By Paul Walsh
Seized at a western Minnesota home were 37 guns, 28 sets of deer antlers, the DNR said. Most of the mounts were trophy quality.
After years of investigation by conservation officials, four men have been charged for their roles in widespread illegal killing of trophy deer and other big game in western Minnesota.
The five-year probe by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) led to the seizure of dozens of guns, some of them high-powered rifles, more than two dozen sets of deer antlers, and four sets of elk antlers, the agency announced Tuesday.
Capt. Cory Palmer, based in the southern region of DNR enforcement, said he’s never seen such an extreme case of poaching in his 17 years with the agency.
“This is taking away from hunters and people who just want to watch deer,” said Palmer, himself a deer hunter.
Charged last week with the bulk of the counts in Lac qui Parle County District Court was Joshua Liebl, 37, of Dawson, Minn. Under a multistate enforcement compact, Liebl lost his hunting privileges in Minnesota in 2013 because of a shining conviction in South Dakota.
Liebl faces gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor charges that include transporting illegally taken big game, using artificial light while hunting, hunting at a prohibited time, trespassing and failure to register deer.
Palmer said there are no felony charges for what Liebl is accused of doing. If convicted, Palmer added, Liebl faces several years of losing his license along with fines.
Seized at Liebl’s home on Oct. 21 were 37 guns, 28 sets of deer antlers, the DNR said. Most of the mounts were trophy quality. Also confiscated at the home were four sets of elk antlers, a set of mule deer antlers and a fully intact piebald deer in the freezer. Piebald deer are known for their large black and white patches.
DNR Lt. Gary Nordseth said that Liebl has registered no more than four deer since 2004.
Authorities said they also pulled over Liebl near his home in a pickup truck just as the confiscations were underway at this home. In back of the truck was a freshly killed eight-point whitetail buck, which investigators determined was killed with a high-powered rifle. Also seized from the truck was a scoped rifle, a shotgun, many rounds of ammunition and a spotlight.
Dustin Shourds, the regional director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association in Montevideo, said “everybody heard rumors about” Liebl “at the barbershop and that kind of thing. When it all came down, it was quite a shock.”
Shourds said he worries that this poaching case “won’t do anything but make our image as deer hunters look bad. I personally took offense to what was going on. [Hunting] at nighttime and stuff like that is completely breaking the rules of not only deer-hunting etiquette but breaking the law.”
Also charged with gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors in connection with the case were:
Kevin J. Martinson, 58, of Plymouth, accused of illegally lending or borrowing a deer license.
Nathan J. Viessman, 32, of Watson, Minn., accused of illegal party hunting, lending or borrowing a deer license, exceeding the limit of deer taken and failure to register deer.
Daniel J. Lien, 33, of Dawson, a passenger in Liebl’s truck when it was stopped, accused of aiding and abetting unlawful transportation of big game.
All were charged by summons. Messages were left Tuesday with the defendants for their reaction to the allegations. Viessman responded, said he was unaware of the charges and declined to comment.
Nordseth gave a large amount of the credit for the investigation’s results to the agency’s Turn in Poachers (TIP) program, which fielded numerous complaints about this alleged poaching operation.
“Cases such as these go to show the importance of TIP in protecting and preserving our natural resources,” Nordseth said.