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Night hunting and hunting out of season can be some of the toughest crimes for wildlife officers to catch, often requiring many nights patrolling areas of poaching activity. One such patrol on Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge in August 2020 led to the arrest and successful prosecution of one of the worst cases of illegal hunting many officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have seen in years.
In August 2020, Senior Federal Wildlife Canine Officer Cpl. Branden Kieffer and his K9 partner Timber conducted a traffic stop on a suspicious vehicle late one evening after observing several violations at the refuge. They discovered that Jimmy Hobbs Jr. of Bald Knob was in possession of a suppressed, loaded .308 caliber rifle equipped with a thermal rifle scope, a forward-looking infrared handheld unit, an AR-style rifle with four loaded 30-round magazines and 9mm handgun. During the course of investigation, all of the items were seized as evidence and a warrant was secured for the memory card contained in the scope to allow law enforcement to view electronic evidence contained on it. Upon review, the card held 57 videos and images of suspected illegal night-hunting activity.
Cpl. Kieffer then obtained additional search warrants for Hobbs’ residence and cell phone. A team of USFWS and AGFC law enforcement officers executed the warrants in late August 2020. Evidence obtained from those warrants indicated that Hobbs had illegally killed up to 22 deer over a three-year period. The deer were poached from both private and public land, often at night. Of those 22 deer, at least 15 were bucks, including some in velvet. Some deer were killed illegally under the guise of an AGFC depredation permit. Two of the bucks had been entered into a big buck contest for which Hobbs received a monetary award from an entry.
Hobbs was ultimately charged with 54 wildlife violations that collectively carried more than 900 potential AGFC administrative violation points on his hunting licenses, $700,000 in potential fines and significant potential jail time.
In October 2021, Hobbs pleaded guilty to six counts of night hunting in White County District Court and was sentenced to pay $15,000 in fines, forfeit the two confiscated rifles, suppressor, scope and forward-looking infrared. He also was sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended, on each count. Hobbs also was prosecuted in Woodruff County on similar charges, and he was convicted of five counts of hunting wildlife in a closed season and one count of night hunting. He was ordered to pay $630 in fines and court costs in that county.
Hobbs had 180 points assessed to his hunting licenses, which resulted in a 7-year suspension in Arkansas and all other Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact states. He appealed the suspension, which was later upheld by an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Administrative Judge who noted that this was one of the worst deer poaching cases he had seen in his tenure.
Patrol Capt. Brandon Bland, who supervises USFWS Division of Refuge Law Enforcement operations in Arkansas, stated, “We are extremely proud of Cpl. Kieffer and the officers of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Refuge Law Enforcement whose devotion to the protection of our natural resources made this investigation successful and gave a voice to the voiceless.”
A version of this story originally appeared on the USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement Facebook Page.