DNR charges Decatur man with poaching 9 bucks

Conservation Officers Tyler Cole, left, and Matt Page with eight deer heads that were suspected to have been poached by Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur.

Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Eight of the nine sets of deer antlers suspected of being poached

Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources

DECATUR, Mich. -- A 33-year-old Decatur resident is facing over a dozen charges and $59,000 fine in reimbursement for allegedly poaching 9 bucks, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan State Police investigating a domestic violence complaint contacted conservation officers on October 17 after seeing several deer in a barn at the property where the incident occurred, reports said.

Conservation Officers Matt Page and Tyler Cole responded to the scene and spoke to the homeowner.

The homeowner told officers Justin Ernst, the suspect was possibly under the influence of meth. The homeowner said when Ernst stays out all night, there is usually a new buck in the barn the next morning, according to officers.

The homeowner gave Page and Cole permission to search anywhere on the property. During the search, they located and seized eight bucks from the barn – five 10-pointers and three with 8-points, reports said.

Several days later, the DNR received a tip that Ernst had been taken into custody on the domestic violence charges and there was another buck in the barn.

Officers returned to the property and located a 9-point buck that had been shot within the last 48 hours, reports said.

At the Van Buren County Jail, Page and another conservation officer interviewed Ernst.

Ernst denied any connection to the poached bucks. He told police he couldn’t hunt because his hunting license had been revoked, reports said.

Ernst was convicted in 2018 of illegally taking or possessing whitetail deer.

On October 20, conservation officers served a search warrant and located two shotguns, a crossbow and a bloody crossbow bolt in the bed of Ernst’s vehicle and a handheld spotlight under the driver’s seat, officers said.

Ernst is facing the following charges:

  • Two counts of firearm possession by a felon
  • Two felony firearms violations
  • One count of hunting with a revoked hunting license
  • One count of applying for, or obtaining, a hunting license when ineligible
  • Nine counts of taking game illegally

“It’s a shame that this criminal ruined the chance for ethical, legal hunters to have their opportunity to take one of these trophy deer,” said Lt. Gerald Thayer, of the Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Not only did this felon steal from the natural resource, he also damaged agriculture crops, and has been doing so for some time. The financial penalty is the minimum he should serve.”

Ernst was arraigned on November 9 and released on bond.

He is scheduled to appear in court on December 20.


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