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Four plead guilty in Idaho wildlife killing spree

During a four-week period in the fall of 2012, hunters went on a poaching spree in Washington County killing or wounding more than a dozen deer, three cows, protected birds and other types of wildlife.

After receiving an anonymous tip, Idaho Fish and Game officers identified the four men responsible for the carnage: Kaden Skinner, 19, Weiser; Brady King, 19, Meridian; Vaughn Drake, 19, Meridian; and Nathan Graham, 19, Meridian.

During the course of the 18-month investigation, investigators recorded 65 violations, including 23 felonies and 29 misdemeanors, against the four individuals. Several other associates were found to be in violation, but were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against the four suspects.

Charges included hunting without a license, taking big game with the aid of artificial light, unlawful possession of deer parts, taking deer during closed season, waste and cattle rustling.

Through plea agreements with the Washington County Prosecutor's office, the four defendants agreed to pay $24,450 in fines and penalties, including restitution for the livestock losses. In addition, their hunting licenses were revoked for three to five years. The license suspensions are also valid in 37 other states. The defendants were each given 24 months of probation; any violation committed during that period could lead to 180 days in jail for their poaching crimes.

The investigation started in September 2012 when Fish and Game conservation officer Mark Sands received via the agency's Citizens Against Poaching hotline a call with a vague reference to the poaching of a mule deer buck. The caller's description led Sands to a location off of Rock Creek Road northwest of Weiser, where he found a mule deer buck shot and left to waste. A passing bird hunter tipped Sands off to another possible poached deer in the same general area. Following up on this information, Sands found a second mule deer buck, its skullcap removed and the carcass left to waste. After scanning the carcass with a metal detector, Sands located and removed a bullet and then back traced the bullet's trajectory to a nearby road. After a brief search, he discovered a rifle shell casing on the side of the road that matched the bullet discovered earlier.

In the ensuing weeks, several other deer and three domestic cows were found shot and wasted along Rock Creek Road. No suspects were identified.

In January of 2013, Sands received an anonymous tip naming a local Weiser resident as the shooter and implicating several other Meridian individuals in the poaching spree. In early February, Sands and several fellow Fish and Game officers simultaneously interviewed all the named suspects in the case. Additional interviews with the suspects and their associates were conducted in the months that followed. Interview details led to the issuance of four search warrants and the collection of hard evidence for the case.

This case demonstrates the importance of public involvement in the protection of Idaho's wildlife, said Fish and Game. "Simply stated, without critical information provided by local citizens, this case might never have come to a successful conclusion," Sands said in a press release.

Anyone with information regarding a possible wildlife violation are encouraged to call the Citizens Against Poaching hotline at 1(800) 632-5999 twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.

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