Sioux Falls man charged with 45 big game violations

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - One of the state's largest individual poaching cases is making its way through the court system this fall.

A Sioux Falls man is facing 45 big game violations for allegedly killing deer without a license.

The violations span four counties in the fall of 2016 and 2017, but 35 of the charges are based in Minnehaha County.

"Having a large number come back to a certain individual is something you don't see much," Minnehaha Game, Fish and Parks Officer Jared Hill said.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks began receiving several reports of headless deer found in fields and along roadways back in 2016.

"A lot of times it's on private property where a land owner might find it," Hill said. "They may be managing the spot for deer, be watching the deer on his trail camera for years, hoping for a chance to take it, then it ends up with a head cut off in their field."

Conservation officers record each incident and collect DNA from the carcass.

"Take a sample, see if it ends up at a taxidermist," Hill said. "We can easily match those to those exact deer with almost 100 percent probability."

"Anyone that brings a specimen out to me, they have to fill out a tag that has the date they brought it out, their name, address, phone number, what the item was when they killed the item, then that tag has to be applied to that specimen when I put it in my freezer," Stan Lorenz of Advanced Taxidermy said.

Licensed taxidermists often help authorities track down a few prohibited kill, but the system is not much help in catching avid poachers.

"They're probably not going to come to guys like me, because they know that we keep records, they know that we get checks from law enforcement officers," Lorenz said.

In this case, a tip from the public led authorities to 29-year-old Jesse Russel Atwood. Court documents allege 53 deer racks, antlers and skulls were recovered at his home, many matching the DNA of the headless carcasses.

"Not only breaking the rules, but sometimes blatantly taking game away from other people," Hill said. "It can be frustrating."

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks manages all fish and wildlife populations in the state.

"To protect the numbers of our different wildlife, either animals are protected or regulated in a hunting season just to protect from over harvest, things like that, that's why there are season dates, shooting hours," Hill said.

Authorities believe Atwood killed most of the deer overnight, which is also prohibited.

"It's easy to go out and shoot several deer at night if someone has their mind made up to do it. Typically, at night they're out either trophy hunting," Hill said. "Luckily it's a small percentage of the populations, 90-some percent of hunters and anglers abide by the rules and don't take that level, but there's that small percent like anything that will go out and abuse it."

Atwood has pled not guilty to all 45 misdemeanor charges.

This hunting season South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is asking the public to keep a watchful eye out for any suspicious hunting and report it to their tips line at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224).