Two men in Montana have been arrested for committing a series of disturbing wildlife crimes dating back more than a year. According to Great Falls TribuneTy Robert Lewis, 18, and Richard Van Meter, 20, were arrested after investigators linked them to multiple poaching incidents involving a trophy bull and a trout slaughter incident at a hatchery near Great Falls, Montana.
The men’s investigation began on August 3, 2021, when game wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) found several trout at a hatchery in the Great Falls area that had been stabbed or speared. FWP game warden Andrew Burton said tribunes that the dead and dying fish were eggs important to hatchery breeding operations and that some of them had reached six years of age and weighed over 8 kilograms. The knifefish had scaled an eight- to ten-foot chain link fence to gain access to the enclosed feed pond sometime during the night.
Less than a month after the nursery incident, FWP began receiving tips about a series of deer poaching incidents on private ranches near Butte, Montana. These tips revealed two separate cases of elk hunting involving trophy bulls. In both cases, the deer heads and antlers were removed and removed from the crime scene, while the deer meat was left in the field.
Through subsequent interviews with ranch owners and extensive searches of the property, investigators linked both Lewis and Van Meter to the deer hunting incidents. According to court documents, Lewis’ mother lived in a subdivision near one of the elk ranches, and a rancher had caught Lewis trespassing on his private property before.
During questioning with FWP agents, Lewis admitted to shooting one of the trophy bulls with Van Meter’s rifle and said Van Meter held the bull’s head while he cut it open. Lewis later admitted to killing another bull elk on another ranch near Butte and hiding the heads of both elk in an abandoned shed. A search of the cabin turned up deer heads. A gun matching the caliber used to kill the animals was recovered from Van Meter’s residence.
Read further: Catfisher caught using homemade electrofishing equipment in Oklahoma
While interviewing Lewis’ ex-girlfriend, FWP investigators discovered that Lewis and Van Meter may also have been involved in the trout stabbing incident. When they contacted Lewis about it, he denied any involvement. But a search and seizure of his cell phone turned up images of one of the men holding what appeared to be a large rainbow trout at the Great Falls-area plant. Text messages obtained from the phones of Van Meter and Lewis showed the two men had corresponded about their alleged involvement in the stabbings of the fish birds.
Court documents show that Van Meter and Lewis eventually admitted to all the alleged charges during interviews with FWP agents. All told, the men face 17 fish and game violations ranging from illegal possession or transfer of game to license violations and failure to obtain landowner permission to hunt.