An additional felony poaching charge has been filed against the prominent Utah hunting guide who was prosecuted earlier this month for illegally using bait to help Donald Trump Jr. kill a black bear in Carbon County in 2018.
Wade Lemon, a guide based in Holden, has been under investigation during the past several years by state wildlife officials who suspect Lemon of leading high-paying clients on trophy hunts using tactics that are banned under Utah hunting regulations.
In the latest case, a sting operation orchestrated last year by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Lemon is accused of helping a client shoot a cougar in a “canned” hunt staged in Millard County.
The charges in both cases, known as “wanton destruction of wildlife,” are third-degree felonies that carry potential prison sentences of up to 5 years each. Other possible consequences of a conviction for Lemon are a loss of hunting in privileges in Utah and other states and revocation of his outfitting license.
In neither case is the client being charged because the facts indicate they are the victims of a fraud who had no way of knowing a crime was occurring when they illegally shot the animal, according to prosecutor Ben Willoughby.
“That mountain lion was treed while this hunter was still packing up his car in Sandy, Utah,” said Willoughby, a Davis County assistant district attorney, in reference to the Millard case. “It’s a fraud on him designed to make it look like he’s getting a bona fide hunting experience when in fact there is no hunting, there is no risk, there is no sport involved at all.”
Willoughby and his boss Troy Rawlings have been assigned to prosecute Lemon as Utah’s special assistant attorneys general.
Lemon’s initial court appearance is set for June 22 in Fillmore’s 4th District Court, where the charge was filed Monday. On Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reached Lemon’s lawyer, Greg Law, who declined comment.
The Lemon cases expose an unsavory side to trophy hunting, which is subjected to numerous rules to ensure the animals are pursued and killed ethically and humanely. The ethic of “fair chase” appears to have little to no place in the two guided hunts that led to charges against Wade.
Utah does allow the use of dogs to pursue cougars and bears, a practice denounced by many wildlife advocates as animal abuse. To minimize the potential for abuse, bear and cougar hunts are subject to careful, yet hard-to-enforce rules. Under Utah hunting regulations, for example, the hunter must be present when the dogs are let loose and must participate in the chase until the hunt’s conclusion.
In Lemon’s Millard County case, the client’s participation was allegedly limited to being transported by ATV to the spot where a cougar had been cornered in a tree and squeezing two rounds into the animal’s body.
Lemon, 61, has been guiding hunters in Utah since the late 1970s and has grown his service into one of Utah’s largest with international operations in Mexico and Africa. Lemon and his guides have helped more than 2,000 clients “fulfill their dream of harvesting a Trophy Mountain Lion,” according to the website for Wade Lemon Hunting.
“We are not lion hunters, we are lion catchers,” the site states. “Until you have watched a pack of hounds working a track you will never fully understand the passion of a houndsman watching a good dog work.”
The Millard County case is one of several into Lemon’s operations, but only the second to lead to criminal charges. The sting operation occurred on Jan. 24, 2021, after a houndsman found cougar tracks near Meadow Canyon in Millard County. This person, identified only as a “confidential witness,” worked with state investigators, according to the charging document.
The unnamed cooperating witness called Lemon to inform him that he was tracking a cougar and asked if he had a client who wanted to bag one, and Lemon responded that he could be there in a few hours with a hunter.
Lemon asked the witness to release some of his dogs, but to hold some back for when his client arrived. At 11:47 a.m., the witness called Lemon to say that his dogs cornered a cougar that was “chilling up in a tree,” according to the documents. The witness told the guide that all his dogs were loosed on the cougar pursuit so he had none left to release for the client’s benefit. Lemon responded by asking what kind of vehicle he would need to access the site and whether the dogs could be heard from the road.
“He said that’s good if you can’t hear it from the road. That’s the fraud,” Willoughby, the prosecutor, said. “Lemon says, ‘We’ll get other dogs loaded in dog boxes just for effect.’ That is evidence of the fraud perpetrated on this hunter. They are concealing the fact that dogs have already been released.”
The scam requires fooling the client into believing no dogs were let loose until he joined the chase, he said.
“While they are suiting the hunter up, you release a bunch of other dogs which will look to the hunter as if he is present when the dogs are released,” Willoughby continued. “The trick is when the hunter gets to the scene where you shoot the cougar, it’s up in a tree and there are now a lot of dogs around the base of the tree.”
Unless the hunter is counting dogs, he may not suspect anything is amiss.
The client, a man from Sandy, told investigators that he had no idea the hunt was staged and that the cougar had already been located before his arrival.