McGrath poacher of 600-pound bear sentenced in Aitkin County [Photo]

Bear poaching triggers two-year probe; $10,000 in fines, restitution

By Vivian LaMoore
Mille Lacs Messenger

Aitkin, Minn. — In October 2013, Shawn O’Connor, of McGrath, was bragging about the possible state record bear he shot Sept. 7 that year. He then was featured in the Oct. 2 edition of the Messenger with a photo of himself, shirtless, and the giant bear, lifeless.

The article stated O’Connor had tried to keep the bear a secret, but word spread fast. That bear could have possibly tipped the scales at over 600 pounds.

O’Connor may have earned bragging rights for shooting a possible state record trophy bear. But the boast triggered an investigation by Minnesota conservation officers that took over two years to complete. After various search warrants were executed and criminal complaints filed, O’Connor originally was charged with 47 misdemeanors and eight gross misdemeanors regarding hunting violations, including but not limited to gross overlimits, transporting illegal game, failure to register game such as bobcat, marten, fisher, otter, or wolf, and unmarked game, according to court documents.

O’Connor’s disposition was finalized this March, when he pleaded guilty and was convicted of 10 of the original counts. All others were dismissed in plea agreements, according to court documents.

During various search warrants, officers located the following:

• A decomposing untagged bear skull, nine additional bear skulls, 15 bear hides and some bear claws

• Twenty-seven deer heads in various stages of decomposition and some still having fur and body meat indicating they were fairly fresh

• Fifteen bobcat pelts, one fisher pelt, one otter pelt, one mountain lion pelt, and one alleged moose hide

Mountain lions are protected in Minnesota.

Two of the bobcat pelts, the fisher pelt, and the mountain lion pelt did not have registration tags affixed.

Bear facts

The criminal complaint from Aitkin County District Court states O’Connor had purchased a no-quota bear license during the 2013 bear season. Data found during the investigation revealed cell phones were used by O’Connor during the hunting season. Text messages indicated O’Connor had killed a 642-pound bear in the Cub Lake area, Seavy Township in Aitkin County. That area is a quota bear-hunting zone.

O’Conner registered the bear and indicated it had been shot in a no-quota bear-hunting zone, according to the criminal complaint.

Further investigation revealed O’Conner had a registered bear bait station in Cub Lake in 2009, but the station was not registered in 2013.

Investigators learned O’Conner had help with the giant bear. Two males told investigators they traveled to Cub Lake to assist in tracking the bear. One male stated O’Connor shot the bear with a rifle but had not killed it.

O’Connor then shot it with a .44 magnum pistol when the wounded bear charged him. The male said he helped O’Connor skin and gut the bear, and he and his son helped carry the bear to O’Connor’s truck. The male stated he asked O’Conner if he was going to register the bear with his hunting license.

O’Connor indicated to the male that he had a no-quota hunting license. Both of the assisting males were aware at that point the bear had been illegally taken. They both watched as O’Connor drove away in his truck with the bear.

Convictions

O’Connor was convicted March 13 of this year of the following:

• Two gross misdemeanor counts for gross over limit of wild animals;

• One gross misdemeanor count for transporting illegal big game;

• Three misdemeanor counts of storage of protected wild animals – failure to plainly mark packaging, and;

• Four misdemeanor counts for failure to register the pelt of bobcat, marten, fisher, otter, or wolf.

Penalties

Court documents indicate O’Connor was ordered to pay nearly $10,861 in fees and restitution. He has been sentenced to jail time for 90 days to one year with confinement stayed for one year. He has been sentenced to one year of supervised probation. He must remain law-abiding and on good behavior with no same or similar charges.

O’Connor is subject to random searches, including random searches by the DNR.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Mille Lacs Messenger. It is reprinted here with permission.

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