If you're going to brag about poaching a trophy buck, you'd better have about $15,000 to back it up.
That is how much two men have been ordered to pay in fines and costs, including a record restitution penalty of $13,277 under a new state law, after they were convicted of illegally killing a celebrity white-tailed deer in Side Cut Metropark in early October.
The deer was a large-antlered, 15-point buck known to some Side Cut fans as "Big Boy" and to others as "Stickers," said Steve Thomson, a wildlife investigator for Ohio Wildlife District 2. It was among the most-often photographed and familiar animals in the park's ever-growing deer herd and was featured in The Blade last year.
It had been aged by a state wildlife biologist at 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 years old.
"Many people were instrumental in bringing these two to justice," Mr. Thomson said. He cited assistance from wildlife photographers, wildlife watchers, deer check-station operators, several sporting goods store employees, meat processing employees, and a taxidermist.
The men convicted of illegally killing the deer are Justin Angles, 20, of Fostoria and Dan Mahoney, 20, of Akron. Both are students at the University of Toledo.
They could not be reached for comment, and Angles did not respond to a request sent to his university e-mail address.
Investigator Thomson said the initial inklings that "Big Boy" was missing came from local photographers, some of whom regularly photograph deer and other wildlife at Side Cut.
"They first noticed it missing from the park, then several people saw Angles posing with this same deer in pictures posted on different Web sites on the Internet," Mr. Thomson said. "Angles even posted a picture of himself with the deer on the [Ohio] Division of Wildlife Web site, claiming he had harvested the deer in Wood County with a long bow.
"Several people called to report they suspected Angles poached it from the park. Further investigation found that Angles had taken the deer from the park and Mahoney had assisted him in doing so."
Mr. Thomson said the buck was killed between 12:30 and 1 a.m. on Oct. 9, and turned in later at a deer-check station in Bowling Green. It had been killed with a crossbow.
The investigator has said officers tracked down the tag-owner's identity at the check station and subsequently interviewed the two UT students. "They just had a total lie about how they harvested it," Mr. Thomson said.
The men then switched their story, saying that they had been driving around looking at deer and found the buck dead, a road-kill, in the park.
After checking in the deer in Bowling Green, Mr. Thomson said they "showed the deer around," including at the Bass Pro Shop in Rossford, and posted a photograph on the Internet.
"We have witnesses there," the investigator said of the store scene. "They definitely picked the wrong deer."
The investigator said that Kevin Newsome, state wildlife officer assigned to Lucas County, and James Tunnel, a state wildlife investigator, also played major roles in solving the case.
The carcass was seized by state wildlife officers.
In addition to his share of the restitution, Angles was ordered to pay $1,156 in fines and costs in Maumee Municipal Court and Lima Municipal Court. He was convicted in Maumee of taking a deer by illegal means and illegal possession of deer parts. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 50 which were suspended, serving three days behind bars and seven days of electronic home monitoring.
He also was ordered to perform 60 hours of community service and had his hunting privileges suspended for three years. He was convicted in Lima of obtaining a hunting license without first having passed a hunter education course.
Angles still faces a charge on March 18 in Bowling Green of providing false information to a deer check-station. A fourth-degree misdemeanor, the charge on conviction carries a maximum penalty of $250 and 30 days jail.
In addition to his share of the restitution, Mr. Mahoney was ordered to pay $764 in fines and costs in Maumee and in Sylvania Municipal Court, the latter of which heard a charge of obtaining a license without first having passed a hunter education course. He also was sentenced to 60 days jail, 50 which were suspended, with three behind bars and seven days electronic home monitoring. He also must perform 60 hours community service and his hunting privileges are forfeited for three years.
Angles apologized in Maumee Municipal Court for killing Big Boy, with Mr. Mahoney also expressing regret.
Dennis Malloy, Ohio field director of Whitetails Unlimited, the country's largest nonprofit deer organization, condemned the poaching.
"An instance like this outrages the conservation and deer hunting community. Our members are conservationists, and we believe in fair chase and abide by all the rules and regulations," Mr. Malloy said. "We would hope that any hunter who hears about this will tell their family and friends that deer poaching is a crime and it will not be tolerated in any circles.
"We consider these individuals poachers and not hunters," he said.
The restitution fee levied in the Side Cut case was enabled by a state law passed last March that allows the state wildlife division to seek an increased recovery value on illegally taken wildlife. Trophy bucks are valued according to a formula based on antler size, and they can demand high restitution because their antlers command such high market prices by antler seekers.
The previous restitution record - $12,988 - was levied against two Ross County poachers in November.