"In the last Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) magazine I read about a guy who shot two elk. His ethical dilemma developed after he shot and wounded the first elk. While tracking it he spotted an elk he thought was the injured animal and killed it. Hiking to the elk he had just killed, the original injured elk jumped out of the brush and struggled to escape. The hunter then killed the second elk because he could not bear to let an injured animal escape. Isnt it illegal to kill both elk?"
In Idaho it is definitely against the law to kill two elk in this scenario. In fact, a citation for exceeding the bag limit on elk carries with it a mandatory fine, civil penalty, and license revocation.
I suspect this scenario occurs more often than we would like to admit. Technological advances in modern firearms and bullets have produced firearms capable of killing or wounding big game animals at ranges exceeding 500 yards. Advances in optics, however, really havent kept pace or improved a hunters ability to detect or identify wounded game animals.
In the above scenario, the hunters error occurred when he chose to kill the uninjured elk. If the hunter couldnt identify it as the original elk he wounded, why did he shoot the second animal? His lack of good judgment and his determination to put an elk in the freezer put this hunter into the ethical dilemma in this scenario.
So whats a hunter to do? First and foremost, know your weapon and limit your shooting range. You must know exactly where you hit a big game animal. You must also be able to identify the animal you shot and injured.
Second, resist the temptation to shoot at extreme ranges. Modern firearms are capable of long shots, but taking them leaves a lot of room for loss of visual contact and the possibility of an injured animal escaping.
Lastly, you must never put yourself into a violation situation. After the decision to shoot the uninjured animal was made, the hunter should have left the injured animal alone. While he felt ethically responsible to finish off the injured animal, doing so placed the hunter into a legal nightmare. Who knows, this elk may have recovered or may have been harvested by another hunter.
If an officer observed the situation from the ridgeline, would he issue the hunter a citation for exceeding the bag limit? It depends what the hunters next actions are.
Everyone is human and we occasionally make mistakes. Our officers are aware of this and try to enforce the intent of the law. A hunter who contacts an officer immediately and works with the officer to verify the scenario is likely to be reprimanded but may not be cited. A hunter who takes both elk or allows a partner to tag the second elk will be prosecuted.
For this hunter, it boils down to pre-hunt preparation with the firearm, limiting his shooting distance, and then identifying the wounded animal. All other hunting and shooting opportunities at other animals are put on hold until this wounded animal is recovered or efforts to locate the injured animal have been exhausted.
This is one of the basic lessons of hunter education. Its pretty simple on paper, much more difficult in practice.