In late 2020, news broke on one of the largest poaching cases in U.S. history. Over 100 hunters from across the country were charged with a litany of wildlife violations ranging from shooting animals at night to shooting animals with firearms during archery season. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines were issued, gear was confiscated and hunting privileges were revoked.
All of these offenses took place at Hidden Hills Outfitters in Nebraska, owned by Jacob Hueftle. For his role in the years-long poaching scheme, Hueftle was sentenced to 30 months in Federal prison and more than $200,000 in fines. He also lost all hunting privileges for a period of 15 years after his release from prison. Jacob’s father and Hidden Hills Outfitters co-owner, Nolan Hueftle, was later sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to pay a $30,000 fine.
Outside of the sheer size of the poaching operation, added attention and scrutiny were brought on due to the involvement of several hunting personalities with Hidden Hills Outfitters. Whenever professional hunters are associated with poaching or wildlife violations, an entirely different level of attention is garnered.
In this case, we saw Rod Owen, a long-time Drury Outdoors team member, caught shooting several deer in baited areas, which is illegal in Nebraska. Owen was ultimately placed on probation for five years and ordered to pay $50,000 in fines and restitution. During that time, he cannot hunt or assist anyone with hunting or filming hunts.
Charges were also brought against the popular hunting influencers Josh & Sara Bowmar. The allegations accused the Bowmars of illegal baiting and hunting without the proper licenses and then transporting those animals across state lines to their home in Ohio. At the time, at least one compound bow and several mounts and sets of antlers were confiscated while the investigation was ongoing.
Nearly two years later, there has been a resolution to the pending charges against the Bowmars. According to a filing in the US District Court in Nebraska, Josh Bowmar has accepted a guilty plea for conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. All other charges have been dismissed.
As penalties for this action, he must pay a forfeiture money judgment of $44,000, a fine of $25,000, and cannot hunt in Nebraska for one year.
Josh’s bow and the confiscated antlers and mounts are being returned, as it was not found that they were harvested illegally.
So, What Does This All Mean?
It is important to clarify what exactly Bowmar plead guilty to, which is conspiracy. Legally speaking, conspiracy is an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act.
In Bowmar’s case, the conspiracy attempted to illegally harvest animals and transport them across state lines. Per the plea agreement, they were never convicted of baiting or illegally harvesting animals.
The interesting thing about the Lacey Act, and many other laws, is that you can be convicted of a crime if the prosecution proves that “when in the exercise of due care,” you “should have known” what you were attempting to do was illegal. In short – if they prove you should have known what you were trying to do was wrong, you can still be convicted of a crime.
As the saying goes, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Just this morning, Josh Bowmar released a statement on Instagram stating that all of the baiting & poaching charges have been dismissed. He added this comment regarding the conspiracy charge to which he plead guilty.
One interesting point to note in this case is that as part of the penalty, Bowmar cannot hunt in Nebraska for the entire term of his probation, which is one year. The plea document specifically states “limited to within the District of Nebraska, as a special condition” of the probation term. Typically, when a person loses their hunting privileges in a specific state for a wildlife violation, they also lose them in all states as part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. That does not appear to be the case here.
This particular case has caused quite a bit of controversy and division within the hunting community, with many folks falling on both sides of the debate over what this all means. So, where do you stand on the outcome? Leave your comments below and let us know.