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Serious Fines, Serious Time

More states combat poaching with fines based on trophy size

By: Mike Suchan,

After illegally taking a record Kansas buck, David Kent won’t be paying as much as he might have.

Kent got a sentence of 30 days in jail, had to forfeit the antlers and gun used in the crime, paid $1,500 in state fines and won’t be allowed hunt for 5 years. The judge also ordered Kent to pay the landowner $8,000 in restitution for the animal.

In the future, even more money will be going to the state in such incidents. Following a trend already implemented by a number of states, the Kansas legislation enacted a law where the fine will be levied dependent on the size of the deer.

Brian Smith, President of the Monster Buck Classic last January in Topeka where Kent was caught, said this high-profile case was in part why the state recently moved forward. It’s a smart push by states to curtail illegal harvests. 

“I think that’s the fairest way to do it,” Smith said. “You hit them in the pocketbook, and that’s really painful.”

In a controversial case in Ohio, a hunter of 40 years was cited for crossing property lines to retrieve a world-class deer and subsequently fined $27,851, what might be the largest trophy fine administered by a state. More states are using formulas based on Boone & Crockett scoring to determine the amount of restitution violators must pay.

Under Kansas’ new law, Smith said Kent’s fines would have been closer to $20,000.

It’s a small wonder Kent even brought the antlers to the Monster Buck Classic, claiming he killed the animal 100 miles from where a farmer had found its headless carcass. After being provided game cam images of the hefty buck’s headgear, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials were on the lookout for that rack.

Game wardens saw Kent’s entry at the Classic and asked him about it on Saturday, Jan. 29. With a B&C score of 198 7/8 that topped the standing 198 2/8 state record, Kent’s deer was awarded first place in the contest the next day, but Smith said he withheld the $500 winning check as a bevy of officers again questioned Kent.

“You could see the sweat on his forehead,” Smith said. “He looked guilty.”

Kent confessed and then pled guilty in court last week to four of eight charges; criminal hunting, hunting outside of legal hours, illegal hunting during a closed season and using an illegal caliber.

The case drew attention because in 2007 Kent was with his brother, Thomas, who spent two years in prison after a heinous incident. From his vehicle, Thomas Kent shot at what he thought were geese but killed an 18-year-old hunting from a decoy spread.

With the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which allows member states to revoke or deny non-residents licenses, and setting up fines to match the trophy, some good tools are in place to curtail poaching.

One might argue that poachers won’t even bother with trying to get a license, and while game warden staffing isn’t what it should be, repeat poachers now face the potential of serious monetary loss as well as serious jail time.

Spook Spann poses with his whitetail in question at the 2010 Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame ceremony. (Mike Suchan photo)

“We’re in favor of as stiff of penalties as we can get for poaching, especially for animals like this,” Smith said. “The world-class animal will never get its justified place in whitetail history and some hunter won’t get that thrill.”

A whitetail that has already taken a place in history as the largest ever bow kill caught on video is now under question. Wichita Eagle outdoors writer Michael Pearce reported that William “Spook” Spann was charged in U.S. District Court on Sept. 6 for transporting wildlife from Kansas to Tennessee.

It is alleged that Spann, who killed a non-typical Kansas buck in 2007 that grossed 230 and netted 224 by Pope & Young standards, transported antlers that same year knowing the deer had been taken in violation of state hunting laws and that he falsely reported where he had killed the deer.

Spann’s hunt for the record kill was featured in magazines, videos and his show, “Spook Nation.” The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and wildlife agencies of both states.

Spann could possibly face Lacey Act prosecution, the punishment of which for felony crimes includes incarceration of no more than five years and a fine of $250,000.

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