Hunting Turkey Hunting

Wildlife Commissioner Cited for Hunting Turkeys Over Bait Says He Didn’t Know the Crickets Were There

Mississippi Wildlife Commissioner Leonard Bentz also says he inspected the property's deer feeders before hunting to ensure they didn't contain any bait
Dac Collins Avatar
A flock of wild turkeys forages in a field.
It's illegal to hunt wild turkeys over bait in Mississippi. Photograph by brm1949 / Adobe stock

A Mississippi wildlife commissioner has been cited by the same agency he was appointed to oversee for illegally hunting wild turkeys over bait. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks confirmed with Super Talk Mississippi News Monday that it was investigating the allegations against Leonard Bentz, Jr. Today, the agency confirmed with the same source that Bentz was cited as a result of their investigation.

Bentz acknowledged the citation on Tuesday, but said he was unaware that the field he was hunting had been baited with crickets by the landowner.

“Under the law, even though I was told by officers that they knew I was not aware the crickets were on the property, I am in violation because I hunted the property where the crickets were placed,” Bentz wrote in a statement.

MDWFP director of marketing and communications Jeremy Bass tells Outdoor Life that the agency cannot comment on the investigation, which is ongoing. Bass also didn’t deny the facts that were reported by Super Talk Mississippi.

MDWFP’s investigation into the commissioner revolved around allegations that Bentz and his two sons were with a group that was hunting wild turkeys over bait on private land in Holmes County. Responding to an anonymous tip about these allegations, conservation officers with MDWFP went to the hunting property on Friday, where they spoke with Bentz along with the landowner.

The wildlife commissioner and former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives told reporters earlier this week that his group was approached by conservation officers around 7 a.m. Friday. He said the officers told them that the landowner and caretaker had bought and released crickets onto the 500-acre plot they were hunting days before their arrival.

Read Next: When to Call the Game Warden

Bentz, who was first appointed to the wildlife commission by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves in 2021 and then reappointed in July 2023, denied having any knowledge of the crickets being there.

“The tip that I or any of my guest [sic] were caught baiting turkeys is untrue,” Bentz told Super Talk Mississippi News. “The truth is, my guest [sic] and I were hunting on a piece of property owned by a friend of mine who assured me that there was not bait on the property.”

Bentz added that he had inspected the roads and feeders on the property before their hunt to ensure there was no bait in the area. (Mississippi regulations allow the use of bait for deer hunting but not turkey hunting.) He said he had the officers speak with the landowner, who claimed that he, the landowner, had no prior knowledge of any crickets being released onto the property and said he didn’t realize it was illegal to place insects on his land in the first place.

“The officer responded, saying they were going to gather all the evidence, take the landowner’s information, and citations for the landowner and caretaker would more than likely be forthcoming once they decided the appropriate statute violation,” Bentz said.

Read Next: A Louisiana Police Officer Was Cited for Poaching From a Patrol Car

Using bait (including bugs) to aid in the taking of a wild turkey is a clear violation of Mississippi’s wildlife code, which dictates that “any person taking a turkey out of season, and any person baiting turkeys is guilty of a Class II violation.” The punishment for that violation is a $100 to $500 fine and potential jail time.

It’s unclear what punishments Bentz might face, if any. But the citation comes at a precarious time as the state Senate is expected to vote on confirming Bentz’ re-appointment to the wildlife commission this month. His seat isn’t guaranteed, and some hunters have recently called out Bentz for not taking the threat of chronic wasting disease seriously enough. This includes Will Primos, the founder of Primos hunting, who wrote a letter to Gov. Reeves and other legislators in March asking them to block Bentz’ confirmation.