This archery season, Kale Grimsrud arrowed an unusual bull elk while hunting in the Missouri River Breaks, but the antlers will never hang on his wall.
That’s because Grimsrud became entangled in an issue of ownership that raised legal, moral and ethical questions worthy of discussion and debate.
Grimsrud, a 26-year-old native of Roy, Montana, was in Hunting District 410 with his buddy, J.D. Harrell, when they ran into a band of elk on his family’s property. Harrell shot, hit a bull, and the rest of the herd spooked. Putting his bow down, since he had shot, Harrell hurried along with Grimsrud to cut the elk off over the next hill. To reach the hilltop they crawled over a fence that outlines a 320-acre parcel of BLM land and snuck into the trees.
The club bull
With Harrell at his side manning a rangefinder, Grimsrud heard his buddy say: “Club! Club! Club!” Grimsrud was confused. “Whaddaya mean club?”
“14 yards,” Harrell said, pointing out a bull with a club antler close by.
At 26 yards Grimsrud fired an arrow at the bull as it quartered slightly away. Dropping his bow and pulling up his binoculars to watch the elk trot away, Grimsrud said he could see half of the arrow poking out the other side of the bull, just behind the shoulder, in what seemed to be an obviously mortal shot.
“If you push them, they’ll run for miles,” Grimsrud said.
So he and Harrell decided to drive back to Grimsrud’s home and phone his parents to get their help hauling the elk meat out, since cellphone service is spotty in that remote area. Driving back to the house, they made arrangements to pick up Harrell’s girlfriend. Within an hour they were back, and Grimsrud was hiking to the area where he had shot to search for the unique, club-antlered bull. Harrell and his girlfriend split off to look for the one he had shot at.
What Grimsrud saw after cresting the knoll was not what he expected.
“I walk over the hill and there’s six guys gutting out my elk and cutting it up to pack it out,” Grimsrud said. “It wasn’t 100 yards from where I shot it.”
Grimsrud said the hunters told him that they saw his elk, a different bull with an arrow stuck in its shoulder (possibly the one Harrell hit), run down the hill.
“Boy, that sure looks like mine,” he told them, intimidated by the fact that he was outnumbered and felt like his elk was being stolen, and there was nothing he could do about it.
When his friend and parents arrived later, a “screaming match” ensued. The men accused Grimsrud of lying, saying one of their hunters fired the killing shot and that they had seen no one around. When confronted with the fact that the bull had been shot twice, shown the blood trail and after Grimsrud’s bloody arrow was discovered stashed in a nearby bush about 15 feet away from the elk, evidence seemed to point to a cover-up by the other hunters.
“It seemed awful suspicious it was over there,” Grimsrud said of the arrrow.
With the daytime temperature rising, Grimsrud agreed to let the other hunters take the elk meat to their nearby cabin to be cooled down. In the meantime, someone got a cellphone signal and called for a Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden.
FWP warden Trey Gacke, of Lewistown, responded with a fellow warden who was riding with him that day. After checking out the scene of the shooting, talking to Grimsrud, Harrell and the other hunters, Gacke had to make a tough decision.
He noted that Grimsrud had done the right thing by backing away after shooting the elk not to push it, but also said that he should have stayed close by.
“If they had kept one guy there to keep eyes on it,” they would have been still active in the hunt, Gacke said. “It’s wide open country, they could’ve watched the other guys coming in.”
Law vs. ethics
As it was, one of the other hunters had fired a second arrow, the elk died and he tagged the bull.
“There was nothing legally done wrong from the other guys’ side because they did put the bull down,” Gacke said. “They killed it.
“Then it turns into an ethical or moral issue,” he said. “Morally some people may think they should have turned the bull over. They chose to keep it. There’s nothing we could’ve done.”
Gacke noted that during the archery season, animals sometimes get shot and don’t die, so it’s not unheard of that a hunter may see an elk with an arrow in its shoulder. This is the first time Gacke has run into such an elk custody issue, although he’s heard tales about similar incidents where a hunter shoots an animal, it runs around a corner and someone else shoots the same beast.
“Antlers do strange things to people’s thought process,” Gacke said.
In the aftermath of the incident, the story spread quickly.
“News travels fast in a little town like Roy,” Grimsrud said.
The incident will undoubtedly tarnish how out-of-town hunters are now viewed in the area, since hunters are ambassadors for the sport as well as their communities.
“Out here in the middle of nowhere, you don’t see anybody until it’s hunting season,” Grimsrud said. “You just don’t expect it to happen out here.”
His sister, KayLee Grimsrud, agreed. “Being from a rural town in Central Montana, I guess we maybe grow up differently,” she wrote. “We grow up respecting the land, our neighbors, and wildlife. It’s an unspoken language, you just understand what is right and what is wrong, and you act accordingly.”
After all of the time and effort Grimsrud put into shooting that one bull, he has lost his motivation for the rest of the archery season.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gacke said. “I wish it would have turned out differently.”