The Vermont Warden Service has completed a multi-month poaching investigation resulting in the arrest of five Windsor County males suspected of taking 14 illegal deer in Vermont during the fall of 2021.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Game Wardens and Detectives worked alongside Conservation Officers from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and Special Agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service through the investigation. In addition to the 14 illegal deer taken in Vermont, those involved are suspected of taking multiple illegal deer in New Hampshire. They are facing additional charges in that jurisdiction.
“This investigation demonstrates the commitment of Vermont Game Wardens to pursue and prosecute intentional violators, as well as the strong working relationship the Warden Service shares with New Hampshire Fish and Game and the United State Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Vermont Game Warden Detective Sergeant Robert Currier. “Officers and Agents from each agency worked hand in hand to accomplish the common goal of protecting the natural resources of Vermont and New Hampshire.”
On April 26, Zackery Baxter (26) of Sharon VT, Jeffrey Degrasse (26) of Hartford VT, Kobe Labonte (22) of White River Junction VT, Casey Thayer (27) of Hartford VT, and Patrick Whitcomb (24) of Hartford VT appeared in court to answer several counts of the following charges:
Taking Deer in Closed Season, Title 10 VSA 4745
Possession of Illegal Deer, Title 10 VSA 4781
Transportation of Illegal Deer, Title 10 VSA 4784
Failure to Report Big Game, Title 10 Appendix 2
Failure to Tag Big Game, Title 10 Appendix 2A
Obstruction of Justice, Title 13 VSA 3015
False Information to Police Officer, Title 13 VSA 1754
Feeding Deer, Title 10 Appendix 37
In total, the five males named in this investigation are facing a combined 78 criminal charges related to the poaching of white-tailed deer in the state of Vermont. These 78 charges do not include criminal charges filed by Conservation Officers in the state of New Hampshire.
On their April 26 court date, Mr. Baxter and Mr. Degrasse pled not guilty to all charges. Mr. Casey pled guilty to taking deer in closed season, transportation of illegal deer, and possession of illegal deer. He will be fined $1,821, pay $500 in restitution for the deer, be required to forfeit his crossbow, and be required to complete 9-10 days of work crew service. Mr. Labonte pled guilty to taking deer in closed season. He will be fined $607. Mr. Whitcomb pled guilty to taking deer in closed season and possession of illegal deer. He will be fined $1,214, pay $500 in restitution for the deer, and be required to forfeit his crossbow.
Officials stressed the impact of the illegal deer take uncovered in this investigation for the area’s deer population and hunting opportunities.
“It will take 3-4 years for the deer population in Windsor County to recruit additional mature bucks and replace those that were illegally taken this fall,” said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott. “Poaching at this scale is a blow both to the local deer herd, and to Vermont’s culture of fair and equal access to public trust wildlife.”
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is grateful to the hunters who notified game wardens of the poaching occurring in Windsor County. The department reminds the public that individuals with evidence about poaching in their communities can leave anonymous tips through Operation Game Thief.
“This investigation was only possible thanks to tips from conservation-minded hunters who alerted game wardens to poaching in their communities,” said Currier. “Their actions and ethics highlight the contrast between true hunters and poachers.”