Hunter’s Call Helps Solve Elk Poaching Case
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
It has almost been a year since Tyler Peterson, senior conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game, received an anonymous phone call about a suspected elk poaching in the Bannock Elk Zone.
On October 24, 2009, a hunter, who had been in the Crystal Summit area of Arbon Valley, witnessed what he thought was a suspicious elk harvest in a controlled hunt zone. The hunter gave a license plate number and vehicle description.
Peterson, stationed in Lava Hot Springs, used the information to track down Zachary Wade Stringham, 24, in Pocatello. On the night of October 24, District Conservation Officer Steve Anderson and Senior Conservation Officer Chris Bocek, both of Pocatello, made a visit to Stringham’s residence. No one was home, but the officers found blood in the bed of Stringham’s vehicle as well as the head of a 5 X 6 elk and its four quarters in a partially open four-wheel flat bed trailer.
A tag affixed to the elk head had not been notched with a harvest date as required by law. Nor was the tag for the Bannock Elk Zone, but for a zone near Salmon. The officers would later learn that the tag was purchased by a third party also involved in the crime as an attempt to cover the real location of the bull’s harvest.
Officers Anderson and Bocek seized the elk and left word for Stringham to contact Fish and Game. A day went by with no phone call, but during that time Peterson made a discovery – Stringham was on probation for a felony.
With the help of Stringham’s probation officer, Peterson got Stringham to admit to shooting a bull elk in a controlled hunt zone for which he did not have a tag, and to trying to cover the crime by using a tag from another zone. With his admission came the names of two other participants in the crime.
Christopher Hodge, 27, also of Pocatello, turned himself in as a participant in the poaching incident. Hodge admitted, as did Stringham, that this had been a crime of opportunity.
Both had started out that October morning in 2009 with no intention of shooting an elk in a controlled hunt zone. Stringham had apparently set his sights on coyotes, and Hodge was after deer. But a small group of elk that included a large bull proved too much temptation for these two, and both admitted to shooting at and killing the elk.
Knowing that neither of them had an elk tag for the Bannock Zone, they enlisted the help of another individual who bought a tag for an open elk zone near Salmon. The idea was that if they could bring in the elk with a tag for another area, they might be able to hide the crime.
Peterson, who has been a conservation officer with Fish and Game for six and a half years, said that without the information presented by the concerned hunter, Fish and Game may never have learned of this crime.
“Cases are best made when concerned members of the public come forward with information,” Peterson said.
“And there is some real satisfaction gained from catching poachers,” he added.
“It is a great feeling to catch people who steal from Idaho’s wildlife resource,” Peterson said. “I say this not only as a conservation officer, but as a sportsman myself who loves to hunt.”
Peterson has applied for a Bannock Zone bull tag for years, but he has never drawn one.
All three individuals involved in the crime received written citations and warnings for possessing an elk in closed season as well as using an invalid tag in a controlled hunt zone.
Charges were dropped on the individual who purchased the invalid tag because of his cooperation with the case. Hodge pleaded guilty to his charges at the Bannock County Courthouse in February, with Zachary Wade Stringham following suit in June.
Hodge was fined $1972, which included a processing fee and a civil penalty, and lost his hunting privileges in Idaho and 34 other states for five years.
Idaho is a member of the Wildlife Violator Compact, which means that if an individual’s hunting, fishing or trapping license is revoked by any of the member states, all the remaining states will revoke the same license or privilege for the same time period.
Stringham was fined $775, including court costs, a hunting privilege revocation of eight years, and a prison sentence of two years for violating probation. After serving 180 days of that sentence, he could be released for good behavior. If not released, Stringham can expect to serve at least one year of his two-year sentence. Charges of felony possession of a firearm were dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to the probation violation.
Peterson asks all outdoor enthusiasts enjoying Idaho’s backyard this hunting season, to please keep their eyes and ears open for any wildlife violations.
“We need you to help us find those who are stealing wildlife from the rest of us,” Peterson says.
Anyone with information about a wildlife violation may contact the Citizens Against Poaching hotline at 1-800-632-5999. Callers may remain anonymous, and they may be eligible for a reward.
The hunter who reported this crime received $250 from Citizens Against Poaching for his information.