FWP Won’t Comment on Why Bighorn Was Shot

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks would not comment Monday on details surrounding the shooting of a trophy bighorn ram during an undercover probe.

The ram was killed by an undercover officer last fall during an investigation of a Whitehall man accused of outfitting without a license, a misdemeanor.

“We simply aren’t going to be able to comment in any further detail until this matter comes up for trial,” Jim Kropp, chief of law enforcement for FWP, said Monday.

John E. Lewton of Whitehall is also charged with two counts of hunting without landowner permission and felony unlawful possession of a game animal in Chouteau County. He is charged with felony unlawful sale of a game animal in Jefferson County.

The felony charges would not have applied if the ram had not been killed.

Blake Trangmoe of Glendive and James Reed of Rexburg, Idaho, each face two counts of hunting without landowner permission and felony unlawful possession of a game animal.

All three are scheduled to appear in District Court in Fort Benton on Oct. 6.

“The information is in the charging documents,” Kropp said. “The rest will come out in court.”

Court records said the investigation into Lewton’s bighorn sheep hunting activities began in 2005, after officers learned that Lewton was with a number of bighorn sheep tag holders in Montana during the past 10 to 15 years when they were hunting sheep, despite not being licensed as an outfitter or guide.

Prosecutors said last fall, Lewton flew over the hunting area in the Missouri Breaks and located the large ram for his “client,” an undercover agent with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Investigators say Reed talked by radio with Lewton and Trangmoe, who led the client and another undercover agent across private land to Reed.

Authorities say the undercover agent purposely missed the ram on his first three shots, but was placed so close to the ram on the fourth attempt that he had to shoot it or reveal his identity.

Lewton, who has a taxidermy shop in Whitehall, is also accused of offering to buy the skull and horns from the undercover officer for $5,000 and a cast of the horns, leading to the felony charge in Jefferson County.

The possible penalties for both the unlawful sale of a game animal and the unlawful possession of a game animal worth more than $1,000 are a fine of not more than $50,000, up to five years in prison or both.

Earlier this year, an Illinois businessman paid $245,000 at auction for a license to hunt bighorn sheep in Montana. The auction was held in conjunction with the Wild Sheep Foundation’s convention. In 2008, the auctioned license went for about $195,000. The record price was $310,000 in 1994. Montana gets 90 percent of the proceeds from those auctions.

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