An East Helena resident has been arrested in connection with the poaching of a super bull on Super Bowl Sunday.
Game wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks took Christopher D. Dolan, 24, into custody Sunday morning after a search of his Mariah Drive residence turned up a set of trophy-size 6-by-7 elk antlers. The set matches photographs taken of the dead elk that Sgt. Dave Loewen believes were taken only 20 minutes before the animal was shot Feb. 5, about the time of day when the Super Bowl aired.
The bull’s carcass was left at the scene of the crime near the intersection of McClellan Creek and Sawmill roads, but the head and antlers had been cut off and taken.
“People were pretty up in arms over this case,” Loewen said. “We have gotten a lot of inquiries on whether we were making progress; there was even talk of collecting money to up the reward.”
He said a lot of people were able to provide little tips to law enforcement that pointed to Dolan, who was jailed on felony charges of unlawful possession of a game animal or game animal parts.
“Without those citizens I don’t know if we would have sold this case,” Loewen said. “TIP-MONT was a key component too.”
Loewen said that a photographer had been in the area on Feb. 5 taking pictures of the elk herd, and this particular bull, along with two others, stood out in the crowd. He notice a Jeep passing through the area and thought it seemed suspicious.
“When he saw the story in the paper about the elk that was poached, he called in and told us what he had seen,” Loewen said. “We passed the information to other law enforcement officials, but unfortunately, a lot of people have a Jeep, and it was hard to find the needle in the haystack.”
But they also had a description of the suspect, and a deputy spotted the two together recently. However, they still didn’t have enough evidence for a search warrant, Loewen said.
“He was just a person of interest, but then we developed more information that could link him with the crime scene,” Loewen said. “We obtained a couple of search warrants — one for his residence and one for the vehicle — and executed them this morning. We located the antlers in a closet; they’re a very unique set and were kind of tough to hide because they’re so large.”
Loewen said Dolan, who moved to Montana from Washington about a year ago, claimed the rack was from an elk lawfully harvested during the hunting season last fall.
Since it is categorized as a trophy elk, if convicted of the felony charge Dolan faces restitution of up to $8,000 and the loss of hunting privileges, as well as a possible jail sentence. Loewen said Dolan faces additional charges involving hunting during a closed season in Jefferson County, which is where the crime occurred. He also faces a misdemeanor charge in Lewis and Clark County for allegedly failing to appear in a driving under the influence case.
Dolan is set to appear in court in Helena today.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org