Bellevue deer hunter fights ODNR's 'outrageous' $27,851 fine

A few years ago, a hunter cited for breaking the law would pay $400 in restitution per deer. The price tag has since bounded to more than $27,000.
Tom Jackson
Nov 15, 2011

A few years ago, a hunter cited for breaking the law would pay $400 in restitution per deer.

The price tag has since bounded to more than $27,000.

A Bellevue hunter is facing a record $27,851.33 bill for the large buck he shot with his bow last year in the Willard area.

Lifelong hunter Arlie Risner, 58, believes he has nothing to be ashamed of.

He says he pleaded no contest to a charge of hunting without permission because his lawyer convinced him it was an inexpensive way to take care of a citation from the Division of Wildlife.

He paid a fine of more than $300, but figured that when a year’s probation expired, that would be it and he could get back to hunting and fishing.

Risner said he was stunned when he got a letter demanding $27,851.33 in restitution from the ODNR. He can’t hunt or fish in Ohio until he pays, and if he doesn’t cover the bill, he could face a collections lawsuit from the attorney general’s office.

“I’ve never been in trouble in my life,” Risner said. “I don’t think I’ve even done anything wrong.”

The hunting story

Risner’s deer hunting woes date back to Nov. 10, 2010, when he says he went bow hunting on property owned by his cousin, Marcella Handshoe, along Town Line Road No. 12 in Willard. He hit a large buck with his arrow.

“I hit it good,” Risner said.

He saw the deer leap away, losing the arrow sticking out of its neck.

The licensed hunter followed the buck’s blood trail to CSX Railroad property and found the animal where it had dropped. He tagged it, entering the proper information, and took it to officially check in at a Shelby hunting store.

On Nov. 14, a game warden showed up at Risner’s house, saying Risner had been turned in for hunting on railroad property. Risner said he tried to show the game warden where he’d hit the buck, but his cousin had cut the grass, removing the blood trail.

Handshoe said her cousin did nothing wrong.

“He was on my land and he had permission,” said Handshoe, who said she showed Division of Wildlife agents the trees where Risner took cover when he shot the deer. “I am so upset over this whole issue.”

“I know him as well as I do my brothers,” Handshoe said. “Arlie has always been an honest person. I have never heard anything bad about him.”

Arlie said he did what any hunter would do — follow the deer he wounded and harvest it.

The Division of Wildlife investigator who handled Risner’s case, however, said that there was evidence Risner broke the law.

Jeff Collingwood, wildlife investigator for the division’s office in Findlay, said he was sure of Risner’s guilt. If he wasn’t “100 percent certain,” he would not have sought charges, Collingwood said.

“There’s a fence that separates it,” Collingwood said of the property line.

He said officers found gouge marks from a tree stand on a tree on CSX property that the officer accused Risner of climbing, and found deer bait nearby, within bow shot of the tree stand.

Wildlife officers also found deer guts on railroad property and linked it to Risner’s deer using DNA. A blood trail was found on railroad property, but no blood trail could be seen on Handshoe’s property, Collingwood said.

Risner maintains that he didn’t know he’d set foot on CSX property and said there’s no way he could have scaled the tree Collingwood said he did. Why? Because he’d recently had surgery for colon cancer and there’s no way for him to climb a tree like the one that had marks in it.

Clearly, Risner said, someone else had scaled that tree and put the bait out.

Ken Fitz, law enforcement program administrator for the Division of Wildlife, said it’s irrelevant under the law where Risner shot the deer. If he claimed it on property where he didn’t have permission to hunt, it’s still a violation of the law.

Risner pleaded no contest — technically not an admission of guilt — on Feb. 23 and paid his court fine. The ODNR confiscated both the antlers and the meat.

Model citizen

Deputy Steve Hammersmith, a 26-year veteran of the Erie County Sheriff’s office, lived next to Risner for about 10 years.

Hammersmith said he knows nothing about Risner’s legal problems and said it wouldn’t be proper for him to get involved, but said Risner was an “ideal neighbor.”

“He was the type of individual who did things without asking,” Hammersmith said. “I never encountered him being a bad individual.”

Risner said he does not believe he did anything wrong and doesn’t consider himself a poacher. He doesn’t like poachers, he said, and would never be one.

“I’m probably never going to hunt again,” he said. “It’s just been a really bad experience for me.”

There’s no other record of wildlife violations by Risner.

Fitz confirms that the 2010 charge is the only one in ODNR’s records.

Collingwood worked for 10 years as a wildlife officer in Huron County and has been an investigator for two years. He said that in those 12 years, he never had any dealings with Risner. If there had been an arrest or complaints about Risner, “I would have known about it,” he said.

Collingwood is the Monroeville High School assistant football coach who was fired from his coaching job last month because he failed to report a student violation of the athletic code of conduct.

$27,851.33 deer

Risner thought his case was over, but at the end of April, he got a registered letter from ODNR asking for more than $27,000 in restitution.

