A Seeley Lake father and son will not be able to hunt for years after illegally killing an elk in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in 2015 and then lying to investigators to cover it up.
William Bartlett and his son Leland were charged in October following an investigation by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks about an elk shot by Leland –who could not have a hunting license because of a previous poaching conviction.
As part of plea agreements, William forfeited his right to get a hunting, fishing or trapping license for five years, and Leland’s right was suspended for a decade. For the next five years, the pair are also banned from accompanying any hunter, fisher or trapper into the field.
The son will also have to make presentations at hunter’s education courses about what he did and the consequences he faces.
FWP game warden Bill Koppen, who investigated the crime, said that in addition to officers, other residents in the area will likely be keeping an eye on the Bartletts over the coming seasons.
“Anybody can turn anybody in. If you’re thinking you’re getting away with it just because the warden didn’t see it, you’re wrong,” he said. “It upsets people when this kind of thing happens.”
According to a court affidavit, U.S. Forest Service officer Tyler Robinson was working out at a Seeley Lake gym during the start of early rifle season in September 2015 when the gym owner Terryl Bartlett – William’s wife and Leland’s mother – told him her husband and son were out hunting and that they had killed an elk.
Leland later told Robinson he'd killed the elk. Because of a prior elk poaching conviction in Beaverhead County, Leland’s hunting privileges had been suspended from December 2013 to December 2015.
Weeks later, William told FWP game warden Chris Hamilton that his wife had killed the elk. But Robinson had seen her working at the gym during the hunting trip.
Hamilton and Robinson later spoke and realized they had been told conflicting stories.
As FWP game wardens began to investigate, Leland changed his story and said his mom had been with them and killed the elk. Terryl told a warden she had been there and made the kill, but cited a different rifle and number of shots than what Leland described. Another employee at the gym confirmed to investigators Terryl had been working the days of the hunt.
William stopped answering investigators’ questions after being told they knew his wife had been at work when he said she'd been hunting with them, according to the affidavit.
Investigators obtained a warrant for cell phone records, and found Terryl’s phone had been making and receiving calls from a Missoula tower during the days of the hunt, which would have been impossible if she'd been hunting in the Bob Marshall.
Several FWP employees told the investigator Leland had shown them pictures on his phone of the elk’s antlers. When asked to present the antlers, William initially said they had been stolen before agreeing through his attorney to turn them over.
Terryl eventually pleaded guilty to obstructing a peace officer and received a several hundred dollar fine.
Under the plea agreements with the father and son, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office agreed to defer prosecution for five years of the felony charge.
William received an 18-month suspended jail sentence and 100 hours of community service. Leland got a two-year suspended jail sentence with 250 hours of service. The father was fined $3,000, the son $4,000, and the pair are responsible for an additional $8,000 in restitution to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.