Hunt gone awry

Poacher pictured with illegally killed mountain lion (left) and taxidermied bobcat and mountain lion (right). 

Four Wisconsin men were convicted in February of crimes related to an illegal mountain lion hunt in Montana and conspiring to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Darren Johnson, 52, of Deer Park; David Johnson, 31, of Barnes (no relation); Robert Peters, 53, of Turtle Lake; and Steven Reindahl, 55, of Turtle Lake; were all charged with Lacey Act violations in addition to other charges. The Lacey Act was applied because the violators broke existing state laws and crossed from one state to another with their illegal bounty.

The convictions stem back to a mountain lion hunt in Montana on Jan. 6, 2017. The four were in Mosby, Montana, hunting mountain lions with their dogs. That morning, the dogs treed a mountain lion, and while Darren Johnson and Reindahl had valid licenses to hunt mountain lions, David Johnson did not.

David Johnson used Darren Johnson’s rifle to shoot and kill the mountain lion. Darren Johnson tagged the mountain lion after David Johnson shot it without a permit. According to witness testimony, Darren Johnson told the group at the time that everyone needed to stick to the story that he killed the mountain lion.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the group drove back from Montana to Wisconsin, with Darren Johnson and Reindahl transporting the mountain lion hide. A few days later Darren Johnson dropped off the hide at David Johnson’s home.

As the joint investigation into this illegal hunt began to wrap up in May 2018, Peters and Reindahl were served with grand jury subpoenas to testify before a Madison-based federal grand jury on June 21, 2018.

On June 17, 2018, the group met at Peter's home to talk about the upcoming grand jury session and solidify a plan for covering up their illegal take. Darren Johnson reminded everyone to stick to the story that he killed the mountain lion on their January hunt in Montana, thinking that agents had no proof to say otherwise.

On June 21, 2018, Peters and Reindahl appeared before the grand jury and perjured themselves, then later agreed to cooperate and tell the truth. Recanting their prior testimony, both men explained that they were told by Darren Johnson to lie in front of the grand jury.

That lie and the failed cover up cost Peters and Reindahl two years of probation, fines of $5,000 each and as a condition of probation a ban on hunting, trapping, running dogs or assisting and/or accompanying others who are engaged in hunting, trapping or running dogs worldwide for two years.

Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker sentenced David Johnson to pay $25,000 in fines and serve a three-year term of probation. Darren Johnson was ordered to pay $30,000 in fines and serve a four-year term of probation. As a condition of probation, they also lost the privilege to hunt, trap, run dogs or assist and/or accompany others engaged in hunting, trapping or running dogs worldwide.

All fines were due and paid immediately at the time of the announcement. Darren Johnson's and David Johnson's fines were paid directly to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.

In imposing the sentences Judge Crocker observed that the four men “loved and lived to hunt, but they cut corners and cheated. They broke the law knowingly.” Addressing the men in court, Crocker said, “Hunting is a privilege not a right. The rules apply to everyone. You cannot cheat.”

On top of these sentences, Crocker also ordered three of the defendants to forfeit gear and equipment used during the illegal hunt. Peters was ordered to forfeit a Browning A-Bolt rifle and a hide from a bobcat he illegally killed in Montana during the January 2017 hunt. David Johnson was ordered to forfeit a Garmin Astro 320 Receiver, three Garmin dog collars, 10-30x50 Zoom binoculars, a Remington 870 Super Mag 12 gauge shotgun and a mountain lion hide.

Darren Johnson was ordered to forfeit a 2012 Ford F-250 pickup truck, a Savage Model 11 .223 rifle with Konus 3-9x40 scope, a Garmin Astro 320 receiver, three Garmin Dog Collars, Nikon 10x42 binoculars, a Uniden UKM380 VHF radio, a mountain lion and bobcat mount.

In addition, the investigation also documented Darren Johnson being involved in the illegal take of a mountain lion in Colorado in 2013. The court also ordered the forfeiture of the skull from the mountain lion taken during that illegal hunt.

The charges against the men were the result of an investigation conducted by special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.