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Michigan man accused of poaching 9 trophy bucks

DNR officials say a 33-year-old Decatur man drove his truck through fields and used a spotlight to shoot deer.
Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Conservation Officers Tyler Cole, left, and Matt Page with eight deer heads that were suspected to have been poached.

A Michigan man is accused of poaching nine trophy bucks in Van Buren County. 

Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur, is facing up to $59,000 in reimbursement to the state if convicted of all fifteen charges. 

“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.”

Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Justin Ernst, 33, Decatur faces over $59,000 in reimbursement to the state, if convicted, for the suspected poaching of nine bucks in Van Buren County. He is scheduled to reappear in court on Dec. 20.

These charges stem from an October domestic violence investigation. Michigan State Police officers investigating the complaint found several deer inside the barn Ernst is known to spend a lot of time in. 

Conversation officers decided to investigate the tip on Oct. 17. During the search of the homeowner's barn, authorities found eight illegal bucks in the barn – five 10-pointers and three with 8-points. 

Ernst was later arrested on a domestic violence charge, and a tipster reported another buck in the barn. 

DNR officials found a 9-point buck that appeared to have been shot within the past 48 hours.

Two witnesses told conservation officers they saw Ernst with a dead deer. 

During an interview at the jail, Ernst told conservation officers he had no connection to the poached bucks, and said he could not hunt because his hunting license had been revoked. 

After searching his vehicle, police found two shotguns and a crossbow, a bloody crossbow bolt in the bed of the vehicle, a cellphone that didn’t work and a handheld spotlight located under the driver’s seat.

He was arraigned on Nov. 9 in 7th District Court in Paw Paw.

Ernst is free on bond and scheduled to reappear in court on Dec. 20. 

The 15 DNR charges pending against Ernst include:

  • 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.

This isn't the first time he's been accused of illegally taking deer. 

Ernst has a 2018 conviction for illegally taking or possessing whitetail deer.


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