By Perry Backus
A Hamilton woman and her cousin from California recently split a bill of over $10,000 for illegally killing a trophy buck deer off Little Sleeping Child Road.
Claudette Johnson of Hamilton and Shannon Jennings of Oroville, Calif., pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of unlawful possession of game meat, hunting without a license or accountability to that, and transfer of a license.
Both paid fines in the amount of $1,305, split the $8,000 restitution fee for illegally killing a trophy buck mule deer and lost their hunting privileges for 24 months.
According to a probable cause statement in the case, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Lou Royce was called by a landowner who complained that two hunters had trespassed on his property and killed a large mule deer buck.
Initially, Johnson told the warden that she had killed the buck thinking it was a whitetail.
In that portion of hunting district 270, hunters are required to have a limited permit to hunt mule deer bucks.
Johnson initially said she killed the deer at 3:30 p.m., but they returned after dark to retrieve it.
Jennings only had a non-resident whitetail doe tag in his possession.
A subsequent investigation showed that Jennings had actually killed the buck and the two had placed Johnson’s tag on it.
Jennings told the warden that he too thought the deer was a whitetail. He said he had killed more than 20 whitetail deer over the years, as well as two mule deer.
Royce said it was his opinion that Jennings knew it was a mule deer.
The buck was officially scored by the Boone & Crockett Club in Missoula. Its score was 167 and an eighth, which made it a trophy class deer.
Royce said both Johnson and Jennings wrote checks on the day of their sentencing to cover both the fines and restitution.
The warden is hoping for some help in solving a few other deer cases in the same area.
There were three mule deer shot and left in the Rye Creek and Sleeping Child areas.
The incident in the Sleeping Child area occurred around Thanksgiving. The deer was killed, its head removed and the rest of the carcass left behind.
Two mule deer bucks were also killed earlier in the season in the Rye Creek area. In both cases, the deer were killed within a couple hundred yards of the road.
Both carcasses were abandoned.
Anyone with information in those cases is encouraged to call 1-800-TIP-MONT.
“It was definitely a busy season this year,” Royce said. “It wasn’t just about all the changes we had in regulations either. There was lots of hunting on private property, shooting things without a license and shooting from the road.”