HUNTING -- The Bullwinkle elk killing case has been dropped, but some slime remains on Washington's auction and raffle elk tag programs that are dominated by high rollers.
Trophy hunter Tod Reichert, 77, of Saikum, Washington, no longer is charged with using his special Washington raffle tag for shooting a 6x7 point bull elk in a restricted area and transporting the animal to an area open to taking trophy bull elk before field dressing the animal with a local guide.
The case against Reichert and his guide, David Perkins, was dismissed in Lower Kittitas County District Court on Thursday. Judge James Hurson issued a ruling saying the language in Washington's 2015 Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet was too vague, even though there are photos illustrating the rule on page 49.
Reichert was charged with second-degree unlawful hunting of big game in a field that was not permitted for hunting branch-antlered bull elk. Perkins was charged with second-degree aiding and abetting unlawful hunting. Charges against both were dismissed.
The incident occurred Dec. 1, 2015, in Game Management Unit 334 near Ellensburg where Bullwinkle, as some locals called him, frequented irrigated fields, rural yards and often posed for photos. Witnesses say the hunter was about 60 feet away from the bull when he shot and killed it.
Judge Hurson said in his ruling there was no specific definition of the phrase “branch antlered bull elk” in the Fish and Wildlife Department’s regulations. Department officials should have made the rules clearer if they did not want hunting of elk in GMU 334, he said.
Here's some of the judge's reasoning from his ruling:
- Bullwinkle was shot in an area that allowed hunting of “true spike bull” elk during the hunting season.
- “A ‘true spike bull’ is defined as a bull elk that has ‘both antlers with no branching originating more than four inches above where the antlers attach to the skull.’”
- “There is no specific definition in the regulations defining the phrase ‘branch antlered bull elk.’”
- Thus: “A defendant should not need to guess what a statute or regulation was meant to mean. A statute is unconstitutionally vague if the criminal offense is not defined with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is proscribed.”
Reichert hired Spokane attorney Steve Hormel, who fought the case on several grounds and won on the vagueness argument.
“The first part is that the judge found that the hunt was legal,” reports Tony Buhr of the Daily Record. “In other words the regulations actually permitted him to harvest the bull in Ellensburg unit 334.
"The second part is if it’s viewed as a unit that the game department did not have open to branch antler bull elk, then the regulations are vague and you can’t prosecute somebody under a vague statute.”
The Kittitas County Prosecutor’s Office plans to decide in the next month whether to appeal.
Reichert is known in elk hunting and conservation circles for winning special-privilege tags by spending tens of thousands of dollars at auctions in which states raise money for big-game management by offering coveted tags to the highest bidder.
Reichert reportedly bought 313 of the 2,726 raffle tickets going for $6 each for the 2015 Eastern Washington elk permit, which he used to tag Bullwinkle.
Described as “a strong supporter of elk hunting and improving elk habitat,” he has killed several record-book bulls by outbidding other trophy hunters to get coveted tags at auctions facilitated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Among his trophy bids are $40,000 for the 2007-08 New Mexico Governor’s Tag, $19,000 for the 2001 Oregon Governor’s Tag, $16,000 for the 2003 edition, and an unpublished amount for the 1999 California tule bull elk tag.
In 2007, Reichert, who made his fortune by starting a shake mill, bought Washington’s first East Side Governor’s Tag and killed a trophy elk in the Umatilla National Forest. However, he was later indicted for hiring a helicopter service to spot elk for the hunt, which is unlawful in Washington and most other states. He was also charged with lying to wildlife authorities about the guiding services he hired.
Reichert’s sentence included a $5,000 fine and a two-year ban from entering a national forest.
Reichert successfully bid $75,000 to claim the 2016 auction elk tag for Washington.
He also scored the Pennsylvania 2016 elk auction tag for $85,000. He used the tag on a large typical bull he killed in September during the peak of the breeding season, state officials confirmed.
Reichert's attorney in the Bullwinkle case says the Western Washington hunter hopes to get back the antlers that came off the trophy bull as well as the hide, which has been frozen since it was confiscated by state Fish and Wildlife police.