33 Charges Filed Against Tribal Man In Okanogan Trophy Buck Poaching Case; Atty Says Client ‘Not Guilty’

A few days after search warrants were served on Garret V. J. Elsberg’s smokeshop, his father’s house and his grandparent’s property in Okanogan County last March, and he himself was arrested and booked into jail, he posted a breezy, no-big-deal message on Facebook for his friends’ consumption.

“Case dismissed thank u judge u are a gentleman and a scholar,” he wrote.

In all likelihood Elsberg, 24, most likely meant his citation for driving with a suspended license, not what state fish and wildlife officers were really after that day, which this month resulted in major poaching charges against this one-time local athlete whose previous boastful Facebook posts provided key evidence.

According to a front-page article in a local paper late last week, Elsberg was charged in Okanogan County Superior Court with 33 counts of illegal hunting activities, including:

“eight counts of first degree unlawful hunting of big game, a count of second-degree hunting of big game, five counts of unlawful hunting on or retrieving hunted wildlife from the property of another, seven counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, six counts of spotlighting big game and six counts of waste of fish and wildlife.”

“We’re going to plead not guilty,” said his attorney Steve Graham of Spokane this morning. “I think that the fish and wildlife department has this wildly overblown, as is their customary style. It seems like WDFW went out of their way to whip up public sentiment against Garett Elsberg.”

That sentiment would be the friction between tribal and nontribal hunters for the state’s big game.

Elsberg is an enrolled member of the Colville Tribes, who lives on the reservation, and Graham says he is going to file a motion challenging the legitimacy of a search warrant signed by a state court judge to search his client’s property.

That’s key because state game wardens got a sealed warrant to go on a February night mission to sample a deer head at the smokeshop to see if its DNA matched a buck shot near Malott, and which led to more search warrants served on the reservation the next month.

While Graham describes himself as something of an expert on fish and game laws, and tribal jurisdictions, it’s hard to imagine a state judge wrongly granting a warrant to go onto a reservation.

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves. We have over 500 pages still to go over,” Graham said.

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In the October issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine, we outlined how WDFW’s case against Elsberg came together. This is that story:

OMAK, Wash.–They called it the Pitchfork Buck, for the unique way all three tines on its right antler came together at a single point, like some Transylvanian hay rake.

As last season’s hunts drew to a close, a couple local hunters photographed the large muley as it hung out up Salmon Creek west of Pogue Mountain, in central Okanogan County. They chatted about it, and if they’re anything like this Northwest sportsman, probably secretly hoped it would make it past the late-hunt archers so they might get a shot at it this fall.

THE MULE DEER THAT LOCAL HUNTERS NICKNAMED THE "PITCHFORK BUCK." A PHOTO OF IT WAS INCLUDED IN PROBABLE CAUSE DOCUMENTS FILED BY WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE OFFICERS IN OKANOGAN COUNTY COURT. (WDFW)

THE MULE DEER THAT LOCAL HUNTERS NICKNAMED THE “PITCHFORK BUCK” FOR THE WAY THE TINES ON ITS RIGHT ANTLER COME TOGETHER. THIS PHOTO OF IT ALIVE LAST FALL WAS INCLUDED IN PROBABLE CAUSE DOCUMENTS FILED BY WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE OFFICERS IN OKANOGAN COUNTY COURT. (WDFW)

It disappeared instead, the victim of a monstrous spree killing of trophy-class bucks last fall and winter, animals that won’t be available for harvest by hunters this season.

AS LOCAL PROSECUTORS PREPARED TO file charges against several locals for allegedly killing and wasting it and other deer on state and private lands on the west side of the Okanogan River, Northwest Sportsman obtained documents detailing the state’s investigation into the case.

Those show that Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officers believe the bucks were largely poached at night with the aid of a spotlight, and that almost all of them were shot by one man, a 24-year-old local smoke shop owner.

