A serial poacher will spend time behind bars after pleading no contest to six counts of failing to obtain a hunting license.
Ripon, Wis., resident Grant Boese was charged with a total of 128 counts, of which 122 were dismissed. Charges included spotlighting, shooting from a vehicle, shooting across a road and failing to obtain the proper licenses.
Boese and two others spotlighted deer over the course of at least three nights, according to various news reports, and tried to pass two nine-point bucks off as legal kills.
A deputy sheriff recognized Boese's truck as one matching the description of a vehicle involved in previous poaching complaints in the same area. When he tried to stop the truck, Boese fled, taking the deputy on a chase that got up to speeds of 90 miles per hour.
The other two men had yet to be sentenced, but Boese, 19, will spend six months in jail and will pay $6,800 in fines, court costs and restitution. He will also lose his hunting privileges for 12 years. Wisconsin is part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which prohibits convicted poachers from hunting in member states. Currently, 44 states are in the Compact.
Despite calls for a harsher sentence by some sportsmen, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Nate Ackerman was generally pleased with the outcome.
"It's pretty rare for someone to get jail time for a wildlife violation," he says. "You have to remember that people get plea agreements for crimes involving other people all the time, so it's not at all unusual for poachers to avoid jail through a plea agreement."
Although he hasn't seen any changes in sentencing guidelines or in the severity of sentences in his decade-long career, Ackerman says many offenses do carry a mandatory three-year license revocation. District Attorneys typically recommend a punishment, but judges can overrule the recommended sentencing.
"That doesn't happen very often where I work," adds Ackerman.
Still, that's why some of the most egregious deer poachers get off with what many hunters would describe as a slap on the wrist.
Take the case of Wisconsin poacher Nathan Blaha. He was suspected of killing as many as 100 deer over the course of two years, mostly while spotlighting. His sentence? Six months in jail and $9,616 in fines and restitution.
"Charges are the result of the evidence and how officers build the case. A poacher may have shot a hundred deer, but there may only be evidence of one or two, so that may be all officers have to go on," says South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conservation police officer Captain Robert McCullough.
"Every case is different. Sometimes, you end up getting him for something completely different, so you have to get what you can in some cases if that may prevent him from continuing his illegal activity."
Many states are imposing tougher sentencing guidelines even when the crime may only involve one or two deer. A Michigan man, for example, was sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $12,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to poaching two trophy-class bucks in 2014.
Jacob Powers, of Lowell, Mich., also lost his hunting privileges for five years after he shot the bucks while on a youth hunt with an 8-year-old.
His was the first case tried under tougher sentencing guidelines enacted earlier in the year, which were the first changes to poaching penalties since 1990. The new guidelines assess fines based on antler points, with penalties ranging up to $750 per point.
Pennsylvania changed its sentencing guidelines for poaching in 2010. Now serial poaching is classified as a felony, with fines up to $15,000 and three years in jail.
One-time poachers who spotlight a single deer could be fined $1,000 and spend up to 90 days in jail. They also face revocation of their hunting privileges for three years.
McCullough says the actual penalty is ultimately determined by the judge presiding over the case. He agrees with Ackerman that most poachers aren't given the maximum punishment allowed.
"We have to educate the judges and prosecutors about the ramifications of poaching natural resources and how it hurts law-abiding sportsmen," he says.
Ironically, it's not the monetary penalty or even the jail time that sends fear into the minds of convicted poachers. Nothing gets them to reconsider their crimes than the potential loss of their hunting privileges.
"They'd rather pay the fine, lose their car and even spend time in jail than lose their hunting license for a couple years," says McCullough. "It's dripping with irony that a poacher would be worried about losing his hunting license. I'll never understand it, but most of them seem more worried about that than anything else."