Man Gets Five Years For Role in ‘Biggest Poaching Case in the State of Wisconsin’

Man Gets Five Years For Role in ‘Biggest Poaching Case in the State of Wisconsin’

One man is going to prison and another is hiding in Texas for their role in what one prosecutor says is Wisconsin’s biggest poaching case in recent memory.

Eric A. Feavel, 41, pleaded guilty this month to three felony counts of bail jumping and three misdemeanor counts of illegal shining of deer. As part of his plea deal, the judge dismissed 45 additional charges related to this case and sentenced Feavel to five years in prison, nearly $10,000 in fines, and a lifetime revocation of his hunting license.

Feavel’s accomplice, a man named Travis J. Vander Heiden, 37, moved to Pampa, Texas, after misdemeanor charges were filed against him in February. He was supposed to appear by telephone at a hearing in July but failed to do so. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Wisconsin Conservation Officer Jonathan Kaiser told Waupaca County News that Feavel’s guilty plea does not reflect the magnitude of his crimes, and he and Vander Heiden were likely spotlighting deer for years.

“Due to the frequency and volume of deer impacted, I believe it’s fair to say the defendants don’t even remember the exact number,” he said. “There certainly could have been more. Compared to our more typical deer cases, this one is certainly exceptional. We don’t recall when we’ve had a lifetime revocation of any privileges. This certainly does bring some closure to a portion of the case.”

The investigation into Feavel and Vander Heiden began in November of 2022 when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources received reports of someone spotlighting deer and of a decapitated buck in a farm field near the town of Weyauwega about 50 miles west of Green Bay. Spotlighting deer involves shining a light into a deer’s eyes at night so it can’t move. It is illegal in all 50 states to spotlight a deer for the purpose of hunting.

A conservation officer stopped a vehicle in the area and identified Vander Heiden as the driver and Feavel as a passenger. The officer found a crossbow in the vehicle. Vander Heiden admitted to spotlighting deer, and in subsequent interrogations, admitted to illegally harvesting more than 30 deer with Feavel dating back to 2019.

Neither man had permission to hunt on the properties where they killed deer, and Vander Heiden’s hunting license had already been revoked.

“Mr. Feavel was involved in what could be described at this time as the biggest poaching case in the state of Wisconsin,” said Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Bolz. “We don’t know exactly how many deer were poached, but we have a good idea that there were a large number of deer that were taken illegally by Mr. Feavel and his codefendant. There is some disparity on who was shining and who was pulling the trigger on every situation, but we’re confident that they were both involved in this situation.”

At the sentencing, Feavel apologized for his actions while his lawyer characterized him as being willing to take responsibility for his crimes.

“I would just like to apologize to the court,” Feavel said. “I made a poor choice and want to apologize for that.”

“This started out as a decision to put food on the table, but as Eric told me, it quickly morphed into something more than that, into an action that was fueled by greed,” Feavel’s attorney, Kate Frigo Drury, told the court. “Eric is not hiding out in Texas refusing to take responsibility for the offenses that have occurred here. Eric is sitting in front of you today understanding that what he did was wrong.”

Bolz said that he does not have the power to extradite Vander Heiden from Texas because he hasn’t been charged with any felonies. He hopes the man will some day return to Wisconsin and take responsibility for his misdeeds but “at this point, he can be on the run for the rest of his life.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that spotlighting deer is illegal for the purpose of hunting. In some states, spotlighting can be legally done as a scouting technique.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article