The state of Idaho recently convicted three family members for a string of poaching crimes that span multiple decades. After a lengthy investigation, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) charged Travis, Donald, and Eben Curtiss with 10 felonies, 8 misdemeanors, and fines in excess of $7,000 a piece. The clues that led to the conviction of “the Curtiss group”—as IDFG called the criminals in a recent press release—included a bullet retrieved from the body of a poached elk and tips from hunters who witnessed some of the crimes.
“On November 2, 2021, the Curtiss group located a large herd of elk near Arco, ID,” IDFG said in the May 16 press release. “Travis Curtiss was driving a pickup truck while his father Donald shot at the elk from the passenger side window and his son Eben shot at the elk from the bed of the truck.”
The men trailed the herd in their truck for a considerable distance, IDFG said, while managing to shoot and kill a raghorn bull, a cow, a spike, and two mature bulls. “[They] drove past these dying elk and collected the head, quarters, and backstraps of the two mature bulls, leaving the rest to waste,” the news release states. “The investigation confirmed that they had killed six illegal elk, and there was good evidence of another bull that was mortally wounded, but officers were unable to locate it.”
Meanwhile, two witnesses, who were legitimately hunting the same elk herd, watched the shocking crimes unfold. They provided statements with detailed descriptions and later testified in court.
After another witness gave agents the license plate number of a truck that matched the description of the Curtiss’ vehicle, conservation officers confronted the men at their home. “[They] executed a search warrant, shortly after the group had returned home from the hunt and recovered both bulls,” IDFG said. “The suspects initially agreed to talk with the officers, but quickly invoked their fifth amendment rights and refused to answer any questions.”
With the poachers pleading the fifth, IDFG’s case got cold. And it may have gone unsolved if not for the insight of a gun collector who aided in forensic analysis of “the unique bullets shot by the Curtiss’s,” the state agency said.
With the invaluable information that the gun collector provided, agents were able to link Travis, Donald, and Eben Curtiss to the drive-by poaching incident from the fall of 2021. In addition to fines, the Department hit each poacher with a 10-year hunting and trapping ban as well as community service.
The witnesses received monetary compensation for their role in bringing the Curtiss family’s long-running crime spree to an end. “This story serves as a reminder that there are repercussions for committing wildlife crimes,” IDFG said, “and that being a strong witness for wildlife can be the key component to solve a poaching case.”