A Wyoming rancher has been convicted of illegally killing big-game animals and selling the meat as beef jerky. A tip from the man’s girlfriend set in motion a multi-year investigation and sting operation by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). In a news release, the agency said that investigators used DNA testing to match tissue samples from mule deer and antelope carcasses found on Gary Lee Ferrier’s Grazing Hills Ranch near Natrona with beef jerky that Ferrier sold to unsuspecting customers online and in Wyoming.

Ferrier was charged with 26 wildlife violations, including wanton destruction of big-game animals, killing mule deer and antelope without a license and during a closed season, and illegally selling game meat. He was also charged as an accessory to killing mule deer and antelope without a license and out of season because he charged eight people a “trespass fee” to shoot animals on his land without the required hunting licenses. Ferrier pleaded “no contest” to nine of the charges. He was ordered to pay $45,070 in fines and restitution and had his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges suspended for a minimum of five years. The remaining 17 charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

According to the Casper Star-Tribune, which examined court documents on the case, the WGFD began looking into Ferrier’s ranch after receiving a tip in 2018. Apparently, Ferrier’s then-girlfriend told investigators that he didn’t have a big-game license and showed them photos of him with poached pronghorn and mule deer. She also told them that he left most of his illegal kills to rot at a shed on his property.  

A department investigator purchased a $300 “trespass voucher” that Ferrier advertised via social media. While setting up the hunting trip to Grazing Hills Ranch, “investigators said Ferrier showed them more of his illegal kills and ‘outlined’ his hunting activities,” as reported by the Casper Star-Tribune. Ferrier also served the undercover officers beer “with antelope hair and blood on the bottom of the cans” and packages of jerky labeled as “organic beef” that were later determined to contain antelope meat. In all, the WGFD Wildlife Forensic Lab was able to identify through DNA comparison a combination of 18 unique mule deer and pronghorn antelope that were poached. Some of the evidence also came from jerky found on the ranch that was packaged professionally and advertised and sold online as “beef jerky.”

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“Game and Fish is grateful to the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office for their diligent work on this case, along with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office and the person who came forward with this information,” said Brian Olsen, the WGFD wildlife supervisor for the Casper region. “This type of case can significantly impact Wyoming’s wildlife. It may have gone undetected without the public’s help.”