Do Poachers Need Stiffer Penalties?

By Hunting NetworkFebruary 15, 2010

LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015

This guy has recently been all over Wyoming’s newspapers after finally being caught for poaching. What do you do with someone like this? I copied the following article from the Cody Enterprise newspaper from Cody, WY and would like to share it with everyone. 

A serial poacher with ties to Cody is in jail in Big Horn County after more than three years out of state.

“He was aware these charges were pending against him,” game warden Bill Robertson of Greybull said. “That has kept him from returning to Wyoming.”

Gary Vorhies, 47, faces poaching charges from three incidents:

•In fall 1999, Game & Fish says Vorhies poached a 4×4 white-tailed buck with a broken brow tine near Greybull, his former home.

Robertson said the deer had an unusual tine. It was taken out of season and while Vorhies was suspended from hunting.

Robertson said Vorhies used an interstate game tag falsely obtained and declared the deer was killed in 1990.

•In September 2000, Vorhies allegedly shot a five-point white-tail deer near Burlington without a license.

•In November 2000, Vorhies allegedly guided an out-of-state hunter west of Shell to a white-tailed buck, which the hunter shot. Vorhies told him not to tag it and guided him to another, G&F say. The hunter took home the meat from both. Later that day, Vorhies allegedly shot another deer without a license.

Robertson said consequences may be pending for the out-of-state hunter, who has cooperated with G&F.

The investigation into the three incidents began as G&F wrapped up a case against Vorhies in Cody, but the evidence took months and even years to surface, Robertson says.

For example, the broken-tine deer showed up at a taxidermist but then disappeared, only to resurface later with another taxidermist.

With Vorhies in Colorado, establishing a case against him became more challenging.

“To leave the state and interview him took quite a bit of effort,” Robertson said.

Deputy Big Horn County Attorney Jim Hallman said Vorhies has been charged with three misdemeanors: taking an antlered deer without a license, conspiracy to take an antlered deer without a license and wanton destruction of a big game animal.

All are misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of one year in prison each. Destruction of a big game animal is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000.

The charges of conspiracy and taking big game without a license carry a fine of $5,000-$10,000 each.

Vorhies appeared in circuit court Aug. 5 and pleaded not guilty. Bond is set at $28,000, and trial is scheduled for January. Hallman said Vorhies waived extradition from Colorado and remains in the Big Horn County Jail.

Vorhies in Cody

Vorhies became notorious in Cody after two poaching incidents.

“In Mr. Vorhies’ words, he’s like an alcoholic who can’t not take the next drink. He has no ability not to take the next shot,” game warden Craig Sax said.

“Guys like this simply will not stop poaching,” Sax said. “He has no self-control and will not stop.”

In 1992, Vorhies was convicted of poaching the “Growler Elk,” a 365 in Boone and Crockett scoring. He published pictures of the animal in hunting magazines.

Shot on the Two Dot Ranch, Growler became part of an G&F antipoaching display in the Casper regional office. The mount was later stolen from the building and remains at-large.

Robertson said Growler and a trophy-class mule deer were both stolen.

“There were no suspects identified. There’s been no leads,” Robertson said. However, Vorhies apparently had been in the office that week and is a “person of interest,” he added.

Bighorn rams

On Christmas Eve 2000, Sax received a call from a man who’d been taking pictures of bighorn sheep near Newton Creek on the North Fork.

He told Sax one of the bands of sheep no longer had its big ram. He looked at another spot he’d seen sheep and noticed a dead ram on the hillside.

“I think somebody shot it,” the man told Sax.

Sax began to look for suspects and soon spotted Vorhies and Cody J. Canady in a pickup with blood on the tailgate.

They told Sax they’d been taking pictures and had no weapons.

Sax looked behind the truck seat and saw a rifle.

“They went with a plan to kill bighorn sheep,” he said.

Then-sheriff’s deputy Scott Steward and then-Division of Criminal Investigation agent Bryan Skoric arrived, warning Sax that Vorhies was a known poacher and had a warrant out for failure to pay a fine for employment fraud.

When Vorhies learned his truck would be impounded, “he proclaimed that he wanted to talk to me,” Sax said.

Vorhies admitted killing two bighorn rams. Sax found in Vorhies’ backpack a scrotum, backstraps, knives, a camera, a saw, hunting vest and other gear.

Pictures on the camera showed Vorhies and Canady posing with a slain ram. In one trophy picture, they are shaking hands above the animal.

In the truck’s toolbox, Sax found a ram’s head and cape. Sax later found the body hidden under branches against a tree on a steep slope.

The other ram was killed from the road and left to die with an arrow behind its shoulder. Sax said it was in too visible a location for them to risk harvesting it.

In court, G&F testified that it takes luck to draw a bighorn ram tag (a four in 100 chance) or an average of $38,700 to buy one at auction.

Sax said thousands of people wait for the opportunity to hunt the animals.

“The demand outstrips the supply, and that’s why they’re such a valuable trophy,” he said.

In 2001, Vorhies was sentenced to four years jail with $52,000 in fines and restitution for two counts of wantonly taking a bighorn ram and two counts of taking the animals with no license. The two year jail sentence was suspended, and he ended up spending only about one year in jail, Sax said.

Vorhies was banned from possessing or being near hunting equipment, watching hunting, having contact with hunters or with Sax and being in national forests or state parks. His pickup was forfeited to the state.

Vorhies told the court poaching made him “feel alive.”

Wildlife are not safe if Vorhies possesses a gun, Sax testified at the sentencing hearing.

“The person who chooses not to take the shot is the real sportsman, not the one killing everything he sees,” Sax said.

“He’s left a trail of death, but real hunters know it’s the hunt itself,” Sax said. “He has a different agenda than the rest of us.”

G&F pushes for felonies for poaching

After poaching two bighorn rams on the North Fork, Cody J. Canady lost hunting privileges for 10 years, and Gary Vorhies lost privileges for 50 years.

But the other penalties imposed with the sentence, such as a ban from national forests or from associating with hunters, were limited by the length of the longest possible sentence for the misdemeanor charges, one year for each count.

That’s why Cody game warden Craig Sax and others with Game & Fish are pushing for felony penalties for some G&F violations. A bill to that effect failed in the 2009 Legislature.

“We have no way to raise that deterrent,” Sax said. “That certainly can’t stop him from poaching, but it’s unfortunate we don’t have a better tool for stopping people like him from destroying something so near and dear to so many: wildlife.”

The Wyoming Game Wardens Association backed the bill not to punish sportsmen but to combat repeat offenders, game warden Bill Robertson of Greybull said.

“This particular concept is of high interest to both G&F and the wardens’ association,” Robertson said. “It has direct influence on how we do our job and how we can effectively enforce the laws.”

People who are fined but don’t have money anyway aren’t deterred by financial penalties, Robertson said.

Time in jail costs the county, so jail time is rarely handed down, he added, and taking away G&F license privileges clearly means little to someone like Vorhies.

“There comes a time you have to ask what other penalties for the more egregious cases can be levied,” Robertson said.

“That’s where the concept of three strikes and you’re into a felony comes in,” he said.

“You lose many privileges with a felony, such as being unable to possess firearms,” Robertson said.

The animals Vorhies has been charged and convicted of killing illegally are likely the “tip of the iceberg” of the total number of animals he’s poached, Sax said.

“I’m so glad he’s finally been caught,” he said. “The people of Wyoming have lost much to him.”

Report poaching

STOP Poaching hotline: 1-877-WGFD TIP (943-3847)



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