Deer poaching cases result in 7 guilty pleas

Springfield – Two Illinois poaching cases involving three states, seven hunters and dozens of trophy deer reached an endpoint this month when those charged entered guilty pleas.

Each hunter now faces fines that add up to thousands of dollars.

The cases came to light in a one-week period in November of 2011, but the incidents that led to charges took place at least as far back as 2009. Included in the more than 30-deer involved was a Cook County buck that reportedly scored 213 5⁄8 inches and was valued at $25,000.

DNR officials noted that several of the deer that were poached were worth thousands of dollars each.

The charges in one case were filed in Cook and Sangamon counties in 2011. Charges in the other case were centered in Kankakee County.

DNR Conservation Police officers teamed up with CPOs from Michigan and Indiana in the investigations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also played a major role in Illinois Wildlife Code violations involving a total of seven hunters – three from Illinois and four from Michigan.

The team effort in getting guilty pleas extended to prosecutors.

“Deer poaching is a serious offense, and I want to thank the investigators, along with the prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s offices in Cook and Kankakee counties for seeing these important cases to their conclusions,” said DNR Conservation Police Director Rafael Gutierrez. “Those who hunt illegally and break the law need to be held accountable, and cases like these show we are serious about protecting outdoor recreation opportunities for the men, women and youth who obey the law.”

The case dispositions in Cook County included:

  • Louis C. Bergsma, 35, of Galena – Convictions on unlawful falsification of DNR harvest records, two counts of hunting without permission of landowner, two counts of unlawful possession of illegally taken deer; fines of $4,800, plus civil penalties of $7,750.
  • Jonathan P. Bergsma, 33, of Ada, Mich. – Convictions on two counts of unlawful possession of illegally taken deer, one count each of unlawfully hunting without a hunting license, and unlawfully hunting without a habitat stamp; fines totaling $3,700.
  • Daniel E. Bergsma, 27, of Ada, Mich. – Convictions on unlawful falsification of DNR harvest records, two counts of unlawful possession of illegally taken deer, and one count of hunting without permission of landowner; fines totaling $2,500, plus civil penalties of $250.
  • Douglas J. Bergsma, 60, of Rockford, Mich. – Convictions on unlawful falsification of DNR harvest records, hunting without permission of landowner, and unlawful possession of the illegally taken deer; fines totaling $2,300.
  • Tom E. Hedke, 33, of Caledonia, Mich. – Convictions on two counts of unlawfully hunting without a valid non-resident hunting license; fines totaling $1,000.

Each of the above five men were also convicted in Michigan on counts of unlawful possession of illegally taken deer and unlawful importation of deer and each man was fined $245. Their cases included the illegal taking of 31 deer, including the big buck taken in Cook County.

The Kankakee County case focused on a 13-point buck killed in November 2011. The hunter involved initially claimed the deer was killed with a bow and arrow, but it was later determined it was actually taken with a rifle.  Details of pleas in that case were:

  • Weldon “Jesse” Bean, 30, of Kankakee – Convictions on illegally hunting without permission, illegally taking deer with a rifle-accessory, illegally hunting within 300 yards of a dwelling, illegal possession of deer, failure to immediately tag a deer upon kill, illegal transportation of an uncased bow on an ATV, and use of an invalid archery deer permit; fines and penalties totaling $10,000.
  • Raymond Drazen, 42, of St. Anne – Convictions on illegally taking deer with a rifle and illegal possession of deer; fines totaling $250.

As law enforcement officials explained back when original charges were filed in both cases, high-dollar antlers are causing legal and ethical problems for hunters who covet and pursue them. DNR Director Marc Miller said the cases show that poaching deer – or any other game animal in Illinois – is taken seriously.

“No matter what the season, Conservation Police are out there everyday watching, investigating and arresting those who break the law in an effort to protect the sport for the majority of outdoorsmen and women who choose to follow the law,” Miller said.

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