enough when the big bulls tire of fighting the snow in the higher elevations, and return to the feedground for the rest of the winter. After sitting a few more minutes and listening to the occasional whistle of the elk, Corrie gathers his family to load 20 more bales of hay on the sled.

This time it is Lynnda's turn on the stack, and K.C. happily climbs up to help throw bales to his dad. In short order the sled is ready to go, and the boys leap from the top of the stack onto the sled. Their parents just roll their eyes and smile, muttering something about showoffs.

The trip around the alpine field the second time goes very much as the first, except this time K.C. is helping his mom throw hay. About half way around the loop, Lynnda looks at the tiring boy and asks if he needs any help. Corrie pulls the team up short and begins to re-arrange the bales so K.C. has an easier time of it.

Within minutes, the sled is emptied of it's cargo, and the family heads off to check on an old cow that had been having a tough time of it this winter. Age had apparently caught up with the old gal, and she lay in a crumpled heap, dead only a few hours. The Norby's are saddened by the death of the old girl, but Corrie notes she probably would have died a long time ago had the feeding program not been in place. Corrie and Lynnda tie the elk carcass to the rear of the sled and pull the body into a nearby glade of trees, where she will feed the other creatures of the forest.

The children have grown up on the ranch, and the death of an animal is nothing new to them, but their parents take the time to explain the facts of life and death in terms the children can understand. K.C. is concerned that I may be upset by the demise of the elk, and he takes care to explain to me that these things just happen, and the cow is in Heaven now. Satisfied that their visitor understands the situation, K.C. launches himself at his mother, who instantly prepares herself for the impact, and the pair tumbles off the sled and into a snow drift below, giggling all the way.

The horses are fed and unharnessed, and the family climbs back on their snowmobiles for the ride out to the truck. Again, Lynnda rides alone. Once they reach the road, the kids scramble to the truck and fish out their sleds, as the nearby hill is a perfect place to fly like the wind. With a word of caution from their mother about trying not to dent the trucks, the boys gallop up the hill for the first of many rapid descents that will leave jumbled, giggling piles of snow and child at the end.

Tired and happy, the family loads up into their truck and Lynnda smiles, " it's like Corrie says, we love doing this because it is the one thing we do as a family that is just for us."

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Copyright © 1999 The Sublette County Journal
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul