CONCRETE -- The killing of about seven elk cornered in a farm pasture in eastern Skagit County spurred state officials to close the elk archery season in the area and angered others who either witnessed or heard about the killings.
"Obviously, this got a little out of hand," Dave Ware, state Department of Fish and Wildlife game division manager, said Monday.
Ware said the hunters who gathered around a herd of elk on Bill Johnson's beef ranch five miles west of Concrete on Dec. 26 "lacked discretion" and "took advantage of the situation" when they shot dozens of arrows into the panicked herd.
The state wildlife agency had opened elk hunting in an area roughly bounded by highways 9 and 20, east to the intersection of 20 and Cape Horn Road. The hunting season was created to keep elk out of the residential and farm areas in eastern Skagit County.
However, Ware said the agency closed the season Monday afternoon on an emergency basis because of the spectacle.
A Fish and Wildlife officer was at the scene Dec. 26, but didn't stop the hunters because they had not violated the law.
The property's owner said Monday that once neighbors spotted the elk in his south pasture, the word got out.
"A few of my neighbors have friends who are bow hunters," Johnson said.
The word began to spread until a dozen or more bow hunters were in Johnson's field trying to encircle the herd, which by then had moved to the north pasture. Johnson, whose family has farmed on the Wilde Road property since 1915, wasn't pleased with the way the situation progressed.
"The whole thing kind of got out of control," he said.
Other hunters in the area said the incident disgusted them.
"How can you call that hunting?" asked Bob Coombs, 70, of Mount Vernon. "You pin some animals inside a barbed wire closure then allow people to come in there and take shots at them with arrows. Good Lord. That can't be called hunting. There are some fair chase rules that any ethical hunter subscribes to."
Longtime hunter Walter Gillespie, 82, of Sedro-Woolley, agreed.
"I think it was an atrocity," Gillespie said. "It's not a sportsman's way. It sounded to me like a fiasco, and it was something that didn't have to happen at all."
He said the hunt wasn't fair, with the elk penned up and hunters coming from both sides of the herd.
Gillespie said the worst part wasn't the elk that died and were hauled away.
"How many more were shot, damn it," he said. "That's what bugs me. If one didn't fall down, they'd shoot another one. The whole thing was like a comedy. A bad, bad comedy."
Last year, some hunters were licensed to hunt elk in the area with muzzle loaders. Some of the hunters trespassed on private property or took shots from the highway, officials said. So Fish and Wildlife limited this season to archery to try to prevent some of the abuse, Ware said.
On Wednesday, state Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said the hunt was intended to control damage by moving elk off fields and encouraging them to return to forested areas. Property owners in the vicinity had complained that elk were trampling fields, knocking over fences and damaging orchards and vegetable crops.
"Unfortunately, the hunt was not carried out in a manner consistent with WDFW's Hunter's Code of Conduct, and we took immediate action to close the archery hunt in that area," Anderson said.