Poaching. It’s an abhorrent crime and one of the extremely rare areas where lifelong sportsmen and misguided antis can even agree—violators must pay and pay dearly! Whether it’s the quest for bigger antlers, the chance to profit off a trophy or the selfish desire to hold false bragging rights on one’s hunting skills, it seems the degree of atrocities committed by today’s outdoor criminal out-shocks the masses with each new headline.
As one would expect, as these criminals raise their level of lawlessness to new heights, judges are responding with bigger fines and longer jail time for the Nation’s most belligerent offenders. Following are eight of what are believed to be some of the biggest poaching cases in U.S. history and sadly, all of them have been committed in just the last five or six years.
Click through the photos below for all the details. Be sure to let us know if we missed any egregious offenders.
Apparently big bucks are worth risking your life for, or so thought four Tennessee men who were suspected of illegally killing “hundreds” of deer by sneaking into areas of Fort Campbell in that state that are closed to hunting because they are used for munitions training in order to chase down trophy bucks nobody else could hunt. The illegal activities were first discovered after wildlife and local law enforcement officials on Fort Campbell confronted two men who had been spotted entering the closed area.
Jim Edward Page, 43, and Curtis Wallace, 45, were caught by police and admitted to trespassing. The initial charges led to further investigation that revealed the involvement of two other men, Wendell Taylor, 43, and Gregory Crokarell, 41 and as many as 41 deer mounts and antlers. Many of the illegally confiscated mounts had been taken to a taxidermist for mounting. In a plea agreement, Wallace lost his hunting privileges for seven years, was fined $2,500, received one-year probation and ordered to surrender his mounts. He still faced possible federal charges, while his co-conspirators awaited trials as well. (Pictured above: Tennesse wildlife officers at Fort Campbell press conference.)
Earlier this year, nine people were arrested for their involvement in the illegal killing of as many as 300 deer in the McKenzie Hunt Unit in Oregon. Between 2005 and 2010 following a 15-month investigation by Oregon State Police (OSP). OSP officials called it the single largest poaching case in the state’s history. Law enforcement officers seized 108 racks, 18 rifles, 1,600 pounds of meat, timber company keys, numerous hunting licenses and tags and two entire illegally taken cow elk.
In addition to charges directly related to the killing of the animals, some of the nine were also charged with racketeering, computer crimes and identity theft because they apparently bought licenses in other people’s names and then illegally registered the poached deer. Game officials were aware of allegations concerning some of those involved, and after investigating an initial case of an illegally purchased license, officials began to discover the breadth and depth of the poaching ring and the true identities of those involved. Offenders face as many as 20 years in jail and fines of up to $375,000 a piece. One of those charged, Miguel A. Kennedy, 26, of Springfield, Ore., received eight months in prison and three years probation for his role and is cooperating with officials in the case of the other participants. Others in the case, including alleged ringleader Shane Donoho, 37, are still awaiting trial. (Pictured above: Oregon wildlife officer with evidence from the case.)
Federal wildlife officials called it quite possibly the largest trophy deer poaching case in U.S. history after arresting and charging two Texas brothers for running an illegal hunting operation in Kansas. The brothers had a part in 160 trophy bucks illegally taken by about 60 clients or staff between 2005 and 2008. Those clients, often with one of the two brothers personally guiding them, were found to have killed deer over the bag limit, shot them with rifles during the archery season, used spotlights to shoot deer at night and even used night vision scopes to go undetected when shooting deer at night. Their actions revealed an across-the-board disregard for any type of game laws.
Some of the whitetail and mule deer mounts and racks confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ranged in size from 120 inches all the way up to 200 inches. Clients allegedly paid between $2,500 and $5,500 to participate in the illegal hunts. Officials continue to investigate the case and charges may be pending for some of the clients.
For their part in leading the operation, Texas brothers Martin Butler and James Butler were sentenced in June to a combined 5.75 years in prison and fined $70,000. (Pictured above: Part of the collection seized as part of the case)
Pennsylvania’s NonRes Poachers
Despite being home to one of the biggest hunter populations in the United States, Pennsylvania’s largest poaching case in history wasn’t committed by homegrown criminals, but rather by five individuals who traveled to the Quaker State all the way from Maine. A joint investigation by Pennsylvania and Maine wildlife officials led to more than 250 charges being filed against the four men and one 17-year-old juvenile.
