VALE, Ore. — A Vale man caught during a traffic stop has been convicted for poaching a trophy-sized mule deer in eastern Oregon last year.
Garrett Harris, 22, of Vale, pled guilty on Oct. 31 to criminal unlawful take of a buck deer and waste of a game mammal after poaching the 5X5 mule deer buck in the Beulah unit of eastern Oregon in November 2019. Harris became a suspect in the case earlier this year when someone called the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line to report that Harris had shot a mule deer while the season was closed in 2019. OSP troopers tried to contact Harris after the initial report but were unable to locate him.
On June 16, 2020, OSP Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Erich Timko, returning from a Magone Lake patrol, stopped a black Jeep Cherokee on US 26 for several traffic violations. Harris was driving. When Sgt. Timko realized he had apprehended the wildlife crime suspect, he asked Harris about his hunting exploits. Harris eventually confessed to shooting the mule deer.
According to Sergeant Timko, Harris shot the buck with his bow in the Beulah unit on Nov. 21, 2019. The wounded buck crossed onto the adjacent property for which Harris did not have permission to enter. Harris left the deer to die. When he returned the following day to retrieve the deer, coyotes had gotten to it. He removed the head and left the remainder of the animal to waste. Then he hid the head on a family member’s property.
OSP troopers retrieved the head from the relative’s property and charged Harris with multiple wildlife crimes. He appeared in Malheur County Court on Oct. 31 and pled guilty to criminal Unlawful Take of Buck Deer and Waste of Game Mammal.
To make the punishment fit the crime, Nathaniel Rupp, Assistant District Attorney for Malheur County, sentenced Harris to community service time talking to hunter educations students about the perils of poaching. Harris will spend 48 hours conducting speaking engagements while he ponders his loss of hunting privileges for two years, forfeiture of his bow, and $1,100 in fines and restitution. Of that, $1,000 will go directly to the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line rewards fund with the Oregon Hunters Association.
Rupp, who is new to Malheur County and has never prosecuted a wildlife crime before, was impressed with how the case evolved and the detective work associated with it.
“I think the anti-poaching program set up by the legislature is a great program,” he said. “Sergeant Timko was really helpful to the prosecution side for deciding an acceptable guilty plea. He also helped our office to prosecute a poaching case.”
As for the community service talks Harris will give, Rupp said, “This is definitely helpful for the defendant. And it educates the public on what not to do.”
Timko echoes Rupp’s comments and added that when troopers observe one crime, the encounter can lead to additional offenses.
“Throughout my career, I’ve found that some of the biggest criminal cases are made from conducting a simple traffic stop, many times for a minor violation,” Timko said. “We all make mistakes in life and a lot of our character develops from our accountability and improvement from those mistakes.”
The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching. This campaign is a collaboration among hunters, conservationists, landowners, and recreationists. Our goal is to increase reporting of wildlife crimes through the TIP Line, increase detection by increasing the number of OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers, and increase prosecution. This campaign helps to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitat for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The TIP Rewards program is supported through the Oregon Hunter’s Association. Contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw for more information. Yvonne.l.Shaw@state.or.us.