A cigarette butt and some new-age electronic detective work put a former Florence man in the crosshairs of two poaching cases that could end up costing him thousands of dollars and the loss of his hunting privileges.
Brady Joe Stamps, now of Libby, faces numerous hunting violations in both Ravalli and Missoula counties, including a felony charge of unlawful possession of a trophy bull elk.
He has pleaded not guilty in both cases that date back to the 2017 hunting season.
According to charging affidavits filed in both counties, the case began on Nov. 25, 2017, after a hunter called the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tip line to report that he had witnessed a bull elk shot and killed on the Burnt Fork Ranch east of Stevensville.
The charging documents laid out the following narrative:
The hunter had been one of a party of three who had spotted two bull elk on the private property while standing on adjoining public land. He had been watching the elk through a spotting scope while his two companions attempted to intercept the elk should the animals cross onto public land.
The man took a photo of the two elk through his spotting scope. Less than five minutes later, he heard two gunshots and observed one of the elk spin around and die. He took another photo.
The three hunters encountered another party soon thereafter. That party of two men denied they had shot the elk and then left the scene.
The men who had called in the illegal killing told FWP warden Justin Singleterry one the hunters was in his mid to late 30s, tall and skinny with dark facial hair and smelled of cigarette smoke. That hunter was packing a unique Remington Model 700 Long Range rifle with what appeared to be a long-range Vortex scope.
The hunters also told the wardens they had spotted a white Ford pickup truck on their way in that looked like a logger’s truck.
The affidavit said the three hunters had no doubt the two hunters they had encountered had killed the elk and left it.
Singleterry was joined by Warden Lou Royce to investigate the shooting. The affidavit said they recovered the bullet that killed the elk. The rear of the bullet had an X stamped on its base. They also found a small piece of blue plastic they determined was a plastic ballistic tip for a bullet.
Further investigation led them to the possible shooting location, where they found the grass and soil disturbed and matted down. That location on state land was about 500 yards from where the bull was shot. It matched the description from where the other hunters had heard the gunshots originate.
Singleterry collected a fresh cigarette butt and a piece of blaze orange cloth from the scene. The warden also reviewed photographs from a trail surveillance camera he had set up on the road that captured a photo of the white truck. The photo didn’t include the license plate.
The case went cold until June when a confidential informant told Singleterry that Stamps had told him about the incident, but didn’t admit to shooting the elk, according to the affidavit.
The informant said Stamps was tall and skinny, smoked cigarettes, drove a white Ford pickup, was a logger, talked a lot about long-range rifle shooting, and owned a Remington Model 700 Long Range rifle. The informant also said Stamps had been convicted of wildlife crimes in Alaska and had lost his hunting privileges for a year.
On Stamps’ Facebook page, Singleterry found a photo of the truck that had two after-market lights mounted to its grill. The same style of lights were shown in the photograph taken by the surveillance camera.
One of the hunters was able to identify Stamps from photos he had of himself on Facebook.
Singleterry was then able to use cellular investigative technology and historical cellular location history to track Stamps' movements on the day of the hunt that put him on state land north the Burnt Fork ranch.
After obtaining a search warrant, several game wardens seized numerous 30-caliber rifles, ammunition and a cigarette butt on the Libby home where Stamps was residing.
Later, FWP wardens allegedly obtained a confession from Stamps’ hunting partner. The man said Stamps had made the 500-yard shot because of his skill at long-range shooting. They had planned on using the other man’s tag on the elk, but opted not to retrieve it because they knew it was on private land.
Singleterry was later able to match ammunition seized at the Libby home with the type of bullet found at the kill site, including the plastic tip. He was also able to match DNA on the cigarette butt to Stamps.
From Stamps’ Facebook page, the warden also determined that he had already killed a bull elk during archery season.
Stamps had posted a photograph “My 2017 Montana archery bull. Public Land diy 7x8.” In the comments section, Singleterry learned the bull Stamps had killed had a research collar around its neck when it was killed in September.
Stamps had returned that collar to a FWP researcher. He told the researcher the elk had been killed on state land that borders the Bitterroot River between Lolo and Florence that is sometimes accessed by hunters via a raft.
Singleterry again used cellular investigative technology to locate the spot where Stamps had killed the elk. That location matched the photo Stamps had posted on Facebook.
The location was on private property owned by the Sapphire Ranch. Stamps did not have permission from the ranch to hunt there.
On Facebook and in an affidavit he filed with Boone and Crockett, Stamps said the elk only went 75 to 80 yards after he shot it. The closest public land was over one-third of a mile away.
Singleterry found the elk preserved at the Boone and Crockett building. It was a 6x7 and scored 325 2/8s, which was large enough to considered a trophy for restitution.
Stamps pleaded not guilty in Missoula County District Court on Thursday to the felony unlawful possession of a game animal and a misdemeanor charge of hunting on land without permission.
In Ravalli County, he is charged with misdemeanor counts of failure to obtain landowner permission, hunting or killing over limit, and waste of a game animal. He pleaded not guilty to those charges earlier.