A 23-year-old Roundup man was arrested Friday in the poaching of three trophy bull elk in August in Musselshell County, according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks press release.
Earl Russell Benes — who had his hunting privileges suspended last year after being caught running down pronghorns with his vehicle and then killing them — faces two felony and 19 misdemeanor charges. He was jailed on a $10,000 warrant but has posted bond and been released.
The charges stemmed from two incidents in which trophy bull elk were killed with a gun fired from a vehicle on a public roadway at night. Two elk were killed 10 miles east of Roundup along Highway 12 on Aug. 17. One was killed along Dean Creek southwest of Roundup on Aug. 20.
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 Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife each added $1,000 in reward money. After the rewards were offered, a concerned citizen called with information that eventually led to the arrest, according to FWP game warden Randy Hutzenbiler.
Benes is charged with two felonies: criminal endangerment for discharging a handgun in close proximity to another individual; and aggravated cruelty to an animal for shooting one bull elk in the neck with a handgun, then leaving it to suffer 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; and two counts of hunting while his hunting privileges were suspended.
His hunting privileges were suspended for four years in April 2018 after he was convicted of running down antelope with his vehicle then killing them north of Roundup.
Hutzenbiler said that after news reports of the killings east of Roundup, game wardens heard overwhelming support from around the world. In addition to calls from Montana, people phoned 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.
The 1-800-TIP-MONT program is a toll-free number where people can report violations of fish, wildlife or park regulations. Callers may remain anonymous. It is similar to the well-known Crimestoppers program and offers rewards for information resulting in conviction of people who abuse Montana's natural, historic or cultural resources.