Illinois deer hunter: ‘Why wouldn’t an elk be here?

Antioch, Ill. — With wolves and cougars confirmed inside Illinois’ borders, Ron Mulholland said he thought it was possible the trio of what appeared to be elk that showed up while he was bowhunting for deer were wild.

As originally reported by Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun-Times, the animals turned out to be European red deer, or Cervus elaphus, a close cousin of the elk (Cervvus canadensis).

On Nov. 3, Mulholland, who has hunted elk on several occasions in the western U.S., killed two of the animals, which hadn’t traveled far when they walked into range of Mulholland’s crossbow. He was hunting on a friend's farm.

The red deer, and apparently three others, had escaped from a nearby farm at the end of October, leaving their owner, Avery Brabender, unhappy. He was unable to do much about his loss, though he has since recovered the other animals alive.

Conservation Police captain Neal Serdar said Mulholland broke no laws in shooting the animals, which are not regulated by the Illinois DNR.

“If they escaped, I don’t even think [Brabender] would have a civil suit,” said Serdar. “Once they escape, they escape.”

But Kevin Bettis, a Conservation Police duty officer in Springfield, told the Sun-Times what Mulholland did was “no different than shooting a cow.”

Mulholland, reached by phone, took exception to that – and while he acknowledged that the animals were escapees, he clung to his reasoning at the time that the animals were wild, even with the closest wild elk herds hundreds of miles away in eastern Kentucky and the northern reaches of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

“The fact that cougars are down here and wolves are down here, why couldn’t an elk get down here?” Mulholland said.

Mulholland, who hunted elk as recently as January near Fort Bridger, Wyo., contended that there’s little difference between European red deer and elk.

“It’s a subspecies,” he said. “I know what an elk looks like. I think there’s like eight subspecies of white-tailed deer, and how many guys would know the difference, unless there was a size difference?”

The notion that an elk could have wandered down to Illinois was challenged by WGN radio personality Jonathon Brandmeier, who made light of the dispute, interviewing both men simultaneously on air on Nov. 14.

Brandmeier attempted to get Mulholland to apologize to Brabender.

Mulholland, who said he was completely unaware of Brabender’s nearby deer farm, refused, calling the escapees Brabender’s responsibility.

But he offered to give back the antlers, which were not of trophy size.

“Well,” Brabender chuckled to Brandmeier, “That won’t breed my deer.”

Brabender could not be reached for comment on this story.

Mulholland stood his ground, saying he felt bad for Brabender’s loss, and repeated that he had done nothing wrong.

“I knew what the rules are,” said Mulholland, of Des Plaines, before recounting the hunt.

He was deer hunting the property of a friend, Lenny Villano, when the three animals showed up. Though surprised, he loaded his crossbow, and first fired at the bull’s shoulder from 20 yards. Surprisingly, after the first

kill, another animals came right into range.

“She just ran up to me and stood there,” Mulholland said. “I was stunned, but I know [elk]. I also happen to know that about 10 years ago, somebody in the same area shot a red stag, but that one [was wearing] a metal clip.”

None of the deer were marked, and Mulholland said he wouldn’t have killed the animals if they were wearing collars.

Mulholland had Villano help him drag the animals out of the woods, and he has been eating the meat, some of which he has given away to friends, a point he seemed to rub in during his only conversation with Brabender on the Brandmeier's radio show.

He’s really enjoyed the livers.

“It’s kind of like there’s a crunch to it, and it’s sweet,” Mulholland said.

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