A conflict over a public-land deer hunting spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has culminated in prison time and an indefinite hunting ban for one man. In a press release, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) characterized the dramatic series of events as an extreme example of “hunter harassment.”
It Began with a Spat Over a Public Land Hunting Spot
In October 2020, a local hunter whose identity has not been released arrived at one of his go-to spots on state land in the Upper Peninsula to find a note on his tree stand. The note was from Thomas Steele III, then a student at Northern Michigan University. Steele wrote that he was set up in the man’s hunting spot and asked the hunter to call him. Steele had also deleted photos from the hunter’s trail cam.
“In Michigan, you cannot claim exclusive rights on public hunting land. Any tree stand or deer blind left unoccupied on state land can be used by another individual,” explained the Michigan DNR in the press release. “The hunter contacted Steele, apologizing that he was unaware someone was using the area. Over the phone, Steele insisted that the hunter stay off the land. Eventually, the hunter lost patience and told Steele he would stay away.”
Several weeks later, though, the hunter returned to the spot. He took the memory card from his trail cam and began climbing his tree stand. But as he reached the top of his stand, he stepped onto the platform and immediately fell 15 to 20 feet to the ground. Looking up, he saw the stand was dangling from the tree. He returned home and called 911, which kicked off an investigation of the incident by Michigan DNR Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux. He also checked his trail cam memory card, which had been wiped clean again.
The Culprit is Caught Red-Handed
Several weeks later, the hunter returned to the spot and used new straps to set up his tree stand. According to the press release, the next day Steele sent the hunter the following note: “Are we going to work something out for this spot or what? I got a picture of you yesterday going in there with climbing sticks. [Are you] just not gonna respect I was there first?”
Boudreaux and the hunter subsequently monitored the tree stand—and soon got evidence that Steele intentionally sabotaged the tree stand for 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,” said Boudreaux. “The victim would have fallen 15 to 20 feet to the ground.”
With a search warrant, Boudreaux examined Steele’s trail cam, which showed pictures of Steele cutting the straps on the stand. Soon after, the Michigan DNR met with Steele and obtained a full confession. Steele was charged in the incident in 2021. Steele also withdrew from Northern Michigan University.
Steele eventually took a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors of aggravated assault and hunter harassment. He is serving a 60-day sentence in Marquette County Jail, followed by one year of probation. His hunting privileges were indefinitely suspended, and he must also reimburse the victim for medical expenses.
“The Michigan 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,” said Dave Shaw, chief of the Michigan DNR Enforcement Division. “Hunter harassment is real and taken very seriously.”
Field & Stream will continue to report on this incident.
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