According to the Wisconsin DNR, a Hillsboro man kicked off the Twelve Days of Christmas with two days of poaching.
From the night before Christmas to the holiday night, the 20-year-old roamed the roads shining and shooting bucks and does as they stood blindly in the light.
“This guy wasn’t hunting. He was poaching,” Conservation Warden Mike Nice of Richland Center said of the suspect who is alleged to have illegally taken approximately 100 deer since 2011.
“In my 22 years as a conservation warden, I have never seen another individual come close to that total. The suspect didn’t care,” Warden Nice said of the multi-county case he investigated with Deputy Warden Mike Williams and Warden Cody Adams of Prairie du Chien.
The suspect, along with two other young adult males and one juvenile male, face criminal charges stemming from the eight poaching cases — four in Richland County and four in Vernon County — that were documented by the investigating wardens. Twenty-one years revocation of hunting rights is being sought along with restitution and jail time for the Hillsboro man. Confiscation of three rifles used to shoot the deer is also being requested.
Criminal charges were filed in the counties in March. Court proceedings are expected this spring. Nice said the wardens were helped in their investigation by Richland County District Attorney Jennifer Harper, who, by sheer coincidence, herself received information from a tipster.
“District Attorney Harper relayed the tip, but, just as importantly, she has done an outstanding job in prosecuting criminal DNR violations in her capacity as the district attorney,” Nice said.
Assistant District Attorney Stacy Smith will be prosecuting the charges in Vernon County. A total of four individuals are being charged in the case.
A Competition of One
The investigation began after citizens alerted officials to gunshots heard and deer being taken from private property in northern Richland County where hunting is not allowed. A vehicle and a dead deer were found that night. And that’s all it took for the wardens to get going on the case. The wardens ended up at registration stations in Richland, Juneau, and Vernon counties. Four deer racks were confiscated as part of the investigation.
While the wardens had several persons of interest, the evidence kept coming back to the Hillsboro man. One of the man’s partners who was involved in the poaching during the last two years told Nice the suspect had taken more than 70 deer last year and 30 so far this year.
“He shined and shot, or shot off the road 100 deer in the last two years,” Nice said.
The suspect eventually was brought in for questioning.
“Why are you doing this?” Nice said the suspect was asked.
“It is kinda like a contest to see who could get the most,” the suspect said, according to Nice.
“Well, who is in second place?” Nice said the suspected was asked.
“Nobody. It’s just me,” the suspect said, according to Nice.
Bucks Disappear From Landscape
While the suspect rode with wardens to the various locations deer were poached, the suspect described scenarios when he shot at a 16-point buck and a 10-point double drop-tine buck seen numerous times. The bucks were never seen again after the suspect said he took shots at them, but didn’t think he hit them.
“This is what happens,” Nice said. “A hunter or landowner sees the bigger bucks on their land and suddenly they’re gone. Or, after the season, hikers will find these large bucks dead in the forest.”
Landowners, hunters and non-hunters alike will find this case disturbing, Nice said.
“The people who try to do the right thing – sound land and wildlife management, hunt with the principles of fair chase and respect for the resources – everyone is harmed by a situation like this.”
Nice said what drew the wardens to the suspect was the fact he was known as always having a lot of deer.
“He had no rhyme or reason why he was going where he was. He was shooting deer at night at a rate I’ve never seen,” he said. “The suspect would use other’s tags and register them at different places so he would not tip off the wardens.”
Nice said the main suspect talked of getting his start poaching at age 12 when he shot a deer from the road with his uncle. The suspect also told the wardens poaching is not illegal until you get caught. One of his partners admitted having to take a break to get some sleep because the suspect was out every night.
“A case like this shows why the tips matter,” Nice said. “Maybe it’s a tip about hearing a gunshot here or something doesn’t look right. It may seem like a small tip. But, they can add up and a case can be made. And that is exactly what happened with this case. The citizen tips help us protect the deer and the turkeys and all the wildlife, and public safety.”
Nice also noted shooting deer at night is a dangerous and senseless public safety risk.
“It violates the cardinal safe hunting rule of knowing your target and what is beyond it. We are fortunate no one was shot with all this going on,” he said.
To report a suspected violation involving wildlife, recreational activities or the environment, please call the DNR Violation Hotline. It is staffed all hours of every day. You may remain anonymous.