The case began Nov. 21, and about 5 miles from the Pitchfork Buck’s haunt. A report of a headless deer led Officer Cal Treser to the scene west of the town of Okanogan near Loup Loup Pass. To him, it appeared as if the animal had been shot off the road with a gun. Despicable as it is, some people shoot deer (and elk) not for the meat, but for their trophy racks alone, leaving the rest of the animal to rot, or just for kicks.

Six weeks later, another officer, Jason Day, got a call about a pair of dead deer on the east side of Pogue Mtn., by a golf course just north of Okanogan. One had had its head removed. The absence of tracks in the snow showed that the second, a 1×2, hadn’t even been approached after it was shot.

Then on Jan. 7, Officer Troy McCormick investigated another headless deer, this one just south of Okanogan off the B&O North Road. DNA was taken from it as well as the beheaded buck at the golf course and the one off the Loup.

As it became clear to officers that someone or a group of people were targeting muleys for their racks alone, Jim Brown, then sergeant of the county’s game warden detachment, put out a press release asking for info and offering a $1,000 reward.

TIPS BEGAN TO COME IN. ACCORDING TO officers, a trusted informant shared their pictures of the Pitchfork Buck as well as a photo off the Facebook account of the 24-year-old man. In a post made a few days before Christmas, he poses at night with the head of a buck whose rack is a spitting image of the Pitchfork Buck.

FACEBOOK POST MADE BY GARETT ELSBERG AFTER WDFW OFFICERS BELIEVE HE KILLED THE PITCHFORK BUCK. (FACEBOOK)

FACEBOOK POST MADE BY GARETT ELSBERG AFTER WDFW OFFICERS BELIEVE HE KILLED THE PITCHFORK BUCK. (FACEBOOK)

Searching his social media account, officers found more images of bucks as well as chats implying others had been shot at night, and outside of any seasons. One, from September, was bragged up as killed with a 400-yard shot, which means with a rifle, and problematic because according to officers, the man wasn’t allowed to have firearms because of a prior domestic violence conviction.

(FACEBOOK)

(FACEBOOK)

They also learned he was an enrolled Colville Tribes member, had never held a state hunting license, and because of that, could only legally hunt on the Colville Reservation.

Officers say another public request to help solve the case led to a tip from a customer of a reservation smoke shop across from Okanogan and owned by the man and one set of grandparents. The individual reported seeing several young men pulling deer heads out of a blanket-covered hole in the snow and loading them into a pickup in mid-January.

Even if officers hoped that that apparent hasty reaction might put an end to the spree, less than two weeks later, another headless deer turned up, in an apple orchard in Malott.

LAST JANUARY WDFW LAW ENFORCEMENT POSTED THESE PICTURES OF A HEADLESS DEER FOUND NEAR MALOTT. LATER, IN A DARING OVERNIGHT MISSION BACKED BY A SEALED SEARCH WARRANT, THEY WOULD COLLECT EVIDENCE FROM A HEAD HIDDEN AT THE SUSPECT'S SMOKESHOP THAT THEY SAY WAS A DNA MATCH. (WDFW)

LAST JANUARY WDFW LAW ENFORCEMENT POSTED THESE PICTURES OF A HEADLESS DEER FOUND NEAR MALOTT. LATER, IN A DARING OVERNIGHT MISSION BACKED BY A SEALED SEARCH WARRANT, THEY WOULD COLLECT EVIDENCE FROM A HEAD HIDDEN AT THE SUSPECT’S SMOKESHOP THAT THEY SAY WAS A DNA MATCH. (WDFW)

Wardens gathered DNA from it. Then, after noting that the blanket at the smoke shop appeared to have been moved from the position they’d last seen it, they got a sealed warrant to see what was inside the hole. In a daring overnight recon mission in early February, three officers found a mule deer buck head. Expedited DNA testing found it to be a match with the Malott carcass, they say.

