Michigan man jailed, fined and banned for life after poaching 9 deer

Eight of nine sets of deer antlers poached by 33-year-old Justin Ernst of Decatur. Conservation officers found Ernst had poached a ninth deer, two days after locating the original eight deer. Photo courtesy of MNR

A Van Buren County man is heading to jail, will be fined and banned for life from hunting privileges after poaching trophies.

Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur, pleaded guilty this week after illegally winning nine trophies in 2021, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.

“We are confident that this criminal will be jailed for stealing from ethical hunters, damaging crops and endangering others by driving recklessly through fields and shooting deer at night,” said David Shaw, deputy chief of the Law Enforcement Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Ernst pleaded guilty in the 36th Circuit Court in Van Buren on Monday.

He first appeared on the DNR’s radar during a domestic violence investigation launched by Michigan State Police on October 17. While there, they contacted DNR conservation officers after noticing several deer in a nearby barn where Ernst allegedly spent much of his time.

Officers seized eight illegal dollars from the barn. Five were at 10 points and three at eight points.

Two days later, an anonymous tip to the DNR’s anti-poaching hotline said Ernst had taken another deer, bringing his total to nine illegally captured deer.

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He pleaded guilty to a felon possessing a firearm, obtaining a hunting license when he was ineligible, and unlawfully taking and possessing white-tailed deer.

As part of his plea deal, Ernst was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution. He will lose all items seized and will have to serve between 18 months and five years in prison.

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