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Elk slayer violated a public trust

This week Aspenites learned that a man was convicted of using bait to illegally hunt and kill two elk, a cow and a trophy bull, last fall. This case reminds us to respect wildlife and to keep our base instincts in check.

We don’t know what possesses so-called hunters to lure big game into their sights with salt blocks or other enticements and then shoot them down from man-made tree stands ” Machismo? Bragging rights? Selfish pride? ” but the practice strikes ethical hunters and non-hunters as fundamentally wrong and unsportsmanlike. When the jury took 90 minutes last Friday to find Marc McKinney of El Jebel guilty, it reminded us all that hunting, fishing and other outdoor pastimes are really a public trust.

Just as backcountry users should pack out their waste and motorcyclists should stay out of designated wilderness, hunters must play by the rules and respect the laws that govern their activities. If they don’t, our shared resources are sullied and degraded.

What if every backpacker left his trash and toilet paper behind? What if every four-wheel enthusiast rolled wherever he pleased? What if every hunter ignored his limit and harvested as many elk as he pleased, regardless of size or gender? What if every angler ignored catch-and-release restrictions on the Fryingpan River?

Our “great outdoors,” most of which is owned by the public, would swiftly lose its greatness, especially these days, when outdoor equipment gets more and more sophisticated. Every sport has benefited from technological advances, and with each new gear-oriented step forward, the outdoors grow a little more accessible and a little less wild.

We must keep our egos and desires in check.

Which brings us back to McKinney. There was no solid proof that he actually baited his elk using salt blocks, but he did choose to erect his tree stands in a place where he knew that salt blocks had been placed before. Sounds to us more like entrapment than hunting.

One of McKinney’s elk was a trophy bull with a huge rack, which brings the state’s Sampson Law into the mix. The law, named for a huge (and unusually tame) bull elk that was illegally killed in Rocky Mountain National Park, allows officials to levy higher fines when such unique bulls are involved. It remains to be seen what McKinney’s sentence will be, but he’s facing up to $12,800 in fines and surcharges, plus suspension of his hunting privileges.

That’s one costly hunt.

We hope his case can be a lesson, not only for the unlawful minority of hunters, but for all the sportsmen and backcountry users who put themselves before the wilderness and wildlife that we all share.


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