A perceptive Wyoming game warden’s gut feeling led to a gut check—which subsequently resulted in the arrest and conviction of three individuals for poaching a trophy-class mule deer.
The case first unfolded in November 2010, when Wyoming Game and Fish wardens were conducting a search on a property in Worlandand, Wyoming, and discovered the carcass of a massive 4x5 mule deer.
Upon questioning, Colton Lapp, 19, told wardens that Shenae Blakemore, 29, had killed the deer in an open area of the Black Hills north of Sundance, Wyoming, not far from the South Dakota state line.
But Worland-area Wyoming Game and Fish warden Matt Lentsch doubted Lapp’s story and launched his own investigation, which included a thorough examination of the mule deer carcass.
Based upon analysis of the stomach contents of the deer, along with other details, warden Lentsch determined the deer could not have been killed in the rolling rangeland near the Black Hills where Lapp claimed it was, but instead came from an area several hundred miles to the West, in an area that was closed to hunting.
“The pieces of narrow-leaf cottonwood leaves were the key to the whole case,” Lentsch later told a reporter from the "Billings (MT) Gazette." “Narrow-leaf cottonwoods typically grow in gravelly soils like those found along the Greybull River, unlike the Plains cottonwoods found along the Bighorn River.”
By court order, Lentsch obtained text-message records exchanged between Blakemore, Lapp and Cody Gilligan, 23, which further implicated Blakemore as the shooter.
Based on Lentsch’s dogged determination and his CSI-style investigation, the trio was convicted of poaching under the state’s “Winter Range Statute” for taking the trophy mule deer that scored 185 B&C, in a closed area on the Greybull River near the Park and Big Horn county lines.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that a deer of this magnitude was illegally taken,” Lentsch said.
In a Jan. 28 sentencing hearing in Cody, Wyoming, Blakemore received 2 years probation, was fined $3,000 and had her hunting privileges revoked for 2 years. As accessories to the crime, Gilligan and Lapp were ordered to pay $5,040 each. Both men received 1 year of probation, 1 year of suspended jail time and lost their hunting privileges for 2 years.