Recently, the investigation and prosecution of the illegal take of six antelope and three sage grouse involving two Big Horn County juveniles has come to a close.
The case began a year and a half ago when Greybull Game Warden Bill Robertson responded to a report of spotlighting on a ranch near Shell. When Robertson arrived on the scene, he observed a spotlight shining in the fields and heard gunshots. Robertson then observed two vehicles leaving the area. “At the site, I made contact with four juveniles in two vehicles that were leaving the area,” Robertson said. The group stated they had been spotlighting for jackrabbits and had approximately 20 jackrabbits in their possession. “During that contact, I discovered that not only did the juveniles fail to obtain written permission from the landowner to spotlight predators as required by Wyoming law, the group had also broken several gun handling safety rules despite recently passing a hunter safety course,” Robertson said.
Robertson inventoried six fully loaded weapons in the vehicles with live ammunition in the chambers and magazines. “Some of the loaded rifles did not even have the safeties engaged,” Robertson said. The juveniles also admitted to shooting jackrabbits in the field adjacent to an occupied home with large propane tanks nearby.
The juveniles were allowed to return to their homes. The next day, Robertson met with the youth and their parents and wrote warning notices for the violations and advising them of the dangers they posed to themselves and others.
Three days later, a report was received of multiple dead antelope at the same location where the youth had been spotlighting jackrabbits. “I admit, I was not prepared for what happened next,” Robertson said.
Robertson and Lovell Game Warden James Hobbs investigated the report and found six dead antelope and three dead sage grouse shot by both large and small caliber firearms. Some of the carcasses had been run over with a vehicle after they had been shot.
Ballistic evidence found adjacent to some of the carcasses indicated that a .25-06 rifle and a .22 caliber firearm had been used to shoot several of the animals. The wardens believed that the same individuals who had been driving the vehicles Robertson had stopped three days earlier were involved.
Robertson and Hobbs again met with the 14-year-old male and his parents and the 17-year-old male and his parents to discuss the incident. Both boys admitted to having returned to the area to shoot more jackrabbits but that the shooting continued with whatever they could see in their spotlight, including antelope and sage grouse.
Information was filed against both juveniles in District Court and court proceedings were heard individually. The 17-year-old admitted to one charge of the use of artificial light to take big game animals and two counts of wanton destruction of big game animals. He was sentenced to pay $3,000 in restitution, lost hunting privileges for two years and was ordered to retake a hunter safety class and provide 100 hours of community service.
The 14-year-old male admitted to one count of using artificial light to take big game animals, four counts of wanton destruction of big game animals, one count of taking game bird out of season and one count of waste of edible portions of a game bird. He was sentenced to pay $12,300 in restitution but due to his inability to pay, was ordered to pay off $1,200 under a community work service agreement. In addition, the juvenile will be under the supervision of a multidisciplinary team for one year, lose all hunting privileges until he is discharged from the court, will not participate in hunting with anyone other than his parents but cannot carry a weapon and was ordered to retake the hunter safety course. The court ordered the forfeiture of his .25-06 rifle and the spotlight used in the incident to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The court also ordered the juveniles parents to pay $2,000 in restitution.
Reflecting on the earlier contact with the boys, Robertson said, “One would have expected that leniency would have reaped its rewards, but in this case it did not.”
“Knowing that both boys had successfully passed a hunter safety class made it especially difficult to understand why they did what they did,” Robertson said. “I hope that the hard lesson they are enduring now will result in positive behavioral and attitude changes as they grow older.”