FWC investigation leads to arrest of poacher
On Feb. 28, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) filed charges against Sidney Brent Hurst (DOB: 6/21/1985), of Steinhatchee, ranging from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies. The charges resulted from a two-year investigation conducted by the FWC Statewide Investigations Section and regional law enforcement officers.
Hurst was charged with the following:
Taking over the season bag limit for turkeys.
Taking over the season bag limit for deer.
Scheming to defraud.
Unlawful use of two-way communication device.
FWC officers identified Hurst as a person of interest in poaching activities and, in the spring of 2020, in response to tips from the public and shared social media posts, the FWC began an investigation into the illegal taking of wild turkeys that would span more than two years.
The initial investigation in 2020 provided evidence that Hurst and his young son had both taken over the season bag limit for wild turkeys and Hurst himself had poached 15-20 wild turkeys during the spring 2020 season.
Given the extent of the violations uncovered during the 2020 season and the necessity to ensure Hurst would be held accountable for all his actions, the decision was made to extend and widen the investigation to gather any and all information regarding his poaching activities. During the spring 2021 season, the FWC executed search warrants on Hurst’s social media accounts, cell phone records and investigated his movements to confirm and corroborate the timing and locations of illegal wild turkey kills.
As in 2020, the results from the investigative work provided evidence that Hurst had far exceeded the season bag limit of two wild turkeys per person and had killed more than 30 birds during the spring 2021 season. Evidence also showed Hurst killed several gobblers illegally during the closed season. The investigation in spring 2021 provided evidence that he had also committed armed trespass on multiple occasions in four Florida counties. Hurst didn’t stop at wild turkeys. Evidence showed he harvested more than the season bag limit for deer (five deer per person) during the 2020-21 deer season. In fact, Hurst likely harvested 20 buck deer during the 2020-21 general gun season.
Due to Hurst’s poaching activities in 2020 and 2021, FWC investigations extended the investigation into the spring 2022 season. Additional evidence was collected that Hurst had far exceeded the season bag limit for turkeys, killing at least 15 birds for the season. Additional evidence was collected to further solidify cases of armed trespass in multiple jurisdictions and several gobblers poached during the closed season.
“Over the course of the investigation, we were shocked by the egregious nature of both Hurst’s illegal exploits and his social media posts,” said FWC Deputy Director of North Operations Lt. Col. Gregg Eason. “He bragged about the number of wild turkeys he poached, often trespassing to do so, and his ability to elude law enforcement.”
On Sept. 20, 2022, FWC officers executed search warrants at Hurst’s house in Taylor County and a hunting camp in Lafayette County. Two shotguns, Hurst’s iPhone, 156 pairs of turkey feet/spurs, 155 turkey beards and 21 sets of deer antlers were seized during the searches.
Investigators on the case were assisted by numerous FWC officers, along with law enforcement officers from partner agencies. The FWC’s pursuit of this wild turkey poacher over the span of a two-year investigation speaks to the dedication to the resource and drive to ensure wild turkeys in Florida are plentiful for future generations to enjoy.
“If it hadn’t been for members of the public and hunters who saw something wrong and reported it, there’s a chance this individual could have continued abusing our state’s natural resources well into the future,” said FWC North Central Regional Commander Maj. Scott Lee. “Our wildlife laws are in place to ensure resources exist for the enjoyment of future generations and Hurst has shown nothing but disrespect to the land, the resource and law-abiding hunters.”
Charges were filed in Highlands County to be prosecuted by the Office of Statewide Prosecutor, and judicial proceedings are pending.