Image via: Bitterroot Valley Real Estate
Three young men in the small town of Hamilton, Montana were recently arrested after a string of poaching crimes that spanned almost a year. The poachers claim that they shot over 25 deer, but Wildlife officials have only been able to locate nine.
"We really don't have a clue exactly how many deer they shot," Royce said. "One defendant said they shot between 20 and 25 deer with a .22. The deer could have run off and died in the woods or been hauled off by predators. There could still be deer out there with bullets in them."
Police's first break in the long case occurred when a landowner outside of Hamilton called to report poaching on his property after he and his son hear shots fired nearby at night. A few minutes after the shot, the father and son stated they saw headlines being shone onto their property in the direction of a deer.
Once the deer was illuminated, they said they heard another shot ring out and the deer dropped where it was standing. Luckily, the son chased after the vehicle and was able to get the license plate number. Soon after, a news article in the area paper led more residents to report poaching.
"That was our big break in the case," Royce said."The news article helped," he said. "People told us about a number of different deer after they had read it."
The Montana men arrested for killing deer without permits, etc were sentenced by the local justice. From the Billings-Gazette:
Ravalli County Justice Jim Bailey handled all of the cases.
Gabe Rinehart, 19, pleaded guilty in August to 18 misdemeanor citations that included hunting without a license, hunting after dark, using a spotlight, as well as others.
Rinehart was fined $7,580 and ordered to pay $700 in restitution to FWP. He was sentenced to 1,980 days in jail, with all but two suspended.
Rinehart also lost hunting privileges for 20 years, but may apply with the court for reinstatement after five years.
Nicholas Cropp, 19, was found guilty of eight citations in a jury trial on Oct. 24.
Cropp was required to serve 15 days of his 1,100-day sentence in jail. He was ordered to pay $4,569 in fines, $639 in jury fees, and $800 in restitution. Cropp also forfeited a .270-caliber Savage bolt-action rifle.
Cropp lost his hunting privileges for 10 years.
Jedidiah Schmitt, 19, was sentenced on Nov. 7 for two citations for illegally killing one deer following a bench trial.
He was required to pay $1,370 in fines and $300 in restitution. Schmitt lost hunting privileges for six years. He was also sentenced to 360 days in jail, with all of it suspended.
"They later claimed that they were going to go back and get the meat, but they never did," Royce said. "As best as we could determine, they were shooting deer for the thrill of it."
With deer season in full swing, it's important to stay alert during your hunt, keep property secure, and always report poachers or incidents of poaching to the local authorities.
Do you feel that the punishments for poaching are too lax? What would you suggest to deter this kind of behavior? Share your thoughts in the comments below.