Abandoning almost all the meat from a 6-by-5 mule deer Oct. 1 near Buffalo, even though offering a myriad of reasons to excuse him from the violation, has cost a Cody man $540 in fines and one year of hunting privileges.
Steven M. Haberland, 60, pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to waste and abandonment of a big game animal and was sentenced Feb. 13 in Circuit Court in Buffalo. In addition to the fine and loss of privileges, the agreement signed by Judge Shelley Cundiff also ordered Haberland to forfeit the deer’s head and cape.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department first learned of the violation Oct. 1 when Haberland mentioned to a department employee at a Buffalo locker plant that he left the carcass of his mule deer in the field. Later that day both a group of Wisconsin hunters and the neighboring landowner also reported the abandoned carcass.
Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman called Haberland that afternoon, and the hunter said he abandoned the carcass because it had been severely scavenged and soiled by eagles and coyotes. Upon visiting the site the next day, Seeman discovered the carcass was intact and clean and had not been disturbed by any scavengers. When presented with the evidence, Haberland then claimed he did not retrieve the animal after field dressing, caping, removing the backstraps and packing out the head and cape, because of his age and bad knees.
The Wisconsin hunters also reported Haberland killing a buck antelope within 100 yards of his mule deer the afternoon of Oct. 1, and retrieving the antelope the three-fourths of a mile to his truck . Confronted with that report Oct. 5 by phone, Haberland told the game warden the “real story” was that he went back to retrieve the mule deer that afternoon, but since it had sat in the sun all day it had spoiled.
“I know that the number of excuses that Haberland offered when I interviewed him was astounding – a total of six,” Seeman said. “In my 22 years of wildlife law enforcement, that’s the most excuses I’ve ever heard in a case. I’ve never had a suspect even come close to presenting that many different excuses and changes of stories.”
In Wyoming, hunters are required to retrieve all “edible portions of big game.” Game and Fish Commission regulation defines that as “meat of the front quarters as far down as the knees, meat of the hind quarters as far down as the hocks, and the meat along the backbone between the neck and hindquarters including the loins and tenderloins, excluding meat on the ribs and neck.”
Cody Game Warden Travis Crane delivered the suspect, a retired package delivery driver, a citation for the violation on Oct. 6 and confiscated the cape and trophy head with antlers measuring approximately 24 inches wide. On Oct. 9, Haberland’s physician mailed a letter to the court stating that a minor injury prevented Haberland from retrieving the deer carcass. Johnson County Deputy Attorney Ryan Wright and Seeman also rejected that excuse as invalid and proceeded with the case. Haberland, who moved to Wyoming in 2008 from New York, hired a Buffalo attorney and a Feb. 17 trial was scheduled before the plea agreement was reached.
The revocation of Haberland’s hunting privileges in Wyoming for one year, also includes 41 member states of the Wildlife Violator Compact.
“I’ve really got to thank this group of Wisconsin hunters for their willingness to get involved in the investigation, because they were a tremendous help in debunking the excuses and sorting out the case,” Seeman said.