A 29-year-old North Bend, Washington, man faces big penalties for poaching crimes he committed near his home during 2021 and 2022.
Jason Smith has been charged with 32 criminal counts, including two felonies, 27 gross misdemeanors, and three misdemeanors. Officials allege Smith unlawfully baited and killed bear, elk, and unlawfully hunted deer near his home. Altogether, Smith is accused of poaching 13 animals over two seasons by baiting and without proper tags, according to the Washington State Attorney General's Office.
One of the bears illegally killed by Smith was allegedly a mother with cubs, according to the press release. In addition to poaching, Smith also hunted during closed seasons, hunted over the bag limit, retrieved animals from private property without permission, and left wild game meat to rot.
His crimes come with potentially lofty consequences. If convicted, Smith could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of the two felony charges of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game. That’s a decade for the combined felonies. Plus, each of the 27 gross misdemeanor charges of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, unlawful black bear hunting, and unlawful waste of wildlife each carry a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. On top of that, Smith also faces up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for the three misdemeanor charges of unlawful hunting or retrieving wildlife from private property.
Investigators employed lots of technology to incriminate Smith, including cross-referencing Instagram posts, onX data, text messages, and photo and video evidence from his cell phone.
The crime trail dates to September 2021, when Smith posted two photos of a dead bull elk on his Instagram account, along with a description of how he tracked and killed the elk with a bow and arrow. But data from his onX account contradicted that. A warrant return for Smith’s iPhone showed that several images of the dead elk were taken around 7 p.m. that day on a vacant lot in North Bend. In addition, Smith messaged two Instagram users about killing the elk on Sept 11, but according to WDFW records, did not purchase an elk tag until October 1.
That same month, Smith took a video at his home of two cubs and a female bear feeding on a pile of apples just steps from his front porch. Within 20 minutes of taking the video, Smith took another photo of a bloodied leaf and his GPS tracking application indicated that he had begun tracking an animal. Photos and videos on his phone show bear cubs up in trees, and onXmaps data indicates he marked the location of the tree on his OnXmaps as “cubs treed.” He posted on Instagram about an encounter with a bear but stated he was unsuccessful in recovering it.
About a week later, Smith took a photo of another bear eating from the same pile of apples located outside of his house. The following morning, he photographed a dead bear that was located about 38 yards from the bait pile. That same day, Smith posted a photo of himself with the dead bear on Instagram with the following caption according to court documents:
“I wanted this bear bad especially after my failed attempt a week prior. Persistence in the mountains pays. If you quit, the hunt is over. I love that there are no participation trophies in the mountains. You get what you earn. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Smith failed to submit the bear’s premolar tooth to WDFW.
Court records show that between 2021 and 2022, Smith accumulated a long list of similar offenses, all tracked via the technology in his cell phone.
In total, Smith’s 2021 poaching spree included three bears over bait, four deer, and an elk. In 2022, Smith hunted and killed three elk and one black bear; the bear and two of the elk were hunted over the course of three days, again using a pile of several dozen gallons of apples as bait. In addition to illegally baiting animals, Smith hunted without proper tags, hunted during closed seasons, hunted over the bag limit, failed to submit bear premolars, retrieved animals from private property without permission, and wasted wildlife.