After a bull elk was shot by two different bowhunters on Sept. 19 and 23—first nonfatally on the west side of state Highway 75, then fatally in a Rainbow Bend backyard—homeowners have been left scratching their heads over the legal practice of big-game hunting in residential neighborhoods.
For months, Gimlet resident Sean Tajkowski said his family had looked forward to the bull’s daily strolls through the neighborhood. Some days, the bull, which Tajkowski identified by its antlers, came with its herd. Most often it came alone.
“He’d become a good friend, a buddy to me,” Tajkowski said, describing the elk as tamer than usual.
The controversial incident began on Sept. 19 when an archer hit the bull on a large parcel of private property in Game Unit 48, across the highway from Gimlet subdivision, prompting the animal to bolt across the highway into the residential neighborhood—located within Game Unit 49—with an arrow in its stomach.
Tajkowski said the archer then went “door to door” in Gimlet asking if he could take this animal down legally on their property.
“It seems that he was a young hunter who didn’t know any better,” he said.
In a statement to the Idaho Mountain Express, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said because the archer did not have a tag for Unit 49, he could not legally kill the elk in Gimlet or keep the carcass.
“However, he did make numerous efforts to gain access to private property to look for the elk. During this time the hunter did reach out to our officer to let them know about the situation,” Fish and Game said.
The department stated that subsequent attempts by officers and the archer to locate the wounded elk on private property in Gimlet were unsuccessful. Had the animal been found alive, it would have been euthanized and the meat donated, it said.
“The elk was not purposely left to suffer, but without knowing where the elk was … it was very difficult to track it down,” Fish and Game said.
In a video taken Sept. 19 by a construction worker and later shared with the Express, the wounded bull is seen walking in a Gimlet backyard with an arrow lodged in its gut and blood flowing from the wound.
“Some piece of s--- just shot this elk with an arrow,” the man in the video says. “There, see the arrow. Look, he’s bleeding. Piece of s---!”
Tajkowski said the video was shared numerous times on Facebook.
“People began learning about this animal on social media, some outraged, some commenting how beautiful his rack was,” he said.
It’s not clear exactly how badly the elk was wounded. According to Fish and Game, a group of Gimlet homeowners pointed two officers to what they said was the wounded bull on Sept. 23, but the officers could not see any discernible wounds.
“The elk the residents claimed was the wounded elk was not in fact the elk that had been shot by the archer,” the department determined.
Later that evening, Fish and Game received a report through Blaine County dispatch that a licensed archer had killed the wounded bull just west of Gimlet subdivision in a Rainbow Bend backyard with the homeowner’s permission. Fish and Game said the second archer was unaware that the elk had been wounded until he found the arrow shot by the first archer still in the animal.
“The archer who shot and killed the bull elk did so legally. The archer did legally tag and field dress the elk, and take possession of the elk meat,” Fish and Game said. “Our officer stayed on scene until very late into the night to observe the hunter field dress the elk and remove all portions of the carcass from where the elk died.”
Tajkowski said the second archer posted a photo of himself with the bull to Facebook, framing it as if he “got the elk way out in the wilderness.”
“This was like shooting an elk outside a car window. There are many hunters that I’ve talked to who are absolutely outraged because [residential hunting] is just totally inappropriate,” Tajkowski said. “I can’t change what happened, but I have this elk to thank for opening my eyes to the fact that people are hunting in residential areas in our county—it’s not only dangerous, but also ethically ridiculous.”
Another Gimlet homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous, said public safety was her primary concern. In an email to the Express, she said she was worried that the density of homes and people in Gimlet made it easy for hunters to unsafely discharge weapons on private property.
“Someone is going to get killed,” she wrote. “We are simply asking for our neighborhoods to be safe, which is not too much to ask or expect.”
Elected officials get involved
In late September, a group of Gimlet homeowners set up a virtual call with Sen. Michelle Stennett, Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg and Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald to educate themselves on preventing hunting incidents in residential areas.
Tajkowski, who attended, said some homeowners were concerned about hunters’ driving on private roads to keep tabs on elk. Others pushed for higher security during hunting season and floated the idea of restricting access with a gate, he said, noting that the topic of Idaho hunting laws came up several times.
Under Blaine County code, no residents—barring peace officers—can legally discharge firearms within 1,000 feet of any private dwelling or home without express consent of the owner or tenant.
Under state law, however, Idahoans are allowed to discharge firearms in situations of legal self-defense, hunting and target practice on private and public land. Greenberg said in an interview that the state legislation prevents the county from enforcing its own firearm ordinance unless someone with a firearm is trespassing or otherwise acting unlawfully.
“The main question is whether someone has permission to hunt on someone else’s property. What happened here was that the hunter did have that permission and, unfortunately, the elk crossed into that property,” he said.
Even if the Gimlet Masters Association or Rainbow Bend Homeowners Association were to adopt new CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions), state law would still supersede those, Greenberg said.
“The state should think about rules that govern urban interfaces so that we don’t have hunting in residential areas. But I don’t think there’s a high probability of success of getting anything like that through the state Legislature,” he said. “The county can only pass an ordinance to the extent that it’s not repugnant to the state Legislature. If the state says it’s OK to hunt on someone’s property with permission, we can’t argue with that.
“It’s going to take the neighborhood to say as a whole, ‘Hey, we’re just not going to give anyone permission to hunt on our property.’”
Tajkowski said it was unsettling to hear during the meeting that the “no hunting” signs posted through Gimlet only applied to common areas, not backyards. He added that he hadn’t gotten a straight answer from Fish and Game as to how far from a residence a bowhunter could legally discharge his or her weapon.
In a response to the same question, Fish and Game referred the Mountain Express to its game regulations book, which does not list any laws governing how far away from homes that arrows can be discharged.
“This is not target practice,” Tajkowski said. “What happens if an archer misses, like the first hunter did, and the arrow strays? Were Idaho hunting laws really drafted so people could go into other peoples’ backyards and shoot high-velocity, deadly weapons?”
At the end of the day, Gimlet homeowners told the Express, residential hunting isn’t a problem unique to their area. Tajkowski pointed out an incident several years ago when a hunter legally shot an elk near Hulen Meadows and quartered it in front of children.
“This isn’t a Gimlet issue. This is a valleywide problem, an ongoing story for a long period of time,” he said. “It’s happened in other places and has the potential of happening in any residential area in the valley.”