By Josh Newton
Oklahoma game wardens are seeking public tips after unidentified suspects illegally killed an elk at the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area in Cherokee County Tuesday.
“A sportsman hunting on the Cherokee public hunting area witnessed a group of individuals poach a bull elk off one of the food plots,” said Game Warden Brady May. “It is in the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area on White Oak Road, just off of Burnt Cabin Road inside the public hunting area.”
Game wardens believe someone in the group shot either a 10-point or 12-point mature bull elk, then removed its head, front shoulders, and the hind quarters in what May described as a “poacher’s cut.”
Witnesses saw three or four people in the newer-model, dark-brown truck, possibly a Ford.
“It had very shiny metal flaking, and was described as a very ‘pretty’ truck,” said May.
Game wardens and deputies from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Tahlequah searched the area Tuesday evening hoping to find the suspects, but May said they likely escaped the area before authorities arrived.
A total $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspects. Operation Game Thief is offering half of the reward, and the Oklahoma Game Warden Association is offering the second half.
“It’s a valuable resource for someone here to have the opportunity to legally harvest an Oklahoma elk,” said May. “At Cherokee, because of the poaching situation, we’ve been unable to offer controlled hunt opportunities, so poaching is leading to opportunities being taken away from sportsmen on public land and private land.”
If convicted, the suspects could face minimum fines and costs of $946, along with mandatory restitution and forfeiture of their vehicle and hunting equipment, including firearms, according to May.
A mature bull elk was also wrongfully taken on Nov. 8 during a controlled youth hunt, May said. A father and son were hunting and mistook the elk for a deer, according to the game warden. That case is now being considered in Cherokee County District Court.
“But obviously these two scenarios are completely different,” May said. “That’s why a judge’s discretion is required. Tuesday’s kill was an intentional act of poaching. They had to have shot the elk within 50 yards of the road. It was a blatant violation of hunting from the road and illegally taking an elk.”
May encourages anyone with information to contact Operation Game Thief, local game wardens, or to share information on the Wildlife Department’s Facebook page, linked from www.wildlifedepartment.com.
“Through social media, the public has helped us solve at least one huge case, so it’s proven helpful for us in law enforcement,” said May.
OGT is a program of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation designed to stop illegal killing of fish and game. Callers can contact the OGT toll-free number at 800-522-8039, or any game warden listed at www.wildlifedepartment.com, to share tips and remain anonymous.