By: Bears Butt
I recently posted a story on my cow elk hunt in which the title says “…..be certain of your target”. I’m sure a lot of you wondered about that title because the story didn’t have anything in it about that. Well, here is the rest of that story. I couldn’t tell it at the time because of all the “on goings” surrounding the story you are about to read.
Tracker and I headed out early in the morning to try once again to fill my cow elk tag. It was a very cold morning, cold enough to freeze the water in our hydration packs long before we got to where we thought the elk were. I wanted to be in a certain spot when it got light enough to be able to shoot and with a nearly full moon the hike in would not necessitate the use of any artificial light source. It was a beautiful but cold hike. About a mile up the trail we came to the spot I wanted to be and we started seeing deer as it got light enough to be able to shoot. A small 2 point was well within shooting distance and it was soon joined by another that was much bigger…still a 2 point, but an older deer for sure.
As we stood glassing around the area, I soon spotted my cow! High up on the hill next to an oak brush pocket. I pulled my range finder out and tried to get a reading on it. Either it was the cold that kept the rangefinder from working or the animal was farther than 500 yards away, either way it wouldn’t read the distance. But after a quick discussion, Tracker and I decided we could get closer than the distance we were from it. There was a lot of terrain and brush around to keep us hidden from the cow and so we made our move.
At just over 400 yards, the rangefinder did it’s thing. Still too far for me on this cold morning to take that shot. I put my binoculars on the animal and verified it was indeed a cow elk and all by itself on the hillside. Looking around at the terrain, we decided we could close the distance by half, if we travelled up a shallow drainage to another stand of cedar trees farther up the hill. We moved quickly, as I didn’t want the animal to run over the top and out of sight. This was the first time all season I had a cow elk close enough for a shot and I didn’t want to blow it.
We arrived at the cedar tree and the cow was still standing exactly where it was when we last saw it. Broadside to us, facing to our right. I had to duck below the cedar tree limbs in order to get a ranged reading on it and the rangefinder said it was a bit over 200 yards away. A perfect shot for my 7mm Mag. Using a limb from the cedar tree, I settled the cross hairs on its back and slowly squeezed the trigger. At the report I figured I would see the elk drop in its tracks. It did nothing. Just stood there. I asked Tracker if he had seen where the bullet hit and he hadn’t. He was taking his normal video of the hunt and had it focused in on the animal at full zoom…60 power if I’m not mistaken.
My rifle is a single shot and so I popped out the spent cartridge and pushed in a fresh round. Again, I settled the cross hairs on the top of its shoulder and pressed the trigger….BOOM….nothing! Tracker said he saw the bullet impact near the animals head and behind it on the hill. That is when I realized my rifle is sighted in for 200 yards and by holding on top of the back it would be going over it! What a dummie! I again ejected the spent round and slid another in place. This time the cross hairs were settled in the middle of the animals chest and again the report sounded through the clear and crisp morning air. The cow dumped in its tracks and slid down the fairly steep hillside in the snow. I chambered a follow up round just in case, but she laid there dead as dead could be after that last shot.
Tracker had bumped his camera before that last shot and when I said, well, now the work starts! She is down. He questioned that to me by saying “Down? Down? It’s still standing up on that hill!” No it’s not, she is down in a heap right where she was standing…was my reply. Then again he said, well I can see it in my view finder and it’s standing right up there. He pointed in the direction of the second animal. I pulled up my binoculars and sure enough there stood a calf elk. A bit higher on the hill than where my dead cow elk was laying. Well, I guess I just shot its momma, was my reply to Tracker. But then I said, let’s get up there and take care of her….and with a slight snicker, I added…I hope it isn’t a bull I just shot.
We hiked up the steep hill to where the elk lay dead. It took us awhile to get to it because it was slippery in the fresh snow and the steepness of the hill and the yellow grass that was laid down with the snow. When we got to the elk, my heart sank big time….there lay a small bull elk. A spike with horns about as big around as a grade school pencil and maybe 18 inches long. I could not believe what I was seeing. My mind raced back to our first spotting it. I was certain it was a cow I saw through my binoculars. At the 400 yard area I was sure once again it was a cow. Through the 12 power binos I did not see any sign of horns on top of its head. But then at 200 yards, I didn’t put the binoculars on it. I put the 6 power range finder on it, but only to get a distance reading. I wasn’t looking for horns at that moment. I already “KNEW” it was a cow. Even through the scope, my concentration was on the cross hairs and the chest area of the animal, not it’s head…again I “KNEW” it was a cow elk. And after it was down and Tracker saw the calf, I “KNEW” I had just shot a cow elk.
