Uintah National Forest, Utah – The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says that around 65 thousand people participated in this year's open deer hunt. KUER's Brian Grimmett was with a conservation officer on opening day and got an intimate look at what it takes to enforce state game laws.
Deep in the Uinta National Forest officers from the Division of Wildlife Resources are scouring the scene of a crime. They're looking for any evidence that might lead them back to the shooter. The victim: a nearly 600 pound bull elk.
"During the deer hunt,often we get the wrong species taken or the wrong gender. They'll also take too many. And so it happens, unfortunately, too often."
That's conservation officer Shawn Bagley. He says that if any animal is taken without the hunter having the proper license it's considered poaching. On this day no one had a license to shoot an elk. But enforcing the laws can be extremely difficult. Each DWR officer covers an average of 1700 square miles. They often rely on hunters to be their eyes and ears. In fact, it was a tip from hunters Michael Provstgaard and Scott Johnson that led him to the scene.
"We kind of watched it happen. It kind of gives you a sickness in your stomach. We thought, well, the best thing to do would be report it and find them," said Michael Provstgaard
"You know people wait around their whole life to shoot a big bull elk. And somebody just comes up here and does it for fun it ain't right, you know," said Scott Johnson
Officer Bagley says that for him finding and arresting the poachers is more than just bringing someone to justice. It's about protecting a valuable natural resource.
"That's what our whole job is to make sure people are complying. And so we can keep, it's a renewable resource. And if we're making sure people are compliant it's not one year we take everything, we're done. It's year after year we can continue to have a good resource and opportunities for people."
And somehow this time the hard work paid off. The officers found their suspects and have turned in the evidence to the Utah County Attorney's office. Unfortunately, the victory is short lived. This was only one of the 227 confirmed illegal killings since the beginning of September. And until some decide to stop poaching, DWR agents say that unprotected wildlife will continue to be prey.