Boot Tracks Tell A Story

Salmon Region
Senior Conservation Officer Chad Wipperman

Wagner case evidence
Creative Commons Licence

During the September 2015 archery season, some ranchers were moving cattle when they stumbled upon a large dead bull elk that looked like it had been shot with a rifle. The ranchers knew immediately there was a problem because (1) it was archery season, (2) the elk wasn’t field dressed, and (3) it was left to waste. The rancher made the call to the Salmon Fish and Game office to report the dead elk.

Senior Conservation Officers Chad Wippermann and Zac Sedlmayr responded to the call. The rancher led the officers to the dead elk where they found boot prints that were not from the rancher. The officers figured the boot prints most likely belonged to the elk shooter.

Before officers Wippermann and Sedlmayr could locate possible suspects, their priority was to salvage the elk meat so it could be used by the community. Officer Wippermann called on Regional Investigator Andy Smith and Officer Matt Sheppard to assist while he and Officer Sedlmayr moved the elk carcass to a local meat processor. Because the elk was killed near private property, the officers believed the shooter might live nearby.

Officers Smith and Sheppard started knocking on doors and soon found themselves at James Wagner’s house in Baker, Idaho, which is less than one mile from where the elk was found dead. Wagner denied shooting an elk that morning but admitted he was up in the area where the bull elk was killed. The officers checked Wagner’s boots but the tread was different than what was found around the dead elk. At that time, Wagner also denied changing boots.

Shortly after their initial contact, Wagner did admit to killing the bull elk. He agreed to show the officers where he shot from but then couldn’t remember exactly where that was. Wagner did claim he was shooting at a cow elk and that he “might have” changed his boots when he got home. Eventually officers were able to recover the hidden boots Wagner was wearing when he shot the elk. The boot tread matched the prints found around the bull elk.

Wagner was convicted by a jury for taking a bull elk with a rifle during archery season and possession of an unlawfully taken elk. Wagner was sentenced to a $630 fine, $1000 civil penalty, and he lost his hunting privileges for two years.

Idaho is a member of the Wildlife Violator Compact, which means that if an individual’s hunting, fishing or trapping license is revoked by any of the 42 member states; all the remaining states will revoke the same license or privilege for the same time period.

Anyone with information about a wildlife violation are encouraged to “Make the Call” and contact the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999. Callers may remain anonymous, and they may be eligible for a reward.

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