Surprised, Risner called up his lawyer, Neil McKown of Shelby, who Risner says didn’t realize his client would be facing the additional fine. McKown did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Fitz remembers the restitution letter.

“I wrote the letter,” he said.

Fitz explained that the department had no leeway in setting the restitution, but had to follow guidelines in a 2007 state law, Ohio Revised Code 1531.201, that sets high restitution for valuable animals. Before the new law, restitution for deer was $400 an animal.

The new law recognizes that killing a large buck can be lucrative. Risner’s unusually large animal therefore drew the $27,851.33 restitution, the largest levied since the new law. The next-largest so far is $23,816.

Collingwood said under the scoring system used for deer, the antlers for Risner’s buck measured 228 inches.

“We rarely see anything higher than 160,” he said. More than 200 is considered world class, he said.

A hunter landing a buck that large can make thousands of dollars selling it to a store such as Bass Pro Shop, and could make money to endorse the bow or clothes or other tools he used to land it.

Risner said he had no interest in the antlers or trophy animals in general. He said he simply hunted for the meat, which is particularly good for his digestion following his bout with cancer.

State officials have taken no action yet to collect Risner’s restitution. At some point, they could ask the attorney general to collect it, Fitz said. That’s the step where Risner could attempt to make some kind of deal.

Risner said he can’t afford the $27,000 fine, especially after all of his expensive medical bills. He instead plans to fight the ODNR, which he claims has too much power.

The deer law

State records show that the bill that hiked the restitution fees, Ohio House Bill, was authored by Bob Latta, then a state lawmaker and now a Congressman who represents Huron County.

The bill passed the House 96-0 and the Senate 29-1 before it became law.

Before final passage, Latta proposed amendments to the bill that were approved 94-2. Only former state Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, and Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, voted no.
Redfern and Wachtmann did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Latta’s spokeswoman, Izzy Santa, said the intent of the law was to set up penalties to prevent poaching.
“He believed and he still believes he did not want illegal poaching,” she said. “The fees were there to prevent that behavior.”

Latta had no comment on the size of Risner’s restitution, she said.

State Rep. Dennis Murray Jr., D-Sandusky, said he’s not an expert on deer hunting but Risner’s big restitution sounds like an unintended result of the new law.

“I can’t imagine that the buck is worth $27,000,” he said.

Murray said it’s also “somewhat bothersome” Risner was convicted of anything — assuming Risner’s account is correct.

“If you’re just following the animal and it lays down where it lays down, what else are you supposed to do?” he said.

Comments

I Judge you

If you hunt on railroad property and gets a heap of your kin folks to fib for you, you may just be a redneck!

Perkins2060

What did that deer ever do to him?

Darkhorse

That fine is overkill.  No one should have to pay such a fine.  The State needs to revisit the Bill.  Talk about a new revenue maker for the State.. 

SimpleEnough

Darkhorse, Maybe the "Hunter" can answer these questions, where was the picture taken, and who took it? what did he do with the rack? No hunter would give up a splendid rack like that.

Sue Meredith

@SimpleEnough

The article says the ODNR confiscated the antlers and meat.

SimpleEnough

 Eightballcuet1, Thanks, somehow I missed that. 

Lightening McQueen

 I believe a person is far more likely to discredit the alledged poacher if they hgave ever known any hunters. Hunters get into this mindless bloodlust when they see an above average sized animal. They can not control themselves, they begin to slobber and stammer as they imagine the joy of killing the animal. It is really scary for me. I work with many such idiots and we can see numerous deer from our worlk location and it is a huge distraction whenever a deer is around. I recognize the need to harvest the giant rats to prevent starvation and what not but legal hunting leads to such mindless barbaric conduct. I have no doubt this iguy just could not comply with the law once he knew that deer was out there, there is no way he could follow the law and not trespass if his story about shooting the deer legally was even true. If the value of the deer is that high, and seeing these armed fools eyes go googley over the pictures with a trophy like that, I have no doubt that the loss of such a noble beast surely matches the fine, then the fine is reasonable. Every legit hunter (and the ones fortunate enough to have a place they can hunt alone and exclusively) has to be mad at this guy for not playing by the rules and support the cripplying fine despite the support of the reporter who seems to have bought the sob story about how a guy with colon cancer who needs to eat venison could do no wrong.

SamAdams

Sure, it's entirely possible that somebody else climbed the tree and that that person put out the bait. But is there or is there not a fence between the land on which Risner was legally hunting, and land on which he would have been trespassing? If there's a fence, there's no way he can pretend he didn't know he'd left one property for another.

I do, however, question the amount of the fine. It seems to me to be a pretty clear 8th Amendment issue since $27,000 is unquestionably unusual if not cruel!

SmokingGunn

Definately overkill on a fine. As the story goes, sounds as this man was just doing what all hunters do once they shoot a deer and it runs. Its so easy to pass judgment when no one knows the real story other than the hunter himself. I guess it being a trophy buck people become jealous.

