Oregon Poachers Busted After Posting “Suspicious” Photo of Trophy Bull Elk on Social Media
Three people were caught in a tangle of lies after an investigation into an unusual photo of a trophy bull elk
Three people are facing steep fines, lengthy probation terms, and multi-year hunting bans after a photo on social media linked them to the poaching of a trophy bull elk in northern Oregon. The photo, which shows the giant bull laid out in a utility trailer, began circulating on social media in early November 2021. That’s when an anonymous hunter texted the suspicious image to a trooper with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division.
“It was a big elk on that trailer,” Senior Trooper Brent Ocheskey said in a press release issued by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). “An elk is a big animal [that’s] not easy to pack out without gutting and quartering it. That, in itself, was suspicious, especially in our patrol area.”
According to the ODFW, Ochesky did some digging when he saw the photo and came up with a suspect named Lionardo Munoz. When he paid Munoz a visit at his home in Mosier, Oregon, Ochesky found the man to be in possession of an elk head with the impressive set of antlers shown in the photo. Munoz told Ochesky that the bull belonged to a friend of his named Matt Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who was present at the Munoz residence at the time of questioning, said his wife had shot it on a stretch of high-elevation public land in Oregon’s Santiam unit. In fact, Wilkinson even showed Ochesky the exact waypoint where his wife had supposedly shot the big bull. Unbeknownst to him, the waypoint showed a spot within the Bull Run watershed that is off-limits to elk hunting.
Trooper Ochesky, a seasoned hunter himself, also knew that the area indicated by the waypoint was blanketed in fresh snow at the time, which Wilkinson had denied encountering in his efforts to retrieve the animal. Additionally, the photo gave no indication of surrounding high-elevation terrain. Through further investigation, it became clear that Munoz had actually shot the bull in an orchard near his home in Mosier. Upon shooting the elk, Munoz enlisted Wilkinson’s help in loading the carcass onto his cargo trailer. Because Munoz only had a spike elk tag, and Wilkinson didn’t have a tag at all, they decided to use a tag held by Wilkinson’s wife, Rachel Hallett, in order to get the bull into a local processor.
Hallet Had Also Improperly Tagged a Deer
With the bull elk accounted for, Trooper Ochesky and colleagues turned their scrutiny to Rachel Hallett. According to ODFW’s records, Hallet had also tagged a deer in the Santiam Unit about a month prior, but that tag lacked a date or a timestamp. Ochesky drove to Hallet and Wilkinson’s house to investigate the deer. The couple reluctantly admitted that Hallett had shot the deer in an orchard near their home rather than in the wilds of the Santiam Unit. During this visit, troopers seized three additional buck skulls that Wilkinson claimed to have found, along with all of the meat from Hallett’s falsely tagged buck.
“Whether by design, negligence or forgetfulness, sometimes people don’t take regard for which tag they have,” Ocheskey said. “But then they get in the weeds trying to cover their tracks instead of reporting their mistake. Or, they are intentionally deceitful. They loan and borrow tags. And that’s what gets people in trouble.”
For poaching the trophy bull elk, Munoz was fined $15,000, issued a three-year hunting-license suspension, and given 12 months of bench probation. For lying to wildlife troopers, Wilkinson was fined $1,000, issued a five-year hunting-license suspension, and given 40 hours of community service and 12 months of bench probation. Hallett pled guilty to the “Unlawful Take of Buck Deer” charge. She received a three-year hunting-license suspension, 12 months of bench probation, and 40 hours of community service. Meanwhile, the hunter who flagged the image of the poached bull for Trooper Ochesky was recently awarded five preference points by the ODFW.