5 poachers fined more than $41K in illegal Montana elk harvest

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(Caption: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks investigator Bryan Golie loads elk antlers recovered from hunters in Washington State last week, Photo: Great Falls Tribune/Karl Puckett)

A group of non-resident hunters visiting from Washington State found themselves very much on the wrong side of Montana conservation agents and the courts when it came to light that they illegally shot bull elk on private land in a closed district over a three year period.

As reported by the Great Falls Tribune, the men between 2010 and 2013 hunted and harvested six bull elk along the Sun River Game Range, which runs on the edges of the Rocky Mountain Front. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks had closed that district to elk harvests for some time. Although the men were on the land of the Cobb Ranch near the small town of Augusta (pop. 284), management at Cobb, a cattle ranch, contended they knew nothing of the poaching and cooperated with MFWP in the investigation.

In fact, it was Cobb management that called in conservation officers in 2014 when they found elk disposal sites with skeletal remains but no heads. MFWP officials came in and collected DNA evidence which they later compared to antlers in the possession of the Washington hunters turned over as part of a search warrant delivered in conjunction by wildlife officers in that state. Further, investigators compared pictures of the hunters shown with elk harvests with the topographical features at the Cobb Ranch and came up with a match.  Although felony charges were pursued, the men entered plea agreements to lesser charges.

Charged as follows are:

-Robert MacMillan Jr., 39, of Montesano, Washington. Pleaded guilty to failure to stop and report at a check station, hunting during closed season and unlawful possession, all misdemeanors. He was fined $2,085 and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution.

-Robert MacMillan Sr., 65, also of Montesano. Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor failure to stop and report at a check station, hunting during a closed season, also a misdemeanor, and felony unlawful possession of a bull elk. He was fined $4,085 and order to pay $10,000 in restitution.

-Ken Mills, 48, also of Montesano, was previously sentenced, fined $2,050 and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution.

-Robert Church, 52, of Raymond, Washington. Pleaded guilty to failure to stop and report at a check station, hunting during a closed season, unlawful possession and hunting over the limit. He was fined $3,585 and order to pay $1,500 in restitution.

-Brent Schiller, 44, of McCleary, Washington, was previously sentenced, fined $2,085 and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution.

In addition, each man lost their hunting privileges in Montana for five years and face the same possibility in Washington as reported by the Spokesman Review.

According to the latest harvest reports from MFWP, collected in 2014, 13,142 bulls and 11,515 cows were taken, including 5,637 animals with 6 points or better. The population, based on an extensive observation program and estimates from state biologists, was pegged at 158,584 last year. Bulls in the state typically run 900-1,000 pounds.

For more information on keeping it legal in Montana, visit the state website here.