Because the phrase “branch antlered bull elk” isn’t clearly defined in Washington’s hunting regulations, the case against a Westside man who shot a trophy in a part of the state listed as only open to true spikes or antlerless elk was dismissed earlier this week for vagueness.
That lets Tod L. Reichert of Salkum off the hook for shooting the all-but-tame elk known as Bullwinkle in a Kittitas County pasture in December 2015 on his Central Washington raffle tag, as well as his guide, David Perkins.
Reichert had been charged last spring with unlawful hunting in the second degree, Perkins with aiding and abetting unlawful hunting, also in the second.
Since then their trial has been delayed through pretrial motions and efforts to dismiss the case by Reichert’s attorney, Steve Hormel of Spokane.
But it finally produced a result yesterday, when Kittitas County Judge James E. Hurson granted a defense motion to dismiss the case.
While the term branch antlered bull elk might seem obvious to you and me, the unfortunate fact for prosecutors and by extension WDFW is that it appears in only three places in the hunting pamphlet, all inside the Raffle Permit Hunts section but not in the definitions further forward in the regs.
In his ruling Hurson cobbled one together using the definitions of “true spike bull,” “branch” and “visible antler,” as well as standard definitions of elk and bull.
“Taking those terms together, a ‘branch antlered bull elk’ means a male elk with a horn like growth that has any projection off the main antler that is at least one inch long and is longer than it is wide. As such, a ‘true spike bull’ restriction area is an area open by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to branch antlered bull elk hunting, as long as there are not branches originating more than four inches above where the antlers attach to the skull,” Hurson wrote. “As such, this court finds that GMU 334 was an area that was ‘open’ to branch antler bull elk hunting by the commission.”
Game Management Unit 334 sits on the floor of the Kittitas Valley on all sides of Ellensburg.
Under Reichert’s raffle tag, he was advised he could hunt elk everywhere in 300- and 500-series game management units except in “those GMUs closed to elk hunting and those GMUs not opened by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to branch antlered bull elk hunting.”
Per WDFW’s 2015 regs, GMU 334 was open during the Sept. 12-24 early general archery season for spike bulls or antlerless elk, during the general Oct. 31-Nov. 8 rifle season for true spike bulls, and during the general late archery Nov. 25-Dec. 8 season for true spike bulls or antlerless elk.
But Hurson wrote that if WDFW “had wanted to adopt [its] regulations and issued its permits to provide such a limitation for this GMU it could have done so, but the regulations and permit as written do not contain that language and limitation.”
It left Hormel pleased with the outcome for his client.
“I think it’s important that the community at least be informed that from the very beginning of this case we have maintained that Mr. Reichert did nothing wrong,” he told the Yakima Herald.
“He was maligned,” he told The Seattle Times. “I think the manner in which information was presented wasn’t fairly done. He’s an honest man, law abiding.”
One high-ranking WDFW law enforcement official declined to comment, while another did not respond to a request.
County prosecutors will decide whether to appeal in the next month, according to the Daily Record News of Ellensburg.
Reichert runs a business specializing in cedar products, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on tags in states across the country that allow him to hunt and harvest trophy bull elk.
He claims to have killed “over 100 elk” in his lifetime, and that he’s gutted each one himself.
He ran afoul of the law several years ago for not being truthful with Forest Service agents and was barred from national forests for two years.
Though hardly a trophy in terms of where and how it was killed, Reichert wants to get Bullwinkle’s rack and hide back from WDFW, according to the Times.
The case was closely watched on Hunting Washington, with pages upon pages of comment and legal threats.
It’s often said you need a lawyer by your side to interpret the fishing and hunting regs, and thanks to a lawyer the pamphlet is sure to become slightly thicker for the 2017-18 season with a new definition for branch antlered bull elk, and perhaps a better enumeration in the Raffle Permit Hunts section of precisely which units are open and which are not for those who’ve got trophies on their mind and money to burn on tags, and attorneys.