Roy and Stanley Hankins - two hired houndsmen in Montana - have been sentenced for illegally killing mountain lions in 2012. Both men received only $1000 fines, suspended jail time, and loss of hunting privileges for two years.
The fact that these were only misdemeanor counts and that hunting privileges were only denied for the minimum 24 months is outrageous. Even more shocking is that Roy Hankins was found guilty of trafficking in the unlawfully obtained body parts of a protected species as far back as 1982. That conviction was upheld before the Montana Supreme Court.
In this latest indictment, Roy R. Hankins of Townsend and Stanley A. Hankins of Fort Benton were convicted of outfitting without a license, failure to obtain landowner permission, and unlawful possession of a game animal.
Montana penalties for a person convicted of outfitting without a license is a fine not to exceed $1000 or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, or both, forfeiture of licenses for any period set by the court, and reimbursement of fees. For unlawful possession of a game animal, the fine is again not more than $1000, 6 months of detention, and at least a two year forfeiture of licenses.
With prices for a mountain lion hunt in Montana in the $4500-$6500 range, thousand dollar fines are just a slap on the wrist, and after the two year suspension, there is tremendous motivation for houndsmen to carry on with little regard for the law.
The photos of hunted lions in this story
represent three of the mountain lions killed
related to the indictments of the Hankinses and
LeMonte Schnur, and were found on Facebook.
Although houndsmen often testify that they cannot be held accountable for a few bad apples, the evidence is that they are remarkably tolerant. Here are some testimonials about Roy Hankins from other Montana houndsmen:
"Roy is quite a character and has caught more lions than most guys will ever dream of. A lot of guys don't like him but you can't deny the fact that he is a cat catching son of a gun. I get a kick out of him and I'm glad that I had the chance to know him. There's never a dull moment with Roy and you won't find many guys that enjoy life as much as he does. I'm sure there are guys in parts of the state with better lion populations that catch a lot of cats but he catches a pile of cats in a moderate population area. Roy is old school and a good lion is a dead lion to him but that doesn't change the fact that he is a damn successful hunter. I'd love to see a book on the illustrious life of Roy Hankins, it would be an entertaining read."
"I beleive the question was who is the best lion hunter. Not who is the best houndsman. Roy doesnt own dogs for companions or buddies he owns hounds for killing cats. Roy may be a lot of things people dont agree with but the one thing you cant take away from the man is that he has probably put up more cats than most five men combined. As far as being a houndsman he probably does a lot of things most people wouldnt agree with including myself. But like an old time lion hunter told me when I first started Roy has shot better dogs than you or I will ever own. So in short I would have to say whether you agree with him or not we all could probably learn a few things from Roy including training hounds."
In the 2012 incident, the Hankinses had been hired by LaMonte Schnur, owner of Monte's Guiding and Mountain Outfitting in Townsend, who was investigated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks after receiving reports that at least four of his guided mountain lion hunts in 2012 were conducted on unauthorized lands. The lions were killed on private properties, state, or federal lands where the hunting groups were not permitted.
The hunters themselves who paid for the guided mountain lion hunts, and pictured here with the lions they killed, James Ruhl, William Heenan, William Rogers and Robert Griffin, were not charged.
Schnur voluntarily surrendered his outfitting license in an agreement with the Montana Board of Outfitters, and is ineligible from reapplying. Schnur also agreed to refund a total of $4,500 to two of the hunters and provide five free days of hunting to another, pay a $1,000 administration fee and update the board monthly on hunting activities during the 2015 season. Schnur is permanently ineligible from reapplying for an outfitting or guide license under the terms of the order.
As far as MLF is able to determine, Schnur is still able to hunt lions in Montana and elsewhere as an individual, and was able to continue to act as an outfitter up until December 31, 2015.
The Montana Attorney General's Office has filed an 18-count indictment against Schnur for the illegal hunts.
This is not the first time LaMonte Schnur has been convicted of violating game laws. In 2005 he pled guilty to five counts related to outfitting on national forest land in Montana without a permit. Under the plea agreement, in 2006 a federal judge sentenced him to two years of probation and a $10,000 fine.
Also in 2006, a Wyoming federal court found Schnur guilty of commercial backcountry trail use without a permit. He received a two-year license probation, was banned from entering Yellowstone National Park for two years and paid $3,510 in fines.
2006, hunters themselves remarked on the lack of meaningful repercussions to Schnur in statewide online hunting forums. One hunter said, "The thing thats going to really be interesting to see is how the guides and outfitters association acts on this issue. I bet they dont revoke his outfitting license. A 10k slap on the hand for 59K in profits. Unbelievable."
In 2006, the Montana Board of Outfitters placed his license on probation for three years, fined him $780 and ordered him to complete a remedial outfitter education program.
In 2015, in a letter to the Montana Board of Outfitters, Schnur commented this has been the most stressful time in his life. His website, www.montesguiding.com, notes that he "retired" at the end of 2015 and is working on transferring the business so that guided hunts can continue.
"We will continue to offer our spring and summer services of varmint shooting, wildlife watching/photography, and horseback trips/cattle drives through Montana Horse Country Adventures. We are currently working out the details of the transfer of the hunting business. We plan to have everything completed in time for you to book your 2016 hunt with the new management."
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks admits that hunters cross the line. In an article titled For Sale: Montana's Public Wildlife they note that "over the last 20 years, greed has driven a new breed of poachers to line their wallets with Montana's wildlife. And we're seeing record-book heads that can sell for $30,000 to $40,000 or even more."
"With that kind of money at stake, a growing number of people are willing to do whatever it takes to put large racks in the hands of wealthy clients. What we're seeing is the intersection of big antlers with big egos. There's a growing interest across the county in having a big trophy on the wall - no matter how it's taken - and that's what's driving a lot of the poaching in Montana."
Mountain Lion Foundation Takes Action
Poaching is a difficult crime to investigate and cases rarely make it to court. To make matters worse, penalties are not sufficient to discourage criminals from poaching again. When an outfitter can make $5,000 from guiding just one hunt, the threat of facing a $10,000 fine is not much of a deterrent, as this could easily be made in one weekend.
We have written letters to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, applauding the work of their wardens, including former warden Andrew Martin in this case.
And we have written to the Montana Attorney General's Office thanking them for investigating and prosecuting LaMonte Schnur, as well as Roy and Stanley Hankins. We appreciate the time they have put into this case and hope the judge will issue the maximum sentence against Schnur, given his long record of wildlife crime.
As reported by the Independent Record, FWP Enforcement Chief Jim Kropp said in an email that "it is disheartening, as I have known and worked with the Schnurs for a number of years, it's unfortunate these alleged acts occur and are attributed to a licensed professional.
"One of the main purposes of having a dedicated Fish & Wildlife Prosecutor at the Attorney General's office is to focus on the prosecution of large scale and heinous wildlife crimes," Kropp continued. "As citizens of Montana we simply won't tolerate trophy game animals being stolen from Montana’s landscape for the purposes of personal gain."
What YOU Can Do: Hold Montana to it's promise:
Write letters to the Montana Attorney Seneral and to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department involved in this case to thank them for prosecuting wildlife crimes. Wildlife is a valuable resource and violators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Office of the Attorney General
Justice Building, Third Floor
215 North Sanders
P.O. Box 201401
Helena, MT 59620-1401
Phone: (406) 444-2026
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620-0701
Phone: (406) 444-2535
Fax: (406) 444-4952
But encourage Montana's and your state's governor and legislators to increase fines and jail time for those convicted. Your voice can make a difference.
Office of the Governor
PO Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801
Toll Free: 855-318-1330
Email: on web from Contact Montana's Governor