The alleged crimes committed included the unlawful killing of dozens of deer including three large racked bucks, spotlighting and illegally selling and buying game. Some deer were believed to have been killed in Pennsylvania during the state’s early muzzleloader and regular firearms deer seasons in 2010 and some were believed to have been illegally taken in Maine. While executing search warrants at the residents of the men in question, agents seized hundreds of pounds of meat, firearms, antlers, bows and arrows, spotlights, a mounted hawk and an owl, a computer and other hunting related equipment an Pennsylvania Game Commission press release announced.
Charged in the case are Everett T. “Tyler” Leonard, 31, who faces 117 charges related to the case; Everett H. “Lenny” Leonard, 59, who faces 52 charges; Carlton John Enos, 19, who faces 59 charges; Lucien H. Clavet, 44, who faces 22 charges; and a 17-year-old juvenile. (Pictured above: From left to right are: Carlton John Enos, 19, Everett H. (Lenny) Leonard, 59, and Everett Tyler Leonard, 31, all of Turner, Maine; and Lucien H. Clavet, 44, of Monmouth, Maine.)
North Dakota Puddle Poaching
Not all poaching is about big antlers or big game. Waterfowl inspires lawlessness from a greedy few and in North Dakota, led to one of the largest poaching cases in that state’s history. The operations at Sheyenne Valley Lodge in that state came under investigation in 2005 and eventually led to charges against seven of the lodge’s guides and as many as 94 clients, according to the Bismarck Tribune.
It was discovered that clients were allowed to shoot beyond their bag limits or shoot against their guide’s limits.
In all, tickets were mailed to the client offenders with fines totaling more than $120,000. Meanwhile, the guides all received various fines, probation and the loss of hunting and guiding privileges in the state. The lodge’s owners, Theodore and Orlan Mertz, agreed to a plea deal that included 18 months probation, fined them $80,000 and $10,000 restitution and banned them from guiding in the United States ever again.It was the largest single financial penalty levied in North Dakota for a wildlife-related crime. (Representative image)
In 2006, joint operations called Operation Tenderloin and Operation Velvet by state game officials, led to the discovery of more than 150 illegally killed deer and the arrest of 11 people. It was believed to be the largest poaching bust in the state’s history.
Investigators found the perpetrators were interested in either meat or velvet racks. In Operation Tenderloin, agents found many of the deer were shot at night using spotlights and rifles strictly for their meat. Seven people were arrested and charged in connection with unlawfully killing between 80 to 100 deer and simply cutting the tenderloins from the animals and leaving the rest of the carcass to rot. That case resulted in $15,480 in fines, hunting license suspensions and the forfeiture of a dozen firearms. Operation Velvet spanned even more species and revealed bucks were killed out of season in the summer, while their antlers were still in velvet, ducks killed with rifles in the summer while they still sported breeding plumage and wild turkeys killed over bait. Four men were charged with crimes related to the operation and were fined a total of $3,890 as well as forfeited crossbows, rifles, shotguns and trophy mounts. (Representative image)
Texas: Big State, Bigger Fine
In what is possibly the single biggest fine for a wildlife violation, the Edwin L. Cox Sr. Trust was fined $120,000 for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The penalty was the result of repeated baiting violations that spanned a five-year period between 2003 and 2008 on property owned by the trust in Anderson County, Texas. U.S.F.W.S. agents began investigating initial allegations of illegal baiting in 2003 and following years of investigation and surveillance observed trust employees and agents acting on behalf of the trust placing bait on the Lochridge Ranch for the purpose of hunting waterfowl. In addition to the fine, no hunting of migratory birds was permitted on the property for three years. (Representative image, poachers not pictured)
Montana has always attracted free-spirited and independent-minded individuals and along with that attitude comes an apparent disregard for game laws among some. Trying to pinpoint exactly which case might be the biggest in the state or even the region is like swinging a bat in china shop with the hope of breaking something—you can’t miss! However, the following case must certainly vie for top honors.
Dean Ruth was found guilty of operating a poaching out of Missoula County and in the state of Pennsylvania for at least 10 years in which in Montana alone, more than 100 trophy-class mule deer, whitetails, elk, antelope, moose, mountain lions and black bears were poached by Ruth and eight associates. Among Ruth’s associates, at least seven were ordered to pay more than $20,000 in state fines and restitution, while some also received jail sentences. Ruth and his wife Renita, who were accused of using spotlights and suppressors while committing some of the crimes, were ordered to pay $28,000 in fines and restitution to the state. Ruth also received a 20-year prison sentence with 15 of those years suspended. He lost his privileges to hunt, fish or trap in Montana for the rest of his life and as a convicted felon, will never be able to legally own a firearm again. (Picutred above: Ruth in court, waiting to be sentenced.)