A small herd of elk escaped a game farm in Killen and made its way to Greenhill, giving local hunters a rare chance to hunt the animal close to home.

Residents had reported seeing animals that looked like deer but were bigger, but wildlife officials were unable to track down any of the creatures. It wasn’t until residents began hunting Tuesday that authorities realized the animals were elk.

Wildlife officials initially were puzzled about where the animals came from – the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee is the area closest to the Shoals where elk are known to roam freely.

Authorities seized and buried three elk shot in a field off U.S. 43 by a hunter who did not have the landowner’s permission to hunt there.

Capt. Johnny Johnson of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries said elk hunted in the Greenhill area would be tested for chronic wasting disease. The disease has been spotted in several Western states and Wisconsin, but not in Alabama.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries enforcement officer Richard Wallace warned hunters not to eat any meat from the elk until the tests are complete.