WDFW SAYS THIS HEAD, FOUND IN A "SNOW CAVE" AT ELSBERG'S SMOKESHOP IS A DNA MATCH TO THE HEADLESS MALOTT DEER CARCASS.  (WDFW)

WDFW SAYS THIS MULE DEER HEAD, FOUND IN A “SNOW CAVE” AT ELSBERG’S SMOKESHOP IS A DNA MATCH TO THE HEADLESS MALOTT DEER CARCASS. (WDFW)

INFORMANTS CONTINUED TO COME forward. Officers say they were told that the man had bragged of shooting 29 deer over the past year; that he showed off the heads at parties and claimed they had been shot on the reservation; that he had a drug-fueled fascination with shooting large bucks; that he and others were killing the animals for their “man cards.”

Man cards are actual and imaginary cards men supposedly need “to be accepted as a respectable member of the male community. Can and should be revoked by other respectable males for doing non-respectable-male things,” according to the online Urban Dictionary.

Then, in early March, wardens served search warrants on the smoke shop, the man’s father’s house up Salmon Creek, a friend’s house west of Okanogan where they say two more bucks were also found, and his grandparents’ property in the Kartar Valley on the reservation. There, rotting in a horse trailer, were eight buck heads.

They believe one was the Pitchfork Buck. Officers doubt the animal would have had any reason to walk from Salmon Creek onto the Colville Reservation, and instead was poached on the west side of the Okanogan as it fits the man’s alleged pattern of behavior.

WDFW OFFICERS POSE WITH THE TROPHY BUCK HEADS SEIZED FROM A HORSE TRAILER ON THE COLVILLE RESERVATION. (WDFW)

WDFW OFFICERS POSE WITH THE TROPHY BUCK HEADS SEIZED FROM A HORSE TRAILER ON THE COLVILLE RESERVATION. (WDFW)

THE PITCHFORK BUCK IS BELIEVED TO THE BE HEAD SECOND FROM LEFT. (WDFW)

THE PITCHFORK BUCK IS BELIEVED TO THE BE HEAD SECOND FROM LEFT. (WDFW)

If that’s circumstantial, three of the heads were DNA matches with carcasses found outside the reservation – the golf course, B&O and one of the friend’s house’s deer.

Officers seized the man’s truck and evidence in it, two pistols whose calibers match a bullet dug out of a deer recovered at the friend’s house, and say they have reams of Facebook chats as evidence. An associate is suspected of allegedly shooting a very large-racked buck as well.

Because it and the rest of the bucks qualify for the state’s spree-poaching penalty – killing three or more animals in 24 hours or course of events – the duo could face a mandatory $6,000 penalty on top of court fines and up to a year of jail for each buck.

And stand to lose their man cards for the rest of their lives.

43 thoughts on “33 Charges Filed Against Tribal Man In Okanogan Trophy Buck Poaching Case; Atty Says Client ‘Not Guilty’”

  1. Hopefully this little prick gets what he deserves. He makes every legal ethical hunter out there seem like the same kind of slob he is. Who cares if he got a warrant served on the res. if he shot it on public land that’s how he should be tried, and hopefully found guilty.

  2. Disgusting! There’re no bragging rights for cheaters!!! Been following this case ‘til it went ‘quiet’; glad to hear they caught the little A-hole, no surprise it’s a jack-ass kid. Being from the reservation makes all his family & friends look pretty badly too… because somebody had to know… I’m sure they’re not proud of his selfish actions or having the Colville Reservation’s name and respect degraded.
    As usual with fish/game ‘crimes’, the penalty never seems to be enough for those of us who spend multiple hundreds each year just for an opportunity to see bucks of this caliber, let alone kill one legally.
    Throw the book at him, and throw away the key along with his trigger finger.

  3. This is total BS!! I was raised that you only kill what is needed for you and your family if you choose to live off the land. This boy, definitely not a man, should be punished for that he has done. Maybe have to time working taking care of hurt animals? Somehow he must pay the price for his cruel actions…What a waste of GOD’s Great animals…

  4. as a non hunter it is far more the waste of the animal’s life that bothers me. I have friends that hunt and I swap homemade bread for the meat they don’t want to be bothered with. It helps a great deal feeding my family. I can only imagine the people that could have been helped by making use of the rest of the deer. Cocky kid should have his fanny kicked for wasting what could have made the difference between a full tummy and going hungry. By the time I am done with what is left from my hunting friends there is literally nothing left but bleached white bones. I even render down the fat to make homemade soap from.

