eagle parts
Prosecutors say police recovered golden eagle parts and feathers from Travis Branson's vehicle on March 13, 2021, during a traffic stop near Polson, Montana. Image: U.S. Justice Department

Washington Man Admits to Eagle ‘Killing Spree’ in Federal Court

In a Montana federal court on Wednesday, a Washington man admitted to killing thousands of eagles and selling their parts on the black market, according to an announcement by the Justice Department. 

Travis Branson, a 48-year-old from Cusick, Washington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, two counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles, and violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate trade of wildlife obtained through illegal means.

Branson and co-defendant Simon Paul were indicted in December 2023 for killing approximately 3,600 eagles and then selling their feathers and parts on the black market for "significant sums of cash." However, Paul remains a fugitive. 

According to the indictment, Branson and Paul traveled to the Flathead Indian Reservation multiple times between January 2015 and March 2021 to kill eagles to supply their illegal business. Additionally, investigators uncovered a host of messages containing incriminating details.  

Prosecutors say Branson was the subject of a police traffic stop near Polson, Montana, on March 13, 2021, in which the officer recovered feet and feathers from a golden eagle and later found the rest of the carcass in a nearby field. 

During the stop, officers also recovered multiple cell phones, and after obtaining a search warrant, recovered numerous photos and messages discussing the sale of bald and gold eagle parts. 

In some of the messages, Branson said: "I don't get em for free though ..out hear committing felonies"; he told another potential buyer that he would obtain eagle tails by "going on a killing sprees"; and prosecutors say he understood shipping the parts internally was illegal when he said, "International is still illegal ..I just get em for 99 cents ..price of a bullet..lol". 

Also, prosecutors detailed one of Branson's transactions, which occurred two weeks before the traffic stop. They alleged Branson sent a buyer two pictures of eagle feathers and in turn, the buyer sent Branson $650 via PayPal. Then, Branson shipped the package and the buyer confirmed that he had received the package by text message. 

According to the announcement, Branson could face up to eight years in prison plus supervised release and more than $250,000 in fines. He's scheduled to appear back in court on July 31, 2023, for sentencing.