JACKSON, Wyoming (AP) — An elk hunter saw his bounty turn into a “friggin’ nightmare” as four carcasses lay for hours in view of a popular trail, prompting complaints from appalled onlookers and one heated confrontation.
The killing of the elk was legal but certainly ill-considered and, many argued, unethical. It has prompted discussions in the community over whether hunting regulations need to be revised to prevent such situations.
The episode started around 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26. Three Minnesota hunters who had been in Jackson Hole for several days spied a cluster of elk on a small island in the Snake River. They squeezed off about seven shots and watched three cow elk and a calf fall.
Soon after, everything took a turn for the worse, one of the men — 79-year-old Bob Geringer — told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
The elderly hunting party hadn’t thought out how they’d get to the elk, and once they sized up the river flow, they realized they’d risk their lives if they tried to ford it.
Meanwhile, the path along the river began to fill up with Sunday walkers and joggers in numbers that the Minnesotans had not anticipated. Passers-by, including families with children, had a close-up view of the dead elk, their carcasses beginning to bloat in the sun.
A dozen people phoned the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to report what they suspected was illegal activity.
Jackson Hole resident Brad Nielson came upon the scene six hours after the shooting, and it made him hot. Opening fire on a group of elk stranded on a barren island, he told the Minnesotans, was not fair to the animals.
“It’s an ethical question,” Nielson told the News & Guide. “That’s not fair chase, cornering them on an island and mowing them down.”
Nielson, who’s a hunter himself, told the three that they were doing other hunters no favors: “I told them they’d set back years of effort to create goodwill between the non-hunting community and hunters.”
Late in the afternoon, game warden Jon Stephens arrived as Geringer and his crew were still pondering how to reach their downed elk.
“I chewed on them a little bit for the eyesore that they created,” Stephens said. Then he helped them out.
The men obtained a canoe and a wheelbarrow. But the Snake River is running unseasonably swift, and their first attempt at a crossing resulted in a capsize, a soaked Minnesotan and an unmanned canoe being carried downstream.
Stephens could see that the makeshift meat recovery plan was futile, and he instructed the hunters to gut out the animals and then to get back across the river before nightfall.
On the following afternoon the Minnesotans returned, this time with the assistance of a local resident who had a raft. By 6 p.m. — some 33 hours after their gunfire — the Minnesotans’ meat was being rafted downstream toward the ramp.
Reached over the phone, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik didn’t want to comment specifically on the incident because he hadn’t heard the details from his staff. But the former warden agreed on one point: When it comes to hunting, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
“Hunter ethics are very important,” Nesvik said. “We do have laws that are based on ethics and fair chase, but you can’t regulate all of it. You’ve got to hope that hunters will do the right thing and be respectful of both the wildlife they’re hunting as well as the rest of the public.”
Geringer said that not all of the interactions the veteran hunters had with passersby that Sunday were unpleasant.
“You can’t imagine how many people congratulated us and were happy for us,” he said. “It’s just that the timing was wrong.”