The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is investigating why two elk were shot to death near a Park City trailhead and whether the case amounts to poaching.
The elk were females. The cow elk hunting season began Nov. 23 and continues through Jan. 31, so wildlife agents are trying to determine whether someone with a permit might have killed at least one of the animals, said DWR spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley.
There are other factors that could amount to violations of the law or DWR rules, Heaton said. A homeowner reported hearing gunshots about 6:30 p.m. Saturday near Old Ranch Road and the Rambler Trailhead.
Conservation agents investigated Sunday and someone in that area had gutted an elk and dragged away the carcass, Jolley said. About a mile farther up the trail, she said, an agent found a second elk had been shot and left to rot on the trail.
Agents dragged that carcass off the trail, but they were too far up the path to move the cow elk, which can weigh 500 pounds, to a vehicle to haul away.
It is illegal for hunters to shoot within 600 feet of a home without permission of the owner, according to Utah’s published hunting regulations. The regulations also forbid taking animals 30 minutes after “official sunset.” Sunset Saturday was 5:07 p.m.
Some of the trail system is open to hunting, but parts of it are within Park City limits, Jolley said. The city forbids shooting.
"Our officers are still trying to sort out some of the particulars,” Jolley said.
There are no suspects, she added. The complaining homeowner wrote down a partial license plate number, but so far that hasn’t revealed any results.
The hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing trail system is maintained by the Mountain Trails Foundation. Its executive director, Charlie Sturgis, on Thursday said a witness saw two men loading the first elk into a truck.
The area is known as Round Valley. Sturgis said the foundation has counted users and found on winter weekends 1,000 people use the trail system.
“Shooting a gun in the Round Valley area on a weekend afternoon," Sturgis said, “seems completely unsafe."