Kinnear Couple Fined $60,000 For Deer Baiting; “Not Nearly Enough” Says Wyo Hunting Group

in News/wildlife/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Kinnear couple fined $60,000 for using bait to lure deer to hunters is being condemned by the head of the southwestern Wyoming chapter of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

Josh Coursey, president of the chapter, welcomed the news Wednesday that Michael and Teresa Rinehart had reached a federal plea deal in a wildlife baiting case that has been going on for more than a decade.

The Rineharts have been ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the value of illegally-killed wildlife. The Rineharts were also placed on one year of unsupervised probation and had their hunting privileges suspended worldwide for one year.

Coursey told Cowboy State Daily that he felt the couple should have their hunting privileges revoked for life, not just a year.

“They’re obviously criminals and knew what they were doing,” he said. “If we really want to make these types of situations go away, I believe that the deterrent is that these penalties should be as stiff as they can be.”

The couple pleaded guilty in federal court to violating a federal wildlife trafficking law last year.

More Than A Decade

This case has been going on for more than a decade, according to the Game and Fish Department.

In 2011, the Shosone and Arapaho Fish and Game Department seized a trail camera on tribal lands near the boundary of the Rineharts’ Wind River Whitetail Ranch. The Rineharts were non-native private landowners.

The camera photos showed the Rineharts putting out large piles of corn during the fall hunting season to lure deer into shooting lanes directly in front of large, elevated permanent hunting blinds located on the couple’s property.

The Shoshone and Arapaho Game Department asked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to assist with the case, as it appeared the Rineharts were illegally hunting deer using bait, both on the reservation and on private lands, as part of their outfitting business.

The Rineharts’ business catered to both resident and non-resident white-tailed deer hunters. Over the next year, the Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected evidence for the case.

The investigation confirmed the Rineharts placed bait so their clients could kill deer, a violation of Wyoming hunting regulations.

The Rinhearts charged hunters up to $3,000 for each deer hunt. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement contacted clients in 11 states.

The investigation led to the Rineharts being charged with violations of the with a federal Lacey Act, which bans the transport of illegally killed animals.

In addition to the baiting violations, some clients also took more deer than allowed under state law and harvested deer without a license, among other crimes.

More To Come

Following the settlement of the federal case against the Rineharts, the Fremont County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case and could charge up to 30 clients with various wildlife violations in Wyoming state court.

Coursey called the couple’s use of bait “cheating” and said that what they were allowing hunters to do was not actually hunting.

“The aspect of the hunt is never the reward of the kill,” Coursey said. “It’s the entire process, like the stalk, being in nature, following the animal’s tracks. It’s matching your natural wits against an animal’s and this case certainly undermines all of that.”

Coursey said that it is a hunter’s responsibility to know the laws in the spot being hunted and to make sure those rules are being followed.

“This just comes down to personal responsibility and accountability,” he said. “Everybody that was involved in this knew that it wasn’t upfront and honest. If you continue to engage in activity like that, you have to recognize that you will be held accountable.”

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