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Spike bull elk tempt hunters to take ‘the gamble’

In this Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010 photo, a spike elk is wrapped in plastic after attempting to spar with it near Gardiner, Mont. in Yellowstone National Park. (Erik Petersen / Bozeman Daily Chronicle)
In this Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010 photo, a spike elk is wrapped in plastic after attempting to spar with it near Gardiner, Mont. in Yellowstone National Park. (Erik Petersen / Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

HUNTING -- I know some excellent, law-abiding Washington hunters who've made the mistake of shooting a bull elk that wasn't a legal 'true spike." They took their lumps and turned over the meat -- after a lot of hard work for nothing -- to Washington Fish and Wildlife police so it could be salvaged for the needy.

But here's the way the situation worked out for a hunter during the recent elk season, as described by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic:

“Shooting illegal animals in a spike-only area, it’s not the crime of the century, but we do have some guys who turn themselves in,” said Skip Caton, an enforcement officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife who works many of the popular elk-hunting draws along the Highway 12 and State Route 410 corridors. “Most people, when they find out they messed up, they tell the truth, they make a statement and we go from there. He’ll probably be charged with something, but it won’t be as bad. The guy who shoots (an illegal elk) and walks away, he loses his gun (to confiscation).

“We want people to make sure they know what they’re shooting at.”

Andrews, the Oak Creek volunteer, had his faith restored in hunter honesty when a young man from western Washington — “a very ethical hunter,” Andrews said — drove to the Oak Creek headquarters and wanted to call for a fish and game officer.

“He’d shot an elk, and it wasn’t a true spike,” Andrews said. “He shot it from the left side, and when he saw it, he could see that on the left side there was a kicker coming off the spike. That’s OK — you can do that as long as the other side is a true spike — and, of course, when it dropped, he went over to take a look at it and, guess what, there was another kicker just beginning to come off on the other side.

“Some guys would have cut it up and thrown it in the back of the truck and hauled it out. I love to see guys have ethics when they’re hunting and nobody’s watching them. It’s up to them to do it right.”

The guy who responded to the call was Sgt. Grant, who quickly decided the second kicker’s development was minimal enough that it really came down to officer discretion — and that the hunter, clearly trying to do the right thing, didn’t deserve a citation.

But Grant wanted to make a point. He pulled out a quarter and asked, “Are you a gambling man?”

The hunter, clearly confused, mumbled something along the lines of “No, not really.”

“Well, you want to gamble on this?” Grant asked. “I flip this coin, heads I give you a ticket, and tails you walk away scott-free.”

The hunter said that didn’t seem like a very professional way of solving the issue. Grant, who had no intention of making a coin-flip decision anyway, agreed.

“You’re exactly right. It isn’t professional, and it isn’t the way I did business,” Grant told him. “But one way you could look at this is, you did flip the coin when you pulled that trigger, because you weren’t absolutely sure what you had in your sights.

“When you pull that trigger, you have to know without any doubt you have taken the right, lawful animal. You can’t gamble.”

And only then did Grant tell the hunter he wasn’t going to issue a citation and the young man was free to go, taking his elk with him.

So, at least for that hunter, it was a very good elk season.


Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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