Illegal Hunting Convictions Cost Phillips County Landowners $50,000

Illegal Hunting Convictions Cost Phillips County Landowners $50,000

A cow elk eats grain left at an illegal baiting site on the Blue Ridge Ranch.
A cow elk eats grain left at an illegal baiting site on the Blue Ridge Ranch.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

MALTA, Mont. –-( Members of a Minnesota family that owns property in southern Phillips County have agreed to pay $50,000 in restitution and fines for illegal baiting of big-game animals, hunting without licenses and/or permits, outfitting and other wildlife-related crimes.

Albert “Will” Carlson, 67, owner of the Blue Ridge Ranch in the Larb Hills area south of Malta, and son Todd Anthony Carlson, 41, of the Minneapolis suburb of Inver Grove Heights, recently pleaded guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges in Phillips County Justice Court.

In total, the Carlson family was ordered to pay a total of $42,615 in restitution to the state of Montana and $7,385 in fines. Albert “Will” Carlson and Todd Carlson will forfeit their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for three years in Montana and states involved in the wildlife violator compact. Another son, Troy Albert Carlson, 45, and Sandra Pearl Carlson, 49, also of Inver Grove Heights, will not be allowed to hunt in Montana for three years.

In addition, the family:

  • cannot accompany other hunters in the field during the period of their privilege revocations and/or suspensions;
  • forfeited any future right to work as licensed outfitters or guides in Montana;
  • forfeited any right to benefit financially from the sale of the outfitting business associated with their ranch property;
  • forfeited seized property, including a full-size body mount of a bighorn sheep and a trophy class, shoulder-mount bull elk.

In the fall of 2008, Dirk Paulsen, a Malta based field warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), began investigating complaints of the Carlsons allegedly leading illegal elk hunts at baited sites within the ranch, which borders the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Burnt Lodge Wilderness Study Area.

Albert “Will” Carlson, who is not a legal resident of Montana, had arranged for a hunting outfitter to become his license sponsor, as well as his employer. The Carlsons then became licensed guides — as well as clients — under the outfitter.

This business arrangement opened the door for the ranch to have a steady supply of guaranteed, outfitter-sponsored hunting licenses that were then made available to Carlson family friends and business associates. In all, this resulted in about 40 out-of-state clients a year obtaining the licenses, as well as exclusive rights to hunt the Blue Ridge Ranch for trophy bull elk.

A search warrant from the Montana 12th Judicial District Court allowed Paulsen and fellow FWP Warden Mike Lee of Malta to use video surveillance of suspected baiting stations, which were strategically placed near elevated hunting stands on the ranch. The illegal baiting led to an artificial concentration of game animals near the hunters.

Further investigation revealed a variety of criminal violations, including the hunting of big-game animals without valid licenses and other outfitting-related infractions. Additional illegal luring, baiting and feeding of elk were documented through video surveillance.

Last October, other District Court search warrants were served on the Carlsons and their outfitter by wardens from FWP Regions 4, 6, and 7, as well as officers from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office. Information and evidence collected during the search led to dozens of other nonresident suspects in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Evidence seized during the search included oats, salt blocks, trail cameras containing images of the hunters with illegally harvested game animals, outfitter records and licenses, among other items.

Misdemeanor criminal citations were issued to Albert “Will” Carlson and Todd Carlson for the illegal use of radios for hunting; the use of trail cameras for illegally tracking big game during the hunting season; hunting of game animals with the use of bait; feeding game animals; and soliciting the hunting of game animals with the use of bait, among other outfitting-related charges.

Hunters used elevated stands to kill trophy elk attracted to illegally baited areas on the ranch. (photos courtesy MT FWP)
Hunters used elevated stands to kill trophy elk attracted to illegally baited areas on the ranch. (photos courtesy MT FWP)

Earlier this year, Montana wardens went to Minnesota and Wisconsin and conducted nearly 50 interviews with hunters who were suspected of illegally killing or illegally possessing elk that had been taken from the ranch. The Montana wardens were assisted by officers from Minnesota and Wisconsin’s state wildlife agencies. Paulsen said charges are still pending against 11 out-of-state residents and the outfitter.

During the investigation, an illegal full-body bighorn sheep mount was also discovered in the Blue Ridge Ranch’s hunting lodge. An interview with a taxidermist in Minnesota led to him admitting that he’d prepared the mount for the Carlson family after the 2008 season, even though the taxidermist knew the animal was unlawfully possessed.

The Blue Ridge Ranch cases were prosecuted by Steve Gannon of the Chouteau County Attorney’s Office and Kathleen Jenks of the Montana Attorney General’s Office.