Washington State Major Poacher Busted: The Power of Technology
By Brian Clintworth
Last week charges were filed in King County Court against Jason Smith of North Bend for illegal hunting. This is one of the largest poaching cases in recent memory and social media played an important part in this case. If convicted, Smith faces up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of the two felony charges of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game. The 27 gross misdemeanor charges of second degree unlawful hunting of big game, unlawful black bear hunting, and unlawful waste of wildlife each carry a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine. In addition he faces 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine for three misdemeanor charges of unlawful hunting or retrieving wildlife from private property.
These violations took place over a two year period, in the Fall of 2021 and 2022. Evidence that was used in developing the case was taken from social media posts, onX Maps data points and iPhone records.
The violations that occurred in the Fall of 2021 included killing 4 deer(without proper license and exceeding the bag limit), 1 bull elk (no tag purchased), 3 bears(killed over bait which is illegal in Washington).
In the Fall of 2022 the poaching continued as Mr. Smith is charged with killing 3 elk and one black bear(using illegal methods) and on private property he didn’t have permission to be on, and wasting wildlife.
During the investigation, the digital trail that he left behind played a key role in building the case against him; onX waypoints, GPS tracks, social media postings and texting buddies things like “big buck down” ultimately provided the evidence needed to build the case.
Some of these animals were arrowed very close to his residence, yet his posts seemed to convey another story. After shooting one of the bears in the Fall of 2021, he posted “I wanted this bear bad especially after my failed attempt a week prior. Persistence in the mountains pays. If you quit, the hunt is over I love that there are no participation trophies in the mountains. You get what you earn. Nothing more, nothing less.” Given that the bait pile was next to his driveway, just steps from his front porch, it appears that ego and pride were driving factors behind some of his actions as he was definitely not in the mountains where these crimes were committed.
It is clear in this case that the individual was not hunting for the right reasons, the desire for social media fame and disregard for the laws led to these violations. It is ironic that the very social media that perhaps fueled the need to kill these animals and post all about it, was the very evidence used to build the case.