Elk NetworkSocial Media Image Leads to Poaching Penalties in Oregon

Poaching | July 6, 2022

Below is a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. For 2022, Fiocchi partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to increase the visibility of poaching incidents in an effort to reduce poaching nationwide.

Poachers will pay $16,000 in fines and restitution for killing a trophy elk and at least one buck deer near Mosier in 2021, according to OSP F and W officials. The member of the public who reported a suspicious photo circulating on social media earned five hunter preference points.

Lionardo Munoz, of Mosier, will pay over $15,000 in fines and fees for illegally shooting a 6X6 bull elk. Matt Wilkinson, also of Mosier, will pay $1,000 in fines related to his part in concealing the crime. The investigation also revealed at least one buck deer Wilkinson’s wife, Rachel Hallett, poached. Additional penalties for the three include bench probation, forfeiture of meat and heads, and hunting suspensions.

The incident started on Nov. 9, 2021, when a hunter texted a photo circulating on social media to OSP F and W Troopers. Something was just not right about the photo of a 6X6 bull elk on a trailer.

Senior Trooper Brent Ocheskey, based in The Dalles, received the text and called the hunter. He had his own questions about the photo.

“It was a big elk on that trailer,” Senior Trooper Ocheskey said, “An elk is a big animal, not easy to pack out without gutting and quartering it. That in itself was suspicious, especially in our patrol area.”

Senior Trooper Ocheskey got a name of a possible hunter who had harvested the elk. After some quick research, he contacted Senior Trooper Matt Newby as backup and the two headed to the subject’s residence.

No one was home at Lionardo Munoz’ house. As the troopers drove away, they saw a truck turn down the drive. In the back of the truck was a 6X6 bull elk head along with the hide. They had located the hunter in question, and the bull.

Munoz had a tag for a spike elk, and it appeared his crime was taking an over-sized elk. But Munoz said the elk belonged to his friend and passenger in the truck, Matt Wilkinson. Wilkinson said his wife, Rachel Hallett, had shot it earlier in the Santiam unit.

The subsequent investigation included multiple subjects, timelines, locations, and tags as OSP F and W Troopers followed the case from one animal and residence to another. Click here to read the extended version of the investigation. Along the way, Senior Troopers Ocheskey and Newby found and seized three additional deadheads from buck deer near the couple’s residence. They issued warnings for unlawful possession of wildlife parts and cited Hallett for illegal take of a buck deer and Wilkinson for aiding in a wildlife offense.

The hunter who reported the elk on the trailer received five hunter preference points: Four for the original elk report, and one point for the subsequent buck deer.

Bernadette Graham-Hudson, ODFW Wildlife Administrator, is encouraged by the outcome of the case.

“Oregon hunters, legislators and other conservationists worked hard to pass strict sentencing guidelines to address poaching cases like this one,” Graham-Hudson said, “Not only did the subjects steal a wildlife resource that belongs to all Oregonians, but they broke hunting safety laws while doing so. Hopefully fines like this will serve as a warning to others who would behave so irresponsibly.”

“It is great that hunters and members of the public are willing to call in what they see so we can protect the wildlife and make cases that would otherwise be undetected,” Senior Trooper Ocheskey said, “These tips are very important because we patrol vast areas of the state and just can’t be everywhere at once. Sometimes tips lead to really good cases like this one. Sometimes a tip solidifies a case we are already working. Sometimes the tip results in no case or a mistaken violation but that’s okay too. Every case is different, and all information is appreciated because you never know. It’s a Trooper’s jobs to figure out what we have once we get a call”.

The outcome of the sentencing hearings is as follows:

Matthew Wilkinson, 38, of Mosier, pleaded guilty to Unlawful Take of a Six-Point Bull Elk and Unlawful Take of a Buck Deer. Defendant’s sentence included: 12 months of bench probation; 40 hours of community service; A five year hunting license suspension; $1000 compensatory fine to ODFW for the elk; forfeiture of the seized wildlife and all hunting licenses and tags.

Lionardo Munoz pleaded guilty to Unlawful Take of a Six Point Bull Elk. His sentence included: 18 months of bench probation; 3 year hunting license suspension; Forfeiture of the seized wildlife and all hunting licenses and tags; $15,000 compensatory fine to ODFW for the elk; $431.25 reimbursement to OSP for cut-and-wrap costs of elk.

Rachel Hallett pleaded guilty to Unlawful Take of Buck Deer. Her sentence included: 12 months of bench probation; Three year hunting license suspension; Forfeiture of seized wildlife and of all hunting licenses and tags; 40 hours of community service.

(Photo credit:  Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)