Gary Hubbell: Hunting for trophy animals can get ugly, illegal |

Gary Hubbell: Hunting for trophy animals can get ugly, illegal

As a wilderness outfitter, Ive spent more than my share of days in the woods, not just hunting on my own, but outfitting others to pursue their dream hunts. By and large, its rewarding, as most guys are happy to spend time in a gorgeous wilderness stalking wild game. Whether they harvest an animal is secondary to the environment theyre inhabiting. I also see quite a few members of the public hunting on their own, and they also seem to have a great time.Every now and then, however, male stupidity rears its ugly head in the practice of trophy hunting. The pitiful programming on The Outdoor Channel, TNN and The Outdoor Life Network shows a nonstop barrage of guys killing large animals in relatively easy fashion, making it appear common for hunters to kill enormous 6-by-6 bull elk, heavy-antlered mule deer bucks, and other gargantuan critters. It just aint so.It seems like a disturbing minority of hunters get mired in a mind-set in which the size of their manhood is directly related to the size of the antlers or horns of the animals they kill, and theyll go to almost any lengths (pardon the pun) to prove their prowess as hunters. Several trophy organizations, such as Boone & Crockett, Safari Club International, and Pope & Young, record trophies in their registries by a complex formula of measurements. If you kill a mule deer buck that scores 195, for example, youll make the Boone & Crockett record book. Hunters set benchmarks for themselves to measure desirable trophies, such as 350-class bull elk, 30-inch mule deer, 170-class whitetail, 15-inch antelope, and so on.So the competition begins. Of course, in an age of shrinking habitat, increased hunting pressure, rapidly advancing technology such as hand-held radios, laser rangefinders, global positioning systems and more powerful firearms, trophy animals are harder and harder to find. So some guys take shortcuts.If you read some of the specialty hunting magazines, theres a wealth of material about how to set out salt licks and mineral blocks for whitetail deer so that theyll grow enormous antlers. Its common in the South for ranchers to set out deer feeders rigged with timers to sling out corn on a regular schedule in easy shooting distance of a blind. Pretty sporting, huh? And, of course, there are the high-fence operations, where hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars to go through the charade of stalking a pen-raised animal in an enclosure.This brings us to Mark McKinney, who stands accused of having baited elk into a tree stand near the Difficult Campground this last archery season. Ive seen tickets written for some fairly serious transgressions of the game laws, and the highest fine Ive seen handed down was $1,500. Mr. McKinney is looking at more than $12,000 in fines for allegedly having baited two elk into the area under a tree stand that was built on public property.Mr. McKinneys attorney, one Arnie Mordkin, has vehemently stated his clients innocence, but I know several game wardens and how they work. (As an aside, I wonder whether Arnie Mordkin has ever hunted in his life.) Theyre cautious about any court cases they bring, and they dont normally file charges unless theyre confident they can prove the case in court. No one disputes that McKinney is an avid hunter who was fortunate enough to bag a 330-class 6-by-6 bull and a cow elk, in one half-hour or so, while archery hunting this fall, and that he had licenses for both animals.But it is entirely possible that a man can become consumed by a passion for success, and that he will bend and break the law in order to kill large animals. Ive known men who hunted elk on their wives licenses, their fathers licenses, even on their secretaries tags. I know people who have placed salt blocks to lure elk into a certain area. So, just for purposes of supposition, let us imagine a scenario in which one hunter kills a large animal, and another hunter who knows him and his hunting methods becomes suspicious.Imagine the second hunter finds a permanent tree stand constructed out of decking material and deck screws (mind you, Forest Service regulations strictly prohibit permanent structures in the woods, and sinking screws and nails into live trees is a major offense). Under the tree stand, in our imaginary scenario, there are two gut piles from recently killed animals, as well as salt blocks and horse feed scattered around on the ground. To the ethical hunter, it looks like a Nebraska feedlot for cattle. When a wildlife officer comes up to investigate, yet another hunter is perched in the tree stand, later professing total ignorance of any baiting.If this scenario is accurate at all (this is how its been described to me), its ugly. Bagging a huge 6-by-6 bull with a bow is a real accomplishment, but not at the cost of criminal prosecution, loss of reputation and putting ones livelihood in jeopardy.I killed four big-game animals this fall a bull elk, a buck mule deer, an antelope and a cow elk. In its own way, each animal was a trophy not because of any special size, but because of the experiences and the people who joined me. The antelope will most likely make the Boone & Crockett record book, but that doesnt matter to me. What matters is that my two sons, ages 9 and 7, were able to join me on the hunt. The bull elk and mule deer were just average in size, but my friend Dan was able to accompany me on two very special days afield, and that means the world to me. The cow elk, however, might just be the best trophy of all, because my wife rode in with me on horseback to skin, quarter and pack out the animal, and we spent a lovely day in the mountains together. In addition to the terrific meat, her presence was the greatest gift of all.Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big-game hunts.

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