Facebook, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Poachers Posed as Female Photographers Online to Kill Big Urban Bucks

After gathering intel, they hid compact bows in backpacks and arrows in "walking sticks," authorities say.

Two New York state men have lost their hunting privileges after an elaborate poaching scheme recently went belly-up thanks in part to social media. According to a Jan. 19 press release from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Jayson Zorda of Oneonta and Kevin Butler of Afton were both involved in the scheme, which involved posing as female nature photographers online.

According to authorities, the poaching plan kicked off when Zorda created a fake Facebook profile where he posed as a female wildlife photographer. He used the profile to contact other photographers, seeking the locations of mature bucks in the town of Tonawanda, in western New York. Zorda and Butler used the information given by well-meaning photographers to track down the bucks—but not to photograph them. The pair hid compact bows in their backpacks and arrows in hollow walking sticks to fool other hikers. Their elaborate ruse was successful, authorities say, and they killed two large antlered deer in a no-hunting area of Tonawanda.

The pair were arrested after the Tonawanda Police Department received several calls in November about two suspicious-looking men walking in the woods in town. One caller, an avid hunter, described seeing one of the men crouching in the woods behind his house. He heard what he thought was the snap of a bow discharge and an arrow strike a large, 16-point buck, which ran into his yard after it was shot. The caller then saw a second man take pictures of the wounded deer.

Zorda and Butler ran before the police arrived, but luckily trail cameras caught photos of them, authorities said. The photos were posted online, and the suspects were subsequently identified.

Zorda and Butler denied involvement when questioned, but police said their cellphones betrayed them. Under a search warrant, officers reviewed both men's cellphone records, uncovering Zorda's fake Facebook profile, as well as a network of poachers using the same scheme: posing as wildlife photographers on social media to learn the locations of trophy animals, authorities said.

Zorda and Butler pleaded guilty Dec. 14 to misdemeanors for illegal taking of deer. They paid $1,075 in fines and surcharges, and their hunting licenses were revoked for five years. A Facebook post by the Department of Environmental Conservation has received hundreds of comments, with many discussing what they viewed as relatively light punishments for such an involved crime.

According to the press release, other persons from the larger poaching ring were implicated in the warrants, and charges are pending. If you know anything about the case or related poaching, please send us information at wosinfo [@] pch.com.

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