The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) recently announced guilty pleas from two New York men that were part of a massive and bizarre poaching scheme.

As more details emerged about their intricate and manipulative plan, outrage in the community grew. Not only at the shameless way the hunters carried out their plan through a "network of poachers", but at their seeming "slaps on the wrist" they received for doing the unthinkable as well.

The NYS DEC say that Kevin Butler of Afton, NY was one of the hunters implicated in a widespread deer poaching network
The NYS DEC say that Kevin Butler of Afton, NY was one of the hunters implicated in a widespread deer poaching network. He is seen here on a trail camera in Erie County, NY (NYS DEC)
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Deer Poaching Network Uncovered in New York State

"Two hunters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for illegally taking two large antlered deer in an area closed to deer hunting in the town of Tonawanda", began a recent post from the NYS DEC. The banal sentence belied the truth of the matter: the NYS DEC had uncovered a poaching network that went far beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Authorities say Kevin Zorda of Oneonta, NY posed online as a female wildlife photographer to elicit locations of urban bucks from local nature enthusiasts
Authorities say Kevin Zorda of Oneonta, NY posed online as a female wildlife photographer to elicit locations of urban bucks from local nature enthusiasts (NYS DEC)
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Wild Details Emerge After Two New York Men Were Caught Poaching

Jayson Zorda and Kevin Butler both initially denied accusations that they illegally shot a large buck in a suburban area of Tonawanda, NY despite being filmed on nearby trail cameras as they fled the scene of the crime. After executing a search warrant in their homes, authorities uncovered the true scope of the poaching operation. From the NYS DEC:

A review of cell phone records uncovered a larger scheme where the subjects conspired with a network of poachers, using hunting and wildlife photography posts on social media to target large bucks in suburban and urban areas closed to hunting. Warrants revealed that Zorda had a fictitious Facebook profile in which he posed as a female wildlife photographer.

New York Poachers Use Fake Social Media Accounts to Find Deer

Authorities continued to explain that Zorda would use the fake profile to convince real wildlife photographers to reveal the location of the "urban bucks" with the specific intent of poaching. Further, in a move that makes the pair sound like cartoon villains, the NYS DEC reported that both "Zorda and Butler would hide compact bows in backpacks and conceal their arrows in hollow walking sticks to look like hikers to any witnesses".

New York Residents Outraged at Small Punishment for Poaching

While the crime itself is enough to make both seasoned hunters and city-dwelling vegetarians both grab their pitchforks, the most frustrating detail might be their punishment... or lack there of. In exchange for guilty pleas, the men were charged with misdemeanors, had their hunting licenses revoked for five years, and given a $1,075 fine. True New York hunters wanted more.

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"Barely a slap on the wrist! Their illegal activity should be a felony and they should never be able to have a hunting license again", commented a Facebook user with a profile picture decked out in camouflage hunting gear. "They got off too easy!", said another outdoorsman. The NYS DEC reports that "other individuals were implicated in the warrants and charges are pending".

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