Two nonprofit groups have contributed $4,000 as a reward for information on the killings of five elk.
The elk were found in a row, lined up as if they had been walking or running when they were shot dead.
Four calves and a cow were cut down by bullets sometime on the morning of Nov. 6 among the sagebrush and grasses on state land near Ellensburg. Some of the animals were shot more than once.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is investigating and asking for the public’s help in identifying who killed the animals. Two nonprofit groups have contributed $4,000 as a reward for information on the killings. The agency’s tip line is 1-877-933-9347.
‘This is not hunting.’
Anyone with information on the shootings is asked to call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife at the agency’s tip line at 1-877-933-9347.
“This is not hunting,” said Deputy Chief Michael Hobbs. “This is disregard for the tradition and sport of hunting … any sportsmen would be enraged and at the same time embarrassed.”
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The killings, first reported by Northwest Sportsman Magazine, took place in the Colockum Wildlife Area, known for its population of more than 5,000 elk and a prime hunting ground. It’s also near the location where Bullwinkle, a celebrity elk beloved by some Ellensburg residents, was killed.
This year, WDFW issued 510 permits for antlerless elk in the Colockum area, Hobbs said.
Female elk were in season at the time of the killings for anyone with a required permit.
But Tricia Singer, who was hunting nearby, knew something was wrong when the animals sat untagged for hours.
Singer and her husband had been following the herd of elk with spotting scopes when they saw one veer off. They hiked in for a better look.
“We took our binoculars, we looked up the hill. You could see three dead elk on the side of the hill. We sat there and looked for hunters. There were no hunters in sight,” she said. “It was like somebody just started firing one after the other down the hillside into a herd.”
Singer and her husband waited for about three hours, but no one came over, so they called for law enforcement.
“We went up with the agent up the hill and saw the devastation,” she said. “When you walk up on a hillside and you see dead elk laying there, that is sad enough … then, when you realize they’re babies, that’s what gets you.”
Singer believes more elk might have been targeted. She said another hunter, who had a permit, had shot and killed an elk nearby after noticing it was limping.
It had already been shot, she said.
This was not a mistake, Singer said. Four of the five dead elk did not leave a blood trail, so they dropped where they were shot. It’s unlawful to allow hunted animals to go to waste. Shooting more than three animals in a spree is a felony.
Hobbs said WDFW believes multiple people might have been involved or witnessed the shooting.
Hunters often travel in groups and sometimes chatter on walkie talkies. Radio discussion overheard that morning cut out after the killings.
“There’s multiple people involved. There’s more people that know about this than a single shooter. That’s who we’re encouraging to step up and do the right thing,” Hobbs said.
Singer said she had seen six or seven people wearing orange near the herd before she and her husband discovered the massacre but could not tell who the hunters were from a distance or if they knew each other.
Hobbs said the agency performed a necropsy in the field where the elk were found. The agency is sorting out ballistics and forensic information captured at the scene, he said.
Singer helped the game agent salvage the elk meat. She gave up her prized permit to make use of one of the calf’s meat.
“At the end of the day, you don’t want it to go bad,” she said.
Her husband took another. The agent was able to fit the rest of the meat into his truck and transport it to a Moses Lake church, where it will feed needy families.
Hobbs said WDFW hopes someone would come forward with information about whoever shot the animals.
WDFW is offering bonus points for use in its weighted permit system for information that leads to an arrest. Two nonprofits have pitched in cash rewards.
Singer is the vice president of Safari Club International’s Northwest branch, which is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in the case.
“We, as hunters, take this very seriously,” she said. “I want to catch a poacher … I want this not to be another reason for people to hate hunters,” she said.
Conservation Northwest, a nonprofit preservation group, added $3,000 to the reward pot. Chase Gunnell, a spokesman for Conservation Northwest, said the killings were “egregious” and the organization would “be happy to cut a check.”
Conservation Northwest offers standing awards for information that leads to a conviction in spree killings or the poaching of endangered animals. No one has claimed rewards in the past, but Gunnell said this case could be different.
“Poaching cases are notoriously hard to solve. Some of this stuff happens in remote areas during the offseason. The carcasses are removed,” Gunnell said. “That is not the case this time. This happened near an urban area during a legal hunting season in broad daylight.”