In March 2022, Illinois Department of Natural Resources game wardens discovered the carcasses of over 20 wild turkeys in three towns in Madison County. Now, 16 months later, their poaching investigation has concluded with the arrest of seven men, all from out of state, who now face 63 charges after being accused of taking turkeys illegally.
The poachers didn't have a permit and were harvesting out of season, as turkey hunting doesn't open until April. According to an IDNR press release, the men are also accused of killing the turkeys with AR-style rifles "equipped with thermal imaging scopes and suppressors"; Illinois does not allow the use of suppressors while hunting any time of the year.
The seven poachers charged are Dustin Goldsmith of McCall Creek, Mississippi; Hunter Baxter of Lucedale, Mississippi; Nick Henley of Monticello, Arkansas; Benjamin Emerson of Lucedale, Mississippi; Dakota Jarratt of Wilmar, Arkansas; Matthew McClendon of Augusta, Georgia; and Jacob Russell of Ruth, Mississippi, according to the release.
In addition to the misdemeanor charges, Mississippi residents Baxter and Goldsmith face additional charges. "Baxter has been charged with two felony counts in Madison County, including possession of a suppressed firearm and resource theft more than $3,000," the IDNR said. "Goldsmith has been charged with a felony count of resource theft of more than $3,000."
In addition to poaching 20 turkeys, officers allege, the group poached three cottontail rabbits with a suppressed rifle with thermal imaging scopes in Calhoun County. Officials believe the animals were shot from a vehicle.
All of the defendants in the case have court dates in Madison and Calhoun counties.
"Poaching is a serious crime that can cause tremendous harm to wildlife and biodiversity. Conservation laws are in place to ensure wildlife resources are around for future generations to enjoy," Jed Whitchurch, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement, said in the press release. "I encourage anyone who is aware of poaching crimes in Illinois to come forward with tips. People have a responsibility to understand these laws and to follow them."