The state of Nebraska has never seen a poaching case quite like the one that's hitting the news cycle after a years-long investigation.
The law has come down hard on a big game and turkey hunting guide service and its 30-year-old co-owner and chief operator Jacob Hueftle, after the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nebraska announced the federal crime convictions and other violations.
The Omaha World Herald shared the story after news of the charges was made public. The full investigation has resulted in a 30-month federal prison sentence for Hueftle, plus $214,375 in restitution, paid jointly with his company known as Hidden Hills Outfitters, to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The investigation was a cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife officials with Nebraska Game and Parks, and local law enforcement. Hueftle, who's from Broken Bow, is unable to hunt, trap, or operate in any related business for 15 years.
At this point, "30 people have pleaded guilty, $570,453 in fines and restitution have been assessed, and 53 years' worth of hunting and fishing permits have been forfeited."
The hunting violations read like a laundry list of the most common and blatant infractions of wildlife rules, including hunting out of season, lacking proper hunting permits, night hunting with spotlights, shooting from a roadway, using guns during archery season, ignoring baiting regulations, using suppressors to stifle gunshot sounds, and transporting wildlife parts across state lines.
For whitetail deer hunts, Hueftle said in his plea agreement that about 80% of clients using archery equipment and about 50% of those using a rifle did so near a bait site. Nebraska law says it is illegal to hunt within 200 yards of bait.
All told, at least 97 game animals were killed with the help of illegal tactics, including 30 whitetail deer, 34 mule deer (most of them big bucks), six pronghorn antelope, and 27 turkeys.
Largest Poaching Case in Nebraska History
The World Herald contacted Dick Turpin, the 83-year-old retired chief game warden at Game and Parks, who said this is the largest criminal wildlife case in Nebraska's history.
"All the guys hunting and fishing in this state ought to write (the judge) a letter thanking him," Turpin said. "Somebody is sticking up for our interests."
Land accessed by Hidden Hills covered at least eight different Nebraska counties: Custer, Blaine, Valley, Sherman, Logan, Frontier, Keith, and Morrill.
Along with violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits illegal game animal trafficking, Hueftle was found guilty of the Migratory Bird Act for allegedly killing hawks, falcons, and other non-game migratory birds.
The illegal hunting activities were found to have occurred from 2013 to at least November of 2017 during the fall hunting season. Most of Hidden Hills' clientele was from outside Nebraska, and were paying anywhere from $2,500 to $7,000 for the guide services.