HAMILTON - A Ravalli County man and his friend are facing charges after allegedly poaching a trophy mule deer and then sending mass e-mails and text messages with photos of the buck.
Michael Don Gates of Corvallis and Justin Davis, reportedly of Portland, Ore., were charged Friday with two felony counts - unlawful possession of a game animal and tampering with evidence - in Ravalli County Justice Court. The two also face a misdemeanor charge of waste of a game animal. Gates also faces misdemeanor charges of hunting without a license and failure to get landowner permission to hunt.
According to charging documents, on Oct. 7 a photograph allegedly showing Gates posing with an 8-by-8-point buck was sent to the phone of a Ravalli County resident who had seen recent video and photographs of the same "unusual" looking buck in the Corvallis area.
Gates did not have a permit to hunt antlered mule deer in the hunting district near Corvallis.
The concerned citizen contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Lou Royce. In turn, warden Joe Jaquith showed the pictures to an expert in scoring game and received confirmation that they showed the same animal, the court affidavit states.
Gates' text allegedly claimed he had killed the deer in the Anaconda area while there with Davis.
The affidavit claims such a scenario is unlikely: "As Hunting District 214 is near Anaconda, Montana, it would have been necessary for this distinctive 8-by-8 mule deer buck to leave a group of does, and travel over two mountain ranges, a distance of about 80 road miles, in a week's time in order to be shot in that district by Gates."
The affidavit says when Royce contacted Gates about the whereabouts of the buck, Gates said Davis had brought the head and antlers to his brother's house to have him score the trophy. Later the same day, Davis told Royce the head and antlers had disappeared.
The next day, when Royce asked Gates where the meat was, Gates claimed the deer had spoiled. Gates said he dumped the carcass in the Willow Creek area east of Corvallis.
Wardens located a carcass that appeared to be the distinctive buck along the roadside about five miles from where it had been videotaped earlier this fall.
To date, the affidavit continues, Davis has not brought the head and antlers to FWP officials, despite repeatedly saying "he would find the antlers and have them to the wardens ‘within the hour' or shortly after speaking with them."
On Friday, Justice of the Peace Jim Bailey issued arrest warrants and set $20,000 bail on both Gates and Davis.