Witnesses say hunters in Grand Teton National Park drove a herd of elk from a no-hunt zone and toward an awaiting firing line Wednesday.
The scene at the sage flats north of Kelly was a surprise to Michigan resident and Jackson Hole visitor Joanna Childers, who was on a wildlife safari during her first visit to Teton park.
“It looked like a bunch of hunters surrounded a pack of elk,” Childers said. “Hunters were staked out in the road and around the field.
“You see these animals and they’re in a pack and there a bunch of rifles pointed at them from every direction,” she said. “Overall, it was kind of sad and pretty unfair.”
Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen — long an opponent of the park hunt — said hunter behavior Wednesday was as egregious as he’s seen.
By Mangelsen’s account, around 11 a.m. a person pushed a herd of about 100 elk out of an area off limits to hunters near Kelly. Once the herd was on the move, chaos ensued, he said.
“All the sudden somebody shot and they just opened fire on them,” Mangelsen said. “It’s really poor sportsmanship — it was illegal and it was just a display of totally barbaric hunting.”
The photographer estimated that 30 people were involved in the drive, that 25 shots were fired and that eight to 10 elk were killed.
Teton park officials did not corroborate many of the details described by Mangelsen and others, but said some hunters were ticketed Wednesday.
“There was quite a bit of action as far as hunters go and the movement of elk near Kelly,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. “At least two citations have been issued.”
Two hunters shot and killed bull elk Tuesday in the park, where harvest is restricted to cows and calves. The elk were confiscated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Skaggs said.
One of those hunters was also cited for shooting at a running herd, she said.
Rules unique to the park hunt prohibit firing more than one shot at a group of running animals.
Seven park rangers were still in the field at the time Skaggs spoke with the Jackson Hole Daily, and she said it’s possible there were other violations.
It’s legal for hunters to drive elk out of areas where hunting is prohibited in the park, Skaggs said.
Mangelsen said some people were firing from the road, which is illegal. Photos he provided show hunters with rifles and shooting sticks setting up on the roadside.
Jeff Soulliere, another local photographer, said the display left him speechless.
“It absolutely was a mess,” Soulliere said. “This is a national park, and you’ve got tourists on the road right next to hunters with high-powered rifles.
“It really struck me as, ‘you got to be kidding me,’ ” he said. “No one was taking safety into consideration because they were herding and surrounding them and they could have shot each other.”