    1. Lisa,

      You are the salt of the earth, the Lord would be pleased with the prudent way you use HIS resources. I would give the finest meat I shoot every year to someone like yourself.

      Mike

  5. Being from the Coville Reservation and having grown up in the same era that this poacher grew up in, I can say that my family, along with most traditional Native families, are upset and embarrassed that one of our own would be so pathetic. I apologize to all other hunters, animal activists and anyone one who goes hungry for this child’s inconsiderate actions. I hope, along with you all, that when found guilty he is punished to the fullest extent!

    1. Kris, I too am saddened that this gives your tribe a bad name. Thank you for reminding us that this is not the norm, and is an individual not the group. Maybe some good old fashioned horse whipping by a group of his peers at night might help him rethink his stupidity.

    2. Kris,
      Then why weren’t any from the tribe coming forward with more evidence against this guy? Everyone knew. Everyone always knows, but no one stood up for ethics and morality to make the right choice. Disappointing.

      That’s not what you call being good stewards.

  6. Kris, I am a native from a different reservation and tribal community. Thank you for your comments and….it would help if this member lost all his tribal hunting rights…..talk to your elders and make the recommendation.
    The life of these animals are/were sacred.

  7. Kris, and Steve,

    I have been greatful for 70 years of having the privilege to interact with friends belonging to tribes across this country. They have contributed their wisdom and respect for this earth to my life. Hopefully the law will do what it can, but sanctions by the tribe would be more powerful. Just to interject, shunning can be a powerfu tool

  8. He ain’t no better than those Bastards that killed the deer out of the canoe. If he’s gonna commit crimes on “State” land punish his ass by “State” law

  9. The vanity and corruption of punks like that is absolutely disgusting, some of us cherish the meat we put on a table, and get a buck with a nice rack once in a great while. It’s been a long dam’n time since I ever got a deer because of circumstances and living on the coast. Those complete idiots should never hunt again.

  10. I agree with all the other posts, that scumbag should be given the maximum penalty. Could we find out who the judge is,& write letters to him requesting to give him the MAX ? Just makes me wonder how many more deer we dont know about this jackass has killed & wasted. P.S. I’ve ordered the book,Operation Cody. Not lookin forward to reading it though!!!

    1. No, punishment should not be left to the tribe. The alleged poachings occurred outside the Colville Reservation boundaries and North Half, on private land and other nontribal ground under state jurisdiction.

      AW
      NWS

  11. Agree with Andy. DO NOT LET THE TRIBE HAVE THIS. This is a clear case on Washington State land that should be handled by a judge and jury that will hand down a proper punishment. Unlike the Squaxin deer/canoe case, lets hope this one does not just go away…

  12. Special rights result in extraordinary acts of selfish stupidity. What a waste of a set of beautiful animals. Being a die hard blacktail deer hunter the thought of poaching one of these beautiful animals never even crosses my mind. Its also known in the hunting community that mule deer are on the decline so they need every break they can get. I hope they don’t just throw the book at him, I hope they beat his a$$ with it. Just my humble opinion.

  13. THis is a Washington State matter as it did not occur on tribal lands and lets not forget his accomplishes too, all should do prison and never be able to carry a firearm or hunt again, Mike

  14. When I was 8 I shot a sparrow with my bb gun and was stoked bc I killed a bird like my older cousins (who shot ducks and geese) and when I showed my cousin he sat me down and taught me the importance of not killing anything u won’t eat and to this day I will spending extra 30 min to get drumsticks and wings offmy ducks geese turkeys and whatever else I shoot. a duck is nothin compared to a trophy buck but the concept remains. don’t kill it if u aren’t gonna eat it. if gone as far as making Turkey calls from the Turkey wing bones. started as a just for fun thing but they work GREAT!!! I’m not a deer Hunter (requires to much salmon and I’m to lazy haha) but my brother jeans my lab LOVES Ghraib on the bones from the deer my brother shoots every yr… sad to seethe deer werecompletely. wasted!!! Throw that sack of deal behind bars!!!

