Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS > 2006

KY - Hunting trophies led feds to poaching probe

Thursday, June 15, 2006 

By Shelly Whitehead Post staff reporter

Steve Herrmann told a federal agent that a good hunting trip out West started with a little methamphetamine.

Then, he told investigators, he'd jump in his pickup truck, find some big game, aim his rifle out the window and knock off whatever crossed his path - often animals he was not licensed to shoot.

Then, investigators alleged, the Boone County, Ky., man lopped off the heads off his prey, leaving the rest of their carcasses to rot.

The law finally caught up with Herrmann when Kentucky conservation officers and Boone County Sheriff's Department deputies uncovered skulls and antlers of a number of legally protected animals, along with other evidence, in December at a cabin off Boat Dock Road in Boone County.

Now, the 42-year-old occasional construction worker sits in jail in Colorado, where he and two other men were recently convicted of felonious destruction of wildlife. Kentucky officials said a federal and state investigation is continuing into Herrmann, who told a federal agent that he has killed hundreds of animals illegally.

It was Herrmann's display of two suspect hunting trophies in the cabin near Big Bone Lick State Park that landed him behind bars for the next three years, according to Boone County Sheriff's Detective Bruce McVay.

Herrmann had moved back to Kentucky seven months earlier from Colorado, where investigators said he was wanted for auto theft. When a Boone County deputy went to the Boat Dock Road cabin to serve Herrmann with the Colorado warrant and to arrest him for extradition to Colorado, the officer noticed an unusual set of animal skulls.

The deputy - who was a hunter - noticed the ram's head there, and an elk, hanging on the wall, McVay said.

"Now these rams, they are called big horn sheep, and they're protected, like eagles. They do let you hunt them, but it could take up to 50 years to get the chance (in a lottery)," he said.

"So these ram's heads are pretty much collector's items to hunters. .. On the black market, they can bring $15,000 to $20,000."

After arresting Hermann, the sheriff's office notified the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Wildlife Officer Charlie Phillips contacted officials in Colorado about the animals. Colorado officials determined that Herrmann had previous Colorado convictions for illegally hunting and possessing wildlife.

If the ram's skull had been obtained illegally, it would be a federal violation - potentially far more serious. And federal officials are particularly diligent in upholding laws surrounding the nation's protected or endangered species.

For instance, people who find a big horn sheep dead in the wild and want to keep the head must report the animal to wildlife officials for documentation and tagging. DNA samples are even taken from skulls and slain animals for potential evidence if a suspect or improperly tagged skull is ever discovered.

An improperly tagged or "plugged" skull is exactly what deputies discovered in Herrmann's Boone County cabin, Phillips said. Investigators were returning to the residence the day after Herrmann's auto theft arrest in December with a search warrant to obtain DNA from the animal heads when the case took yet another turn.

Someone had broken into the cabin and stolen the ram's skull, investigators said.

"I called U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and I said that evidence is starting to disappear, and I thought there was more to this case," Phillips said. "That's when U.S. Fish and Wildlife said, 'Don't do anything else, we're coming to Kentucky.'"

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