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Thirteen dead elk lay scattered across a pasture in Montana’s Big Hole Basin–bulls, cows and calves. Blood trails showed that at least three more elk had stumbled off to slow, painful deaths. It was October 2002, and all the evidence Montana game warden Mark Anderson had was two shirts left by the shooters.

Anderson has seen such carnage before, if not on this scale. Elk will often bunch up during the hunting season, and “when the adrenaline starts and the shooting starts, people don’t stay on their original elk and the result is what we had here,” Anderson explains. He estimates between 30 and 50 shots were fired.

“We call them thrill killers,” says Randy Stark, chief warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These thrill seekers illegally kill game for the rush, leaving the animals to rot. In a recent case, three Wisconsin teenage males “shot and killed thirty-nine deer, a raccoon and a red-tailed hawk, and basically just left them there,” Stark says.

Such cases are usually tough to solve. After all, the thrill-killer MO is just to shoot and leave. In Idaho, for example, thrill killers blasted 47 animals in Lemhi and Custer Counties in fall 2002, including 31 elk and eight deer; wardens solved only nine of the killings.

Thanks to a tip, charges were recently brought against six men in the Big Hole slaughter. The shooters had elk tags, but the elk were on private lands that had been posted. Even if the lands had been open to hunting, Anderson says only adrenaline and excitement can explain the wanton killing of so many animals. –Brian McCombie

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Killing for the fun of it:   Unlike the traditional motivations for poaching–putting food on the table during lean times or bagging a trophy rack–so-called thrill killers do it just for the rush.