Game Law Violations

Report from Montana

• In a very unusual case of wasting game fish, a male wearing a baseball cap threw live, wild fish at passing cars in Great Falls on Lower River Road on June 1. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks authorities are seeking tips that might lead to the identification of the suspect.

Anyone with information that may help solve this crime should call the FWP region warden sergeant, Gary Benson, at 406-454-5850 or the TIP-MONT Hotline at 1-800-847-6668.

Report from Wyoming

• First Complete Enactment of Seizure Law — Helicopter Forfeited

On Oct. 16, a helicopter hazed elk to an unlicensed hunter it had earlier dropped off on a snowy ridgetop west of Cody. Now that same craft will serve the citizens whose laws it help break.

The helicopter was the first hunting equipment forfeited under a Wyoming law implemented July 1, 1999, to hopefully deter serious wildlife crimes. "This is exactly the type of case the forfeiture law was designed for," said Jay Lawson, chief game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "It was a very serious crime that outraged the public."

The law allows any equipment used to take an antlered big game animal out of season or to commit wanton destruction of big game, to be seized by law enforcement officers. The equipment, which can include firearms, ammunition, vehicles and binoculars, is only relinquished to the state with a judge’s approval after the conviction. The G&F and Wyoming Game Warden’s Association had supported similar legislation for several years.

The case in which the law was first fully applied began when a hunter and his companion observed a red helicopter haze elk over a ridge, immediately followed by the sound of gunshots near Trout Peak in the Shoshone National Forest west of Cody. The men photographed the helicopter and contacted Cody game warden Craig Sax.

That afternoon the pair led Sax to the scene. After locating helicopter skid marks in the snow and following human tracks, the game warden discovered a bull elk carcass with only the head and cape removed. The antlered elk season did not open in hunt area 121, commonly known as Rattlesnake Mountain, for another 16 days.

Sax is grateful for the help from the informants. "They sacrificed a day of their hunt to contact us as soon as possible and take me to the scene," Sax said. "That kind of sportsmanship is a wonderful trait." Accompanied by other game wardens, Sax served a search warrant on the residence of the alleged poacher and collected a set of five-point elk antlers and other evidence. The man also took Sax to a grocery store dumpster where the head and cape were recovered.

From interviews and the evidence at the crime scene, Sax determined the man chased a group of elk with his helicopter away from timber and then dropped off his 11-year-old son. He then proceeded to haze the elk to his son. The boy missed the elk with three shots. The helicopter landed, flew to another spot where the father and son took turns shooting at the elk at what he said was "approximately 1,000 yards." In the volley of shots, the five-point bull was wounded and the father again took flight and touched down in a rocky area near the animal to allow his son to shoot it again. The man returned the helicopter to the down slope shooting location and walked back to his son. The pair removed the cape and head, drug it to the helicopter and flew away.

Minimum age to hunt big game in Wyoming is 12 years old. The father possessed a general elk tag, which was not valid in this solely limited-quota area.

Park County attorney Kelly Rankin charged the father with using an aircraft to pursue and harass big game and wanton destruction of big game. With a jury trial set to begin April 24, the man changed his not guilty plea to no contest April 21. Park County Judge John Housel fined him $1,000 for wanton destruction and $750 for aircraft harassment. He was also assessed $4,000 restitution to the state general fund for the elk, plus $800 to Park County for expenses to have a witness travel from Germany to Cody and $20 court costs.

Housel also sentenced the man to 120 days in jail, but suspended all but 20 days on the condition he serve one-year probation without violating any laws.

"Disregard for putting the animal to beneficial use is a very egregious act," Sax said, referring to elk meat being wasted.

Because the helicopter is valued over $1,000, the forfeiture proceeding was handled in district court. In a sentence agreement worked out with the man and his attorney, he will keep any proceeds over $50,000 from the sale of the helicopter. The bulk of the sale will go to the state of Wyoming. The case prompted 300 signatures on a Cody-area petition requesting the game law violator receive a stiff sentence for the crimes.

The helicopter will be sold in the near future by sealed bid. For more information about the sale process, contact the G&F General Accounting at (307) 777-4600

| WH Home | Contact Western | WH Archive |

Copyright © 2000 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved.