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Poaching or Trespassing, Ohio DNR Imposes Big Time Restitution

Ohio is one state you don’t want to mess with.

Arlie Risner, a hunter and resident of Bellevue, pleaded no contest back in 2010 in a hunting without permission case in which he allegedly shot a trophy buck on railroad property, but is still awaiting a court’s ruling on whether or not he owes the state of Ohio restitution.

Risner, who was bowhunting with permission on property owned by his cousin, hit a buck that would later be measured at 228 inches. He had to spend some time finding it, but was eventually able to locate the downed animal, which had wandered off quite a ways despite his dead-on shot. Once he found the buck he field dressed it and, believing he had done everything to code, tagged the deer and reported it at a Shelby hunting store. Days later, a warden showed up at Risner’s home stating that he had been turned in for hunting on railroad property.

In Risner’s defense, he states that he shot the deer on a relative’s property for which he had permission to hunt, but that the deer, unbeknownst to him, had staggered off across property lines while he was attempting to recover it. Conflicting opinions on the blood trail, which was unable to be seen on the owner’s property due to recent grass cutting, left Risner without much of a leg to stand on, especially since evidence of a deer being gutted was found on railroad property around the same time.

Despite clarity of evidence, the case with the state of Ohio has pressed on. Many have cited Risner as being a victim of Ohio’s recent wildlife law changes, which saw Ohio Revised Code 1531.201 pass 96-0 in the House and 29-1 in the Senate. The law sets high restitution for valuable animals. Before the new law, restitution for deer was $400 an animal.

Risner thought he’d gotten lucky back in April of 2013 when Huron County Common Pleas Judge James Conway ruled in his favor, saying the Ohio DNR could not collect twice on the same deer. Conway’s ruling stated that since the Ohio DNR had already collected the remains of the deer from Risner, it could not collect twice on their attempted restitution of $27,851.

This was determined to be the “plain language of ORC 1531.201,” Conway wrote. To Risner’s dismay, everyone seems to interpret the law differently, and the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Toledo recently ruled 3-0 that nothing in the law prevents the ODNR from collecting their restitution.

At the time of this article, Risner is still awaiting a final say from Huron, which could include the judge addressing Risner’s complaint that the law in question is unconstitutional. The Sandusky Register reported on December 31, 2013 that Risner’s attorney, Gordon Eyster, is actively pursuing a resolution in the case.

This is not the first time Ohio has imposed a large restitution for a trophy buck. Back in 2010, a poacher named Johnny Clay pleaded guilty to a laundry list of charges, netting the Ohio DNR over $23,000 in restitution. For those that may not remember that incident, read on with the story below…

Not the first time for big Ohio restitution

While some may argue that Risner is not guilty of his charges, or that the Ohio law in question is unconstitutional, we think that all of us can agree that the following instance of Ohio restitution was well-warranted.

It all started in the summer of 2009, when two law-abiding hunters approached Ohio Wildlife Officer Chris Gilkey to inform him of a trophy buck roaming Adams County carrying a huge rack. The two hunters had been watching and videotaping the deer for several months, and wanted Gilkey to be aware of the buck in case anything illegal happened to it. Unfortunately for the two hunters, something illegal did indeed happen to their prized buck.

trophy1Image via: NAWEOA

While the hunters observed the buck by day and captured trail-cam footage of the deer by night, they kept Officer Gilkey in the loop about its location and habits. After September 6, 2009, though, they could find no trace of the buck, and reported the lack of sightings back to Gilkey, who was assigned to the case. Skip ahead to March of 2010, and the story of the monster buck really starts to get interesting.

Officer Gilkey was working in plain clothes at the Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo outside of Columbus, Ohio when he was approached by one of the two hunters who had been tracking the buck. According to Gilkey, the hunter was “white as a sheet and shaking all over.”

“He’s dead!” the hunter said. “That buck I told you about last summer is mounted and on display in one of the show booths. Come take a look …”

As they walked over to the booth, they got a glimpse of what Gilkey was hoping wouldn’t be true – the buck that had disappeared back in September was being displayed as a shoulder mount with a plaque reading, “New Kentucky State-Record Bow Kill,” by a man named Johnny Clay. Since Officer Gilkey was wearing plain clothes, he took the opportunity to ask Clay a few questions about his trophy buck, to which he cooperatively answered.

After leaving the booth, Gilkey called his supervisor who instructed him to return to the show the next day with fellow Officer Chris Rice. Via NAWEOA:

“At first, Clay was cooperative and willing to tell us his ‘story’ about killing the deer,” Gilkey said. “But when we showed him the 50 or so trail-camera photos we had of the deer alive and told him that we knew the deer had lived in Ohio and not Kentucky, he dropped his head and we knew we had him.”

Gilkey and Rice seized the mount as evidence, causing quite the spectacle at a usually calm and professional sport show. Later on, Clay admitted to poaching the trophy buck before bowhunting season in Ohio had started, and, knowing he had broken the law, drove the deer across state lines and checked it in as a bow kill in Kentucky. This wasn’t Clay’s first brush with hunting laws; over the past few years he has ten prior wildlife law convictions, and has even spent time in jail for many of said offenses.

Robbing a state like Ohio of one of its most prized bucks isn’t cheap. In addition to his fines and court costs, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sought and claimed more than $23,000 in restitution as well as loss of Clay’s hunting privileges in Ohio for life. His name was also entered into the Wildlife Violator’s Compact, which caused him to lose hunting privileges in 33 other states in addition to Ohio. Clay was forced to surrender the mount to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, as well as the compound bow he used to kill the deer. Back in 2010, the court had not issued Clay any jail time for his offenses.

So why was this deer such a big deal? Well, for one, it was the largest typical white-tailed buck taken in North America in 2009. The buck scored a massive 197 2/8 points, and also sits as fourth all-time in the Buckeye Big Buck Club record book. Restitution for the buck was determined by the state of Ohio using antler measurement, the same method used in Risner’s case. The formula, (gross score-125) 2 x $1.65 plus $500.

deerImage via: Counter Currents

As Ohio continues to be a top destination for whitetail hunters, Ohio Division of Wildlife Officer Gilkey lamented about the buck from 2009,

“The unfortunate aspect of this case is that this buck could have been the trophy of a lifetime for a law-abiding hunter,” said Gilkey. “But instead, someone got greedy and poached it. I’m just glad we were able to make the case and bring the poacher to justice.”

What do you think the ruling in Risner’s case will be? Do you think Clay’s punishment was adequate? Is the Ohio DNR restitution formula fair? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Poaching or Trespassing, Ohio DNR Imposes Big Time Restitution