On some hunts, you might need a lawyer's advice
As a past master instructor for the Arizona Hunter Education program, I'm often asked questions about the legality of certain actions taken by sportsmen.
Most are of the "what if" nature: How far from an occupied dwelling do you have to be to shoot? (A quarter of a mile.) Is it legal to carry a handgun while on an archery hunt? (Yes, with some conditions.)
While I'm not an expert on all of these questions, having been associated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department through the hunter education program for more than 15 years and having a background as a former law enforcement officer for more than 15 years has afforded me the opportunity to learn many of the laws as they apply to wildlife.
But when I was told about a situation that happened to a local archer on a recent elk hunt in Unit 10, my assessment was not entirely correct.
Here was the scenario.
On the last day of the 14-day archery hunt the hunter - who I'm not going to name here - shot a nice bull.
While he thought the shot had been good, it was really just a little too far back for a quick kill.
So with a friend of his being his "eyes in the sky," they did what they were supposed to do - wait until the bull died.
This first-time bull hunter was understandably anxious and excited and after a while thought the bull had died, so he moved in.
But the bull was very much alive and the chase was on.
This cat-and-mouse game went on till dark, with the hunter not being able to get a finishing shot at the bull.
So it was dark, the season had ended and the bull, though mortally wounded, was still on the move.
What is the hunter to do?
After consulting with his friend, they decided to take up the trail again at daylight. He did not have his bow with him.
It wasn't long before they found the bull, and he was indeed dead.
So the hunter tagged the bull, field-dressed it and brought it back to Kingman.
What, if anything, should he have done differently?
I had many concerns about this.
I felt the proper action would have been to call the Game and Fish Department and tell them what had happened on the last day of the hunt.
Let an officer come out - if one is available - to look over the situation.
Then, if the bull is found, let the officer make the call.
So I decided to check with the department's Wildlife Law Enforcement Branch Chief, Gene Elms, and get the straight scoop.
The veteran law enforcement officer sent me a long email explaining the rules.
Here is what Elms said:
"Don, we deal with this issue every hunting season and although the law is specific when it comes to tags there is a reasonableness that needs to be applied to the end of the continuous pursuit.
"In order to ensure consistency with enforcement, we developed an enforcement guidance document to our officers. The guidance is similar to the information below.
"Wildlife is property of the state and may be taken and possessed at such times as authorized by statute or Commission rule (ARS 17-102). Wildlife cannot be reduced to personal consumption until a valid tag is attached pursuant to Commission Rule. Commission Rule R-12-4-302 (G) authorizes an individual to use a tag only in the season and hunt area for which it is valid. Those valid seasons established as authorized in A.R.S. 17-234.
"However, every year officers are faced with scenarios that seem to warrant an expansion of the season dates or times to facilitate the recovery of a wildlife carcass.
"Although the hunter's tag only authorizes the "take" of wildlife during the period and hunt area as outlined by a season, the department may allow the recovery of the wildlife carcass for a reasonable period following the close of the season. The tag may be attached to a wildlife carcass after the close of season as proof of lawful possession of a lawfully taken wildlife."
Elms went on.
"Hunters who fatally injure wildlife and are unable to recover the animal during the course of their hunting season may be allowed a period to locate that animal after the season has closed if the hunter contacts a department officer. The hunter must provide evidence the animal was wounded during the season and the hunter was not able to locate the animal during the season.
"The hunter is authorized to locate the animal within 48 hours immediately following the close of the season authorized by the tag. If the hunter finds the animal alive, the hunter may not pursue and kill the animal.
"For the purpose of officer guidance, 'locate the animal' means the hunter continued to look for the animal without leaving the field. Exceptions may be made for hunters who require additional equipment or resources that would facilitate locating the animal or an emergency requires the hunter to leave the field. The officer in the field will make the decision to allow a hunter to leave the field."
Lastly, Elms commented on what should happen when a hunter wounds an animal on the last day of the season.
"In cases where the officer determined pursuit was continued without proper notification, the officer will evaluate the case based on the guidelines above. The officer will use discretion once it is determined a hunter continued pursuit without contacting the department.
"When dealing with closed season game recovery, hunters are instructed to call (the) Operation Game Thief Hotline if they find themselves in that situation and advise the dispatcher of their desire to continue their recovery after the season has ended.
"The call will be dispatched to the nearest officer for follow-up with the hunter. The hunter will also be advised that recovery of wildlife after the season can only be authorized by an officer. If an officer is not available to respond to the location, the recovery will not be authorized. Under no circumstances will the hunter be allowed to kill wildlife that is found alive.
"Once the 48-hour period has lapsed or the hunter has discontinued an effort to locate the animal, the hunter will not be allowed to tag the wildlife. If the wildlife is ultimately located dead, an officer will seize the animal and treat it as a wounding loss.
"If the wildlife is located alive and the officer determines its health or condition requires that it be humanely dispatched, the officer will turn the antlers/horns over to the assets program and the meat will not be salvaged. The officer will advise the hunter that the hunter can purchase the antlers/horns at the annual assets sale."
Bottom line: If you, as a sportsman, find yourself in this last-day situation, you need to call the department's Operation Game Thief Hotline at (928) 352-0700 and report what happened.