Michigan man gets prison time for illegally poaching 9 trophy bucks, loses hunting license

Eight of the nine sets of deer antlers suspected of being poached by Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur. Ernst faces over $59,000 in reimbursement to the state, if convicted, for the suspected poaching of nine bucks. He is scheduled to reappear in court on Dec. 20. (Michigan DNR)

PAW PAW, Mich. – A southwestern Michigan man faces prison time and can no longer hunt in the state after pleading guilty to charges stemming from illegal deer poaching, authorities said.

Justin Ernst, 33, pleaded guilty Monday in Van Buren County to one count each of possession of a firearm and obtaining a hunting license when ineligible and three counts of illegal taking/possessing whitetail deer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.

The Decatur man was charged last year after DNR officials seized nine trophy whitetail bucks from a barn Ernst frequented.

Officers who searched Ernst’s vehicle found two shotguns, a crossbow, a bloody crossbow bolt and a handheld spotlight, which was stashed under the driver’s seat.

The DNR says that Ernst is suspected of driving his truck through fields to illegally shoot the deer, ruining property and crops in the process.

He was previously convicted for illegal whitetail deer possession in 2018.

Under his plea agreement, he was given a lifetime hunting revocation, ordered to pay $25,000 in reimbursement and forfeited seized items. He is slated to serve between 18 months and five years in a Michigan Department of Corrections facility, state officials said.