Although wanton waste investigations may not be an everyday occurrence, local game enforcement officers have their hands full this hunting season.

Multiple wanton waste investigations are ongoing within Kittitas County involving poached bull elk, with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers investigating two incidents in the Elk Heights area Tuesday. Another incident remains open for investigation for over a month.

Although details weren’t yet available on the Elk Heights cases, WDFW Sergeant Carlo Pace was able to provide a detailed description of the incident that involved a poached bull elk on Oct. 12, the opening day of deer hunting season. At approximately 8:30 a.m. that day, a local hunter called law enforcement to report finding the animal near First Creek in the Table Mountain region near state Route 97.

While at the site, the hunter said an individual approached him saying that they had shot the elk by mistake. The individual continued to engage in conversation with the hunter, asking him if he could help with carrying the elk out of the area they were in, which was not accessible by vehicle. The hunter refused and proceeded to call the incident in to law enforcement. Pace said the elk involved was a seven-to-eight point buck.

“It was a trophy animal,” he said. “It was a very large and healthy animal, there was nothing wrong with it.”

Due to the busy nature of opening day, Sergeant Pace said it took wildlife agents a few hours to get to the site to investigate the incident. The hunter that reported the incident stayed on site, however, to help agents locate the elk. Once agents got on the scene, Pace said the elk had been covered with brush, apparently in an attempt to hide the incident.

“Whoever the shooter was had done his best to cover this thing up so it wouldn’t be found, or maybe he would be coming back for it,” he said.

Pace said the animal had not been field dressed or altered in any way and had basically been left to rot. Fortunately, wildlife agents were able to salvage the animal and donate the meat to FISH Food Bank. Pace said he estimated several hundred pounds of meat was donated.

“We do what we can,” he said. “In some cases, we might have sat there and waited for someone to come back. We assumed that was not going to be the case, and we decided to salvage the animal as much as we could.”

SUSPECT DESCRIPTION

The suspect in the incident was described as a male in his mid-30s, approximately 5 foot 7 in height. Pace said he was reported to have a slender build and a clean-shaven goatee, dark hair and eyes. Possibly Hispanic, the suspect was wearing hunter’s orange and a had a Cabela’s backpack. His rifle was of a darker color and had a tripod. Pace said the suspect was reported to be alone at the time of the incident.

Pace said wildlife agents were surprised at the incident, in that they don’t happen very often in the region. Adding to the surprise was that the animal was so large and easily distinguishable from a deer. Pace said that made it more likely that the shooting was intentional, and that if the other hunter had not come across the scene, that the suspect would have likely packed the animal out.

“You don’t have to be a hunter to know the difference between a deer and elk,” he said. “I believe this was intentional with the intent of harvesting the animal and getting away with it.”

Even in situations of mistaken identity, Pace said most hunters are honest and forthcoming when they do make a mistake. He said the department looks at each case individually and takes honesty in account when deciding what penalties to levy, if any. He said many cases will not result in penalties if the persons involved in the incident are honest in their reporting of the situation, but with the situation at First Creek, the killing of a trophy-sized bull elk could involve forfeiting property involved in the incident and fines in the thousands of dollars.

“It just goes to show sometimes the disregard of people with wildlife,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time it’s a mistake, but from time to time we get a case like this where it’s unmistakable that this could have been an accident.”

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