A Green River, Wyoming, man could lose his hunting privileges for life after neighbors said they found numerous dead and dying deer in their neighborhood over the course of three years.
The first alleged deer poaching incident occurred on the morning of August 17, 2018, when neighbors said they heard multiple shots from a small-caliber rifle and found a dying deer near a house. Police traced a bullet hole in a residential garage back to three potential houses—one of which was the home of Timothy Lee Crooks, 66. When interviewed, Crooks denied all knowledge of who was shooting the deer.
Three years later, in 2022, children playing during recess at the Harrison Elementary School in Green River found a sick buck that had been shot illegally, authorities said. Wildlife biologists said they found a .223 bullet near the buck’s rib cage.
Just a year later, game wardens responded to yet another call of a deer dying in the neighborhood. They euthanized an injured mule deer laying in the front yard of a residence. A necropsy later found two entrance wounds in the doe, and authorities removed a .224 bullet.
Game wardens said they followed a trail of the deer’s blood down the street, straight to Crooks’s house.
The blood trail was the last straw, and police received a warrant to search Crooks’ house for .22-caliber arms, ammunition, and spent cartridges.
During the warrant search, Crooks continued to deny having any knowledge of who was shooting deer in the neighborhood. However, law enforcement reported finding several boxes of .22-caliber ammunition, two .22-caliber rifles, and a .22-caliber revolver within. They also found what they believed was a homemade suppressor, crafted from two 20-ounce Diet Coke bottles. Crooks claimed that he had had built it to allow him to shoot skunks in the backyard, though officials suspect it was used to shoot the mule deer, authorities said.
Officials then sent bullets from the deer shot in 2021, 2022 and 2023 to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation lab. Results revealed that two of the bullets were fired from a Marlin rifle seized from Crooks’ home, authorities said, while the third had degraded too much to determine which gun it was shot from.
Crooks continued to deny shooting the deer when confronted with this additional evidence.
He has been charged with nine misdemeanors, including five counts of wanton destruction of a big game animal and four counts of using a silencer to take a big game or trophy animal. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 12 months of jail time and a fine of $10,000, as well as the possibility of losing hunting privileges for a maximum of nine years. All told, Crooks faces a possible nine years of imprisonment, $90,000 in fines, and loss of his hunting privileges for 54 years.
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This article by Chelsey Cook was first published by Wie Open Spaces on 24 October 2023. Lead Image: Getty Images, Alex Potemkin.