By Patrick Winderl
For Ken Overcast, Wednesday morning began like every other. He woke up, had breakfast with his wife, Dawn, and did a little work around the house. Then he got in his pickup and went to check on his hay bales.
Overcast, who has ranched since the 1960s, was unprepared for what he saw.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I had heard of things like this happening before, but it wasn't something I had ever seen. It just made me sick."
Less than half a mile from his house, two of Overcast's cows lay dead and mutilated on the side of the dirt road. The cows had been shot in the stomach and cut open in a crude attempt to remove meat from their flanks.
"Whoever did this shot them in the guts and started carving the steak out while the cows were still alive," Overcast said. "The person responsible didn't even have the decency to shoot them in head. The animals weren't even dead yet."
Overcast reported the shootings to the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and the Montana Department of Livestock. The sheriff's office said today a deputy had recovered shell casings from a small-caliber weapon at the scene and was investigating the incident.
Overcast said several sheep at a ranch about a mile from his ranch had been shot a month ago.
Sheriff's deputy Shawn Guffin said it is unclear if the two incidents are related.
Blaine County Attorney Mark Harshman said today that instances of cattle shooting are rare.
Possible charges, if a suspect is identified, could include felony criminal mischief, theft and criminal trespass to property, Guffin said.
Overcast suspected Wednesday that more of his cattle had been shot. The number of shell casings on the ground near the dead cows led him to that conclusion. His fears were confirmed Friday when he found the bodies of two more Hereford-Angus cows. The animals had been shot in the stomach and crawled off to die, he said. Those two hadn't been butchered.
"I cannot imagine anyone being mad enough at me to do something like this," Overcast said. "I can't help but wonder if drugs and alcohol had something to do with this.
"Meat wasn't really the motive for this. What really scares me is that someone just got out there and tried to see how many cows he could knock down."
Overcast said he is frustrated by the shootings.
"We don't even know who or why," he said. "Whoever did this is sick."
Each of the four animals was worth about $1,000, Overcast said.
Jack Wiseman of the Montana Department of Livestock said today the department may offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible party.
Overcast has already offered a reward of $1,000 for information about the incident.l