Poaching ring to be charged with 41 counts

Several large white-tailed bucks are believed to have been poached, and other wildlife laws broken, by six men in Barnes County, N.D.

Criminal charges are expected to be filed against six Barnes County, North Dakota,  men for their alleged illegal taking of big game and other wildlife-related violations in recent months throughout the county, says a prosecutor. These expected charges include allegations of poaching several white-tailed deer.  A total of 41 criminal counts are expected to be filed against the six men in North Dakota’s Southeast Judicial District Court in Valley City, which is 60 miles west of Fargo.

By Tuesday, May 19, only one of the six men had been charged, according to online state court records.

At the center of the group of six alleged poachers and abettors is Jakob Ashline, 23, who lives near Valley City. A prosecutor says she's planning to charge him with 21 counts including: violation of protection of big game animals, using artificial light in the taking of big game, violation of resident licensing requirements, tampering with evidence, providing false information to law enforcement, hunting big game without an appropriate big game license and violation of North Dakota’s big game proclamation.

“The total number [of deer at issue] I don’t have, a lot of people are looking for that,” said Tonya Duffy, Barnes County State’s Attorney.

“The problem is there is a lot of deer and you can only prove so much, so I’m charging him with everything I can prove, which is six deer,” she said in relation to the charges she said she expects to file against Ashline.

Ashline currently is serving a sentence of 200 days in the Burleigh County Jail for an incident in September 2019 in which he allegedly told arresting Bismarck police officers “if I ever find you, I promise I’ll kill you.” 

Ashline was charged in the September incident with misdemeanor terrorizing, refusal to halt and simple assault, and ultimately pleaded guilty on February 26, 2020, to misdemeanor charges of menacing, refusal to halt, disorderly conduct and preventing arrest.

Connecting Ashline to a number of other individuals involved in the alleged poaching ring is Ryan Rudolph, 19, of western Barnes County, who will likely face five criminal counts including violating protection of big game animals, tampering with evidence and providing false information to law enforcement.

Payne Drake, 21, of Valley City is expected to be charged with nine counts including aiding in concealment of big game unlawfully taken or possessed and tampering with evidence. Calvin Bjornson, 20, of rural Valley City, is expected to be charged with three counts including failure to properly tag big game and aiding in concealment of game unlawfully taken.

(On Tuesday, May 19, charges of failing to properly tag big game and violating "big game animals protected" laws, each a Class A misdemeanor, and aiding in concealment of game unlawfully taken, a Class B misdemeanor, were filed against Calvin Bjornson in state court in Valley City, according to state court records online. Charges related to poaching allegations had not been filed by Tuesday in state court against the other five men. Editor's note by Capital Journal)

In connection to the first four men, Tyler Anderson, 23, and Taylor Hejtmanek, 20, both of Valley City, are expected to be charged with three counts each including refusal to halt, hunting with artificial light and  illegal use of a rifle or handgun in the taking of raccoon or beaver.

“These are actions of slobs and poachers, not hunters. They take away opportunities from many people young and old to lawfully harvest an animal, and here they were needlessly slaughtered and went to waste,” said Perry Kapaun, president of the Barnes County Wildlife Federation, on the allegations.  “It’s a bad deal, it goes against everything that outdoors men and women and BCWF stand for.”

Kapaun said he hoped the men would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Report suspected wildlife, hunting and angling violations by calling the North Dakota Game & Fish Department’s Report All Poachers (RAP) line at (800)472-2121. Rewards are offered for information which leads to a conviction and callers are given the option of remaining anonymous.

In South Dakota, the Turn in Poachers (TIPs) program phone number is 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) and its website is tips.sd.gov.

The program is funded through donations from the big game license application check-off, private individual/group donations and through court-ordered restitution. Informants can remain anonymous, and are eligible for rewards of up to $500 if an arrest is made.

Simonson is managing member of Dakota Edge Outdoors, a Bismarck-based media company he founded in 2017. He’s written about hunting, fishing and conservation for two decades across the Dakotas and in January was named Communicator of the Year by the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

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