Kodiak family plans to close game ranch after their elk were allegedly let out and shot

The Burton family says they’ll close their private game ranch on the island after dozens of their elk were allegedly let out and shot by local hunters. The elk escaped late last week. And as of Wednesday, seven had been reported killed by local hunters. The Burtons say they’ll have to kill another 10 that can’t be herded back to the ranch.

The Burtons’ ranch near Pasagshak. (Photo courtesy Christine Burton)

Christine Burton’s family operates Kodiak Game Ranch & Cattle Company. Last Thursday, she says her husband found a temporary gate tied open and dirtbike tracks running in and out of their property, leading them to believe that someone broke in and herded the elk out.

“So come to find out Friday morning a bunch of people came out, physically crossed our private property and went to the back hay field, which is still on our lease — we lease 22,000 acres from the state — and started shooting. My husband followed them to find out that they were shooting elk.”

Burton said that’s when they found out that the entire herd — 90 elk — had escaped. Neither wildlife troopers nor Fish and Game were able to confirm how the elk escaped from the ranch.

Fish and Game released an emergency order Sunday closing a portion of the elk hunt around Pasagshak. According to the Fish and Game office, permitted hunters have reported seven elk taken in the Pasagshak area. The office said it was reasonable to assume that all seven came from the ranch.

The hunt is targeted at wild Roosevelt elk that occasionally swim to Kodiak Island from elsewhere in the archipelago, according to Fish and Game Management Coordinator Jeff Selinger. But he said it’s unlikely that you’d find many wild elk around Pasagshak.

“It doesn’t mean that one could not get down there, one or two here or there, but I think it’s been several years since anything’s been harvested in the vicinity of that area,” he said on Monday.

Rocky Mountain elk grazing on the Burtons’ ranch. (Photo courtesy Christine Burton)

As of Wednesday, Burton said they’d managed to find most of the remaining herd and those animals are back inside the ranch. But about ten elk are stuck in a hard-to-reach valley. Elk aren’t easily corralled like cattle — so Burton said for those remaining animals, they don’t have much choice except to cut a trail down to the group, shoot them, and bring the carcasses out on ATVs.

“I’m pretty pissed, actually,” Burton said Wednesday afternoon. “Because those are animals that could have bred for a few more years that we just lost out [on] because of this whole mess.”

The Burtons have operated their ranch since the late 60’s — it’s part farm, part private game hunting reserve. Besides elk, they have buffalo, yaks, cows and horses. Burton said for years they’ve dealt with trespassers and poachers, but this latest incident is the last straw. They’re planning to close the ranch.

“We’re tired of fighting,” she said. “We really don’t have the help and support from the community that we used to. And we certainly don’t have the respect, because every single person that went out hunting knew that these were privately owned animals and they had no problems coming out and taking them.”

She said a few hunters have even reached out to her on Facebook, thanking her for the meat to fill their freezers and feed their families. But she said she considers it theft — taking away both her animals and her livelihood.

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