WY: ‘Huntress’ award winner faces variety of game charges

https://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/huntress-award-winner-faces-variety-of-game-charges/article_e93c7add-8743-5ea2-ad65-fc26cfae730e.html

8/06/2021

If a hunter posts self-congratulatory photos on Facebook with an elk, moose, wolf, badger or deer taken in a questionable hunt, a wildlife investigator might be calling one day.

After a multiyear investigation that spanned western states and Facebook pages, Melanie M. Peterson, of Merna, west of Pinedale, is charged with 19 misdemeanor violations of hunting regulations.

Peterson and her husband Kirby own and operate Timberline Lodge and Big Country Outfitters at the edge of the Wyoming Range.

The alleged violations resulted from an investigation into nonresident hunts Peterson arranged and guided in 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, court records show.

Peterson is listed on the lodge’s website as a “seasoned guide and outfitter.”

She is also known for competing in — and winning — the title of Extreme Huntress 2018 in an international women’s competition that tests outdoor skills, fitness and marksmanship.

The charges include seven counts of taking game without a license or during a closed season, two counts of taking a furbearing animal without a license and two counts of guiding without a professional license. As a guide or outfitter, Peterson is also charged with eight counts of failing to report the violations, according to the case filed July 27 in Sublette County Circuit Court.

Penalties recommend jail time and fines — and the first seven require suspensions of hunting privileges for at least five years, according to records.

She was licensed as a professional guide during the calendar years of 2009 to 2011 and 2013 through 2020 but her application and payment dates have varied each year, according to the file.

Peterson’s arraignment will take place in Circuit Court on Monday, Aug. 9, at 11 a.m.

With a team behind federal and state search warrants from 2017 to this past spring along with phone and in-person interviews and close scrutiny of texts and records, Wyoming Game and Fish Investigator Dustin Kirsch provided a 50-page affidavit detailing alleged violations.

The affidavit includes many references to interviews, texts, emails, Facebook Messenger accounts, state records and “metadata” hidden in photos and videos.

The charges are grouped around separate hunting trips when Peterson allegedly allowed clients to shoot several buck antelope, badgers, a black bear, a bull elk and a bull moose without a license.

For example, on Oct. 8, 2011, Peterson allegedly helped a hunter take a buck antelope without a license. Later that month, she allegedly killed and used her license to tag an elk for the hunter, another violation. She is also charged as a professional guide or outfitter for failing to report the 2011 violation.

Hunters told investigators that Peterson often said she had an extra antelope tag they could use and that they did not realize badgers were regulated as fur-bearing animals. A couple said they could not fill out the tags they did have so Peterson reportedly offered to let them kill a different species, the affidavit says.

One hunter said he bought a black bear tag online with his cell phone after he spotted a bear and then shot it after getting a tag number; he did not realize he needed to have it on his person when he killed it, it says.

Another hunter with a deer license — who said he took an antelope, instead — is not even listed as a client, according to Kirsch. One man said in his previous hunts, outfitters took care of all of his required licenses; several wanted deposit money back for hunts that did not take place, according to the affidavit.

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