    1. You’re right. A few ducks does not compare to the Deer he took, but its the same concept and all wildlife should be protected from idiots like this. I am an avid duck and pheasant hunter and i hunt deer with crop damage permits but ONLY to put food on the table and i only shoot them when i need food.

  15. He hould be banished from the tribe.
    Hes still a boy and will be most likely remain a boy for the rest of his miserable life.
    He can earn a Man card by manning up and admitting what he did. Without hiding behind an attorney!

  16. You know damn well if any one that wasn’t tribal went onto tribal land and did that b.s. you know damn well theyd make sure that person was held accountable. Why should it be any different for this jackass

  17. To kill and not take the meat is a crime/sin/stupid call it what you will. When one takes/given an animal one uses every part of the being. Just sayin..

  18. He is a spoiled ass kid, He and his brother are always in jail and out, his parents and grandparents always bail him out, no matter what it takes. How is someone suppposed to ever learn if someone is always teaching you Ill get you out of trouble. His grandparents are well known and respected people. He could of taken the meat and the tribe would of given it to the elders. Such a wasteful situation and I hope that he pays like anyone else would.

  19. DO NOT let the tribal court hear this case. He would probably just get a slap on the hand as they protect their own. Let state laws and punishment rule this case. He deserves the maximum penality. No one should think they are above the game laws.

  20. This saddens me on so many levels. Being a resident of this area it is custom to see trophy animals on a daily basis. This is the simple pleasure of living in Gods country. This young boys actions will follow him for years to come. What the courts do to him will probably not be enough given the devastation he has caused in his own home town, to his family and most importantly to the animals and those they feed with their meat.
    What we see here is what our court system is doing to him, I wonder what the Indian Reservation could/will do. This I believe is where his punishment should be swift! He is operating a business or so the paper says, he no doubt gets some kind of monetary support from his tribe as well as many, many, MANY other rights that should be taken away. He is not ‘our’ kind and punishment for him in our world will not reflect his crimes. This is a TRIBE crime and I think the people of the community, the law enforcement should pressure the Tribe to punish and punish as publicly as they can to show that they are not in support of this young boys actions. Step up to the plate Colville Indian Tribe….

  21. He should be punished by both the State courts and then by the Tribal courts. I would vote for banning him from membership for at least 10 years.

  22. When I was a kid living on tribal lands and other parts of Washington State, I have seen how a tribe can have a tarnished reputation from just a few. Others within the tribe either hold a great deal of knowledge or a thirst for it. I don’t know if this is a question of mentorship/role models of a newer generations but there should be an example made. If anything he should be put on trial in state courts as well as tribal courts. We had poachers up in Adak, AK when I was in the military and the base Captain would not allow them leave to go to the mainland for trial, they had to go AWOL to the mainland then come back to compounded charges for poaching, AWOL, etc… that sent a resounding message to all other civilians and military inhabitants of the island. Maybe this guy should be assigned a tribal mentor because some morals need to be re-instilled in this guy. These days that training would have to become a Smart Phone app or Facebook page.

  23. If you all had read this, you would have seen he already should not have been in possession of a firearm due to prior domestic violence charges… A. Because of that he needs to be in jail, let alone if he’s out of jail with weapons what’s next humans??? This discussing waist of a human being should be punished to the extreme, but hey I don’t like seeing my tax money pay for someone who MURDERS to be in jail, hang his ass for all I care, this is just another example of why the natives should have same regs and laws as us white people do… Sorry I know not all natives push the laws and limits but I sure get tired of all the excuses of harvesting to celebrate and what not… Before too long there will be no more wildlife in Washington. This kid… I mean PUNK needs to be locked away for good, 24 yrs old native or not deal with him like any and every other human in this state gets felt with for poaching!!!

