Late this winter, a trio of young hunters pursued a mountain lion chased by their hunting dogs. The lion crossed from Montana’s Gallatin National Forest into Yellowstone National Park, where the hunters, illegally, shot and killed the cat.
Authorities wouldn’t have known about the poaching had the hunters not gleefully posted photos of the dead lion to their social media feeds. Fellow hunters, aware of lion hunting regulations, and acting as self-enforcers of poaching laws, pieced together from the background images that the cat was killed in Yellowstone, and tipped off game wardens.
Federal officials arrested the three men, 20-year-old Austin Peterson, 20-year-old Trey Junhke, and 19-year-old Corbin Simmons, all of Livingston, Montana.
The young men deleted the images of their kill once it became clear they gave away the location of the hunt, but by then it was too late.
In questioning, each gave misleading statements, claiming that their GPS units had failed, they hadn’t seen boundary markers, and that they weren’t sure who had actually shot the cat. Officials determined that the cat had been shot at by all three of the men, and that they’d hauled the carcass some two miles north, out of Yellowstone, after the kill, and registered the kill as being outside of the park.
“You know, we ended up getting a lot of this information from a guy in Bozeman off of Facebook,” Yellowstone special agent Jake Olson told Simmons, “because you guys put a bunch of stuff on social media.” This from materials obtained via a FOIA request from Jackson Hole News and Guide.
Olson further explained that lions are pursued into the park often, but you have to know when you’ve crossed the boundary and abandon the hunt.
Illegal hunts like this can spread anti-hunting sentiment, too, which is likely what prompted fellow mountain lion hunters to alert game wardens.
“You guys have to police yourself out there,” Olson said. “You gotta do this right.”
In May the trio were sentenced to three years of supervised probation and had their hunting and fishing privileges revoked for three years. They also each were ordered to pay a fine of $1,666.