WEST GLACIER - A bull elk is dead and a young Flathead Valley man is awaiting charges in what appears to have been a poaching case in Glacier National Park.
"We're not wanting to make an example of a juvenile," said Glacier Park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt, "but at the same time, hunting is illegal in the park."
The suspect, she said, reportedly knew the elk was in the park, and knew hunting there was prohibited.
According to Vanderbilt, the 16-year-old boy - whose name has not been released - was hunting on Nov. 12 in the Nyack area of the Middle Fork Flathead River. That waterway forms Glacier's southwestern boundary, and the juvenile was positioned outside the park.
Two others, hunting legally nearby, had stopped to watch the bull elk on the park side of the river. They heard a shot, Vanderbilt said, and watched as the animal "recoiled, stumbled and fell," collapsing on Glacier's scenic Boundary Trail.
The two men responded, walking a short distance toward the sound of the gunshot, and discovered the young man not far from the elk, but still outside the park.
One hunter stayed with the boy, Vanderbilt said, while the other left to report the incident. Rangers later crossed the river to carry out the elk, donating the meat to the Flathead Food Bank.
The investigation was handed over to state wildlife officials, she said, and charges are pending.
Vanderbilt said poaching is not uncommon in the park, but known cases are reported only every few years.
"It's always a concern," she said. "It may be more prevalent than we are aware of."
The uncertainty results from trying to patrol a million-acre wilderness with only a handful of rangers.
"We really rely on the eyes and ears of other hunters," Vanderbilt said, adding that the backcountry is too vast to cover with regular patrols.
She urged the public to report illegal or suspicious hunting in the park by calling 888-7800, or with a report to the state wildlife hotline, (800) TIP-MONT.
Reporting parties can remain anonymous, and all reports are kept confidential.
In the Kalispell area, state game wardens are seeking tips on two cases in particular. On Oct. 21, wardens with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks discovered two elk shot and left near Hungry Horse Dam.
And in another case, wardens are looking into the "suspicious" death of a bull elk near the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. That animal was discovered Nov. 13, with its antlers cut off.