Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2004


Associated Press Dec. 13, 2004

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho Hunters who encountered a large elk herd during an Eastern Idaho hunt went crazy, state officials said, "shooting until they emptied their rifles" and then calling their friends to come and do the same.

Poaching was rampant, officials said. One game warden said 14 elk were shot and left to rot. Another biologist said six spikes and several branch antlered bulls were illegally shot.

Game wardens wrote 31 tickets for everything from shooting too many elk to hunting without a tag. Another 12 warnings were issued, and wardens said they are investigating 21 other cases.

The late November hunt east of Idaho Falls was planned to thin the 4,000-plus herd that annually migrates out of the Caribou Mountains to winter near the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area. Heavy snow had moved hundreds of elk out of the mountains earlier than normal, and biologists counted more than 1,500 elk just before the season opened.

When hunters found the large herd, they used cellular phones to spread the news. Some opened fire like boys with their first BB guns, officials said.

"People threw their ethics out of the window," said Terry Thomas, a regional manager with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. "Hunters lost their brains. They were shooting until they emptied their rifles."

He saw one hunter shoot an elk and then open up on other animals.

"The bad stuff was disgusting," Thomas said. "There were people who did it right but the flock shooting, the 600-yard shots and the wounded elk is unacceptable."

The problem worsened when the hunters called friends to enjoy the bounty, officials said. Two weeks before the season, Fish and Game had sold about 800 tags. But when word about the big herd spread, another 1,600 tags were purchased for a total of 2,400 hunters, more than double the average number.

"I ran across a couple of guys from Pocatello who hadn't hunted for big game for decades," Thomas said. "Friends had called them. Everybody flocked to the hunt."

"We planned the hunt to have a high harvest on cows," said John Hanson, head of the region's game wardens. "From that standpoint, we felt it worked exceptionally well. On the flip side, it created an ugly atmosphere. It is some of the poorest sportsmanship that I've seen in my career."

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