A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional manager who self-reported mistakenly shooting a whitetail buck with a rifle in a unit only open at the time for archery hunting confronted the incident head on during an agency virtual open house Wednesday night.
Brock Hoenes, who oversees WDFW’s Region 2, Northcentral Washington, called it “a regrettable and embarrassing mistake” that would have taken a half-minute check of the regulations to avoid, but in also owning it, he said he hoped it might serve as a “learning experience” for other sportsmen to always double check the pamphlet before heading afield.
He made the comments at the start of the 75-minute broadcast carried over Facebook, during what was the agency’s sixth and final 2021 regional open house.
“First I want to say that I sit in front of you tonight a humbled human being and would like to get us started off by addressing the elephant that’s somewhat joined us in this virtual room,” Hoenes stated.
“As many of you know I made headlines last week for committing and self-reporting a hunting violation. Although some of the details associated with that incident have already been reported in the media, I simply can’t speak to any of the specifics tonight because of the ongoing judicial process,” he stated.
“It’s a regrettable and embarrassing mistake. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t, so I simply have to own up to that mistake and accept the consequences that come with it,” Hoenes said.
“What I can say tonight is that there’s no way for me to spin this or make an excuse. I’m in this situation because I didn’t take the 30 seconds it would have taken me to double check in the hunting pamphlet what I thought to be true in my head,” he said.
“As such, I do hope that this can serve as a learning experience for other hunters and that no matter how long you’ve been going on a hunt or how confident you are in knowing the regulations, always double check them before you go out because there’s always a chance that you’ve misremembered or there’s been a small change that’s been made. And in doing so, your interpretation or what you think to be correct could actually be wrong,” Hoenes said.
Charged by Ferry County prosecutors with unlawful hunting of big game in the second degree, WDFW’s former Ungulate Section manager faces a maximum of a year in jail and $5,000 fine.
According to court documents, Hoenes was hunting up Boulder Creek Road in Game Management Unit 101 the morning of November 13 when he shot and killed a four-point whitetail with a Savage Model 110 in .30-06. But as he began field dressing the deer, he “realized that he had not seen or heard anyone else” that day and that by midmorning he was “pretty sure” the unit wasn’t actually open for the late rifle whitetail season.
The units that are available during the popular and longstanding November rut hunt for modern firearms hunters are to the east, in Stevens, Pend Oreille and northeastern Spokane Counties.
When Hoenes could get a cell phone signal to check his dawning suspicions, he confirmed GMU 101, Sherman, was in fact closed and so he then called his wife, WDFW Captain Mike Jewell and agency director Kelly Susewind.
Court documents state that he told game wardens, “I had it in my head it was open,” as well as, “No excuse, it’s incredibly embarrassing.” He was described as “cooperative and apologetic” while being interviewed.
Hunters have generally been sympathetic with Hoenes, with many nodding at the complexity of the regulations pamphlet and noting his intent hadn’t been to break the law that day and that he had self-reported. The rules are the rules, however, and he’s going to take some lumps, one way or another, but agitators are also trying to build a proverbial federal case out of the incident.
While Hoenes was charged December 20, it didn’t become public until last week when two extremist environmental groups bent on “reforming” WDFW made two pages of the court filings available to the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Samantha Bruegger of Washington Wildlife First called Hoenes a “poacher” in comments carried in the newspaper’s story and sent out widely on the wire. And during last Friday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, Chris Bachmann of the Kettle Range Conservation Group explained that he’d heard about it before Thanksgiving and waited for the agency to take action, and he urged the citizen panel to investigate.
Susewind addressed that in part in follow-up comments to Hoenes’ statement.
“Brock’s been very clear, he’s owned this from the beginning. We all make mistakes. He did exactly what we encourage people to do when they feel like they may have made a violation or committed a violation: That’s contact us directly in that self-reporting. We’ll get enforcement involved,” the director stated tonight.
“Beyond that, there is an ongoing legal proceeding, court proceeding with this, so we don’t want to say too much to – well, anything to interfere with that, and it’s very important that complete before we really decide what we’re going to do. I wish we could say more, but it would be inappropriate for us to do that. We will have more information available when it’s appropriate,” Susewind said.
The Region 2 open house had originally been scheduled for late November. At the time WDFW’s Public Affairs Department was shorthanded because the former chief spokesman was leaving for another position and a new person had not been hired. Holding the open houses requires multiple communications staffers to handle and funnel public questions to regional staffers participating online. A spokeswoman Thursday morning after this blog was first published said uncertainty around officers’ investigation of Hoenes also played a role in its postponement.