MILES CITY – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks recently wrapped up a case involving multiple wildlife violations in Garfield County committed by a Jordan man, a South Carolina man and two of his sons, and four other non-residents. The last of their court cases concluded in Montana in November of 2022.
FWP launched the multiple-state investigation in 2015, after Cole “Sonny” Lawson III of Walterboro, S.C., was questioned at a Missouri gas station by a conservation officer about seven game animals he said he was transporting from Montana for other hunters. Lawson III owned property and had business interests in Jordan, Mont., but his permanent residence was in South Carolina.
The investigation eventually uncovered offenses by all eight men, resulting in loss of hunting privileges for most, combined restitution of nearly $25,000 and almost $2,000 in fines and fees.
Court records state that between 2013 and 2015 in Garfield County, Cole Lawson III possessed, shipped or transported two unlawfully harvested bull elk and an antelope buck. In 2017 he was cited for possession of a turkey, a bull elk, two mule deer does, a mule deer buck and an antelope buck.
Lawson III originally faced nine charges, three of them felonies, but five charges were dismissed. On April 18, 2022, he pleaded guilty in Garfield County District Court to two counts of possessing an unlawfully killed game animal, hunting without a valid license, and non-resident license or permit offenses, all misdemeanors.
He was sentenced to $9,375 in restitution, cannot hunt, fish or trap under the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact for 10 years, and cannot accompany anyone hunting in Montana for 10 years. He forfeited all mounts seized in the case. Lawson III also received six months in jail for each of the four counts, with all time suspended.
His son, Jack Lawson, also of Walterboro, S.C., pleaded guilty in Garfield County Justice Court on Oct. 25, 2022 to hunting a mule deer buck without a license. He received a deferred sentence of six months in jail, suspended; along with $1,035 in restitution, fines and fees; and loss of hunting privileges for one year under the compact.
Another son, Cole Lawson IV of Waynesville, N.C., pleaded no contest in district court on Nov. 14, 2022 to killing a whitetail buck in 2017 without a license. He forfeited hunting privileges for a year and paid $500 in restitution. Six months in jail were suspended.
Jason Bunger of Jordan, Mont., pleaded guilty on June 23, 2022 with misdemeanor unlawful possession of a bull elk in 2017 and a turkey in 2019. Bunger was sentenced to $8,000 in restitution and six months in jail, suspended, and lost hunting privileges and the ability to accompany hunters in Montana for two years. All mounts were forfeited.
Brothers Shawn Ervin of Statesville, N.C., and Daniel Ervin of Sharon, S.C., both pleaded guilty in district court on June 23, 2022 to unlawful possession of a game animal and hunting without a license. In 2017 Shawn shot a whitetail buck without a license and used Daniel’s. Daniel then shot a mule deer buck and used an invalid license. In 2019 the brothers stopped at a southeast Montana check station. They had been hunting waterfowl and Shawn shot a common goldeneye, but neither had licenses. They both also shot does and used licenses from Bunger and Lawson III. Both were ordered to pay $3,300 in restitution and lost hunting privileges for two years. Six-month jail sentences were suspended. Mounts were forfeited.
Justin Land of Lake City, Fla., and Carey Harrison of South Carolina both pleaded guilty in Garfield County Justice Court to license, permit or tag offenses. Harrison was ordered to pay $285 and Land $135. Land gave a general deer tag to another hunter. Harrison gave a mule deer B license to Cole Lawson IV to use on a doe he harvested.
Cole Lawson IV, Jason Bunger and the Ervin brothers all faced felony charges prior to their plea agreements.