Dugan Traversie of White Horse, South Dakota, charged with poaching a giant farm-raised whitetail buck last fall on a fenced-in big game ranch on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, has agreed to plead guilty in a deal with federal prosecutors.
He’s expected to be sentenced in federal court in Pierre.
On Friday, April 3, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons said Traversie's plea hearing will be held at the same time as his sentencing, at a date still to be set.
In a case that sparked outrage across the country via social media, Traversie had pleaded not guilty in February in Pierre to charges that carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was charged with a violation of federal game laws under the Lacey Act for shooting the deer illegally under the laws of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's hunting season. He was charged with a second count of larceny against the game ranch for taking a deer worth at least $1,000.
With his plea deal and the Lacey Act violation dismissed, he could serve only probation, if he pays restitution of $9,000 to the game ranch, according to court documents.
The incident raised maybe as much criticism of the kind of game farm where he illegally killed the buck as it did of Traversie’s poaching.
It happened on a vast, 8,000-acre private game farm where hunters pay big bucks to shoot big bucks, as well as elk and bison.
The Timber Lake Elk Ranch is on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, which has its own deer season. Traversie is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He lives in White Horse, about 18 miles southeast of the town of Timber Lake; the game ranch is between the two towns, about 40 miles southwest of Mobridge. Traversie also has lived in Eagle Butte, where the tribe is headquartered.
Last month, Traversie, who is 39, admitted to federal prosecutors' allegations. In a “factual basis statement,” he said that on Oct. 28, 2019, he shot the massively-antlered buck “while it was in the fenced area,” on the Timber Lake ranch. He left the deer lying there, bereft of life inside the eight-foot fence. He came back the next day, crawled over or under the eight-foot fence, cut the head off and tossed it across the fence, leaving the carcass inside the game ranch fence, Traversie said.
The Timber Lake Elk Ranch had bought the buck on Oct. 18 from a whitetail ranch in North Dakota for $9,000, and put it inside its 8,000-square-acre preserve, according to the court document.
“The Timber Lake Elk Ranch had paying clients booked for the first week in November to hunt elk, bison and this particular deer,” according to prosecutors.
Meanwhile, the Cheyenne River tribe’s deer hunting season opened Nov. 2, for the land were Traversie had been when he shot the buck, apparently through the fence.
On Nov. 1, the Timber Lake ranch manager went scouting for the buck, in preparation for the next day’s hunt and found the headless carcass where Traversie left it.
Not long after, Traversie posted a photo of him proudly holding super-wide, branching rack still on the buck’s head on a Facebook page, identifying himself and indicating he had shot it on the reservation on opening day. The photo soon was posted on hunting blogs and web sites.
In short order, law enforcement officers were questioning Traversie and he admitted he shot the deer before season while it was inside the game ranch fence, and that he had stashed the buck’s head under a bridge.
In return for Traversie’s cooperation and admissions and his agreement to pay the ranch $9,000 in restitution, prosecutors dropped one charges and say they will recommend U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange sentence him to probation. Traversie has been represented by federal public defender Edward Albright and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Dilges.
Traversie had been scheduled to go on trial this month before he reached the plea deal. No date was given in the federal court’s online documents for his plea hearing and sentencing.
He has remained free while awaiting his case’s disposition.
Websites and blogs devoted to hunting have been filled with long discussions about what Traversie was charged with doing as well as with the practice of raising whitetail deer under intensive management that results in giant, perhaps not very natural-looking, racks.
Many commenters said it was clear from the photo that Traversie himself posted that it was a farm-raised buck because the antlers were so unnaturally white.
Sources with knowledge of the industry and of this buck at Timber Lake Elk Ranch have told the Capital Journal the client who was slated to pursue that buck Nov. 2 likely had paid about $20,000 to do so.