Michigan Man Serves Jail Term for Hunter Harassment

The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

Michigan Man Serves Jail Term for Hunter Harassment

Posted 2023-02-06T11:21:00Z

The man admitted to cutting the hunter's treestand straps

Footage from a trail camera shows Thomas Steele III, 23, intentionally cutting the straps on a hunter's treestand. Image by Michigan Department of Natural ResourcesA Michigan man is serving a 60-day sentence in jail after pleading guilty to intentionally sabotaging a hunter's treestand.

According to a press release issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Thomas Steele III, 23, of Chelsea is serving his time in the Marquette County Jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of aggravated assault and hunter harassment under a plea agreement.

Steele must also serve a one-year probation term and reimburse the victim's medical expenses for injuries sustained in a fall from his treestand.

His hunting privileges were revoked for an undetermined amount of time, and since Michigan is a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator's Compact, his right to hunt will also be revoked in almost all 50 states.

Hunter harassment is real and taken very seriously, said Dave Shaw, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. 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.

According to the release, the harassment began in October 2020 on state hunting land in Marquette County. A local hunter arrived at his treestand where he found a note on his trail camera stating that he was set up in Steele's hunting spot.

A close-up view shows a cut strap from the sabotaged treestand. Image by Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Steele, a student at Northern Michigan University at the time, left his phone number on the note and requested that the hunter call him. He also deleted the pictures from the hunter's trail camera.

It is unlawful in Michigan to claim exclusive rights on public hunting land. If a treestand or deer blind is left unoccupied on state land, it can be used by another hunter.

The hunter called Steele and apologized saying he was unaware someone was using the area. Steele insisted that the hunter stay off the land.

The hunter returned to his treestand weeks later and surveyed the area, which looked untouched. He pulled the trail camera's memory card and yanked on his treestand's climbing sticks to make sure they were secure. He climbed to the top, which appeared intact, then stepped onto the stand's platform and immediately fell 15 to 20 feet to the ground.

The hunter landed on his feet but injured his ankle and back. He looked up to see the stand dangling from the tree, about eight feet above the ground.

Worried that Steele was watching him on a camera, the hunter limped out of the woods and called 911 once he reached home. He checked his memory card, which had again been wiped clean of images.

DNR Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux took the hunter's statement and launched an investigation.

After a couple of weeks, the hunter returned to the hunting location and used new straps to setup his treestand.

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Steele — who was using a camera to spy on the hunter — sent a new text to the hunter the next day, saying, 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. Just not gonna respect I was there first?

Boudreaux and Conservation Officer John Kamps were monitoring the hunter's treestand and attained evidence of Steele cutting the victim's treestand straps again.

"The straps were cut in such a way that they would support the weight of the treestand but would break as soon as additional weight was applied to them, having a trap door effect, Boudreaux explained. The victim would have fallen 15 to 20 feet to the ground.

Boudreaux obtained a search warrant for Steele's trail camera, which was on state land, and removed it.

Believing the hunter stole his trail camera, Steele left threatening voicemails on his phone and belittled him on a number of local social media groups.

Steele also called 911 to report his missing trail camera.

Boudreaux, Kamps, and other public safety officers met Steele in person, during which time he admitted to sabotaging the treestand.

Steele was charged in the case, and although he was already suspended from NMU, he withdrew prior to being expelled.

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