A Van Buren County man got fined, sentenced to jail time, and will suffer a lifetime loss of hunting privileges after poaching nine trophy bucks.

Last October, the Department of Natural Resources got a tip from none other than Michigan State Police. While investigating a domestic violence complaint in Van Buren county, the troopers noticed several deer in a barn where the alleged suspect spent "a significant amount of time." Conservation officers investigated and seized eight illegal bucks in the barn – five 10-pointers and three with eight points each. Two days later, an anonymous call on the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline brought the total to nine deer and Justin Ernst was arrested.

The Decatur man has just reached a plea bargain deal that imposes stiff penalties in an effort to discourage other poachers. Ernst pleaded guilty to one count of felon in possession of a firearm, one count of obtaining a hunting license when ineligible, and three counts of illegal taking/possessing whitetail deer, and was given a lifetime hunting revocation, ordered to pay $25,000 in reimbursement, forfeited all seized items, and will serve 18 months to five years in a Michigan Department of Corrections facility.

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. We hope this serious sentence serves its intended purpose and are grateful for the strong message rendered by the 36th Circuit Court.

-David Shaw, assistant chief, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division

To report poaching or other suspected natural resources violations, call the Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Animals You Can Hunt All Year in Michigan

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