A hunter from Farmington shot a moose that he mistook for a bull elk last weekend outside of Silverton.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Thursday that the hunter, Bruce Black, self-reported the incident Sunday night, which occurred up South Mineral Creek Road, northwest of Silverton.
Black was charged with careless hunting, which carries a fine of up to $1,000. He will also be assessed 20 hunting license suspension points, and he must appear in court.
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW, said Black will first appear before a district court judge.
Then, Black will meet with a CPW hearings officer. If a hunter receives 20 points or more in a five-year period, the hunter faces a suspension of his or her hunting license. A CPW hearing officer determines the length of suspension.
Hunters who do not self-report and are later found can face more severe penalties, CPW said.
"Anyone can make a mistake," said Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager for CPW in Durango, in a prepared statement. "What's important and what sets responsible hunters apart is how they handle their mistakes."
Black made a statement to CPW apologizing and showing remorse about the incident.
"I've never felt like a bigger idiot," he said. "I feel sick about it."
Black said he spotted the moose lying down and in shadow around 6 p.m. Sunday, as light was beginning to fade. He told authorities he was 300 yards away and saw the antlers and head of the animal straight on.
Black did not have binoculars and was using only the scope of his rifle, which Lewandowski said often contributes to misidentifying animals.
The moose, which Black mistook for an elk, stood up, and he took the shot.
"It was too dark to see coloration," Black said.
CPW learned of the situation around 10 p.m. Sunday. Wildlife officials met with Black at the site around 6 a.m. Monday.
Black hadn't field dressed the moose, which CPW says all hunters should do if they mistakenly kill the wrong animal. Fortunately, it was cold enough overnight that the meat didn't spoil. The meat was donated to a family, CPW said.
"The hunter didn't take enough time to be sure of his target," Thorpe said. "Hunters must know exactly what they're shooting at before they pull the trigger. Target identification is a core component of being an ethical hunter."
Every year, hunters misidentify moose for elk, and occasionally, deer for elk, Lewandowski said.
Already this year, six moose have been mistakenly killed in the northwestern part of the state, he said. In Colorado, an average of 12 moose are mistakenly shot annually, he said.
"There's more moose throughout the state," Lewandowski said. "Still, the onus is on the hunter to be 100 percent sure of what he or she is shooting."
Lewandowski said low light and not having binoculars are typical reasons why hunters mistake moose for elk. The antlers of a small bull moose look similar to the antlers of an elk.
Moose and elk are different colors.
"The hide of a moose is almost black when viewed from a distance, and the body and head of a moose are larger than an elk," CPW said in the statement. "At this time of year an elk's coat is light brown, although the head can be dark brown."
In his statement to CPW, Black said: "Even when you see a head, don't shoot, wait until it turns sideways."
CPW asks hunters to report suspicious activity they observe while in the field. To report violations or concerns about crimes against wildlife, call the nearest CPW office or Operation Game Thief at (877) 265-6648.