Two Montana hunters were cited and fined this month for killing two wolves from a helicopter.
Dalton Thomas Tamcke, 30, and Justin Samuel Peterson, 22, claimed to have mistaken the wolves for coyotes during a legal aerial hunt, according to a report from the Montana Standard.
Montana does offer permits to hunt predatory animals from a helicopter, but hunting wolves from a helicopter is always illegal. In addition, the men did not have wolf tags or permission to hunt on the property.
They retrieved the carcasses on a snowmobile and brought them home, and they told a game warden that they had no plans to report the kills.
They were charged with the unlawful take of non-game wildlife in need of management, failure to obtain landowner permission for hunting, and violation of commission or department orders or rules (for shooting the animal from an aircraft).
Tamcke paid a $425 fine and Peterson paid a $435 fine, but neither lost their hunting privileges nor were required to pay the $1,000 gray wolf restitution cost.
“We gave them breaks on that in reward for their cooperation,” Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Game Warden Kerry Wahl told the Standard.
The wardens also didn’t verify that the hunters had aerial permits to hunt coyotes.
“I have no reason to believe they did not get it. They seemed familiar with that process,” Wahl said.
Despite the relatively light punishment, Wahl said he doubted that they mistook the wolves for coyotes. The men claim to have shot the animals with a shotgun and buckshot, which usually requires the hunter to be within about 30 yards of his quarry.
“There is a big difference between a wolf and a coyote in terms of size. A wolf can be two and a half times the size of a coyote, maybe three times the size of a coyote. To me personally, I guess if you’re going to be flying low to shoot coyotes you probably more than likely should be able to tell whether they were wolves or coyotes,” Wahl said.
He also expressed concern that the men did not plan to turn in the animals.
“The big concern I had with this case is there really wasn’t going to be any intention to turn themselves in or let us know what happened. They did say they were just going to get them skinned and not report them. But anytime somebody shoots a wolf, they’re required to be reported and tagged by us. They were not going to do that. They did say that,” Wahl said.
It’s unclear how the wardens were tipped off to the violation. They found the wolves in a garage two days after the incident, according to “someone in the area” who spoke to the Standard.
The Montana FWP rarely issues the maximum penalty for citations related to wolves, according to a public records request filed by The Montana State News Bureau. In the last five years, the FWP has issued 29 citations and nine written warnings for the hunting and trapping of wolves.
Of the citations, 12 were for the illegal taking, killing, possession, or waste of a wolf, which can result in a $1,000 restitution, but only one citation resulted in restitution.
Hunters interested in going after wolves legally in Montana can check out all the regulations and licensing requirements on the FWP website.