Just Because It’s Legal Doesn’t Mean That It’s Right

They had a hunting license so it was legal. Marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado now too but it doesn’t mean you get as high as a kite and drive a vehicle. I believe drinking is also legal and we know how many people are killed by drunk drivers each year. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s right; how you chose to use that legal right is what makes it ethical or unethical.

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I’m going to put my noted disclaimers here now because I know where this is going to go:

I’m against hunting; guess again. I believe in proper wildlife management and ethical hunting. We owned one of the largest sporting goods stores and sporting gun ranges in Southern California. My family hunts and hunted. My parents were expert marksmen and I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot most of you.

I was recently told I am against ranchers; nice try. I raise and have raised cattle (and sheep during temporary insanity) and horses. It’s been my whole life however it’s not where I intend to die.

I’ve been blessed to have photographed several bull moose and a few cows and calves in a recreational area close to home. When I found this place last year I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I never thought I’d be able to see so much wildlife nearly right in my backyard, I figured I’d still be missing Yellowstone and the Tetons constantly and wondered how long I’d last here. So when I found these moose I decided I would spend as much time as I possibly could with them. This area is a heavily trafficked area; full of hikers, fisherman, campers, walkers, bikers, dogs and kids! After dropping by two weekends in a row and finding out that the moose were smarter than I was I was about to give up. There were so many people there that during the day the moose stayed hidden. Obviously the photographers who had shared the information with me had been photoshopping images…………..and they were awesome at it!

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I finally went up during the week after work one evening and was rewarded for being persistent. I photographed an older bull with his younger buddy for a couple of hours and each time I came back I was blessed to photograph them or other moose I found in the area. I’ve hiked around this area and can’t believe how gorgeous it is and now know why it’s not a secret to all the people who live here. One evening I met a man from Louisiana and when I asked him what brought him to Colorado he said he had come to hike the back country of the Rocky Mountain National Park for two weeks and to photograph these moose; he had heard a lot about them and we shared moose stories for over two hours. I later learned he was a lead biologist in New Hampshire studying moose a few years earlier, these moose here have made a reputation for themselves.

Moose season opened this past weekend. I had no idea; this recreational park and campground are still open and on the many bulletin boards throughout the park that tell you that moose and other wildlife are here and tell you what you can and can’t do around them never made mention that hunting season was open here. Not to mention it’s a public park, hundreds visit each day, who would want to hunt there thinking it would be a good idea. I hope you’re sitting down because they do exist and they are armed.

I’ve been up to this area now over 10 times and during those times I have encountered one park ranger (there are numerous park volunteers and hosts all the time to help and assist the people there). Every time I’ve been up there the parking lots are completely full and cars are placed in lower parking areas, it’s a busy place. On the morning I talked with the park ranger he was not in good spirits. People had crowded one of the larger bulls giving him no way to escape and rather than charge and trample people the bull opted to jump a car; he did so so gracefully no damage was done to the car or the moose. The park ranger was obviously upset for a good reason and explained to me he was seriously considering closing the park down for the rest of the season, this wasn’t the first time and he was afraid things might get worse.

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I went up on Wednesday morning; spent some time with one of my favorite older bulls and a new one I hadn’t seen before. The rut is about to start and one of the bulls was losing velvet and was itchy and agitated. One person was constantly getting within 20 feet of this bull and regardless of being given the stink eye continued this behavior until the moose left the area; there was no aggression and it wasn’t in a hurry, he knew who was bigger and who had control and he had nothing to fear. These moose have become so accustomed to people, cameras, walking sticks, dogs and all the gear that follows that they have basically become accustomed to it all and since they own this forest they have accepted it all.

Saturday morning the normal groups of photographers, hikers and campers had gathered and the moose showed up on time. The only difference this time was a handful of Department of Wildlife (DOW) agents. Photographers took their photos while the other people observed and then a “hunter” lures one of the bulls a very short distance away and shoots him with an arrow, this does not kill an animal instantly and this wounded and scared bull turned and ran right back to the photographers and onlookers who are now in the middle of this whole incident unwillingly. Three other bull moose confused and scared are now running to their companion wondering what has happened and also into the people in the area. I’m wondering what sort of hunter’s safety course this person took because obviously just by looking around, knowing he was within limited feet of the road as well as people in a public area who were there to enjoy their weekend anyone could tell this wasn’t going to go well. Photographers and other onlookers were charged by the confused bull moose and children got to watch as this person gutted this moose in front of them. And those DOW agents – well, the guy had a license so it was legal.

There are a few things that should be pretty alarming here: hunting in a heavily populated, public area that was not closed or posted for hunting season, shooting and injuring an animal so close to a road knowing that crowds of people were yards away and the list can go on. I wonder why the park wasn’t closed during this “event” and the only answer so far is that it is a “multi use area” so technically that means photographers, hikers, bikers and more have every right to be there as well – only they aren’t armed with a deadly weapon. It’s obvious from the park ranger I spoke with weeks prior that the park could have been closed fairly easily. If a national park can be sued by a hiker’s family because a family member was killed in Glacier by an “introduced” mountain goat which was a horrible accident how many of these people who witnessed and were traumatized by this event can sue the agencies for allowing this to happen with visitors being so close by for an honest reason? I’m sure there is an attorney out there close by who would love this opportunity.

The hunter? In my opinion a lazy, unethical, cowardly trophy hunter. Now, now!! Remember my disclaimer above! I’m friends with a lot of hunters, handfuls of them live within 20 miles of me. They see and comment on my images and we talk about these gorgeous animals all the time. Some of them have dared to tell me they would love the chance to hunt one of them. What makes them different from this coward? I have offered to take these guys to show them these animals and they have declined; these animals are in a public area where too many things can go wrong, these animals are habituated to people so it’s like shooting the neighbors horse and they respect me and what I do like I respect them and what they do. There is a huge difference, these hunters are ethical and respectful. We may joke from time to time but there has never been a time that they have not been welcomed into my house and we can sit and respectfully talk to one another about wildlife, hunting and each other’s views without causing hard feelings. To be honest I think they may be afraid to go with me to see these animals because I might show them something they have never seen before and they may not want to hunt one after all. I can hope, this is my blog.

The moose…………………I find it ironic and horribly painful to think that they have become so trusting of people that even when he was shot, suffering and dying he ran to the only place he knew to run, a place he knew he had found trust before…………..to people. Away from the coward that mortally wounded him and to people. If you have any heart and any compassion at all, that should give you something to think about.

RIP handsome. Thank you for sharing your life with me. I am honored and blessed. If not for you and other wildlife like you bringing me through some really dark times of my life I wouldn’t be here now. You won’t be forgotten and I wish we would have done better by you and never allowed you to find trust in our kind.

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