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WY: State biologist pleads guilty to hunt violation

State biologist pleads guilty to hunt violation

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: April 24, 2009

A 32-year veteran of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a hunting incident on the National Elk Refuge.

Habitat biologist Steve Kilpatrick told 9th Circuit Judge Timothy Day he made an error in judgment during a Dec. 14 hunt after his hunting partner Dr. Jim Champa made the killing shot on a bison injured by another hunter.

Kilpatrick said he, his son Josh and Champa observed roughly 500 bison on the east side of Long Draw, roughly two miles from where they were hunting on horseback and mule. Kilpatrick said other hunters fired numerous shots into the herd, prompting the bison to break into two smaller groups. Kilpatrick said his hunting party intersected the bison but let both groups pass because the animals were still moving and too far away for a clean shot or a clean identification.

Kilpatrick and Champa then noticed a single bison about a half-mile away.

“It was obvious that it was injured, [it had its] head down and [was] limping,” Kilpatrick said.

He said he asked Champa, who carried a permit to shoot a cow, if he would be willing to harvest an injured bison.

“He said, ‘Yes, it was the ethical thing to do,’” Kilpatrick said.

Champa then shot the animal, not realizing that the bison was a young bull.

At that point, Casper resident Shane Rinker and his mother approached Kilpatrick’s hunting party. Kilpatrick used his cell phone to call Wyoming Game and Fish game warden Bill Long and explained the situation, telling him “we” killed the injured bull bison. Kilpatrick discussed the situation with Rinker, who, according to Kilpatrick’s testimony, thought he might have injured the animal.

“He gave the impression he was excited ... that the bull was put down and that it was his,” Kilpatrick said.

Kilpatrick then called Long and explained that Rinker was claiming the animal.

After the incident, Champa used his permit to harvest a cow bison.

Kilpatrick told the court that later that day Rinker approached him in a parking lot.

“He was obviously a little more assertive and concerned,” Kilpatrick said, explaining that Rinker told him he felt pressured into tagging the bison.

After more discussion, Rinker again accepted the bison as his own, according to Kilpatrick’s testimony.

“He said he felt more comfortable now,” Kilpatrick said.

Rinker later filed a complaint with the department against Kilpatrick.

Champa was then charged with taking more than the limit of big game because he killed two animals and Kilpatrick was charged with being an accessory.

In court, Kilpatrick apologized for the incident, saying he didn’t provide Long with enough details for him to make a good decision. Kilpatrick said he should have requested assistance at the kill site instead of trying to resolve the issue himself.

“I’m sorry I erred in judgment,” he said. “I overstepped my authority.”

Prosecuting attorney Brian Hultman asked Day to give Kilpatrick “as much consideration as you can.”

Day waived a $410 fine, fined Kilpatrick $30 and ordered him to perform 40 hours of community service.

Champa also paid a fine.

Kilpatrick has received numerous local, state and national awards for his conservation work. He has one previous violation, which he received after advising his daughter to shoot a moose. Kilpatrick later determined the moose was in the wrong hunt area and turned himself in.

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