Conservation Wildlife Management

Poachers Posed as Photographers, Hikers in ‘Elaborate Scheme’ to Kill Big Urban Bucks

Officials say the poachers would disguise themselves as hikers and hide their arrows in hollowed-out walking sticks
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New York poacher Kevin Butler was caught on trail camera.
Kevin Butler was captured on trail camera two days before local authorities received calls reporting him and another poacher. Photograph obtained by Outdoor Life from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Two men have lost hunting privileges for five years and were fined $1,075 because of their involvement in an elaborate deer poaching scheme in western New York. A Jan. 19 press release from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation mentions the scheme involving Jayson Zorda, of Oneonta, and Kevin Butler, of Afton. Both men pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for illegal take of deer in Tonawanda Justice Court on Dec.14.

As part of that scheme, officials say, Zorda created a fake Facebook profile posing as a female wildlife photographer. He would contact other wildlife photographers to learn where big urban bucks lived so he could find and kill them in areas closed to hunting. Zorda and Butler would go out disguised as hikers, hiding their bows in their backpacks and their arrows in their walking sticks.

An investigation into the poaching scheme began on Nov. 14, 2022, according to the press release, when NYSDEC and the Tonawanda Police Department both received reports of men walking through the woods near the Raintree Apartments. One of the witnesses, who described himself as an avid hunter, said he noticed the men crouching in the woods behind his home. He heard a bow string snap and the sound of an arrow hitting a deer, which turned out to be a 16-point buck that ran into his yard after it was shot. The witness then watched one of the men take pictures of the wounded buck with their cell phone. The two men were captured on a nearby trail camera as they fled the scene before police arrived.

Jayson Zorda poses with a mature whitetail buck he poached.
Jayson Zorda poses with a mature whitetail buck he illegally shot in Tonawanda, New York.

Photograph obtained by Outdoor Life from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The men were later identified as Zorda and Butler. Interviews with the suspects provided scarce information at first, and the men denied poaching the deer. But after executing search warrants and seizing cell phones, NYSDEC officers found more information that led them to a larger deer poaching network. An NYSDEC spokesperson tells Outdoor Life that an investigation into the larger poaching ring is ongoing, but that the agency is unable to release any additional information that could jeopardize that investigation.

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Hundreds of social media users have commented on the NYSDEC Facebook post that summarizes the Jan. 19 press release. Most commenters have called attention to the license revocation and fines the poachers received, which they’ve said is an extremely light punishment considering the crimes that were committed.

“Barely a slap on the wrist! Their illegal activity should be a felony and they should never be able to have a hunting license again, in any state and should be serving a minimum of 1 year jail time,” one commenter writes. “Hunters pay thousands of dollars for gear, travel and tour guides to hunt big game. $1,000 fine is nothing! Just a story to tell over beers with their buddies. The only thing they will change going forward, is to be more careful next time.”