'Huntress 2018' faces 19 charges

File photo

SUBLETTE COUNTY – If a hunter posts self-congratulatory photos on Facebook with an elk, moose, wolf, deer or bear 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, 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.

Charges

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. 

Investigation

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. 

Specific hunts

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.

On Sept. 10, 2014, Peterson allegedly guided another hunter to take an antelope without a tag, failed to report it as required and did not have her professional license to guide him, the affidavit says. The same charges result from a similar antelope hunt on Sept. 26, 2016, but Peterson had her guide’s license at that time, it says.

On June 3, 2017, Peterson allegedly provided unlicensed guide services to two black bear hunters.

On Sept. 21, 2017, she allegedly let a hunter kill a badger, regulated as a furbearing animal, without a license and the next day, allegedly guided the same man, without a tag, to take a black bear. On Oct. 25, 2017, a client shot a badger without the required furbearing license, it says.

Peterson failed to report any of these violations, according to the affidavit.

On Sept. 27, 2018, with the Roosevelt Fire beginning to take hold in Hoback Basin, Peterson allegedly allowed a hunter without a tag to kill a buck antelope. As the fire grew much larger, Bridger-Teton National Forest officials closed off access roads and deer hunting, which affected plans and communications, Kirsch reported after interviewing Peterson and some of her then-clients.

On Oct. 19, 2018, she allegedly allowed a hunter to kill a bull elk and the next day, guided the man to take a bull moose without a license. She is also charged with not reporting these violations.

Confusions

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 furbearing 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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