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Wisconsin holiday deer poachers get jail, license revoked

Jan. 24, 2013 | 0 comments

Remember the Hillsboro man who kicked off the Twelve Days of Christmas with two days of poaching in 2011 in a case that crossed two southern Wisconsin counties and involved the suspected illegal killing of about 100 deer?

Nathan Blaha, 21, last year entered no contest pleas to three misdemeanor counts of illegal shining and one count of failure to attach a tag to a deer carcass as part of the case filed collaboratively against him by district attorney offices in Vernon and Richland counties.

Vernon County Circuit Judge Michael Rosborough on Nov. 26, 2012, sentenced Blaha to 60 days in jail on each count to run concurrently, to pay $9,616 in court penalties and to lose all hunting, fishing and trapping license privileges for 12 years.

In Richland County, Blaha was sentenced on Dec. 10 to an additional 120 days in jail for a total six-month jail sentence.

The case was pursued by Assistant District Attorney Stacy Smith of Vernon County and District Attorney Jennifer Harper of Richland County, and based upon the evidence gathered by Conservation Wardens Mike Nice of Richland Center and Cody Adams of Prairie du Chien and Deputy Warden Mike Williams.

"This guy wasn't hunting. He was poaching," Nice said of the suspect who is believed to have illegally killed 100 deer during the holiday periods in 2010 and 2011.

Blaha roamed the roads shining and shooting bucks and does as they stood blindly in the light. "In my 23 years as a conservation warden, I have never seen another individual come close to that total."

District Attorney Harper says Wisconsin laws do not provide for lengthy periods of license revocation for hunting, fishing and trapping.

"Many, many other states have greater penalties," Harper said, referring to calls she received from across the country about the revocation periods allowed by state law.

Assistant District Attorney Smith agreed, and added the suspects also changed their stories as to the number of deer killed in this case. The attorneys ultimately filed the charges based upon evidence.

Warden Nice says the prosecuting attorneys are to be thanked for their hard work and focus on the case that angered the community and other outdoor sportsmen and women nationwide.

Landowners, hunters and non-hunters found this case disturbing, Nice said. "The people who try to do the right thing - sound land and wildlife management, hunt with the principles of fair chase and respect for the resources - everyone is harmed by a situation like this."

Two other area males also were sentenced in the case. A third against a juvenile accomplice is pending.

Also sentenced by Vernon County Judge Rosborough was Brogan Gillingham, 18, Hillsboro. He faced a similar consolidated case launched by the two counties' attorneys. Gillingham was found guilty due to no contest pleas on four counts and sentenced on July 11.

Gillingham was sentenced to three years of probation with 60 days in jail and six years suspension of what is known as Chapter 29 rights to hunt, fish and trap. He also was ordered to pay $4,536 in court penalties.

Steven Blaha, 19, Hillsboro, on Aug. 8 was found guilty due to no contest plea on one count of failure to attach a tag to a deer carcass. He was ordered to pay $2,275 in penalties and handed a three-year revocation of his hunting and fishing privileges.

He was not ordered to serve jail time. His sentencing was in Richland County Circuit Court.

Citizen tips are crucial

The investigation began after citizens alerted officials to gunshots heard and deer being taken from private property in northern Richland County where hunting is not allowed. A vehicle and a dead deer were found that night.

The wardens got going on the case. The wardens ended up at registration stations in Richland, Juneau, and Vernon counties. Four deer racks were confiscated as part of the investigation.

While the wardens had several persons of interest, the evidence kept coming back to the Hillsboro man.

One of the man's partners who were involved in the poaching during the last two years told Nice the suspect had taken more than 70 deer last year and 30 so far this year. "He shined and shot, or shot off the road 100 deer in the last two years," Nice said.

While the suspect rode with wardens to the various locations deer were poached, the suspect described scenarios when he shot at a 16-point buck and a 10-point double drop-tine buck seen numerous times. The bucks were never seen again after the suspect said he took shots at them - but he didn't think he hit them.

"This is what happens," Nice said. "A hunter or landowner sees the bigger bucks on their land and suddenly they're gone. Or, after the season, hikers will find these large bucks dead in the forest."

"A case like this shows why the tips matter," Nice said. "Maybe it's a tip about hearing a gunshot here or something doesn't look right. It may seem like a small tip. But, they can add up and a case can be made. And that is exactly what happened with this case," Nice said. To report a suspected violation involving wildlife, recreational activities or the environment, call the DNR Violation Hotline. It is staffed all hours of every day. Those who call may remain anonymous. Call: 1-800-847-9367, 24 hours a day. Text: TIP 411 (847411). Text: TIPWDNR [space] followed by the tip.

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