Ty Robert Lewis, 18, and Richard Van Meter, 20, were detained after investigators connected them to numerous poaching incidents near Great Falls, Montana. The incidents include the poaching of a trophy bull elk and a trout stabbing at a hatchery in the area, according to the Great Falls Tribune.
On August 3, 2021, game wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP) located several trout in a Great Falls-region hatchery that had been stabbed or killed with some sort of spear.
FWP game warden Andrew Burton spoke with the outlet and talked about the damage caused by the incident. He said the dead fish were important in the hatchery’s breeding operation. He said some of the killed fish had weighed over eight pounds and lived up to six years in age. The two culprits scaled a ten-foot chain link fence to gain entry into the feeding pond during the night.
However, the two young men didn’t stop there. Less than a month after the fish-murdering incident, FWP started receiving calls about a string of elk-poaching incidents on private ranches near Butte, Montana. Then, investigators discovered two separate cases involving poaching elk. In both incidents, the elk heads with antlers were removed from the body and transported from the scene. The criminals then left the elk body to waste and rot in the field.
Two Young Men Charged with the Slaying of Trout, Elk
According to court documents, neighbors helped identify the two suspects. Interviews led to one rancher revealing he had caught Lewis trespassing on his private property before. The rancher also revealed Lewis’ mother lived near one of the ranches where the elk were killed. The investigation also led to multiple property searches, as well.
Lewis admitted to poaching one of the trophy bulls with Van Meter’s rifle. He stated that Van Meter held the bull’s head while he cut it off. He later admitted to slaughtering another bull elk on a different ranch near Butte. Lewis stated that he stashed both elk heads in an abandoned cabin. When investigators searched the cabin, they found the two elk heads. Investigators also retrieved Van Meter’s gun from his apartment. The gun matched the caliber used to kill the animals.
FWP interviewed Lewis’ ex-girlfriend and learned valuable information. That interview linked Lewis and Van Meter to the trout-stabbing incident. Lewis initially denied involvement in that incident. However, a search and seizure of his cell phone said otherwise. In that search, investigators found images of one of the pair holding up a large rainbow trout at that same hatchery in Great Falls. Texts between Van Meter and Lewis’ phones also showed their involvement in the incident.
In all, the men face 17 fish and game violations ranging from unlawful possession or transfer of game animals to license violations and failure to obtain landowner permission for hunting. Serves them right.