Jun 5, 2015

Cody man charged with poaching deer east of Yellowstone

A local man is facing allegations that he illegally killed and then wasted a mule deer while camping in the Shoshone National Forest, just east of Yellowstone National Park.

Erik Rautenberg, 29, of Cody, is charged with wasting or abandoning a trophy animal.

The allegations are that, on Saturday, Rautenberg used his 9mm Glock pistol to kill a deer as it passed by his campsite near the Sam Berry Meadows. It’s more than three miles north of U.S. Highway 14-16-20.

The large buck was killed inside the Shoshone National Forest. Courtesy photo
Rautenberg pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge on Monday afternoon in Park County Circuit Court in Cody. He was released from jail on his own recognizance after his court appearance and a trial was tentatively set for Aug. 13.

A former law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service and his wife happened to be riding past Rautenberg’s campsite along with the Pahaska Trail at the time of the incident, according to an affidavit from North Cody Game Warden Travis Crane filed in support of the charge. The woman told Crane she’d heard gunshots and saw a man armed with a handgun — later identified as Rautenberg — follow a fleeing deer over a hill. That was followed by a volley of seven or eight more shots, Crane wrote of the couple’s account.

Rautenberg initially claimed he hadn't shot at any deer, but he later changed his story.

On Sunday, Crane and Shoshone law enforcement officer Travis Hayworth headed up the Pahaska Trail and found Rautenberg and his brother heading back toward the trailhead.

Crane asked Rautenberg, who was carrying a pistol, what he’d been shooting at the previous day and Rautenberg was “adamant” that he’d shot at tree stumps and not at any deer, the affidavit says.

The Rautenbergs continued back toward the trailhead while Crane and Hayworth continued to the campsite. There, the officers found the campfire still smoldering and aluminum foil in the pit, the affidavit says.

Hayworth turned back, intending to make the Rautenbergs return to clean up their trash and put out the fire; Crane stayed to search the area and he ultimately found a large, freshly killed buck deer.
Crane then headed back down the trail and confronted Rautenberg. This time, Crane wrote, Rautenberg admitted to killing the deer.

“Erik (Rautenberg) advised that it was a dumb thing to do,” Crane recounted.

Rautenberg described first hitting the animal from about 50 yards away, then “emptied his gun at that point to try to put the deer down,” Crane wrote.

Rautenberg reportedly told a game warden that “it was a dumb thing to do.”

Rautenberg said he cut off some meat from the deer’s back, cooked a small amount over the campfire, then threw the rest in the river, the affidavit says.

Rautenberg’s brother hadn’t known what was going on until the animal was dead, didn't eat any of the meat, “and was pissed that (Rautenberg) shot the deer,” Crane wrote of what he was told.

The game warden arrested Rautenberg at the Pahaska Trailhead and he spent the rest of Sunday and Monday morning in jail. While the case is pending, Rautenberg is prohibited from hunting, trapping or fishing.

“That means you shouldn't be packing around any hunting rifle, fishing pole or anything like that,” Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters advised him.

It’s the second apparent case of poaching along the Pahaska Trail in recent weeks. Authorities continue to seek information about a grizzly bear killed just past the Sam Berry Meadows sometime between May 1-4.

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