Eight convicted of multiple wildlife violations in multi-state investigation

Photo credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

After a multi-year investigation that began in Montana and included multiple out-of-state poachers, justice has been served. This week, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) announced that the eight men responsible for the illegal take of elk, antelope, turkey, whitetail deer and mule deer must pay a combined restitution of nearly $25,000 and another $2,000 in fines and fees. 

Here’s what happened:

Back in 2015, Cole “Sonny” Lawson III of Walterboro, South Carolina, was stopped at a Missouri gas station and questioned by a conservation officer about the seven big game animals he was transporting from Montana. While Lawson III owned property and had business interests in the state, his permanent residence was in South Carolina. This prompted an investigation that concluded in November 2022 and brought some interesting details about Lawson III’s wildlife violations to light.

Between 2013 and 2015, Lawson III was cited for the possessing and transporting two illegally taken bull elk and an antelope buck. Further, in 2017, he was also cited for possession of a turkey, a bull elk, two mule deer does, a mule deer buck and an antelope buck, according to FWP

While he initially faced nine charges, five were dismissed prior to his court appearance on April 18, 2022, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing an unlawfully killed game animal, hunting without a valid license and non-resident license or permit offenses. He was ordered to pay $9, 375 in restitution and lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for 10 years – in Montana and all states that honor the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact. He is also not allowed to accompany anyone hunting in Montana for the next 10 years. All mounts were forfeited and he was sentenced to six months in jail for each of the four counts with all jail time suspended. 

But what about the others? 

  • Jack Lawson, son to Lawson III and resident of South Carolina, pleaded guilty to the illegal take of a mule deer buck. He was ordered to pay $1,035 in restitution, fines and fees, received a deferred six-month jail sentence and lost his hunting privileges for a year.
  • Cole Lawson IV, son to Lawson III and resident of North Carolina, received a similar sentence for pleading guilty to illegally killing a whitetail buck in 2017. He lost his hunting privileges for a year, received a deferred six-month jail sentence and also lost his hunting privileges for a year. 
  • Jason Bunger, a Montana resident, was ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to poaching a bull elk in 2017 and a turkey in 2019. He also received a suspended six-month jail sentence and lost his hunting privileges and right to accompany hunters in Montana for two years. His mounts were also forfeited.
  • Shawn Ervin, resident of North Carolina, and Daniel Ervin, resident of South Carolina, pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a game animal and hunting without a license. Shawn killed a whitetail buck in 2017 and used Daniel’s license; Daniel shot a mule deer buck and used an invalid license. The brothers also hunted waterfowl without valid licenses and shot does using licenses issued to Bunger and Lawson III. Both were ordered to pay $3,300 in restitution and lost hunting privileges for two years. They had to forfeit their mounts and received six-month suspended jail sentences for their crimes.
  • Justin Land, a Florida resident, and Carey Harrison, a South Carolina resident, pleaded guilty to license, permit or tag offences after Land gave a general deer tag to another hunter and Harrison gave Lawson IV a mule deer B license to use for a doe. Harrison was ordered to pay $285 and Land $135 for their crimes.

What do you think? Did the punishment fit the crimes?


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