“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is the refrain echoing from the popular ski town of Telluride in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. On Saturday, Nov. 13, an out-of-state hunter shot a bull elk that was counted among the visible, urban, Valley Floor Herd that locals and tourists frequently watch and photograph. The elk was on public land and legal to take when the hunter shot it, but that hasn’t stopped both animal lovers and hunters alike from questioning the decision.
“From everything we can tell from our investigation from the GPS and all the electronic devices the hunter had on marking his location, he was on public land where it is legal to hunt,” John Livingston, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer, told the Telluride Daily Planet. “If the elk had been 10 yards further down the hill, maybe it would have been on the Valley Floor and on that private land. The hunter was able to get this done by the skin of his teeth; there’s no doubt about that.”
Still, many locals are upset. The Daily Planet also cited Meredith Muller, a long-time resident of Telluride and clearly not a big fan of hunting to begin with: “The Valley Floor was proclaimed ‘forever wild’ and was thought of as a safe haven for wildlife and open space. To see that magnificent animal gunned down after living there with his herd for so many years is heartbreaking," she said. "It’s devastating to the entire community.”
Though not quite as "devastated," even some local elk hunters are not pleased about this non-resident’s decision. Todd Tice owns a retail clothing business downtown and lives lower in the valley, seeing this elk herd on his commute most days. (He’s also a cousin of this article’s author.) He’s been successfully hunting elk in the greater Telluride area for 37 years but said no one in his community of hunters and friends would really consider killing an elk out of the Valley Floor Herd.
“They're all saying that even though technically it was legal, it was just really an inappropriate thing,” Tice told MeatEater. “For my friends and I, none of us ever had it on our radar to go try and figure out a way to get in on these local elk there. There's plenty of hunting. There's so much National Forest around us. It's not like they're having to find these small little areas of public where they can hunt.”
He said that most hunters choose discretion and getting in the woods over creating a public spectacle, especially with the massive San Juan and Uncompahgre national forests within spitting distance.
“This one bull, which is a pretty good bull for this area, had only been down there the last couple of weeks,” Tice said. “With the advent of onX, which we all use, you can really see boundaries and you can be strategic. He saw where the public and private were and found a way, and I guess he shot it just within 10 yards of the border, and actually the elk did run onto the Valley Floor to die. I believe he called Mark Caddy, the officer in this area. And then I think he had to call the sheriff to get permission to go on there and retrieve it.”
Tice said that Telluride, home to a high-end ski resort and film festival of the same name, is a community not especially welcoming toward hunting. He also noted that the hunter’s action is already spurring a debate about permanently closing a large area of the valley to hunting.
“As a hunter living here, you don't want more controversy than necessary,” he said. “It certainly doesn't help at all. It really gets a lot of people in an uproar. You see so many people that pull off the highway as they're coming into town to see the elk. It is nice for people to see wildlife. It's obviously an additional attraction for us here.”
Wildlife officials investigated the incident and filed no charges, also declining to release the hunter’s name. They said that though the kill was legal, they still encourage hunters to carefully consider the decisions they make in the field.
“The only thing that we can fault the hunter for is not knowing the politics of the area. We understand that’s a delicate issue,” Livingston of CPW told the Daily Planet. “Hunters often have to make their own ethical choices when faced with the question of whether or not to take an animal. While this area we are talking about is legally open to hunting, some have made choices in the past not to hunt there or to pass up a shot on an animal in that area, while others, like the hunter on Saturday, will take the shot. A lot of factors go into those decisions, and each person makes them differently.”