It’s a rare case of hunter harassment when another hunter is doing the harassing. But in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a public-land treestand dispute ended with one hunter falling 20 feet from his stand after another hunter cut the stand’s straps. Now, Thomas Steele III will spend 60 days in county jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor hunter harassment and aggravated assault charges, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports.
The saga began in October 2020 on state land in Marquette County. A local hunter, whose name was not provided, went out to his treestand one day to discover a note taped over his trail camera. The note, which Steele wrote, informed the hunter that he hung his stand in Steele’s “spot.” (It’s legal to leave treestands on public land in Michigan and to hunt in a stand that’s not your own. Spots can’t be claimed.)
Steele left his phone number and asked for the hunter to contact him. The unnamed hunter also discovered that Steele had deleted the pictures from his trail camera. The hunter called Steele and apologized, only to have Steele insist that he must stay away from the area, which the hunter eventually agreed to.
Weeks went by. Eventually, the hunter returned to his stand, pulled the memory card from his camera, and started climbing the stand. The stand looked normal and the climbing sticks were sturdy. But as soon as the hunter climbed onto the platform, it collapsed underneath him. He fell 20 feet to the ground, where he injured his back and ankle after landing on his feet.
The hunter worried that Steele was watching him on camera and left the area, limping. Upon returning home, he dialed 911 to report the incident. While at home, the hunter discovered his SD card had been wiped of images again. DNR conservation officer Josh Boudreaux responded, and opened a hunter harassment investigation.
Weeks later, the hunter returned to the same spot again with new straps. The next day, he received a text from Steele.
“Are we going to work something out for this spot or what?” the text read. “I got a picture of you yesterday going in there with climbing sticks. Just not gonna respect I was there first?”
Investigating officers paid close attention to the hunter’s treestand after learning Steele was “using a camera to spy on the hunter.” They soon discovered that Steele had gone out to cut the hunter’s straps a second time.
“The straps were cut in such a way that they would support the weight of the tree stand but would break as soon as additional weight was applied to them, having a trap door effect,” Boudreaux said. “The victim would have fallen 15 to 20 feet to the ground.”
Conservation officers found and removed Steele’s camera after they received a search warrant for it. Steele seemed to think the hunter stole it instead. He left multiple threatening voicemails on the hunter’s phone and bashed him in social media groups. Steele then called 911 to report his missing trail camera. Boudreaux responded, and he and another officer arranged to meet Steele in-person on the Northern Michigan University campus, where Steele was a student at the time.
During the meeting, Steele confessed to sabotaging the treestand. He was charged in 2021 and withdrew from NMU fully when it became clear he would face expulsion. Steele also lost his hunting privileges in Michigan for an undetermined amount of time, which triggers the full weight of the Interstate Wildlife Violator’s Compact. This means he won’t be able to hunt anywhere else in the country during that time, either. He also must reimburse the hunter for his medical bills and will serve a year of probation.
“Hunter harassment is real and taken very seriously,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division chief Dave Shaw said in the press release. “Most hunters respect the land and each other and take pride in an ethical hunt … The DNR hopes that by sharing the details of this case, we can bring awareness to the consequences of this person’s unethical and dangerous behavior and know that it will not be tolerated.”