Oh boy was I in a state of deep depression. Probably the smallest spike elk on the mountain was laying there dead as dead could be and all because of me. All because of me not pulling up the binoculars at 200 yards and looking closely at its head for any sign of antlers. All because of me being in a hurry to fill my cow elk tag. All because of me NOT doing what I have ALWAYS done and that is verifying my target before taking the shot. Oh well, I did it and now I have to pay the consequences of my actions.
Tracker and I tried to pull the animal around so I could clean it out and we could begin the task of taking the meat back to the truck. In so doing, we saw some hunters on horseback coming up the trail. I asked Tracker if he would mind going over and intercepting them to see if they had a spike elk tag and would they like to tag it. He did so willingly and while he was gone I proceeded to gut it. Even a small spike elk is a big animal but I managed to have it cleaned when Tracker came back with word that they did in fact have two spike elk tags and they would use one to tag the spike I had just killed. I was somewhat relieved by that. We moved the animal into the shade of the oak brush and marked it with Trackers blaze orange vest so they would be able to find the elk later in the day. I also zip tied one of my Bears Butt calling cards around an antler. I did that because I thought, what if they don’t come and get it and then someone else comes along, sees the vest waiving in the breeze, investigates and finds a spoiled carcass of an elk…I am the responsible party here. I will need to face the consequences of my actions. It is my fault and if they don’t come and take the animal I am the one who caused it to lay there and spoil. I’m not trying to hide anything.
Well, with the animal cleaned out, the cavity propped open with a stick, tucked away in a shady spot, Tracker and I headed back to the truck. My cow elk hunt is over.
All the way back to the truck…up to Tracker and Bones cabin for some last minute winterizations… and the long drive home, my mind was racing and spinning about what had happened this day. I mulled it over and over and wondered why on earth I had not taken one last look through my binoculars to try and put antlers on that elk. I always make sure that what I’m shooting at is what I have a tag for…ALWAYS….but not this time. My failure to follow through one last time…one last look. At home, over a cold meat sandwich I made my mind up that I needed to call the poaching hotline and turn myself in.
Sure, I had made a mistake and didn’t identify the animal. I shot a bull instead of a cow and then found someone who would tag it and take it home. The animal will not go to waste. I was done, no harm, no foul…..The DWR won’t know it even happened…everything will be alright. BUT, in my mind, I would live with that decision the rest of my life. That is not the right way to do things in this world. Not the right way at all. I had the number for the investigating officer in my phone and I made the call. Matt, I have a confession to make. This morning I mistakenly shot a bull elk while hunting for a cow. No, the animal is being tagged by someone I don’t know who has a spike tag. The animal will not be wasted. I’m sure they have taken it off the mountain by now. No, I don’t know who they are. Yes, I’ll be home this evening, you can come and give me a ticket.
The conversation went something like that over the phone. Later that evening he pulled up in his truck and came into the house. He thanked me for being honest and then proceeded to tell me some of the laws of the State of Utah about what I had done. His words hit me hard as I was unaware of some of what he said. Shooting a big game animal that you do not have a tag for is a Felony in Utah. Fines upwards of $10,000 can be enforced. Loss of hunting privileges for up to 5 years. Possible jail time and court fees. Loss of equipment used in the taking of that animal. AND besides all of that, the animal belongs to the State of Utah! You can not go around shooting animals that belong to the people of the state and then give them away to someone else! That animal did not belong to you to be able to give it away like you did! The person who tagged it and took it off the mountain is also at fault for receiving property that did not belong to you! That person committed a felony as well.
Oh my hell. What have I done? Not only am I in trouble, but I involved a complete stranger in my stupidity.
He didn’t give me a ticket at that visit but insisted we keep in touch and that he would issue a citation after talking to his supervisor and doing a bit more investigation. He wanted to see any pictures that may have been taken and we went to Trackers house and looked at his video of the scene. Tracker was more than helpful to give them a copy of the shooting, but in it, there was no hard and clear evidence that I had indeed killed a bull elk. You could see the missed shot hitting the dirt behind the elk (my second shot) and you could clearly see it was a small spike elk, but Tracker had bumped his camera and by the time I shot the third shot, he was zoomed in on the calf elk, farther up the hill. The next scene was me standing over a dead elk, but you could not see the head and antlers. There was NO proof positive that I had shot a bull elk.
