5 calves dead from gunshot wounds in SD | TheFencePost.com

5 calves dead from gunshot wounds in SD

Amanda Radke
for Tri-State Livestock News
A South Shore, S.D., ranching family discovered five calves dead in the pasture within a period of two weeks. A veterinarian deduced that they all died from gun shot wounds. Now, they seek information and justice. The calf in this photo was skinned to determine the cause of death.
Photo courtesy Kowalski |

When one calf drops over dead in the middle of the summer, it would be easy to brush it off as nature taking its course. When another, and another, and another, and yet another lay down and die within two weeks of each other, that’s certainly cause for concern.

From Aug. 12 to 26, Kristin Kowalski’s family ranch located near South Shore, S.D., lost five calves in rapid succession. Worried it could be a larger herd health issue, the Kowalski’s called their local veterinarian to come investigate.

“Our veterinarian (E.L. Larson from the Lake Area Vet Clinic in Watertown, S.D.) had never seen anything like this before,” Kowalski said. “A couple of our neighbors also had a few calves randomly pass away and discovered the dead calves when they saw vultures circling the pasture. We wondered if it was possibly anthrax, so we wanted Dr. Larson to come out to the place and post the calves for us.”

The Kowalskis discovered the first dead calf right after a storm. Within just a few weeks, several others were dead, and the final calf to lose its battle was found laying alone away from the herd before he eventually succumbed to this mystery illness.

“Larson checked for everything from pneumonia, to black leg, to anthrax,” she said. “When he skinned the dead calf and pulled the hide away, he noticed bruising, and then bullet holes,” she said. “We were shocked. The final calf to die had bullet wounds, but they had completely healed over, so he was just bleeding internally. The bullets tore these calves up inside but not thoroughly enough to kill on the spot. All five calves proved to die from wounds caused by a low-caliber gun.

Immediately, Kowalski said her family felt vulnerable, and of course, the loss of five calves, which they estimate to be worth around $4,000, was a tough pill to swallow, particularly as the fall calf run will soon begin and payday is just around the corner.

“For my grandma, Penelope Kowalski, these calves are her entire income to live off of throughout the year,” she said. “She is taking this really hard, not just because it’s her livelihood, but also because she is really emotionally attached to the cattle, as well.”


Kowalski said the family has tried and failed to think of anyone who would mean them harm or have a grudge against them, and they are at a loss to begin to guess why someone would purposely kill their calves.

“It could be kids just messing around,” she said. “Or because we live so close to land managed by the Game Fish & Parks, it could have been random sportsmen passing through. We never noticed any suspicious activity, and if we ever heard gun shots, we never thought anything of it because of our location to recreational hunting and fishing areas.”

The ranch is located just five miles north of Punish Woman Lake, and the gravel road the cattle grass alongside is frequently used by people coming and going.

“The pasture is really close to our farm, but the fence runs alongside a main road,” she said. “I guess it would be pretty easy to shoot the calves just driving by.”

A little on edge and desperate for information, the Kowalskis are offering a $500 reward for any information that can be provided on the incident. Friends and peers have also pledged donations to bring the reward up to $1,000 if the perpetrators are caught.

“After the veterinarian came out and discovered the cause of death, we immediately filed a police report with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office,” she said. “They made a report, but told us unless there is some solid evidence or someone is caught doing it to someone else’s calves, there is nothing they can really do at this point.”

Kowalski is seeking justice and wanting to spread the word on the crime. She posted images of the dead calves on Facebook and is urging anyone with information to call her at (605) 881-8690 or Penelope at (605) 756-4461. So far, her post has been shared 4,455 times with 897 comments and 2,100 “likes.”

“We haven’t gotten any substantial leads yet, but I’m confident someone will talk soon, and we’ll get to the bottom of this,” she said.


Kowalski urges producers to check cattle frequently and pay attention to people who may be traveling along the remote gravel roads near pastures or ranch sites.

“We are certainly checking the cattle more thoroughly and hoping we don’t lose any other calves to gunshot wounds,” she said.

Although it seems like cattle theft is a common problem ranchers face, crimes of this ilk aren’t unheard of. In South Dakota, another case is pending regarding a cattle shooting.

According to the Moody County Sheriff’s Office, “A calf was shot in the hip with what appears to be a small caliber gun. There is no exit wound; at this point this animal is still alive and being treated. This occurred in a pasture in eastern Moody County. If you are out and about and see something strange call the Sheriff’s office at (605) 997-2423. This has happened north of here where the cattle died either from the gun shot, or an infection stemming back to the gun shot. We can’t be everywhere at one time, but with your help we can have people everywhere watching. Stay safe and do not approach any strange activities on your own. We will do that part, we are just asking for your help to keep watch.”

In early August, the Associated Press reported on two Kentucky teens who confessed to shooting eight cows this summer with an AR-15 rifle.

According to WYMT-TV, “Joe Yates and Danny Branham of Pike County found eight head of cattle dead and another four missing. Branham says five of the slain cows were pregnant, and the other three were young calves. He said one calf had to be put down after it was shot in the spine.

“Yates and Branham said the cattle’s value was estimated at $20,000. Yates said he discovered a video on social media of teenagers showing off a rifle and distinct ammunition matching rounds used on the cattle. The station reports police say the two teens who made the videos have confessed and charges are pending.”

A ranch south of Pierre, S.D., lost several sheep to gunshot wounds last year.

-Amanda Radke is a cattle rancher, freelance writer and agricultural speaker from Mitchell, S.D. She can be reached at amanda.radke@live.com.