On October 17, Michigan State Police were investigating Justin Ernst for a domestic violence complaint when they discovered several deer in a barn where Ernst reportedly spent a lot of time. According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, soldiers notified MDNR officers Matt Page and Tyler Cole of a possible poaching, and the barn’s owner allowed them to search anywhere.
MDNR officers discovered eight large white-tailed males in the barn. Two days later, the DNR’s Report All Poaching Hotline received an anonymous tip that Ernst had poached another deer. Officials confirmed this, raising Ernst’s count to nine poached whitetails. They also discovered two shotguns, a crossbow and a spotlight in Ernst’s vehicle.
The owner said he believed Ernst was under the influence of methamphetamine. The officers were told that he would be out all night and that a new male would be in the barn in the morning. Meth previously landed Ernst with felony charges in 2018. He was also charged with unlawfully taking and possessing white-tailed deer in the same year.
While in jail on the domestic violence charge, Ernst denied any connection to poaching. He claimed that he was unable to hunt due to a revoked hunting license. He faced 15 charges, including nine counts of illegal hunting, two felony firearms charges and hunting with a revoked license, as well as more than $59,000 in fines.
“It is a shame that this criminal ruined the chance for ethical and legal hunters to have the opportunity to take one of these trophy deer,” Lt. Gerald Thayer of the DNR Law Enforcement Division said in a press release. “This criminal not only stole the natural resource, but also damaged agricultural crops, and he has been doing it for some time. The economic sanction is the minimum that he must comply with.”
On Feb. 14, Ernst pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawful take/possession of white-tailed deer, obtaining a hunting license while ineligible, and possession of a firearm.
The judge did not hold back on the sentence. Ernst lost his hunting privileges for life, must pay $25,000 in fines and will serve a minimum of 18 months and up to five years in a correctional facility.
“We are pleased that this criminal is being jailed for stealing from ethical hunters, damaging crops and endangering others by recklessly driving through fields and shooting deer at night,” said Deputy Chief of the Division of DNR Law Enforcement David Shaw in the press release. “We hope that this serious sentence will serve its intended purpose and we are grateful for the strong message delivered by the 36th Circuit Court.”
All images in this article are courtesy of the Michigan DNR.