Releasing an image of a pickup truck closely resembling I.M. Steelin’s, Texas Parks and Wildlife investigators believe a red stag deer was shot by I.M. Steelin over the Thanksgiving weekend. The exotic, tame, breeding, red deer bull “Rudolph” was found decapitated on Bragg Schtag’s sprawling Red Bull Ranch – a large hunting ranch with a high-fence on a remote road in northwest Burnet County. Facing a string of charges, including a potential third-degree felony for poaching, can I.M. Steelin really be jailed for poaching from a county road? Can Schtag sue Steelin for damages?
Yes to both. In Texas it is unlawful to enter property (a minimum Class C misdemeanor, Texas Penal Code §30.05) that is agricultural, fenced, posted with a sign(s), or marked (purple paint) without the express permission of the owner. Going on Schtag’s property to harvest Rudolph’s antlers, Steelin committed a criminal trespass. Then, leaving the carcass and taking only the antlers is a Class C misdemeanor for intentionally or knowingly failing to make a reasonable effort to retrieve the animal. Decapitating the deer and leaving the carcass is a Class A misdemeanor for intentionally, knowingly or recklessly or with criminal negligence, failing to keep the edible portions of the bird, animal or fish in an edible condition; another Class A misdemeanor for hunting on property without the landowner’s consent; and yet another misdemeanor for hunting at night or with the aid of a light.
In addition to criminal penalties for hunting violations, the Texas Parks and Wildlife department will seek civil recovery value for the loss or damage to wildlife resources which is payable to the department. Some of the most common large civil restitution charges involve deer illegally taken. The civil restitution fee for a buck whitetail starts with a “base” value of $881.50 with the final cost determined by the size of the buck’s antlers, based on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system. A person who illegally takes an especially large antlered buck may face a civil restitution charge exceeding $10,000. Additionally, Schtag has a civil claim against Steelin for the loss of his exotic breeding buck Rudolph. A damages claim for a productive, breeding trophy buck such as Rudolph could well exceed $15,000.
If Rudolph wanders onto your property, is he fair game? Probably. If Rudolph is on property owned or leased to you – not a public right-of-way – AND Rudolph is not tagged, branded, banded, or marked in another conspicuous manner that can be read or identified from a long distance and that identifies him as being the property of the claimant, Rudolph is fair game.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
If you are Schtag, get along with your neighbors. They are the best resource to catch poachers like Steelin. If you are a hunter, purchase and carry a valid hunting license, and know and follow the Texas Parks and Wildlife rules and regulations.