Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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St. Clair poachers may have killed up to 60 whitetails

By Tracy Breen

Correspondent

Port Huron, Mich. – Michigan DNR enforcement officials say
they’ve filed charges against a group of alleged poachers in St.
Clair County that may have been responsible for the illegal killing
of up to 60 white-tailed deer last year.

One of Michigan’s largest poaching cases in recent history was
investigated by CO John Borkovich, who is assigned to St. Clair
County. Borkovich regularly targets deer poachers, and this case
started out like many others.

‘I found a doe lying in a field in the middle of the firearms
season that had a very small entrance hole in the head from a
small-caliber bullet,’ Borkovich told Michigan Outdoor News.   

Borkovich began piecing the case together. He found other dead
deer in other fields on various occasions that had been killed by a
small-caliber weapon.

Borkovich regularly seeks the help of past poachers he has
arrested, and that aided his investigation this time.

‘I treat people right. Even when I am arresting them for
poaching, I am fair and treat them with respect. Often, past
poachers are willing to help me when I need it,’ Borkovich said.
 

A tip from one of his numerous calls to past poachers led
Borkovich to believe that the suspected poacher was a hockey
player. Borkovich began frequenting ice rinks and hockey practices
to see if he could find any clues. One person even gave Borkovich a
description of a possible suspect’s vehicle. As he visited ice
rinks, he watched to see if he could find a vehicle that matched
the description of the one he was looking for, and perhaps evidence
like blood on the vehicle.

The case came together slowly.

‘I began patrolling at all hours of the night hoping to catch
the poachers in action. I went out at midnight and as late as 2 in
the morning looking for anyone who was shining deer,’ Borkovich
said.

Then another tip arrived. Upon questioning the person who
offered the tip, Borkovich discovered that the eyewitness saw
numerous men in a truck, all of whom were young and had athletic
builds, the caller said. Borkovich by now had a few suspects that
he was watching but none he’d questioned. 

‘I was going off of tips and kept following every lead I had,’
he said. ‘Unfortunately, out of all of the eyewitnesses that I had
talked to, not a single one had gotten a glimpse of the license
plate number on the vehicle. The only thing I knew was that the
vehicle was a black Dodge truck. Although knowing what type of
truck it was helped, it wasn’t enough information.’

Finally, Borkovich got his break. One eyewitness noticed a small
yellow rope hanging off the hitch on the truck as it drove
away. 

‘Every tip helps, and although we didn’t have the license plate
number, the tip about the rope was another piece of the puzzle. On
January 28th, I stopped a few guys on snowmobiles when a truck
matching the description of the truck I was looking for was driven
by me. I looked at the hitch as the truck drove by and there was a
piece of yellow rope hanging off the hitch,’ Borkovich said. 

Borkovich stopped the truck and inside were two young men, one
of whom Borkovich already had on his suspect list. In the back seat
of the truck was a .17-caliber rifle and hockey gear.

Upon questioning, the two individuals, along with four others,
admitted to using the rife and a spotlight to shoot deer at
night. All six individuals gave written confessions and were
charged with illegally taking deer and shining. One of the
individuals never actually shot deer; he just helped hold the light
and aided in the poaching process, reports say.

The names of the individuals have not been released. The ages of
the poachers ranged from 16 and 20. Borkovich isn’t certain how
many deer the alleged poachers actually killed. The DNR currently
has 12 deer in possession.

‘We have 12 deer in possession and based on the confessions, we
believe they poached somewhere between 32 and 60 deer. It is hard
to say how many they actually killed without having the deer,’
Borkovich said.

‘The (alleged) poachers will have to pay $1,000 for each deer
that we have in possession,’ he said. ‘They will also lose their
hunting privileges for three years. They are required to complete
hundreds of hours of community service. We are still unsure of all
the details because a few of the individuals were minors,’

The cases remain open and additional charges are pending.

Borkovich spent 16 hours questioning the suspects. After many
long conversations, the motive came down to a group of friends
having ‘fun,’ he said.

‘They got carried away and started shooting a lot of deer. The
sad thing is all the poachers expressed a love for the outdoors and
hunting. They made some wrong decisions and now they must pay the
consequences. By killing those deer, they took deer from the rest
of the hunters and law-abiding citizens in Michigan,’ Borkovich
said.

It took Borkovich more than 21/2 months to solve the case.

‘I have spent 22 years at this job chasing deer poachers,’ he
said. ‘People would not believe how much poaching goes on in this
state. I treat each case the same and go after it with the same
amount of diligence. In the end, my goal is to protect our deer
herd. Poachers are stealing deer from the rest of us. Poaching is a
serious crime and it has serious consequences.’

Borkovich encourages people who witness an act of poaching to
call the Report All Poaching hotline a call at
1-800-292-7800.   

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