A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) conservation officer believes poaching is the cause of death for a world-class elk found rotting September 4 in a canyon near the town of Reserve.

This article from New Mexico Wildlife News says hunters in the area have filmed the bull, estimated to score 422 inches, over the last three seasons and last saw it alive on September 1.

“Up until this year, every time we would have an encounter with him he would disappear,” Lewis said. “But this year he was visible every morning and every night. We thought we would have a chance to have a stalk on him and have a chance to harvest. But the poacher must have seen him too. It’s really horrendous.”

The New Mexico archery season opened September 1 in the unit where the elk was found, but NMDGF officer KC Gehrt reportedly investigated the remains and found evidence of what he believes was a mortal shot from a small caliber bullet.

“In the past, poachers have waited to return to an animal because they couldn’t find it or they were waiting to claim the animal when they had a hunting license,” Gehrt said. “That is what I suspect happened here. The wanton waste in this situation is sickening. It’s one of the reasons that trophy poaching should be a treated as a felony”

If caught, the poacher faces misdemeanor charges and civil penalties over $10,000.