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Montana Antler Poacher Gets Slapped with Five Year Hunting Ban

A Montana antler dealer has been sentenced to a five-year worldwide hunting ban and reparations of $15,000 for poaching shed elk antlers in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

A repeat offender, Joshua Anders Rae, 38, pleaded guilty in July 2022 to the charge of federal misdemeanor probation violations in connection with a 44-pound stash of antlers he collected at night and hid in the forest. He also plead guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which is intended to combat illegal trafficking of wildlife, fish, and plants.

Rae, of Bozeman, owns and operates Old West Antlers, an online elk antler dog chew retailer. Rae's hidden stash contained illegally-collected elk antlers cut down into short sections, some of which were consistent with those sold through his online shop, according to U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations.

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Rae has been caught poaching before. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to a similar violation, that time for illegally possessing and transporting 104 pounds of elk antlers. Those, too, were cut into smaller sized pieces, consistent with the type he sold in his antler chew online store. Rae was on federal probation for that previous misdemeanor Lacey Act conviction for the same offense in the same area when these recent violations occurred.

The Bozeman offender has been sentenced to pay $15,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and is banned from entering the National Elk Refuge for five years, as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. He was given five years' probation and a five-year worldwide ban on hunting, as well as 90 days of home confinement.

This recent sentence stems from in April 2021, when Law Enforcement Officers patrolling a winter range closure outside Jackson discovered that Rae was gathering shed elk antlers outside legal dates for areas west of the continental divide in Wyoming, and hiding them to come retrieve later. It is common for shed poachers to hide an illegal stash of antlers on public ground and then return after the shed hunting season has opened.

Rae had accessed the closed area by traveling a significant distance cross-country when officers apprehended him. The winter range closure is intended to protect wintering deer and elk. Rae's illegal activities deprive law-abiding shed hunting enthusiasts an equal opportunity during the highly-regulated shed hunting season, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations said. The latest investigation also revealed Rae had yet to pay any of the court ordered restitution on the previous case.

His sentence was announced roughly a week before the Bridger-Teton's winter wildlife closures typically lift and shed hunting season begins. This year, though, the season won't open in some parts of Wyoming until May 15.

On April 25, Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced an emergency extended closure of shed hunting in southwest Wyoming to protect big game herds that are still on their winter ranges. This is a direct result of the high overwinter mortality rates of big game seen this previous season. Teton County is not included in the emergency closure area.