BOZEMAN— Last month three men were convicted of several poaching-related offenses stemming from incidents that occurred last November in the London Hills near Cardwell in Madison County. Law enforcement officials from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department lead the investigation that revealed three illegally taken elk, several instances of trespassing, and game-wasting violations.
The investigation began on Oct. 30 when FWP was made aware of a bull elk with its antlers removed on private property. Game wardens were able to connect that discovery to earlier complaints of trespassing on another piece of private property thanks to some very telling four wheeler tracks – tracks that led right to the home of Clayton Deming.
On Nov. 9 FWP received another report of a four-wheeler traversing that same ranch in the dark. After staking out the trail with the four-wheeler tracks, wardens heard shots and soon stopped Clayton Deming and Frank Keyes of Pony, and Mark Birkin of Florida. The men had in their possession a 5-point bull and a spike with its head removed (the men claimed it was a cow elk).
FWP warden Justin Gibson was the lead investigator on the case, and commented last week on the satisfaction of seeing justice served.
“It always feels good when we get a conviction,” Gibson said.
Gibson called the case a blatant disregard for landowner and private property rights. The poachers crossed in and out of state, private and Bureau of Land Management land after breaking the lock on an access gate.
Clayton Deming pled guilty on May 29 to two counts of hunting without a license, hunting without permission, criminal trespass, unlawful possession, and waste of game. Deming lost his hunting and fishing privileges for six years and must pay $2,460 in fines and $1,000 in restitution. Plus, he has to pay the landowner for breaking the lock on one of his gates.
Frank Keyes lost his hunting privileges for two years after being convicted of criminal trespass, hunting big game without permission, failure to tag, and unlawful possession of a game animal. His fines total $595. Keyes was convicted on May 7.
Also convicted on May 7 was Mark Birkin who won’t be able to hunt or fish in Montana (and other wildlife compact states) for two years as well. He was convicted of criminal trespass, failure to obtain permission to hunt, hunting during a closed season, and unlawful possession of a game animal. His fines totaled $1,390 and he will have to pay $1,000 in restitution.
Gibson said sometimes people break hunting or fishing regulations as an honest mistake, but with upwards of 30 violations between the three men Gibson said this time it was no accident.
“It’s not like somebody just messed up or forgot to do one little thing,” he said. “There was clear indication along the way that it was pretty much on purpose and intentional.”
“That’s a classic definition of a poacher right there,” Gibson said.
When poachers abuse the privilege of harvesting the states resources in the form of game animals, it’s up to game wardens like Gibson to make sure they don’t get away with it.
“A lot of work went into that case from the get go,” he said. “A lot of people were involved, and the community was impacted in a negative way.”
As for the recent convictions, Gibson humbly accepts credit for a job well done.
“It’s closure for me and its closure for the residents of that area that endeared that type of crime against their property,” he said.
If you have information related to a case of poaching or any other fish and game related violation, please contact (800) TIP-MONT, or (800) 847-6668. You may eligible for a reward and you remain anonymous.