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Breaking: 230” mule deer poached in Wyoming

 

Nate Strong poached Wyoming mule deer buck
Wyoming mule deer buck poached by Nate Strong. Photo credit: Jason Radakovich
 
Editor's note: updates to the story are at the bottom of the article

Wyoming Hoback buck poaching case

If you were at the 2016 Western Hunting & Conservation Expo (Hunt Expo) earlier this year, you might have noticed a very large 230” gross score Wyoming nontypical mule deer on display. The buck was shot by Nate Strong of Wyoming.

Shortly after the 2016 Hunt Expo we covered a possible poaching case that involved this buck and I have been following it very closely.

Background information on the buck

The investigation began after an undisclosed person reported that they had concerns that the large and easily recognizable buck was taken illegally and out of season because the locals had photos of the deer after the season closed. This buck was well known by locals and was photographed many times from 2012 to 2015. The locals even contacted a Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD) Game Warden Adam Hymas just incase something would ever happen to the buck.

In late 2014 local residents noticed the buck had a bullet hole in his ear. Somebody had tried to take this buck on the winter range. Concerns grew in among the local ranchers that someone on the outside knew about this giant buck.

Front and back velvet view of the poached Hoback Wyoming mule deer buck

Jason Radakovich live photo of the poached Hoback mule deer buck
Live photos of the buck during the summer of 2015. Photo credit: Jason Radakovich

The buck was observed all summer and fall of 2015. A group of locals last saw the buck on November 7, 2015 when they closed their cabin for the winter. At this point mule deer season had been closed since October 7.

An investigation builds

On February 13, 2016, Wyoming Game Warden Adam Hymas contacted Jim Gregory, a Wyoming Wildlife Investigator for the WGFD, about an alleged illegal taking of a very large nontypical mule deer during a closed season that was brought to his attention by an undisclosed person.

Dated photo after the 2015 mule deer season closed showing the buck alive

Dated photo from another local resident that was taken after the 2015 mule deer season closed showing the buck alive.

In this video clip taken the same day that the photo was taken, you can hear a lady say "ah, you made it." She was referring to the buck making it through the hunting season.

The game warden was notified that the nontypical buck was on display at the 2016 Hunt Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah. The reason this case was very interesting from the start, was the large nontypical buck was photographed by the undisclosed person after the 2015 Wyoming general deer season had closed.

Nate Strong poached Hoback Wyoming mule deer mount with hunt expo sign

Photo credit: Jason Radakovich

Conservation Officer Rick Olson was then contacted to locate the buck at the Hunt Expo and met with the owner of Monarch Mountain Taxidermy who mounted the buck. The owner of Monarch Mountain Taxidermy voluntarily provided WGFD officers the work order that was for a mule deer buck taken by Nate Strong and an affidavit that is required to do business with a taxidermist. Nate had brought the antler and cape to Monarch Mountain Taxidermy on November 27, 2015 to be mounted.

Continued below.

The story takes a huge turn

The WGFD officers found out that in September of 2015, on a Wyoming resident general license, Nate Strong took a large typical mule deer. Nate placed photos of the buck on his publicly viewable Facebook page. Game Warden Adam Hymas knew about this buck through personal contact with Nate.
 

Nate Strong September Wyoming mule deer buck
Nate Strong's 2015 September Wyoming mule deer buck. Photo credit: Nate Strong
 
Nate Strong September Wyoming mule deer buck close up
Photo credit: Nate Strong

A search through the WGFD license database confirmed that Nate also applied for and was successful in drawing a 2015 HA138 Type 3 Deer License. The license was for a specific hunt area in Sublette County and for a whitetailed deer only. Nate was allowed to take a second buck during the 2015 season, but the second deer had to be a whitetail deer.

Nate had several conversations in November with Game Warden Adam Hymas about locations where he could hunt whitetails in the Sublette County. He also mentioned to Hymas about the large number of big mule deer bucks he was seeing while he was hunting for his whitetail buck.

On February 16, 2016 a few days after the Hunt Expo ended, Jim Gregory got a search warrant and seizure request for Nate Strong’s mule deer buck. That same day, Nate admitted that he had killed the nontypical buck and placed his whitetail deer license on the mule deer. There are reports from locals that Nate claimed that the buck was a whitetail/mule deer hybrid, and they think Nate was using this angle so he wouldn’t be charged with poaching.

Nate Strong mule deer Hunt Expo mount sign

Photo credit: Jason Radakovich

The information sheet before the poaching accusation clearly shows that Nate was originally claiming this to be a mule deer.

On February 24, 2016 the mounted nontypical mule deer buck was delivered to the WGFD Forensic Laboratory for species and gender identification due to the claims it was a whitetail/mule deer hybrid. A month later on March 18, 2016 the forensic laboratory confirmed the deer was a mule deer.

What's going to happen now

Nate admitted that he shot the buck illegally. The conditions of the ruling have yet to be released, but fines and possible hunting license suspensions are sure to follow. The hearing for this case is scheduled for April 11, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. at the Circuit Court in Sublette County. It currently looks like Nate is facing misdemeanor charges. Hunters are also calling for a violation of the Lacy Act and claim that by taking the buck to Utah to get mounted, he would have a better chance of getting it mounted without someone questioning the buck.
 

Jason Radakovich live velvet photo of the poached Hoback mule deer buck
Close-up velvet photo of the buck that was poached. Photo credit: Jason Radakovich

The illegal killing of this buck has affected local residents who have watched this buck for years and they hope for stiff fines and a suspension of his Wyoming hunting rights. They don’t want the typical “slap on the wrist” type fines either. Nate Strong killed two trophy mule deer in 2015, one legally and one illegally. With the amount of technology available today, it was the work of local residents of Wyoming that helped bring this case to a close. Otherwise this was just another poacher trying to get “hunting famous.”

Not only did this person take the life of a trophy deer, he took the buck from all law abiding citizens of Wyoming, sportsmen, outdoorsmen, hunters, and trophy deer admirers across the west.

Poaching is never tolerated. Law abiding hunters are the biggest asset to Game Wardens across the west. It is hunters who put forth large amount of dollars to help conserve wildlife and when it comes down to it, it is hunters that are always willing to lend a helpful hand to help expose poachers that steal wildlife because poachers are not hunters.


Updates

April 11, 2016 — Arraignment hearing

•  11:00 a.m. — Arraignment hearing was held for Nate Strong at the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial District in Sublette County.
•  11:24 a.m. — Nate Strong pleads not guilty in the arraignment hearing and the case is now going to trial.
•  Pre-trial is set for July 25, 2016 at 8:30 a.m. and if needed, the jury trial is set for August 23 at 9:30 a.m.

July 7, 2016 — Trial pushed back

  • Jury trial pushed back to October 25, 2016.
  • New updates to the case.
  • Strong allowed to hunt in 2016 before the case.
  • Read more here.

We will continue to follow and provide updates on this story

 

 

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