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April 26, 2012 8:16 am

Men get $17,000 bill for deer poaching

Written by CJ Baker

Three area men owe a combined $17,000 in fines and restitution for poaching seven mule deer from a truck while driving up and down the Chief Joseph Highway on a night in 2009.

As a part of their sentences for the illegal killings, 26-year-old Thomas G. Howard, 30-year-old Douglas Hutchins and 26-year-old Cody Waters have each been placed on unsupervised probation and banned from hunting or fishing for the next six years.

All three men had confessed to the poaching after being confronted by Powell Game Warden Chris Queen in 2010 and each finalized plea agreements with the Park County Attorney’s office over the last month. Waters was the last to be sentenced, on Tuesday in the Powell Circuit Courtroom.

Court records say the string of killings started on the evening of Nov. 5, 2009 when Howard, accompanied by Waters and Hutchins, drove up the Chief Joseph Highway (Wyo. 296).

At some point, Howard saw a buck, parked his truck in a turn-out and shot the mule deer. Howard had a general license, but that area is limited quota and the deer was actually on the Two Dot Ranch’s property, wrote Queen in an affidavit submitted in support of the cases against the three men.

The trio went back to Hutchins’ house off the Belfry Highway (Wyo. 120), but sometime around midnight, Howard said he wanted to go out and shoot more deer, Hutchins and Waters later told Queen.

After initially objecting, the two — who had drank “a considerable amount of beer” — eventually agreed, the affidavit says. Sometime around 12:45 a.m., they got in Howard’s pickup and rode to Dead Indian Pass on the Chief Joseph Highway.

On the west side of the pass, between the first and second switchbacks, Howard swung the vehicle to the right, rolled down his window and shot a doe deer, Hutchins and Waters told Queen.

The animal was put in the back of truck.

The trio then headed back up to the pass, and Hutchins, riding in the passenger seat, shot a doe.

That deer also was loaded up.

Howard then drove back down the pass, where Waters shot a doe from the rear driver’s side window.

The dead animal was also put in the back of the pickup.

“Hutchins and Waters stated they killed three more doe deer that night in the same order: Howard, Hutchins, then Waters with each person killing two doe mule deer,” wrote Queen.

Hutchins told Queen the bed of the pickup was full of deer at that point and had no more space.

The three men drove back to the house and quartered the animals. The carcasses were dumped at a pullout along Wyo. 120 near Skull Pass, where a Game and Fish Biologist came upon them hours later.

The affidavit does not specify how law enforcement were tipped off to the men’s involvement, but Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt said his understanding is that there had been bragging about it, along with photos of Howard with the poached buck. Some of the information apparently got back to the Two Dot’s hunt manager, who, in turn, tipped off Queen.

After the September 2010 tip, Queen interviewed Waters and then Hutchins about their involvement with the poached buck and both fessed up. The following day, the two men contacted Queen and volunteered that they had been involved in the killing of the six other deer, the affidavit says.

Hutchins and Waters stressed that they had eaten the deer meat and that none had been wasted, Queen wrote.

Howard — who also admitted his role in the incident — had stored some of the meat in a freezer and mounted the head of the buck.

As a part of his sentence, the stiffest of the three, Howard had to turn over the mount or serve 45 days in jail. The now Colorado Springs resident turned the skull in, Blatt said.

Howard was ordered to pay $4,420 in fines and court costs plus $3,000 to the Game and Fish Department as restitution for the three deer. He pleaded guilty to three counts of hunting from inside a vehicle, two counts of hunting by artificial lights, two counts of taking deer without a license and one count of trespassing on Two Dot Ranch land. Howard was also given a year of unsupervised probation on the misdemeanor convictions.

Hutchins and Waters received six months of unsupervised probation after each pleading guilty to two counts of taking a deer without a license and two counts of hunting by artificial light. The Cody residents must also each pay $2,780 in fines and court costs along with $2,000 in restitution.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters — of no relation to Cody Waters — approved the plea agreements.

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