A bull elk recovering from a hunter’s poor shot in a Payson back yard has ignited questions about safety and ethics.
Norm Langeliers, a longtime Rim Country resident, hunter, former cowboy and high school teacher, found the elk in his back yard after Thanksgiving.
“I know this elk,” he said. “He was born in my back yard in June of 2011.”
Langeliers and his friend John Huffman of Star Valley believe that since this elk was born within town limits, he has less fear of humans than an elk out in the woods.
“My beef with this, besides my wife and neighbors being upset, is that there is no moral or ethical justification for shooting an animal within town limits,” said Langeliers.
“It’s only a matter of time before an arrow skips off and hits a person,” said Huffman.
The two men believe the elk suffers from an arrow wound. If a hunter shot the elk with an arrow, it could have gone in through the elk’s right shoulder and then out over the left shoulder.
Langeliers and Huffman said they called Arizona Game and Fish, which came out to assess the elk. One of the concerns neighbors have is that the elk could die and leave a mess to clean up. The Game and Fish officer told the two men he thought the elk would survive and advised them to just leave it alone.
Then the officer told the Rim Country residents something that really upset them: it is legal to hunt within city and town limits in Arizona.
Neither Langeliers nor Huffman agree with hunting within town limits.
“I’m an avid hunter,” said Huffman, “but I’m against hunting in town.”
Payson falls in the Unit 22 of the game management area for Arizona Game and Fish.
Natalie Robb, the field supervisor for the Globe, Tonto Basin and Payson Game and Fish area agrees with her officer regarding hunting within town limits.
“That is true,” she said. “Last year bill ARS 13-3108 ... essentially opens up hunting in municipalities.”
Robb did say that the law does not allow anyone to shoot a firearm within a quarter mile of an occupied building.
Star Valley Town Attorney and Manager Tim Grier said if anyone got caught shooting within a quarter mile of a building, he would prosecute him or her as a danger to the community.
“It would be our position it does put a person or property in danger (and) we would prosecute,” said Grier.
He said the town of Star Valley has received quite a few complaints from the Knolls regarding hunters on property owner’s doorsteps stalking prey through backyard swing sets.
“We’ve posted signs down Highline Drive in Star Valley and the Knolls that this is deer and elk habitat,” said Grier.
Both Payson Police Chief Don Engler and Town Attorney Tim Wright agree that state law forces Payson to allow hunting within town limits.
However, Wright said Payson passed an ordinance in 2006 prohibiting bow hunting in public parks.
“We had people shooting geese in Green Valley Park with bows and arrows,” said Wright. “They used those razor head arrows in front of people.”
Engler said that if Langeliers and Huffman felt hunters posed a danger to people or property they can call the Payson Police.
“We would come out and assess the situation,” he said.
If the police felt any resident or their property faced danger, Engler said he would refer the case to the courts.
Grier said the residents of Star Valley may call the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police services within the town limits.
“They would have to come out and investigate because the sheriff is the first contact,” said Grier, “They would file a report and submit it to the town. If it were a criminal case, I would prosecute.”
The deeper issue to Langeliers and Huffman, however, had to do with the ethics of shooting an animal within town limits.
Langeliers said he saw the elk before Thanksgiving healthy and doing well. However, after the holiday, the elk came into his yard with an open wound. The elk was weak, panting and clearly in pain.
That made Langeliers angry. Although he has hunted for decades, he said he would never hunt an elk he knows.
“This elk came to my window the week before Thanksgiving to say ‘Hi’ to my dog,” said Langeliers.
He said animals such as this elk are like pets. They know the sounds and smells of humans so their natural defensive reaction fades.
Langeliers said he has heard of people who put bait outside their window and shoot the deer or elk that come to eat the feed.
That’s like shooting fish in a barrel, say Langeliers and Huffman.
“Ethics mean different things to different people,” said Huffman.
“There are too many people who can rationalize anything,” said Langeliers.