“It was crazy…”[ by
Three local men are under investigation by the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for what could be an illegal hunt just south of the Skyland golf course. Law enforcement personnel from both agencies met with Deputy District Attorney Jessica Waggoner Wednesday afternoon October 24 in Gunnison to lay out the facts of the case. Mt. Crested Butte police chief Hank Smith said he expects that she will take several days to look over the case reports to determine what charges, if any, will be filed.
The incident occurred Wednesday afternoon, October 17 about 4 o’clock. According to Smith, the department received a dispatch call that people were shooting at a house on Wapiti Lane, located about three miles south of Crested Butte.
“That got us in our cars pretty quick,” said Smith.
As it turned out, several witnesses watched as two of the three longtime local men used high-powered rifles to shoot toward elk that were feeding on land located just off Brush Creek Road between the Larkspur subdivision and Whetstone Vista houses. Several outraged calls were made to 911.
“It was crazy,” said Wapiti Lane homeowner Bob Stuplich who called police immediately. “It was a mess of a situation. From my deck it looked like they were shooting at my daughter’s house. She was an emotional wreck as they fired.
“I’d been watching that herd for two hours and in my mind it looked like they were shooting at the herd and not just at individual animals,” Stuplich continued.
“They weren’t doing much right,” Stuplich said.
Three elk, two cows and a spike bull were hit and ultimately killed. Given the location of the hunt, one injured cow elk ended up hobbling to a nearby home where she couldn’t move. A police officer euthanized her. Of the other two animals, one was killed immediately while the other wandered to vacant land near close-by subdivisions and had to be euthanized as well.
“It was a crazy situation and we are still looking into it,” said Smith. “The CPW is conducting a separate investigation because of the wildlife stuff. One of the men was taken to jail for driving under the influence and [charged with] ‘prohibited use of a weapon under the influence of alcohol or drugs.’ A Breathalyzer test indicated a blood alcohol content of .097. (.08 is the legal limit in Colorado). We are looking at other firearms violations.”
According to CPW spokesperson Joe Lewendowski, the agency officers are meeting with the local district attorney to discuss what charges to file under their wildlife jurisdiction. “We try to emphasize to hunters that they cannot hunt in populated areas,” he said. “It sounds like this situation had hunters shooting in an area that was deemed unsafe. We don’t want hunters shooting near subdivisions.”
“It appears there were a lot of things that seemed to go awry,” said Smith. “No one was wearing the required amount of orange, which is a major hunting violation. The area they were shooting in was just ridiculous. The weapons being used were very high-powered rifles and it was nuts to be firing them in such a highly populated area. It’s like these guys lost all perspective in the heat of the moment.”
According to Smith, the three men, whose names are being withheld until charges are sorted out and formally filed, all had legal hunting tags and had been hunting in the backcountry the previous week.
The three said they had permission to hunt on the private property off of Brush Creek Road. They said they did not fire at the herd but the two of them who shot went at least 50 feet from the road and fired at individual animals, as is standard hunting practice. That resulted in unintentionally shooting a spike bull. A total of six rounds were fired. They felt that the open property with a large berm behind the elk made it feel safe to shoot. The men contend they were utilizing safe hunting practices but in retrospect, the men involved admitted it was not very sensitive to the non-hunters in the area and they would not take the same action again.
Smith said he expects the D.A. to file some charges before November 6.
The meat from two of the killed animals will be donated to the local food banks, and one animal was donated to a hunter who hadn’t filled his first season tag.