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WY: Hunters help nab wolf poacher

Illegally killed animal was stuffed into storage box, warden said.

By Mike Koshmrl

Wildlife officials caught a poacher red-handed as he tried to sneak down Gros Ventre Road with a dead gray wolf stuffed into a bin in his truck bed.

A tip led Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials to the man, whom the agency declined to identify.

Warden Jon Stephens got a call the first week of December from hunters who had witnessed a wolf slip across the road in a closed area followed by another hunter. Shortly afterward the tipsters heard a barrage of gunfire.

“Timingwise, thankfully, these guys were up there to help put some of the pieces together and call me about it,” Stephens said. “This guy was turned in and caught due to a tip from other wolf hunters.”

The warden headed up Gros Ventre Road and intercepted the poacher, who had no other way out of the valley than the main drag. Initially, the man lied about having knowingly shot a wolf in an area that was closed to the pursuit. His plan was to wait a few days and then report that the wolf had been killed in a legal area, Stephens said.

“But once I looked into one of the boxes in the bed of the truck, he came clean,” Stephens said. “He said he got excited and made a bad decision. It was the first wolf he had seen, and he went up there with the intent of wolf hunting.”

The man also had two red foxes in his truck bed that had been shot. The foxes, managed as “predators” that can be hunted with nearly no restrictions, were killed legally as far as the warden could determine.

The wolf, however, was traveling through the landscape on the south side of the Gros Ventre River — an area that reached its two-animal quota and closed in October. The north side of the river remains open to wolf hunting, though the season will close either once one more wolf is killed or when the calendar flips to 2018.

While on patrol this fall Stephens encountered several hunters who had spotted but passed on wolves on the closed south side of the Gros Ventre River. That was the case with the party of hunters who reported the suspicious gunfire.

“These other guys observed that wolf,” Stephens said, “but knowing that it was in a safe area and that they couldn’t do anything, they just said, ‘Cool to see one,’ and continued out.”

The temptation to down a wolf has proved too much for some in Jackson Hole in the past.

In the winter of 2012-13 warden Bill Long investigated two wolves that were shot and left in a field in the Gros Ventre Range, offering $5,000 rewards for each. Stephens did not know if those illegal killings were ever solved, but, if not, it’s not the only incident on which the agency has hit a dead end.

This fall, just before the first legal wolf hunting season since 2013, there was an apparent wolf poaching along the Flagstaff Road in the Mount Leidy hill country south of the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Blackrock Ranger Station. The mortality signal on a tracked wolf’s collar went off, and when a biologist went to retrieve the device he found that the collar had been cut off the animal.

“That suggests it was shot and removed,” Stephens said. “Unfortunately we have zero leads.”

Wolves that are poached during the legal hunting season count toward the hunting quotas in the area where they were shot. Neither Jackson Hole wolf poaching case applied in 2017, however, because one animal was killed before the season began and the other was gunned down after it had lapsed.

The carcass of the wolf was confiscated from the unnamed Gros Ventre wolf poacher, and the man was cited for hunting during a closed season, failure to tag the animal and shooting from a roadway, Stephens said.

Those infractions will cost about $1,500 altogether, but they are “bondable” offenses, meaning the fine can be paid and the matter settled without a court appearance. Poaching the wolf did not cost the man his hunting privileges.