A Montana poacher has been fined more than $5,000 after illegally killing a bighorn ram that he says he believed was an elk.
Harold Horine, 45, of Deer Lodge, Montana, shot and killed a mature ram in the Highland Mountains near Butte on Nov. 22, 2021. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, he did not report the kill and left the meat to waste.
“A witness who observed the violation contacted FWP after finding the dead sheep abandoned,” the agency wrote in a press release issued on Dec. 22. “Game wardens interviewed Horine, who said he mistook the sheep for an elk.”
Horine pleaded guilty to several charges in Madison County Justice Court on Dec. 7, including hunting without a valid license, unlawful possession of a game animal, failure to obtain landowner permission when hunting, and waste of a game animal.
He was ordered to pay fines and restitution to the tune of $5,245. Additionally, Horine’s hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges will be suspended for two years and his ability to apply for special permits put on hold for 12 years.
The Montana Wild Sheep Foundation (MTWSF) has been working to sustain the Highland Mountains’ toehold population of bighorn sheep for years through projects that include such methods as helicopter transport and radio collaring.
In early December 2021, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and MTWSF partnered with Montana FWP to conduct a sheep count of the five Highland Mountain subherds.
According to Brian Solan, MTWSF’s executive director, the punishments issued for Horine’s actions did not fit his crime. He told the Helena Independent Record that Horine got off easy.
In a similar case back in 2020, another Montana poacher saw his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges suspended for 10 years after illegally killing a bighorn ram in the Missouri River Breaks. Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew DeWitt was fined $4,000 for that offense after he took the poached ram’s head to the Bozeman office of FWP to have it “plugged.”
In a Facebook post made on Dec. 22, the MTWSF said that Montana’s court system failed to dole out an appropriate punishment for Horine’s illegal killing of the trophy ram in the Highland Mountains.
“The penalty for killing a bighorn sheep is $30,000,” the post reads. “Once again the court system has failed the citizens of Montana as this was public wildlife that was poached and left to waste.”
A handful of states across the country impose stiffer fines and penalties for poaching cases that involve the killing of trophy animals. In Montana, officials use the Boone & Crockett measuring system when determining the trophy quality of poached game.
According to Montana state law, the court must determine that the poaching of a trophy bighorn was committed knowingly or purposely before handing down the maximum penalty of $30,000.
Brian Solan told the Helena Independent Review that Horine should atone for his crimes through volunteer work with the Wild Sheep Foundation.
“We’d encourage him to get involved,” he said. “We’d be happy to have the help.”