In 2019, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) received a tip through their Stop Poaching Hotline that someone was poaching mule deer and pronghorn out of season in Natrona County. In order to find this perpetrator, wildlife investigators set up a sting operation.
According to the Casper Star-Tribune, Gary Lee Ferrier was selling $300 “trespass vouchers” on social media to hunt on his property. So the investigators bought in and spent a few days on the Grazing Hills Ranch. Over three days, they saw carcasses of deer and antelope around the property and in burn piles. Ferrier also described his illicit activities to them directly and they were given what was labeled “organic beef” jerky.
After the trip, the WGFD forensic lab tested the jerky and found it was actually antelope. During a search of the ranch nine months later, officials seized 75 more bags of “beef jerky” marked for sale online. DNA evidence proved the meat contained 18 different antelope and mule deer, but not a trace of beef.
After the investigation concluded, game wardens teamed up with deputies from the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office. According to a press release from the WGFD, they arrested Ferrier January 2021, and charged him with 26 wildlife violations. When it was all said and done, the court assessed $45,070 worth of fines and restitution. Additionally, Ferrier’s hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges are suspended in Wyoming and the 48 other states who are members of the Wildlife Violator Compact for five years or until the restitution is paid.
In court, Ferrier pleaded no contest to nine of the 26 charges. These charges include killing a mule deer and antelope bucks without a license and during a closed season, being an accessory to the killing of other mule deer and antelope bucks without a license and during a closed season, two counts of wanton destruction of big game animals, and three counts of selling game meat. In exchange for his no-contest plea, the district attorney dismissed the remaining charges.
An ex-girlfriend of Ferrier spoke to investigators and detailed in an affidavit of the case how most of the animals he killed rotted and spoiled in a shed without refrigeration–then he would just poach another. Ferrier confessed in court that he sold the game jerky and trespass vouchers to get himself out of a bad situation.
Regardless of the reason for the crime, it’s unjust to take such a prized public resource. “Antelope Hunt Area 73 is an extremely busy hunt area near Casper,” Casper Region Wildlife Supervisor Brian Olsen told the Cowboy State Daily. In 2020, the area boasted over a 90% hunter success rate with over 1,000 bucks legally harvested.
“The importance of a single tip to the Stop Poaching Hotline from one individual made the difference,” Olsen said. “It kicked off the entire investigation. We are proud of our game wardens for following up on a single tip and stopping what could have been a significant negative impact on a local herd. But, mostly, we thank the individual who made the call. Their observations and information made all the difference.”