Honesty is the Best Policy: Hunter’s Charges Dismissed After Confession

Not all poaching is committed equally—some cases are more egregious than others. Many poachings are premeditated, but some result from a momentary lapse in judgment. 

Such was the case near Lindrith in November 2022. Game Warden Lonie Morales received an anonymous call: a deer was shot just off State Road 595. Chama District Cpl. Mark Bundren took over the case and headed for the stretch of highway right by the Stevenson Ranch. 

Cpl. Bundren found the young hunter and his father later that morning. The hunter was forthright with Cpl. Bundren. He’d shot the deer between the highway and the right-of-way fence. He knew he had broken a state hunting law: it is “unlawful to shoot at, wound, take or attempt to take any protected species on, from, across or from within the right-of-way fences of any graded, paved or maintained public road” (NM Statute 17-2-7 NMSA 1978, 19 NMAC 31.10.11.A).  

After seizing the meat and finding the carcass, Cpl. Bundren also discovered that the hunter had left the deer’s front two quarters. He had to charge the hunter with unlawful killing of a deer, unlawful possession of a deer and waste of game. The hunter’s father was charged as an accessory to the unlawful killing of a deer and unlawful possession of a deer.  

But Cpl. Bundren knew this case was different. Neither the hunter nor his father had been cited for any violations before. Both told the truth and didn’t try to deny their guilt. 

“We deal with different kinds of people when it comes to game and fish violations,” Cpl. Bundren said. “Most people, unfortunately, lie and make up a story to escape responsibility. Some people lie and then come clean after talking to them at length. Every once in a while, we get someone that just tells the truth.” 

Because the hunter and his father were both honest and first-time offenders, Cpl. Bundren was willing to work with them. Both received stipulated dismissals, meaning all charges would be dismissed if they each made a $2,500 donation to the Department’s Operation Game Thief (OGT) program and didn’t commit any additional violations for a year. 

“It is very important to bring people to justice; however, there is a difference between a first-time offender and someone with a long history of violations,” Cpl. Bundren said. “I don’t think these guys will ever violate the law again. They seem like good people that made a bad decision. Consequently, this decision cost them $5,000 and their deer.” Taking wildlife in violation of manner-and-method regulations remains a crime against all New Mexicans, Cpl. Bundren added.  

“Everyone loses,” he said. “It is easy to kill a deer if you go out and spotlight one at night, or you set up a feeder to draw them in, but it is more challenging to kill a deer legally. We have laws on the manner and method of how to take all protected species in New Mexico to ensure a fair chase, but when people don’t care about the laws anymore, the numbers of animals will go down, and so will the number of licenses being issued to hunters.” 

Cpl. Bundren hopes that poaching can be eliminated in the state of New Mexico but is happy to see when offenders change their ways for the better. By taking responsibility for their actions, the hunter and his father displayed the willingness to make a change necessary to preserve our wildlife. 

About Darren Vaughan

Darren Vaughan is the Communications Director for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.