ANCHORAGE - Alaska State Troopers are looking for a man on a snowmachine suspected of using a .22-caliber rifle to fire shots into a herd of reindeer at a farm near Palmer.
Six animals were hit in the shooting Friday. One was killed immediately and two others had to be euthanized.
The snowmachiner stopped at the fence of the reindeer farm, apparently shot the animals, then sped off, said the owner of Williams Reindeer Farm on Bodenburg Butte Road.
Farm owner Tom Williams said he saw the snowmachine rider after hearing shots about 5 a.m. Williams followed the person in a vehicle up and down roads in the Butte area, south of Palmer, until he lost him shortly after 6 a.m. He got close enough to see the man's eyes, but it was too dark to get a good look at him, he told the Anchorage Daily News.
Alaska State Troopers later found snowmachine tracks in a light covering of fresh snow that had fallen after midnight, but they did not find the suspect, according to Williams.
Of the family's 150 reindeer, 20 are considered show animals, used in Christmas events such as the Anchorage tree-lighting ceremony and in TV commercials and movies. The shots all struck show deer, all adults and each weighing roughly 200 to 300 pounds.
Autumn, a female that had performed in numerous Christmas tours in Anchorage, was killed almost instantly by a bullet through her heart, said Phil Meyer, a Wasilla veterinarian. Rudolph Junior, a breeding bull with a big white nose, had its back broken by a slug, and troopers had to shoot it, Williams family members said. Merry Christmas, another show deer, was found with a gunshot wound and a broken front leg. She already had a dislocated hip, said Gene Williams, so she was put down.
Three others were struck but not killed or put down.
Troopers released few details of their investigation. They confirmed the shooting and said the value of the animals, about $18,000, made the crime a Class C felony.
The Williams family also has a few moose, Sitka blacktail deer and elk. The 160-acre farm draws about 10,000 paying tourists each year, Tom Williams said.
Shell casings for a .22-caliber long rifle were found in the area, and Meyer said he removed a .22-caliber slug from one of the animals.
Williams, a 62-year-old lawyer, is perhaps best known for winning the right as a non-Native to import Canadian reindeer into Alaska for commercial purposes. Williams had challenged a 1937 federal law that allowed only Alaska Natives to own reindeer.
His suit wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago. Williams won the case when the justices let stand without comment an Appeals Court ruling favoring Williams against a coalition of Native herders.