A northeastern Montana landowner and 10 hunters from North Carolina and Alabama have been sentenced on state criminal charges stemming from an illegal outfitting / landowner sponsor operation that was investigated in 2008 and 2009.
According to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) Criminal Investigator Lennie Buhmann, most of the violations took place on prime Missouri River bottom property between Glasgow and Wolf Point in northern McCone County.
Landowner James “Bert” Twitchell, 66, of Wolf Point, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of acting as an outfitter without a license and was recently assessed a $170 fine by McCone County Justice of the Peace Mary Garfield.
Twitchell instructed two clients to illegally trespass and hunt on neighboring private lands, as well as on nearby public lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Twitchell is not a licensed as an outfitter in Montana.
Through a program administered by FWP, properly certified landowners can sponsor non-resident hunters for big game hunting. Certified landowners must submit a legal description of the deeded property where the non-resident hunters are limited to hunt.
The program states that the sponsor will supervise the non-residents’ hunting and inform the hunters of game and trespass laws; submit proper records of the non-residents that hunted; and accept no monetary consideration for enabling the non-resident to obtain a license. FWP Region 6 Warden Captain Mike Herman said Twitchell was properly certified and was allowed to sponsor up to 15 non-resident hunters.
But FWP Investigator Buhmann and state officers observed several of Twitchell’s sponsored hunters involved in illegal activities. Observations included trespassing onto neighboring private lands, harvesting over-limits of deer, and hunting big game animals without licenses. During the investigation, three state District Court search warrants were served, and all of Twitchell’s hunting party members were contacted by authorities.
Buhmann said landowner-sponsored deer combination licenses were misused in the illegal operation or were used after the hunters trespassed on property where they were not sponsored. In other instances, he said, hunters who could not make the trip to Montana would send their combination license with another hunter who used it improperly.
“Defendants in this case showed a total disregard of the hunting laws in Montana,” Buhmann said. “While some of the violators took responsibility for their actions, others did not.”
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in people abusing the landowner-sponsored license program across the state,” Herman added. “These types of cases take a lot of time and effort to sort out, but people should be aware that we’re constantly looking at these licenses. Hunters, as well as landowners, will be charged if violations are uncovered.”
The other defendants recently sentenced by Justice of the Peace Mary Garfield were:
He was ordered to pay $5,445 in fines and $2,400 in restitution. A 2007 charge of killing a game animal (mule deer buck) without a valid license also earned Tony Mashburn another $535 fine and $500 in restitution. In addition, he lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for a period of four years.
Buhmann said other incriminating information gathered during the investigation was turned over to authorities in Georgia. Officials there recently charged Tony Mashburn on a variety of additional wildlife-related charges.
In November 2009, Bobby Gibson was also sentenced in North Carolina’s U.S. District Court to 10 months in federal prison for a Lacey Act violation involving an illegally harvested black bear. In that case, Gibson also received a one-year term of supervised release and must perform 100 hours of community service.