Sorry, that llama sure looked like elk

Photo of hunting mistake becomes Web sensation
2009-01-14T23:00:00Z Sorry, that llama sure looked like elkBRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
January 14, 2009 11:00 pm  • 

A New York hunter may be feeling a bit sheepish after mistaking a feral llama in Paradise Valley for a Rocky Mountain elk, but he apparently did not violate any laws.

Rusty Saunders of Fort Edward, N.Y., called a Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden in Livingston in November to turn himself in after shooting the llama, according to Mel Frost, FWP information officer in Bozeman.

Since FWP does not deal with livestock shootings, they immediately turned the investigation over to the Montana Department of Livestock.

After investigating, the Livestock Department turned the matter over to Park County authorities without issuing any citations.

"We don't have any statute to prevent that kind of thing," said Steve Merritt, information officer for the Livestock Department in Helena.

A telephone call to the Park County sheriff was not immediately returned.

Photos that the Livestock Department took during its investigation showed the dark brown and black llama gutted and lying in the back of a red pickup truck. The photos included a shot of Saunders' notched 2008 elk tag, dated Nov. 18. Somehow, the photos ended up circulating through e-mails, trekking across the nation and even north of the border into Canada.

Under a subject heading of "hunting llamas in Big Sky Country," the e-mail parodied MasterCard's "priceless" advertising campaign"

".30-06 rifle with Leupold Scope - $650.

"Out of state license - $600.

"Gas to drive from New York - $700.

"Taking a trophy Montana llama - priceless."

The photos have ended up on blogs across the country, as well, generating derisive remarks from hunters.

It's not clear how Saunders realized his error, and it's not known what happened to the wild llama.

Messages left for Saunders on his home answering machine were not immediately returned.

Saunders is not the first person to mistake a llama for a game animal. On opening day of the 1999 hunting season, a 21-year-old Sun Prairie deer hunter shot a 300-pound llama on the Cascade Hutterite Colony near Fort Shaw, then gutted and tagged the animal. He didn't realize his mistake until he took it to a Great Falls meat processor, which turned him away.

The man turned himself in and the colony didn't press charges.

Montana's hunter safety education program emphasizes that hunters should always identify their target before pulling the trigger.

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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