On Sunday, the last day of big game season, Ethan Donaldson did something he had never managed to accomplish before: killing his first bull elk.
He woke up Monday intending to take the head, which he'd left in the bed of his truck, over to his dad’s house to show off the rack. But when he went down to the parking lot of his North Reserve apartment complex, the head was gone.
“All I could say was ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” the 23-year-old said Wednesday.
Donaldson downed the elk early Sunday morning while out with his brother and two friends around the Potomac area. He called his dad — who had also never managed to kill a bull — from the field to tell him about it.
“He was just like, ‘Send me some photos.’ And then he was just whooping and hollering on the phone,” Donaldson said.
The group hunted the rest of the day, and dropped off the elk meat to be processed on the way home. Donaldson said he had already planned to take the head to a friend’s house to have it mounted on Monday after he got to show his dad the 5-point.
“It wasn’t all that big but it would have been cool to hang it up on the wall of my apartment,” he said.
After getting back to his apartment and changing Sunday evening, he returned to his truck briefly and rearranged how the head was positioned so only a few inches were sticking up over the lip of the bed.
Monday morning, as he walked up to the truck, he said he couldn’t see the antlers poking up.
“My first thought was it was just early and I hadn’t had my coffee yet,” he said.
After finding the bull had been stolen, he contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks right away and talked to a warden.
“He said we probably have 12 cases like this. Finding it would just be a random chance of picking the right house to search,” Donaldson said.
He also filed a report with the Missoula Police Department, which has opened an investigation.
When he told his friends what had happened, Donaldson said they didn’t believe him at first.
“One of the guys just thought I was joking. He actually came over and drove by my truck during a lunch break just to check.”
Donaldson’s post on Facebook about the theft has received hundreds of shares and responses. At this point, Donaldson said he thinks his best hope is that someone sees the head and reports it.
“Any true sportsman would not take another hunter’s game,” he said.