It should have been a hunting trip of a lifetime for Chipper Hicks, going to Colorado with his son and his son-in-law.
But the memory that they hoped they would cherish for a lifetime is now one they wish they could forget
Hicks was arrested Oct. 22 in Brinkley, Ark., charged with illegal transportation of a cervid and had his trophy 6 X 6 bull elk confiscated - meat, antlers and all - by officers from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
"It was a great trip, until we got on the road to come home," said Hicks, a cattle rancher from Oxford. "Then it became a disaster."
Hicks said he had his heart broken on a fuel and food stop that has to rank as one of the unluckiest exits from I-40 ever
"We gassed up and then drove across the road to a family restaurant," he said. "We parked next to a game warden's truck and we sat next to two of them in the restaurant. We even talked to them."
Hicks said they discussed the hunt and the two men - Hicks said one identified himself as a federal officer and the other a state officer - walked outside and looked at the antlers, which were sticking up above the back of the pickup truck.
"I could see them mouthing the numbers as they counted the points," Hicks said.
But what Hicks didn't know was that the officers also contacted the nearby district state wildlife office.
Two younger officers pulled up and they looked at the elk, and then they came inside and the next thing I knew, they were arresting us," Hicks said.
"They asked me if I had boiled out the skull plate, and I said, 'Well, no, I haven't,' and they said, 'Well, then you are under arrest.' "
Hicks was first told he was going to jail, but then he was given a ticket and released. He faces a minimum fine of $610 plus court costs and a Dec. 11 court date.
"What bothers me the most is that they just took the meat and just threw it into the back of their truck on a 75-degree day," Hicks said. "This was God's creature being treated that way. That isn't right. They told me it would be incinerated."
Keith Stephens, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said Friday that Hicks could eventually recover the elk, or parts of it.
"That will be up to the judge," Stephens said. "When Mr. Hicks was arrested, he was just down the road from our district office. The confiscated elk was immediately put into a freezer. It is still there."
Still, Hicks says the lesson he learned that day should serve as a warning to other Mississippians who hunt out of state.
Many states, including Arkansas and Tennessee, now prohibit transportation of a harvested cervid - all deer, elk, moose and even caribou - killed in a state with a reported case of chronic wasting disease, or CWD.
"I offered to pay for a CWD test. I offered to pay the maximum fine if it was found to have CWD," Hicks said. "I didn't want to see it destroyed and wasted. That is a sin.
"I sure hope I can get it back. I want to pay my fine and get this over with. I am guilty. I just didn't know."
CWD is a highly infectious and 100 percent fatal disease for any infected cervid. CWC has put fear in wildlife officials across the country. Colorado is one of many states, along with two Canadian provinces, on the list of CWD states.
CWD-free states, Arkansas included, wish to remain so, and at least 36 have enacted measures to prevent its introduction.
In Mississippi it is illegal to import or transport live cervids, but there is no law regarding transportation of carcasses. For Mississippians traveling west, Arkansas and Tennessee (I-40 through Memphis is included) are the only states with restrictions. Officials in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma said their states have no transportation restrictions beyond having certification of legal harvest.
Hunters traveling north to chase trophy white-tailed deer in the upper Midwest and returning through Tennessee, should know that Tennessee requires meat to be deboned and all tissue removed from the skull plate (bleaching the plate satisfies the requirement, according to a Tennessee wildlife spokesman).
CWD is believed to be concentrated within the soft tissue of the brain, with the possibility of prions also being located in bony material and marrow.
Arkansas enacted its law in the fall of 2005, and Hicks appears to be the 25th person cited.
"I pulled the records today (Friday), and we have had 24 cases go to court in three years," Stephens said. "A citation for this is rare, which I think is an indication that hunters know about CWD, know there are transportation rules regarding it and are taking precautions to make sure they are legal."
Or could it be that most hunters luck into a restaurant at an I-40 exit that Arkansas conservation officers don't frequent?
"Yes, I guess that's true; Mr. Hicks was unlucky," Stephens said. "But that is no excuse. I would think that anyone who was going out of a state on a hunting trip would take steps to be sure he was being legal. I know I would."
Hicks said he had taken careful steps to be sure he was legal - in Colorado.
"I followed every rule and recommendation Colorado had for handling elk or deer," he said. "They recommend removing the animal's head below the third vertebrae. They told me the worst thing to do is cut open the head (removing the skull plate that forms the antler base)."
"When Mr. Hicks was cited, our agents found his Colorado brochure and in it it says that hunters should check the transportation regulations in states (on his route)," Stephens said.
"But Colorado also told me I had nothing to worry about with my elk and CWD," Hicks said. "They cleared me.
"We did everything we could on this trip to abide by the law. As a father I am heartbroken that my son and son-in-law had this happen on their first trip out there."
Chipper Hicks with the 6X6 elk he killed in Colorado, but had confiscated in Arkansas on his way home.