Agents Bust Alleged Poacher After Monitoring His Instagram and Subpoenaing Two Years’ Worth of His OnX Hunt Data
According to court documents, the man shot a black bear with cubs over an illegal bait pile and then bragged about it on Instagram
On September 7, the Office of the Attorney General in Washington State filed 32 criminal charges against alleged poacher Jason Smith of North Bend, Washington. According to a press release issued the same days as the charges, Smith is accused of poaching 13 animals over the course of two hunting seasons.
“Charging documents allege that Smith killed bears and elk in 2021 at his home, and in 2022 not far from it, by illegally baiting the animals, and without proper tags,” the press release states. “One of the bears was allegedly a mother with cubs.”
If found guilty, Smith will be looking at five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of his two felony charges. The felonies stem from allegations of “first-degree unlawful take of big game”, the AG said in the recent press release.
Smith is facing an additional 27 misdemeanors for second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, unlawful black bear hunting and unlawful waste of wildlife. Each of those charges carry their own penalties of up to 364 days in jail and a $15,000 fine.
An affidavit included in the press release summarizes a litany of poaching accusations from the fall of 2021 and the fall of 2022. The court document reveals that investigators used Smith’s own social media posts and data subpoenaed from his OnX Hunt account during their extensive investigation into his activities.
“On September 11, 2021, Mr. 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,” the affidavit states. “OnXmaps data shows that Mr. Smith was in North Bend at the time, and that he created two waypoints on onXmaps, one labeled ‘smell elk,’ and one labeled ‘elk sign.'”
A warrant for Smith’s iPhone data turned up several images of dead elk and showed that he sent direct messages to two different Instagram users about killing elk that day. But when the investigator’s searched the Washington Department of Fish & Wilidlife’s (WDFW) internal database for Smith’s records, they found that he wasn’t in possession of a valid elk tag when he publicly posted photos of the dead elk.
Poaching Black Bears Over Bait
Data obtained from his Instagram and onX Hunt accounts a few days later showed Smith taking photographs of a sow black bear with cubs feeding on a bait pile just a few feet from his front door. Minutes later, he took a photo of a blood trail and loaded it into OnX. According to WDFW, it’s illegal to hunt bears over bait in Washington State.
“Shortly after, Mr. Smith took photos and videos of bear cubs up in trees,” the affidavit goes on to say. “The videos depict the bear cubs calling out in distress. Mr. Smith marked the location of the tree on his onXmaps as ‘cubs treed.'” Then Smith took to Instagram to post about the incident, writing that he “had an opportunity at a great black bear with [his] bow” and got a “great shot that hit hard and penetrated deep.”
Four days later, on September 29, Smith snapped photos of another bear eating from the same pile of apples. The next day, he took a photo of a dead bear lying just 38 yards from the bait site, the document shows.
According to the affidavit, he went back to Instagram to share news about the incident with his followers. “I wanted this bear bad especially after my failed attempt a week prior,” he wrote. “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.”
The affidavit includes several more instances of alleged violations from 2021 and 2022. In summary, it says that Smith hunted three bears, four deer, and an elk in 2021, killing and taking photos of all but one of the bears. In 2022, it says, he poached three elk and one black bear, using 50 gallons of apples as his illegal bait.
“In addition to illegally baiting animals, Mr. Smith hunted without proper tags, hunted during closed seasons, hunted over the bag limit,” the court document reads. “[He also] failed to submit bear premolars, retrieved animals from private property without permission, and wasted wildlife.” You can the full affidavit here.