Listen to this post
A hunter from Highlands Ranch, Colo., pleaded guilty April 1 to a felony and several misdemeanors in a case that highlights a growing concern for Colorado wildlife managers — hunters who fail to correctly identify big game animals.
After a three-month long investigation by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Joel D. Eady, 30, was charged with willful destruction of wildlife — a Class 5 felony, as well as hunting out of season, illegal possession of wildlife and failing to properly care for a harvested animal. The investigation showed that Eady failed to report the incident in a timely manner. This incident happened during a hunting trip in October 2010, in the Missouri Creek Basin about 30 miles east of Meeker.
“The biggest concern here is that Mr. Eady never reported this to us,” said district wildlife manager and lead investigator Jon Wangnild. “We understand that mistakes happen and we will usually be more lenient with someone who reports an accident right away but failing to report this incident turned a careless mistake into a felony.”
Following Eady’s guilty plea in Rio Blanco County District Court, Judge Gail Nichols sentenced Eady to three years of supervised probation and a $5,177 fine. The conviction means Eady may face a lifetime suspension of his hunting privileges pending a review by a Division of Wildlife hearing examiner.
According to witnesses, Eady admitted to them that he had mistakenly shot the cow moose after mistaking it as an elk. He also told those at the scene that he would turn himself in, but never did.
“There is a tremendous amount of information and education about the proper identification of game animals available to hunters,” Wangnild said. “The division has a great website where you can get as much information as you need to be a safe and legal hunter. A hunter should never, ever pull the trigger without being certain of the target. But if an accident occurs, the best thing to do is to let us know right away.”
Wangnild said some hunters may not be aware that moose may live in the same area where elk are found so the division has conducted an extensive education and outreach program to help hunters distinguish between moose and elk, including letters and emails sent to hunters, and videos and illustrations that can be found on the division’s website. If a mistake does occur, hunters are encouraged to inform division authorities immediately.
In many cases, wildlife officers may use discretion in making determinations about the facts of a given case. If a hunter does not report an accident and abandons the animal, it can lead to serious charges and fines, as well as lifetime suspension of hunting privileges. The division reminds hunters that it is their responsibility to educate themselves as much as possible before hunting and encourage investing in a good pair of binoculars to help identify game. Using a rifle scope to identify game is strongly discouraged because it could create a situation where you may end up pointing your rifle at a person. In poor light or thick cover, elk can be confused with moose. But on close examination, the differences are stark enough that anyone with basic knowledge of wildlife and a good pair of binoculars should be able to avoid mistaking one species for the other.
A bull moose has a large, dark brown or black body, a bulbous snout and a beard, or bell, under its throat. One of the most striking differences between a bull moose and a bull elk are its antlers. Bull moose have palmated or flattened antlers with tines, while a bull elk does not. The cow moose is similar in appearance to a bull minus the antlers.
A bull elk has a slender snout, pale yellow rump with darker legs, and chestnut brown neck. It has brow tines that grow off of the main antler beam. A cow elk is similar in appearance to a bull elk but also does not have antlers.
A moose calf can look very similar to an antlerless elk, so using binoculars is critical to identify other distinguishing characteristics.
The division relies on tips and public information to help enforce hunting regulations and citizens are encouraged to report illegal activity to Operation Game Thief, a Colorado Division of Wildlife program which rewards citizens who turn in poachers. You can call us toll-free within Colorado at 1-877-COLO-OGT.
Verizon cell phone users can dial #OGT. Callers to Operation Game Thief do not have to reveal their names or testify in court. A reward of $500 is offered for information on cases involving big game or endangered species, while $250 is offered for information on turkey and $100 for fishing and small game cases.
Rewards of up to $1,000 are available for information about flagrant violations. Rewards are paid for information which leads to an arrest or a citation being issued. For more information on how to distinguish moose from elk, please see: http://wildlife.state.co.us.