    1. I think that individuals from ALL walks of life push the laws and limits. We’ve done plenty of articles about nontribal members who’ve massacred the state’s game. Search “Cody Stearns” on this blog. You’ll find an individual whose wildlife crimes were so bad they named a new anti-poaching law after him. That may — IF he is found guilty and convicted — add a lot of monetary hurt for the subject of this story.

      AW
      NWS

      1. Not saying it’s just all natives, I wouldn’t care whatever race the person is… Poaching needs to just start being treated like murder and I’m sure a lot less of it will happen, bigger punishment then a ticket, fine, and a slap on the wrist… Too many law following citizens out there that lose opportunities for good animals because of situations like this. Time the Wdfw starts giving some good punishment is all I’m getting to!

  24. Wow that’s a lot of digging and it’s going to be a very important trial. Sounds like the Officers have their ducks in a row. Now just catch the A-hole out there some night spot lighting off of the Reservation.

    1. Sorry, meant to respond to this earlier but got sidetracked — the $6,000 is a mandatory fine for EACH trophy buck a person is convicted of illegally poaching. By RCW 77.15,420, a law passed with support of hunters, a trophy buck is considered to be a deer with four or more points on both antlers. In probable cause statements, WDFW describes the 10 deer heads photographed above as “trophy” caliber, presumably because they all fit the definition of four points on each side.

      That penalty is a separate restitution from court fines and fees, jail time, community service, tribal shaming, you name it. In writing about Washington’s spree poaching bill, we posted this about penalties for “unlawful hunting of big game in the first degree is a class C felony, which is punishable by confinement in a state correctional institution for five years, by a fine of up to $10,000, or by both a fine and prison time []. In addition, a person convicted of this crime is subject to a suspension of hunting privileges for 10 years.”

  25. What will the added penalties be for him not being able to be in possession of fire arms because of his apparent prior domestic violence charges… That right there should say jail, I’m sure each animal was shot with a rifle, proof or not that should be 5 yrs behind bars per animal… On top of the 6k per trophy animal! This dude needs a reality check and jail seems to be the best place for it! Can’t have fire arms or animals to POACH, just disgusted in this, seriously should have nothing to do with his tribe taking care of him and his actions with shamming him and what not, that don’t change his actions in future I’m sure.

  26. I agree that he should be tried by state judicial system over tribal. The last major case that went through tribal court was the rape of a woman in which the man was found guilty and was punished only one year jail time in which he was freed early because his attorney was appealing the case. I know thia is way off subject, but it provides proof that our judicial system is a joke.
    Granted, the typical native american is allowed to hunt off tribal land, but by state laws. As we alrwady have read either way, whether he be on tribal or state he was carrying a gun witg privious charges (proof-head of trophy bucks dna matches karcus found in woods, which had bullet holes) so that is jail time, plus spot lighting, poaching, numerous accounts of all… I’m getting sick to my stomach just thinking about it and his arse is still walking the streets.
    Anywho, if you go to the colville tribes facebook website there is this article posted there where many people from my tribe and other tribes have shared their thoughts on this whole ordeal.
    Happy Holidays, easy hunting and keep warm this winter.

  27. This just wants me to quit my job to be a citizen out there to protect these animals, we need to make laws tougher and get more game wardens out there. This state is going down hill like no tomorrow.

  28. He is a federally protected native American on a federally protected reservation. He can not be touched by state laws.
    Sorry but true.
    His people probably think non natives stole their land and he should be allowed to hunt anywhere he likes, and screw you all .
    Thank you Judge Bolt.

    1. Oh, contraire — Mr. Elsberg got touched, and how.

      Washington Department of Corrections ID No. 373788 is serving a five-year sentence after agreeing to plead guilty to eight counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game, seven counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game: http://nwsportsmanmag.com/editors-blog/okanogan-buck-beheader-gets-5-years-24k-in-fines/

      This is about an individual who thought that the laws didn’t apply to them; Boldt has nothing to do with it.

      AW
      NWS

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