The lure of the renowned bull elk in the Elkhorn Mountains got three Broadwater County men in trouble on Saturday.
Rob Aldridge, a game warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, received a TIPMONT call about two large bull elk being shot in Hunting District 380 by three men. The caller said one elk had been field dressed and taken, but the other — described by the caller as a trophy bull — was left flopping around with a broken back. The caller was angry over the elk being left to suffer.
While Aldridge drove to the scene, another warden, Brenna White, already was patrolling in the area and met with the caller. Sgt. Dave Loewen parked on the most likely exit route to try to ensure the suspects couldn’t escape.
White noticed a vehicle driving up an unmarked spur road and noted that it was the same vehicle that had passed her earlier while she was speaking with the people who called in the incident. So she drove up the road and found the vehicle parked in the area where the elk allegedly had been shot. She got out of her truck, started searching for the elk and suspects, and eventually found three men —Arnold Kolberg, 70, his grandson Skyler Kolberg, 29, and son-in-law Ronnie Nehring, 36, — pulling out a large bull elk.
White checked their licenses and took their guns, and then escorted them back to her truck. Moments later, Aldridge arrived, and they split up the hunting party to interview them.
The wardens found that only Arnold Kolberg had a coveted bull elk permit for that hunting district. Skyler Kolberg told them that he had shot a bull that his grandfather injured, and then his grandfather proceeded to shoot another bull, which is the one they were dragging out.
Skyler Kolberg “further explained that he had taken the first bull to his house earlier in the day,” according to White. “The suspect being interviewed by Warden Aldridge (Nehring) struggled to say anything truthful.”
The wardens told the three men to finish retrieving the second elk, then asked to be taken to where the first elk had been stashed. They went to a house on Lone Mountain Road outside of Radersberg, where the first bull elk was buried in hay. The wardens measured the rack and found out that while it was close, it didn’t meet the criteria for being a trophy bull.
The wardens seized the elk and took the men to the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office, where they were interviewed again.
Eventually, the hunting party acknowledged that Arnold Kolberg didn’t shoot the first elk, but that Skyler Kolberg did on his grandfather’s behalf, according to the FWP report. Almost simultaneously, Arnold Kolberg shot a second trophy bull, hitting it in the spine.
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“This prompted him to walk up to where his grandson was to seek help in retrieval,” White wrote in her report. “It was at this point that the grandfather, grandson and son-in-law team realized that there was an issue. Two 380 bull elk were down, one dead and one mortally wounded.”
The men realized they were being watched from the ridge, so they left the injured bull while they loaded up the untagged bull shot by Skyler Kolberg and dropped it off in the haystack behind the house.
“The men initially claimed that they covered it in hay to keep the birds off, but eventually admitted that since they were planning on keeping both elk, having two bulls hanging out front would draw unwanted attention,” White wrote. “From there, the men explained that they went back to where the other bull was in the son-in-law’s vehicle, finally dispatched bull number two, field dressed it, and began to drag it out … until the wardens arrived.”
Skyler Kolberg was cited for hunting without a license, since he didn’t have the required permit; for unlawful possession of a game animal; and for conspiracy to obstruct justice. Arnold Kolberg and Nehring were cited with unlawful possession of a game animal and obstructing justice for concealing the elk in the hay stack.
In addition, Aldridge found that Arnold Kolberg’s rifle didn’t have a serial number on it and it was seized pending a response from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The three men pleaded guilty to all of the charges on Monday. Skyler Kolberg was fined $1,400 and ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution. Arnold Kolberg and Nehring were fined $870. They also were sentenced to six months in jail — although that time was suspended as long as they remain law abiding for a year – and had their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for two years. They also can’t apply for any special permits for seven years.
Arnold Kolberg was able to keep the elk that he injured and eventually killed, since he legally harvested it. That elk was considered a trophy animal.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@
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