Earlier this month, Dugan Traversie entered a plea deal with prosecutors for his role in a poaching case that dates back to last fall. Traversie was ordered to pay $9,000 in restitution to Timber Lake Elk Ranch, one-year probation, and one year without hunting. Since the judgement by the U.S. magistrate seems light, I’m tacking one more punishment onto his crime: I’m declaring Traversie the dumbest poacher of 2019.
Traversie is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. He held a buck tag for the reservation’s deer season, which started on November 2. But, five days before gun opener, on October 28, Traversie got a head start on the season by poaching a whitetail buck with his rifle. It wasn’t just any buck, though.
Traversie shot the deer on the Timber Lake Elk Ranch, a high-fence game farm within the boundaries of the reservation. The property offers 100% success hunts to wealthy clients for everything from pheasants to mule deer to bison.
“Located on 8,000 acres of pristine western South Dakota prairie, the Timber Lake Elk Ranch has grown to be one of the largest privately-owned elk, buffalo and deer herds in the world with more than 700 head,” Timber Lake Elk Ranch’s website states.
From outside of the property, Traversie shot the 28-point buck through the ranch’s 8-foot fence. He then crawled through the fence, took a picture with the whitetail, cut its head off, tossed the head back over the fence, and left the carcass to rot. Traversie cached the rack under a bridge for a few days with intentions of retrieving it before deer season opened.
The buck was already “spoken for” by a client who paid $20,000-plus to hunt the deer. The ranch managers brought in the whitetail on October 18, but late that month they noticed it had gone missing. When they went on a scouting mission to locate the buck on November 1, all they found was its headless body.
It didn’t take long for them to figure out who the poacher was, though.
On November 3, the day after the Cheyenne Sioux Tribe’s opener, Traversie posted a picture on Facebook of him proudly holding the buck, claiming to have shot it the day before. The image went viral and reached hundreds of thousands of people, with one post getting 1,900 likes, 1,100 shares, and 650 comments.
The image was immediately met with praise and skepticism. For every five people lauding this buck of a lifetime and congratulating Traversie on his harvest, someone would comment on the deer’s unnaturally white antlers and elk-like spread. Before law enforcement even got involved, the online hunting community was questioning the legitimacy of this would-be record book whitetail.
The debate was short, though. The same day Traversie posted a picture with the buck, photos started circulating of the deer’s headless body at Timber Lake Elk Ranch, along with older photos of the buck in velvet from the ranch’s website.
According to the investigation carried out by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Cheyenne Sioux Tribe, Traversie fessed up when law enforcement reached out. Throughout the process he’s cooperated with prosecutors and shown remorse for his actions, which led to a lenient plea bargain—despite the potential for a $250,000 fine and five years in prison based on initial charges.
“I am very, truly, truly sorry for poaching the whitetail deer when it wasn’t deer season,” Traversie told U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Moreno. “I just ask for the opportunity to prove to this court that it will never, never happen again.”
The $9,000 restitution is the amount that Timber Lake Elk Ranch paid for the buck from a whitetail farm in North Dakota. The case has been filled with moral and legal conundrums, like how the Federal Lacey Act, wanton waste laws, and other game regulations are applied to wildlife that’s raised as livestock.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Traversie killed a whitetail out of season, trespassed, wasted a whole deer, and still felt compelled to post that grip-and-grin to social media. Now more than ever, Pat Durkin’s old Wisconsin proverb rings true: “Deer make people stupid.”