Later, Matt confessed that his supervisor told him to drop the case, as there was no evidence. But it was my insistence that I had indeed shot a bull and that I needed to pay the consequences of my actions. I would have been fine with it all because I did turn myself in, had he not cited me, but he did. On the ticket, he stated there was a $0 value to the animal that was taken. That meant to me that he was very grateful for my action to turn myself in and that more hunters should take responsibility of illegal actions in the field.
I had to wait until yesterday, November 28, for my court appearance. I met with the State prosecuting attorney and told him my story. He called Matt and the two of them discussed what should be done in my case. We made a plea agreement and the judge ultimately concurred….I will pay a $200 fine to the Poaching fund and tell my story to a Hunter Education class in either Box Elder or Weber Counties. (If someone has a class going on and wants me to come and tell my story, leave me a message on here). After sentencing, the judge too commended and thanked me for my actions and taking responsibility for what I had done. He too wished more hunters would be responsible Sportsmen.
Talking to the attorney, he said that minimum charges for a case like this is $500 for the court fees, $1500 for the animal taken and $1500 for giving away state property. And that my punishment was extremely small, but because of all the circumstances and for me turning myself in, when I could have just walked away, was the reason I was given what I was given. Let’s not punish the ones trying to do the honest thing.
Well, there is the story.
Lessons learned: ALWAYS MAKE CERTAIN, BEYOND ANY DOUBT, THAT THE TARGET YOU ARE SHOOTING AT IS WHAT YOU HAVE A LICENSE TO BE TAKING
ALL ANIMALS IN UTAH BELONG TO THE STATE OF UTAH. UNLESS YOU HAVE A LICENSE TO POSSESS THE ANIMAL YOU HAVE JUST TAKEN, YOU DO NOT OWN IT AND CAN NOT GIVE IT AWAY, OR CAUSE IT TO BE WASTED. (Side note: You can NOT give your dead deer or any animal away while in the field. You can only give that animal away at the recipients residence, a butcher shop or at your own residence.)
YOU CAN NOT TAKE POSSESSION OF AN ANIMAL THAT HAS BEEN ILLEGALLY TAKEN BY ANOTHER. WHETHER IN THE FIELD OR ANYWHERE ELSE.
Those are the lessons I will be sharing with a class taking hunter education. You see, there is more to hunter education than being safe while hunting. There are laws that govern ethics. I feel a whole lot better now that you all know the story. It’s been a long, long month of trying to keep this a secret. But I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag before I knew the outcome of the entire process. THERE…I can sleep better now.
November 29, 2016
Tracker started feeling like he was part of my issue and asked me to do him a BIG favor. Of course I will do him a BIG favor. He handed me $100 to pay half of the fine to the Poaching Hotline. I didn’t want to take the money and I tried to give it back, but he insisted, so I took it. He feels like because of him going and talking to the other hunters who eventually took the animal that he should be involved with the fine as well. At any rate, his conscience is clear.
Last night I went to a hunter education class in Roy and told my story to the 40 some students in the class. As I spoke to them a couple of them were cringing in their seats (I’m not sure why) and there was one lady in her 30’s with tears before I was done. There was nothing to be so emotional about, at least in my mind, but she was taking it pretty hard. Some of the really young kids didn’t seem to be understanding what I was trying to tell them, but the bottom line I repeated at least 3 times were the “lessons learned” in my story above.
When I was done, I fielded a few questions from the audience and then the instructor asked me a question or two. I thanked him and the class and then came home.
I had a very good feeling as I told my story and after I was heading home, I even felt better about it all.
I will GUARANTEE you that I will NOT take a shot at an animal that I can not ABSOLUTELY identify as one that is legal to take with the license I have in my possession. If I do make this type of mistake again, I will quit hunting all together.
It’s March 2017, I made my way up to Logan to the 1st District court with my papers in hand…one showing where I did in fact pay $200 into the Help Stop Poaching fund with the DWR and the other a signed paper showing I presented my story to a hunter education class in Roy. They took copies there and then sent me across the street to the county building. There, I went to the county attorney’s office and again copies were made of my papers. Now, except for the six months probation, I have completed my obligation to the court system. I expect to receive some sort of release papers from the county attorney once my probation time is up, sometime late in April of this year (next month).