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Michigan man faces 15 charges for allegedly poaching nine bucks

Conservation Officers Tyler Cole, left, and Matt Page with eight deer heads that were suspected...
Conservation Officers Tyler Cole, left, and Matt Page with eight deer heads that were suspected to have been poached by Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur.(source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 7:58 AM EST
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DECATUR, Mich. (WJRT) - A man from Southwest Michigan is facing 15 criminal charges and nearly $60,000 in fines after authorities say he poached nine bucks.

Michigan State Police discovered the bucks in a barn near Decatur in Van Buren County last month while investigating a domestic violence complaint. They alerted Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, who determined they belonged to 33-year-old Justin Ernst.

Eight of the bucks -- five 10-pointers and three with 8-points -- were located in the barn on Oct. 17. A nine-point buck was located two days later after Ernst was arrested on the domestic violence charge.

Investigators believe he drove his pickup truck through fields, illegally shined the deer and shot them this fall. The man who owns the barn Ernst stayed at told police that Ernst often stayed out late at night and another deer showed up the following morning.

Ernst was arraigned last week on nine counts of taking game illegally, one count of hunting with a revoked license, one count of applying for or receiving a hunting license when ineligible and four weapons charges. He faces up to $59,500 in reimbursement to the state for the deer if convicted.

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

“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.”

Ernst was released on bond after arraignment last week while awaiting further court proceedings in December.

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