Hanford: Antlers missing in elk poaching case

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 24, 2014 

Washington State Fish and Wildlife officials are looking for the antlers of a trophy bull elk illegally shot after hunters trespassed on the closed Hanford nuclear reservation.

COURTESY WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Washington State Fish and Wildlife officials are looking for the antlers of a trophy bull elk illegally shot after hunters trespassed on the closed Hanford nuclear reservation.

Three Tri-City men have been sentenced in a poaching case that involved two elk shot on Hanford land closed to the public and another killed nearby on the bank of the Columbia River, where hunting is not allowed.

Daniel Charboneau, 29, of Pasco, was charged with shooting the largest of the animals, said Sgt. Brian Fulton with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Based on photos, it appears the Rocky Mountain elk's antlers, which have not been found, would score close to or more than 400 on the Boone and Crockett Club measurement scale, he said.

The measuring system includes the number of points on a bull elk's antlers, the distance between the tips and the size of the antler base as an indicator of the size of the animal.

"It was a huge elk," Fulton said. "He went out and killed a trophy elk in a place no one can legally hunt."

The Rattlesnake Hills elk herd, which frequents Hanford, numbers about 700 and it tends to move onto Hanford during hunting season, said Heidi Newsome, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Hanford has been closed to the public since 1943, when it was picked as the site to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and the plutonium production portion of the site remains closed as environmental cleanup of radiological and hazardous chemical cleanup continues.

The men took boat trips up the Columbia River and entered the nuclear reservation near the former Hanford townsite, Fulton said. The river along the nuclear reservation is marked with numerous "No Trespassing" signs and guns are not allowed on the site.

Also sentenced in the case were Brock Miller, 27, of Richland, who was charged with shooting two smaller trophy elk, and Miguel Berry, 26, of Richland, who purchased an elk license and tag for one of the animals after it had been shot.

State Fish and Wildlife officials received a tip in late October 2012 that Charboneau had shot a trophy bull on Hanford land and a couple days later that two more bulls had been killed in about the same area, according to Benton County District Court documents.

Charboneau, who did not have an elk tag for a gun, told officers he had been hunting on Oct. 27, 2012, near the old Hanford townsite with Brock Miller, 27, of Richland, plus Miller's mother and Charboneau's sister, according to court documents.

But he said it was his sister, Lisa Martin, who shot an elk and showed officers pictures of him and his sister posing with the largest trophy elk near the kill site, according to court documents. Martin had an elk tag.

Officers also were contacted by a hunter asking about hunting opportunities in the area where the elk were killed after the hunter had seen heads of the two elk Miller is accused of shooting being mounted.

When the taxidermist was contacted, he said that one of the elk had a tag issued to Berry and the other was shot by Miller's mother.

Berry, who had not gone on the Oct. 27, 2012, hunting trip, told officers Miller called him on Nov. 1, 2012, to say he'd shot two bull elk. Miller wanted Berry to buy a tag for one of the elk, according to court documents.

After Berry bought a tag, Miller, Charboneau and Berry went onto the Hanford site the next night to retrieve and tag the elk, according to court documents. Berry told officers that the meat was spoiled by then.

Miller pleaded guilty to charges of unlawfully hunting while trespassing, hunting without tags and using a tag belonging to another person. Six other charges were dropped.

He was sentenced in October 2013 to 90 days in jail for hunting while trespassing and 364 days each for the two other charges. However, all three jail sentences were suspended if he stays out of trouble for two years. His hunting license is suspended during that time, and he must pay a mandatory state criminal wildlife penalty of $6,000.

Berry pleaded guilty to allowing another hunter to use his tag and was sentenced last month to 364 days in jail, which also was suspended for two years. His hunting license will be suspended during that time. Two other charges were dropped.

Charboneau pleaded guilty to hunting big game without a tag and three other charges were dismissed. He was sentenced last month to 364 days in jail, which was suspended for two years. Fulton said Charboneau also will be required to pay the $6,000 criminal wildlife penalty.

Martin and Miller's mother, Joetta Miler, were not charged.

Anyone with information about the unrecovered antlers from the trophy elk is asked to call the state's poaching hotline at 877-933-9847.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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