A dead elk found outside the old Sears store at 21st Street and Yale Avenue in Tulsa on Christmas Eve is a big mystery, but Oklahoma game wardens still hope for a late Christmas miracle to solve the poaching case.
“To me it’s like trying to hide a very unique car,” said Carlos Gomez, Wildlife Department game warden for Tulsa County. “It’s hard to imagine someone didn’t say something or some neighbor or someone somewhere didn’t hear about it.”
Elk are not known to roam near Tulsa, so the poachers likely killed the cow elk, estimated to weigh about 200 pounds, many miles from where it ended up. Individual animals and small groups do roam, but the nearest populations are farther east, near Tahlequah, and southwest, closer to Lawton.
“We have had wardens all over the state checking and we’ve not been able to come up with a candidate,” Gomez said. “I know it could have come from a lot of different places.”
The Sears store has been closed for years but the elk was left near the back corner of the store, in the middle of a paved service road between the old store and what used to be its automotive center, he said.
A security guard with the adjacent Burlington Coat Factory store reported the find after 9 p.m. Christmas Eve.
Using security camera footage from the back door at the clothing the store they were able to piece together that the elk was dropped off at about 7:18 p.m., Gomez said.
Only the “back straps” — the loins along either side of the spine — were taken off the animal. Given the amount of blood on the scene it might have been cut as it lay on the pavement near 21st and Yale, he said.
It also appeared someone could have started a more complete butchering job because the gut cavity also was cut open, but all the entrails still were inside.
Col. Nathan Erdman, chief of the Wildlife Department’s law enforcement division, said the elk case is somewhat unusual but that wanton waste cases are relatively common — though not as common as they once were — during the rifle seasons for deer and elk.
“Usually it’s pretty tough to make a case when it’s just a deer with its head cut off in the middle of nowhere, unless someone has seen them, or unless they start talking and someone gets mad and turns them in,” he said.
Social media has been a boon to wildlife law enforcement in recent years, he said.
“It gets more publicity now on Facebook, more than us just going around town and asking people about it. I think that’s part of it, that it’s easier to get caught now so if they do it they will have to keep it in and never tell a soul.”
If caught the poachers could face several charges and fines, plus court costs, restitution charges of $1,500 to $2,500 and, possibly, loss of hunting and fishing privileges for a time.
“It depends on circumstances around each case what charges will come and it depends on the (district attorney) and the judge,” Erdman said.
Wardens are asking anyone with possible information about the elk to contact Gomez directly at 918-857-5557, or make an anonymous report through Operation Game Thief, which offers a cash reward for information that leads to charges, at 800-522-8039.
Details about the program can be found at wildlifedepartment.com/law/operation-game-thief.
“I’d love to be able to solve that one. Unfortunately it goes on a long list,” Gomez said. “There are so few elk poaching deals though, someone in Tulsa knows about this elk.”