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Poacher to pay $12,500 in fines

Jan 13, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Joseph A. Holdren, 28, of Riverton, has pleaded guilty to killing an 18-point buck in October.

A Riverton man recently found that the trophy mule deer he shot in October likely came with the most expensive tag he's ever bought: $12,500 in fines.

Joseph A. Holdren, 28, pleaded guilty Dec. 3 to poaching the 18-point buck and received his sentence the same day.

On Oct. 14, Holdren shot the deer on private land near the North Fork of the Popo Agie River in hunt Area 171, a general license area. The area was open at the time, but Holdren did not have a general deer license when he shot the animal.

Holdren also used illegal ammunition. State law requires bullets weighing at least 60 grains and having a soft, expanding point. Holdren's ammunition was lighter and had a full metal jacket.

"In order to decrease wounding loss and to increase the ability of people to harvest, we require a soft expanding bullet for all big game," Lander game warden Brad Hovinga said.

The poacher also did not harvest anything from the animal.

"He did leave the meat to go to waste," Hovinga said. "By the time we dealt with it, the meat had spoiled"

Holdren pleaded guilty Dec. 3 in Lander Circuit Court to knowingly taking an antlered or horned big or trophy game animal. Judge Robert B. Denhardt sentenced him to pay $7,500 in fines and $4,000 in restitution. The judge also revoked Holdren's hunting privileges for 10 years and had the Riverton man turn over the weapon he used to kill the deer, a .223-caliber AR-15-style rifle.

State law changed last year and allows hunters to use as small as .22-caliber center-fire ammunition to take deer, down from the previous requirement of .24-caliber ammunition.

An tipster was responsible for bringing the poacher to justice.

"A huge thanks goes out to the anonymous individual who called the Game and Fish to report what was believed to be suspicious activity," Hovinga said. "It's folks like this taking the time to report possible illegal activity that allows us to catch more of these criminals and successfully prosecute them for their wildlife crimes."

The observant resident heard a gunshot Oct. 14, and then saw a vehicle immediately leave the area, Hovinga said. The individual thought it was suspicious and called the Game and Fish.

The game warden went to the site, found the carcass and began interviewing suspects until he narrowed it down, he said.

"Nothing fancy," Hovinga said.

The simple investigative methods ultimately culminated in Holdren's guilty plea.

The buck was a big trophy.

"It's huge for the Lander area," Hovinga said. "I've been in the Lander area as a game warden for five and a half years, and that's the biggest deer I've seen in the Lander area by far."

Its antlers measured 31.5 inches across, had nine points on either side and were non-typical, meaning they were not symmetrical and had points in unusual places, Hovinga said. One non-typical feature was a drop club, or point bending downward.

Though the meat was wasted, Hovinga plans to make good use of the head and antlers.

"We're going to try to find an educational use for that here in the Lander area, where the people of Lander can still enjoy that deer somehow," he said.

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