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Originally published December 29, 2009 at 8:39 PM | Page modified December 29, 2009 at 9:47 PM

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Elk hunt ends after herd was cornered, 7 killed

The killing of about seven elk cornered in a farm pasture in eastern Skagit County has spurred state officials to close the elk archery...

Skagit Valley Herald

CONCRETE, Skagit County — The killing of about seven elk cornered in a farm pasture in eastern Skagit County has spurred state officials to close the elk archery season in the area and angered others who either witnessed or heard about the killings.

"Obviously, this got a little out of hand," Dave Ware, state Department of Fish and Wildlife game-division manager, said Monday.

Ware said the hunters who gathered around a herd of elk on Bill Johnson's beef ranch five miles west of Concrete on Saturday "lacked discretion" and "took advantage of the situation" when they shot dozens of arrows into the panicked herd.

The state wildlife agency had opened elk hunting in an area roughly bounded by Highways 9 and 20, east to the intersection of Highway 20 and Cape Horn Road. The hunting season was created to keep elk out of the residential and farm areas in eastern Skagit County.

Why it was closed

However, Ware said, the agency closed the season Monday afternoon on an emergency basis because of the Saturday spectacle.

One neighbor who asked not to be named said the event, which slowed traffic on Highway 20 as people watched, was a "testosterone-poisoned circus."

She called it "savage and inhumane."

A Fish and Wildlife officer was at the scene didn't stop the hunters because they had not violated the law.

The property's owner said Monday that once neighbors spotted the elk in his south pasture, the word got out.

"A few of my neighbors have friends who are bow hunters," Johnson said.

A dozen or more bow hunters gathered in Johnson's field trying to encircle the herd, which by then had moved to the north pasture. Johnson, whose family has farmed on the Wilde Road property since 1915, wasn't pleased with the way the situation progressed. "The whole thing kind of got out of control," he said.

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Other hunters said Saturday's incident disgusted them.

"How can you call that hunting?" asked Bob Coombs, 70, of Mount Vernon. "You pin some animals inside a barbed-wire closure, then allow people to come in there and take shots at them with arrows. Good Lord. That can't be called hunting. There are some fair-chase rules that any ethical hunter subscribes to."

Walter Gillespie, 82, of Sedro-Woolley, agreed. "I think it was an atrocity," he said. "It's not a sportsman's way."

He said the hunt wasn't fair, with the elk penned up and hunters coming from both sides of the herd.

Gillespie said the worst part wasn't the elk that died and were hauled away.

"How many more were shot ... " he said. "That's what bugs me. If one didn't fall down, they'd shoot another one. The whole thing was like a comedy — a bad, bad comedy."

Some licensed

Last year, some hunters were licensed to hunt elk with muzzle loaders. Some trespassed on private property or took shots from the highway, officials said. So Fish and Wildlife limited this season to archery to try to prevent some of the abuse, Ware said. Next year's season will be more restrictive, he said.

Skagit County Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Bill Heinck said officers would be in the area enforcing the emergency hunting closure.

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