Regardless, nice kill, hope they reduce to the fine to some common sense, which Ohio has very little of.

Centauri

I do, however, question the amount of the fine. It seems to me to be a pretty clear 8th Amendment issue since $27,000 is unquestionably unusual if not cruel!

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/1531.201

Additional restitution value = ((gross score – 100)² x $1.65). 

(228 - 100)² x $1.65 = $27,034

The law is the law. Ohio has some really stupid laws on the books that most voters and non-voters support through their ignorance.

I Judge you

How can a country boy survive with old tax and spend Latta authoring these bills? 

goofus

I wonder what a buck that size would do to a Obamamoters Volt in a collision. Would the deer and the Volt burst into flames within a week?

Centauri

This law was actually written and amended to go after deer poachers. It is a poorly written law like the smoking ban and that non-existent "fund" in the Ohio Treasurer's office

 

jas

Sounds like the GOP has been poorly writing a lot of laws lately. Shooting from the hip without looking at possible unintended consequences. Pretty much what you expect from people who only use their heads for a hat rack. I'm sure we would have seen a bunch of liberal Democrat bashing if this had been a law sponsored by Dems.

KnuckleDragger

No Jas if a liberal Dem would have wrote the law they would have complety banned deer hunting and we would be dealing with a bigger overpopulation problem than we already have.

Centauri

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/News/NewsReleaseArchives/tabid/19075/EntryId/389/Poaching-In-Ohio-Will-Lead-To-Stiffer-Penalties.aspx   

Poaching In Ohio Will Lead To Stiffer Penalties

The new restitution schedule stems from legislation (HB238) passed by the Ohio General Assembly last year. House Bill 238 revised provisions governing the restitution value of wild animals that are unlawfully held, taken, bought, sold or possessed.

http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/3986

Earlier this year Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) and Rep. Jimmy Stewart (R-Albany) introduced House Bill 238 aimed at getting tough on the problem. This legislation is not going to make the poachers go away but it will hit them very hard in the pocket book.

Risner is not a poacher.

local man

If you are innocent as claimed by the events you have described, take a lie detector test.  If you pass, the fine is eliminated.  The fine is excessive especially with Ohio having record number of car crashes versus deer this year.

flowerchild1

I have had hunters chase down a deer they have shot on our property.They would always let us know what they were doing and I would tell my neighbor also so that they knew too.No big deal.

man4451

 

Thank God, this money can be used to pay for ISSUE 2, the FREE Medical Dential, perscriptions for government employees and SCHOOL TEACHERS. Less money I have to foot out. Please CATCH more fine evaders. If they could do that with more fines, multiply by 69. I'll be-able to buy my medications.

bambylover

Amen

bambylover

Amen

Just Thinkin

WE NEED MORE LAWS  LOL The Goverment passes so many laws that they need ,WHY simple the Judges do not use the ones already on the books, This is how this crap gets out of control. If the deer are that expensive then the ODNR better make driver's carry more insurance to cover the loss of the deer when they are hit on public property AKA roadways without permission ,Heck with the amount of deer killed each year the insurance would more than cover any deficit in the States coffer's, Congress men and woman lets get this type of bill passed ASAP, and save my tax money for important stuff like new badges for the wildlife officers !!!

flowerchild1

HEHEHEHE@Just Thinkin.

Kelly

“I’m probably never going to hunt again,” he said. “It’s just been a really bad experience for me.”

 

 

It was pretty bad for the deer, too.

Centauri

This is actually old news

http://www.cleveland.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/05/bellevue_man_must_pay_27851_in.html Getting a tip about Risner's deer, Huron County Wildlife Officer Josh Zientek and Wildlife Investigator Jeff Collingwood investigated. They are sure Risner was hunting railroad land, where Homeland Security rules don't allow hunting or trespassing of any kind. Both railroad security officials and wildlife officers say they will arrest anyone caught on the restricted lands.

"I'm 100 percent positive Risner was hunting on railroad property," said Zientek.

Josh Zientek has a lot of news about him.

http://www.norwalkreflector.com/content/huron-co-wildlife-officer-being-investigated-state The Ohio Inspector General is investigating to determine if wildlife officers broke the law in connection with supplying Indiana wildlife officers Ohio fishing licenses at a discount.

http://watchdog.ohio.gov/investigations/2010_113.pdf

Swept under the rug perhaps?

LabMan

@ Centauri

So does Collingswood - Monroeville

KnuckleDragger

Actually Centauri, there was an article not to long ago saying Zientek was found guilty of these charges.  Like I said earlier, any good lawyer will use the problems with these two ODNR investigators to attack there credibility.  How can two officers that do not obey the law have any credibility?

frizzlefrap

hey ODNR ...... worry about gettin that green funk out of lake erie instead of worrying about some deer that ran into railroad property .................. do your job!

KnuckleDragger

Any good attorney will fight this and use the recent problems of Collingwood to attack his integrity and credibility as an investigator. 

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