Two fathers and their sons went hunting in Brinnon on Saturday, but after legally downing an elk with a muzzle-loading rifle, they found themselves staring down the barrels of guns pointed at them by uniformed officers of the Port Gamble S'klallam Tribe.
"The whole thing was handled way wrong," said Don Phipps, who shot the elk. "I've never had anyone pull a gun on me in my whole life. I didn't understand it."
Phipps, his son Danny, 22, and friend Adam Boling, 28 were handcuffed for two hours while bystanders watched from nearby U.S. 101. Also with the three men was Boling's 2-year-old son Taylor.
All eventually were released at the scene and allowed to take the elk home for butchering, but the whole experience has left them wondering why the tribal police handled the incident the way they did.
According to Washington and Jefferson County law enforcement officials, Phipps was in full compliance with state and local laws on hunting and the use of firearms.
"I shot the animal pure legal," said Phipps, 48, of Shelton. He's been hunting since he was 9 years old, he said, and this year won a rare "elk permit" issued by Washington Fish and Game.
to the private property where elk were grazing around noon on Oct. 3. The elk were between U.S. 101 and the Hood Canal, across from the Bayshore Motel.
Boling said he and his son watched from a distance as Phipps shot the bull elk with a muzzleloader, an antique-style firearm legal for this specific hunting season and location, according to a state fish and wildlife official.
After the elk was felled, the men loaded it into Boling's Toyota pickup and started to drive up the dirt road toward the highway when two tribal officers approached them with their weapons drawn. One was holding a pistol and the other an AR 15 assault rifle, said Boling.
"When a man is walking at you pointing a gun at you, you don't know what to think," said Phipps.
"I tried to explain to him, I don't know how many times," Phipps continued. "I'm in the shooting area. He kept screaming 'no it's not - we have a report you shot it with a high powered rifle."
The officers made the hunters lie prone on the ground. Boling tried to get up to grab his son, who had hidden behind the truck, but the officers wouldn't let him, he said.
"What makes me maddest is what they did to that child," Phipps said. "They pointed [their guns] at everyone who was out there helping me."
"They hand-cuffed all three of us," Boling said, and told them to "Be quiet."
While in custody, a friend ran to the Brinnon General Store, grabbed a copy of the state hunting regulation book, and brought it to the scene. Boling said that helped convince the officers that the hunt was legal.
But then, Boling said, they were told they were in a "no shooting" zone and perhaps "recklessly" shooting. The hunting party had permission from the property owner, Boling said, and he'd been hunting there for years.
"We waited for an hour for the elk to get to a safe spot," Boling said. Although a muzzleloader has a range of only a hundred yards or so, Phipps was nonetheless aiming toward Hood Canal, not the highway or nearby homes, he said.
"I felt helpless," Boling said of not being able to comfort his son, who ran and hid behind the truck. "I was worried he would be shot."
Boling said he had his own unloaded rifle and shotgun in his truck. He had used it recently for bear hunting, but did not take it out while Phipps was hunting elk.
Joined by a Jefferson County deputy and a WSP trooper, the tribal officers took all three weapons and placed them on the ground as a crowd gathered to watch from the highway. The weapons were given back when the the handcuffed men were released.
The incident left the men
upset and angry.
Despite being held for two hours, they were able to take the elk to Boling's house to gut it, and then to a butcher to prepare it before it would have spoiled, Boling said, although that had become a concern.
"What these guys did was absolutely wrong," said Boling. "It devastated my little kid."
"I'm going to question the whole thing." said Phipps. "If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't do it," he said of the rare chance to use a muzzle-loader elk permit.
Paul McCollum, director of Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe Natural Resources Department said Tuesday that he had not yet seen the incident report from the responding officers, Cap. Gus Goller and Officer Dale Clark.
McCollum was unable to say what prompted his officers' response, though he noted there were a lot of cars on the side of the road as people watched the elk. The tribe has fishing and hunting rights that extend far beyond Kingston and Port Gamble, he said, and its enforcement officers are routinely in the Hood Canal vicinity.
McCollum said the hunters could face charges once his agency's report is reviewed by state officials.
Those charges could include both hunting and firearm violations, he said. "That area is a non-shooting area, I believe," said McCollum. He said that while the hunters claimed permission from the property owner, the owner is an elderly man who may have been confused.
Sgt. Phil Henry from
Washington Fish and Game said he was not on duty the day of the incident.
However, he confirmed that an "Elk special permit" hunting season is under way from Oct. 3 - 11 in that area for those who were issued permits in a drawing. This particular hunt is limited to muzzleloaders, not modern rifles.
In addition Henry said, the area on the east side of Highway 101, behind the Brinnon store, is open to the discharge of firearms per Sec. 8.50.130 of the Jefferson County Code. The area closed to firearms use is between the highway and the Bonneville power lines, and runs from Dosewallips River Road to the Dosewallips River.
"There was no hunting violation," Henry said. "There was no shooting violation."
"I cannot speak to
the issue of reckless endangerment because I wasn't there, and I have not
talked to the Jefferson County deputy that investigated the scene," Henry
Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez said his agency only responded to assist the tribal officers, and as of Monday afternoon, it was unclear to him why tribal officers were there or why anyone was detained. The hunters were acting "legally," he said.
Photos by Jay Cline