In March 2022, game wardens with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) located the carcasses of more than 20 wild turkeys in and around three separate towns in Madison County Illinois, which lies along the east bak of Mississippi River, northeast of St. Louis, Missouri. The discovery sparked an extensive investigation that recently led to the arrest of seven men accused of killing turkeys with “AR-style rifles equipped with thermal imaging scopes and suppressors.”

According to an IDNR press release issued yesterday, all seven of the accused poachers traveled from out of state to commit their alleged crimes. “Individuals charged were Dustin Goldsmith of McCall Creek, Mississippi; Hunter Baxter of Lucedale, Mississippi; Nick Henley of Monticello, Arkansas; Benjamin Emerson of Lucedale, Mississippi; Dakota Jarratt of Wilmar, Arkansas; Matthew McClendon of Augusta, Georgia; and Jacob Russell of Ruth, Mississippi,” the release reads.

The out-of-state poaching ring now faces a slew of criminal charges, including 63 misdemeanors—and felony charges for Baxter and Goldsmith. “Baxter has been charged with two felony counts in Madison County, including possession of a suppressed firearm and resource theft more than $3,000,” IDNR said. “Goldsmith has been charged with a felony count of resource theft of more than $3,000.” According to court documents obtained by The Alton Telegraph, both Baxter and Goldsmith carried out their turkey poaching activities “for profit or commercial purposes.”

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The IDNR investigation focused on the Alton-Wood River area of Madison County. Officials found that the men killed the turkeys in or near the city limits of three separate communities in that area: Wood River, Alton, and Hartford, Illinois.

“Poaching is a serious crime that can cause tremendous harm to wildlife and biodiversity. Conservation laws are in place to ensure wildlife resources are around for future generations to enjoy,” said Jed Whitchurch, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement, in the press release. “I encourage anyone who is aware of poaching crimes in Illinois to come forward with tips. People have a responsibility to understand these laws and to follow them.”