The state employee who illegally killed a white-tailed buck in Ferry County in November told investigating officers he had “no excuse” and that the mistake was “incredibly embarrassing.”
Brock Hoenes, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s north-central region director, self-reported and cooperated fully with the investigation, according to an affidavit filed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Police. Hoenes used to be the department head of the department’s ungulates.
On Nov. 13, Hoenes was hunting near Boulder Creek Road, which runs between U.S. Highway 395 and State Highway 21, when a deer appeared about 40 feet in front of him, according to the investigation. He couldn’t see enough of the deer, so he came closer and saw that it was an 8-point white-tailed buck. He fired once with his shotgun, missed and fired again, hitting the animal through the shoulders.
By 8.15 am he had started skinning and quartering the deer. Shortly after, he told Fish and Wildlife Police, he realized he hadn’t seen or heard of any other hunters in the area. Hoenes was in Game Management Unit 101, which includes Ferry and Okanogan counties.
Washington is divided into 153 game management units in which hunting season dates and rules often vary.
He began to suspect that the area was closed to hunting, although he was not mobile. As soon as he was on duty, he checked and saw that Game Management Unit 101 was closed to modern gun hunting. He called his wife, then called a WDFW police captain and eventually Director Kelly Susewind, according to the documents.
“I had it in my head that it was open,” Hoenes told police.
A late general hunting season for whitetail deer runs November 6-19 in Washington† however, the only whitetail season open in GMU 101 was a late archery season.
Ferry County prosecutors charged Hoenes on Dec. 20 with unlawful second-degree big game hunting.
The Review spokesperson reported on the allegations this week after two environmental activist groups that have a contentious relationship with the department provided documents to the newspaper. Attempts to get more detailed data, however, were unsuccessful on Tuesday. Spokane’s attorney Steve Graham provided the paper with the full affidavit on Wednesday morning. In an email, Graham said he does not represent Hoenes, but is following cases where self-reporters are punished for honest mistakes.
If convicted, there is a maximum penalty of one year in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.
After the interview, officers took the venison from Hoenes and donated it to the U.S. Air Force survival school. The antlers and tag were recorded as evidence.
In an email to all Fish and Wildlife employees Wednesday, Susewind said it was “important that the legal process went through.”
“Brock did what we encourage everyone to do in this situation, which is to call WDFW Enforcement and report themselves if they suspect they have violated a fishing and wildlife law,” Susewind wrote. “Brock has discussed this incident with his regional management team and others. Please allow space for Brock to address this important issue; more information will be shared when needed.”
The case has raised questions in the hunting community about the complexity of Washington’s hunting laws and whether the term “poacher” should be used to describe hunters who accidentally break the law.
“The wildlife code is extremely complex and ‘poaching’ isn’t quite the term they use,” said lawyer Graham. “The maxim ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ made sense in historical times, but in light of the modern game code, any of us could be stung.”
Northwest Sportsman, a Washington-based hunting and fishing publication, argued in an article Wednesday that the term “poacher” should not be used for people who self-report after realizing they’ve broken the law.
“This demonstrates honesty, integrity and a strong respect for the rules and concepts of fair play and fair chase in places and times where it is otherwise relatively easy to get away with something illegal,” wrote Andy Walgamott. “As for the dictionary, it defines a poacher as ‘a person who illegally hunts, captures game or fishes’. While it’s quiet on the issue of intent, in practice there is something of a spectrum, with poachers typically being more reserved for those who willfully ignore regulations, exceed limits and/or willfully waste fish or wildlife, among others. actions.”
Correction: Due to a reporter error, the dates of the late hunting season for white-tailed deer were reported incorrectly. The correct dates are November 6 to 19.