Decatur man faces jail time for shooting 9 trophy bucks

A Decatur man faces jail time and a lifetime revocation of his hunting license after DNR officials seized nine trophy whitetail bucks from his possession, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced in a news release Wednesday.

Justin Ernst, 33, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from illegal poaching in Van Buren County’s 36th Circuit Court on Monday.

The bucks were discovered last October, when Michigan State Police investigated an unrelated complaint involving Ernst and noticed the deer stashed in a barn on the property. DNR conservation officers followed up on the tip, and although Ernst could not initially be located, the officers seized eight illegal deer from the property after securing the homeowner’s permission to search.

Michigan DNR Conservation Officers Tyler Cole, left, and Matt Page, right, seized nine poached trophy bucks from the possession of Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur last October. Image provided by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Two days later, DNR Officers received a tip via its Report All Poaching hotline: Ernst had been arrested on a domestic violence charge, and the tipster suspected he may have taken an additional buck prior to his arrest. DNR officers made a second visit to the barn and seized one additional trophy buck, bringing the total to nine.

Upon searching Ernst’s vehicle, officers also discovered two shotguns, a crossbow, a bloody crossbow bolt and a handheld spotlight, which was stashed under the driver’s seat.

Ernst is suspected of driving his truck through fields to illegally shoot the deer, ruining property and crops in the process, the Michigan DNR says. He was last convicted for illegal whitetail deer possession in 2018. His record also includes felony charges for drug possession, fleeing a police officer and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The new charges against Ernst include one count of felon in possession of a firearm, one count of obtaining a hunting license while ineligible, and three counts of illegal possession of whitetail deer.

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Under his plea deal, Ernst will face a lifetime revocation of his hunting license. He is also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and will serve 18 months to five years in prison.

“We’re satisfied that this criminal will be imprisoned for robbing ethical hunters, damaging crops and endangering others by recklessly driving through fields and shooting deer at night,” said David Shaw, assistant chief, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “We hope this serious sentence serves its intended purpose and are grateful for the strong message rendered by the 36th Circuit Court.”

To report suspected poaching or other natural resource violations, contact the Michigan DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800.

Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Decatur man faces jail time for poaching trophy bucks

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