Earl Russell Benes of Roundup was arrested and jailed Friday on two felony and 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from two August incidents in which three trophy bull elk were killed at night in Musselshell County.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said in a press release on Monday that game wardens arrested Benes, 23 years old, on a $10,000 warrant. He has since posted bond and been released from jail.
The charges stemmed from two incidents in which trophy bull elk were killed with a gun fired from a vehicle on a public road at night during closed hunting season. Two elk were killed 10 miles east of Roundup along U.S. Highway 12 on August 17. One was killed along Dean Creek southwest of Roundup on August 20.
- AUGUST 18: At least two elk poached in Musselshell County
- AUGUST 21: Another elk poached in Musselshell County
- SEPTEMBER 8: Reward offered in Musselshell County elk poaching cases
The crimes prompted Montana’s 1-800-TIP MONT program and two Montana sportsmen’s groups to offer rewards totaling $3,000 for information leading to a conviction.
The Montana chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, each added to the $1,000 offered by FWP through its 1-800-TIP MONT program. FWP game warden Randy Hutzenbiler said that, after the rewards were offered, a concerned citizen called with information that eventually led to the arrest.
Benes is charged with two felonies:
- Criminal endangerment, for discharging a handgun in close proximity to another individual.
- Aggravated cruelty to an animal, for shooting one bull elk in the neck with a handgun, then leaving it to suffer for an extended time before it died.
He also is charged with 19 misdemeanors:
- Two counts of hunting without a license.
- Three counts of killing more than a limit of elk.
- Two counts of hunting with artificial light.
- Two counts of hunting during a closed season.
- One count of shooting from a public highway.
- One count of shooting from inside a vehicle.
- Three counts of waste of game.
- Three counts of theft of game.
Two counts of hunting while his hunting privileges were suspended. FWP says that Benes' hunting privileges were suspended for four years in April 2018 after he was convicted of running down antelope with his vehicle and then killing them north of Roundup.
Hutzenbiler said that, after news reports of the killings east of Roundup, game wardens heard overwhelming support from all over the world. In addition to calls from Montana, people called from Europe and Australia and throughout the United States encouraging them to solve the case and arrest the perpetrator. The Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office was instrumental in the investigation and arrest, he said.