Elk herd

A file image of an elk herd. 

GREAT FALLS - Wildlife officials say six people got cited after roughly a hundred hunters in Meagher County fired into a herd of elk Sunday. 

Only a few hunters face misdemeanors for shooting from a public road or failing to bring the proper hunting license, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). They joined many others, surrounding the herd and firing from three sides, killing 50 and injuring more in the process. 

While most of the hunters didn’t violate any laws as a result, FWP tells Montana Right Now they could’ve accidentally hit unintentional targets.

“If they miss they might hit the elk they’re not intending to hit, or if they do hit the elk the bullet might pass through and wound the elk that’s behind it,” said Greg Lemon, FWP’s information bureau chief. “And then obviously if there are hunters on three sides of these elk then it’s really challenging not to have hunters not be shooting at each other.”

Lemon says no one was hurt from the incident, but worries that cases like this one may paint hunting in a negative light. 

“The vast majority of hunters do things legally and ethically, and hopefully circumstances like this give other hunters pause and and say, ‘We can do better as a group,’ and take it upon themselves to go make a little extra effort to promote ethical hunting,” said Lemon. 

MRN reached out to the county’s Justice of the Peace about the six people cited, but only got their voicemail Thursday afternoon. If convicted, they face anywhere between $50 to $1,000 in fines, and could lose hunting privileges for a couple of years.  

Lemon says some members of the public criticized FWP, telling the department to give them harsher punishments. However, Lemon says that part of the equation is out of their hands. 

"The statutes sort of outline what penalties these sorts of violations are," he said. 

Plus, Lemon explains that FWP got one animal unclaimed animal following the incident, and confiscated two more from hunters charged with violations. The agency plans on donating them to a food bank, making sure that none of killed elk get wasted. 

If you plan on hunting game in the near future, Lemon recommends minding the space around you and your target, shooting only when the area’s clear of other creatures, people and private property. 

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