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Deer Hunter Faces 12 Years in Prison for Accidentally Bringing Ammo on Vacation to Turks and Caicos

After forgetting to remove rifle cartridges from his luggage, Ryan Watson has now spent most of his Caribbean vacation in a jail cell and is currently awaiting trial on the island
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Ryan Watson with his wife and family in Oklahoma.

Ryan Watson with his wife and family in Oklahoma. Watston's wife returned home on April 23 and he was granted bail the following day, but he is still unable to return to the U.S. Photo via GoFundMe

A tourist from Oklahoma is living out a traveling hunter’s nightmare in Turks and Caicos, where he was detained and jailed after customs officials found some forgotten ammunition in his luggage. The man could now face up to 12 years in prison due to a strict law that prohibits the possession of firearms, ammo, and other weapons in the British Overseas Territory, according to NBC News.  

Ryan Watson, of Oklahoma City, had flown with his wife and two friends to the small Caribbean island on April 7. He had plans to celebrate his 40th birthday there. Those plans were quickly derailed when airport authorities found a small Ziploc bag in the couple’s carry-on luggage that contained several rounds of ammunition. Watson claims the baggie was left inside the duffel bag accidentally after a deer hunting trip.

“They were hunting ammunition rounds that I use for whitetail deer,” Watson told NBC Boston last week. “I recognized them and thought, ‘Oh man, what a bonehead mistake.’”

The Watsons were immediately arrested and charged. Their passports were also seized by the authorities.

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During the couple’s initial court hearing on Tuesday, the charges against Watson’s wife, Valerie, were dropped and she was allowed to return to Oklahoma City. Friends of the Watsons have set up a GoFundMe page to cover fines and legal fees, and the page explains that a trial date has not yet been set. Watson had been in jail for over two weeks as of April 23.

On Wednesday, one of Watson’s friends posted an update to Facebook saying he was granted bail but is still unable to return to his family in the U.S.

An American tourist and his wife abroad.
Ryan Watson (left) and his wife Valerie were first detained on April 7. Valerie returned home on April 23 and Ryan was granted bail the following day, but he is still unable to return to the U.S. Photo by Tanner Dyer / via Facebook

NBC News reports that a similar incident occurred back in February, when Bryan Hagerich, of Pennsylvania, was arrested in the same airport after authorities found some ammo that he’d accidentally left in his luggage. Hagerich was also on vacation with his family at the time, and he spent eight days in jail before posting bail. Hagerich still isn’t allowed to leave Turks and Caicos and he’s now been stuck in the island country for about 10 weeks. His case goes to trail on May 3, according to NBC.

“You know, it’s certainly a lot different than packing your bags and going away with your family with a few days,” Hagerich told the news outlet. “It’s been the worst 70 days of my life.”

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The U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, issued a travel alert in September 2023 warning tourists about this exact scenario. This was after the Turks and Caicos government passed a law in 2022 that stiffened the penalties for possessing firearms or ammunition. It is now illegal for anyone to possess guns or ammo on the island unless they are licensed by local law enforcement. The U.S. Embassy reminded travelers that declaring these items with an airline carrier does not give one permission to bring them into Turks and Caicos.

“We strongly encourage you to carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing for TCI,” the Embassy warned. “If you bring a firearm or ammunition into TCI, we will not be able to secure your release from custody. You are subject to TCI laws and must follow local law enforcement procedures.”