In response to your article regarding Brian Gum and his son illegally shooting bull elk along Home Acres Road (December 27, 2017):
I was extremely disappointed to hear Mr. Gum excusing his actions rather than taking responsibility for them. The behavior he modeled here is simply blaming others to excuse his own inappropriate actions. It’s not his fault, it’s the Bitterroot Irrigation District’s deficient signage. It’s not his fault, it’s the vague language by Fish, Wildlife and Parks used to describe the hunting district. He even implies that the game warden who cited him was sinisterly plotting against him and his son by showing up “almost immediately after the elk were shot,” as if our beleaguered FWP personnel have the time to spy on hunters, just waiting for them to violate our laws. Please.
Mr. Singleterry is responsible for ALL the public land from Stevensville north to Missoula. It was something close to luck that he was even in the area at the time, but this was probably due in part to the fact that those of us who live up here among the ranches and State Lands are forced into vigilance by the unethical game-harvest practices of people like Mr. Gum and his son. I wonder if it even occurred to him NOT to shoot if he was—as he stated—unsure which district he was actually in. I wonder how forgiving he would be if one of his students used a similar excuse, not knowing he was on school property. (For those of you who don’t know, the Big Ditch is thirty feet wide and runs for seventy miles through the valley, with a road adjacent, as it has been for a hundred years now.)
Both my close neighbor and I have witnessed the taking of game animals by shooters who fired their weapons at these animals with our homes as a back drop. I refuse to call these people “hunters” because their goal is simply to kill an ungulate that is habituated to humans and trapped in a field by irrigation wheel lines and a gauntlet of shooters lining the road. There is no fair chase involved, and to call their harvest “hunting” is ludicrous to the point of obscenity. I recommend Mr. Gum look up Boone & Crockett’s definition of “fair chase hunting” before he describes himself as a “stand up hunter.”
My husband and I and many of our neighbors support hunting but not drive-by shooting. According to Mr. Singleterry, this annual circus is usually mostly legal and unfortunately the only solution FWP has been able to come up with to address the damage done by the elk herds who’ve found a ready source of food in my neighbor’s hay and pasture lands, thus endangering the existence of these open space ranch lands we all so admire. But don’t you dare call this “hunting”—it’s just slaughter, used to remedy a problem no one seems to have an answer for.
Unfortunately, while this solution may be helping the ranchers in some small way and satisfying the urge of those folks who see sport in the killing of habituated animals, it is misery for those of us who live nearby. The ranchers—stuck in this rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma—are trying to do a good thing by allowing the public on to their property to “bag” one of these unfortunate elk, however shameful and disgusting the method of solving the problem.
Neighbors who live in the surrounding homes understand this, but what is abundantly clear is that the public can’t be trusted to do this safely. They park in the middle of our roads to gawk, glass our properties with their binos (even occasionally, their rifle spotting scopes) and drive in pursuit of the fleeing elk like they’re on African safari, with no regard to those residents who must use the road to get to work, school or home. My sister was nearly t-boned last year at Groff and Home Acres by a truckload of shooters wearing elk-fever blinders. Since they don’t live here and, just like Mr. Gum, don’t take the time to find out where they are preparing to shoot in relation to hunting district boundaries, private lands and occupied homes, they recklessly endanger our lives from sunup to sundown, three to four months of the year.
And it’s getting worse. Every year, there are more homes, more drive-by shooters and a longer “shoulder season.” Someone is going to be injured or killed, someone is going to sue, and then what’s going to happen to the poor ranchers? They may be capital-rich, cash-poor, but they’ll look like deep pockets to the injured party’s lawyer. Clearly, these ‘damage hunts’ need to be managed with a hunt manager on hand for the season to hold the hands of those members of the public innocent of respect for both wildlife and those of us who share their habitat, ensuring they harvest legally and safely.
Those of us who live in adjacent properties should enjoy the same protections as those occupying dwellings near State lands. Given the close proximity of these game animals to homes, perhaps it would be wise and prudent to set aside these areas for hunting using archery, shotgun, traditional handgun and muzzleloaders only, as it is on public lands within a quarter-mile of homes.
These elk are a public asset and a private problem, and this incident with Mr. Gum is just a more public example of what can happen when the two collide with ignorance and irresponsibility. We must find a joint solution for management to avoid an otherwise inevitable tragedy.