Looks like another hunting celebrity operation hits the dirt. Maybe they failed to pay their taxes, and if so, could find employment in DC.
End Of The Game Trail?
Only weeks ago, Game Trails, a hunting facility in Northwestern Kentucky, was billing itself as the "proving grounds for the hunting and shooting industry" and notifying hunters they were taking advance reservations for the 2009 hunting season and were expecting their limited hunting opportunities to fill up quickly.
Today, it is history, following an 18-month long state and federal investigation that concluded with Game Trails and its site manager pleading guilty to "numerous misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act of taking wildlife unlawfully, and for making false statements to Kentucky officers about the takings and interstate transportation of wildlife." Game Trails and site manager, William Dirk McTavish, Jr., 43, of Paducah, paid a total of $50,000 in fines.
Another former Game Trails employee, Robert Christopher Helms, 40, of Booneville, Indiana, still faces up to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a felony count of threatening a federal witness. His sentencing is scheduled for June 11.
In August 2007, Kentucky wildlife officials noticed "numerous inconsistencies" while comparing and analyzing 2006 Telecheck deer harvest data with data that Game Trails LLC had supplied to Quality Deer Management Association in Georgia.
After Kentucky wildlife biologist David Yancy raised those concerns with Kentucky conservation officers, they began a lengthy investigation that involved reconciling the Telechecked deer harvest reports of Game Trails clients with information subpoenaed from QDMA.
They didn't jibe.
In fact, the investigation turned up "numerous instances" of "Game Trails employees, their friends and family chronically taking over-limits of deer, outside hunting season parameters, supplying false information to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and using social security numbers of Game Trails clients without their permission to Telecheck their deer harvests."
Kentucky DFW Lieutenant Greg Noel and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent John Barham discovered hundreds of deer jawbones and documentation tying them to Game Trails after traveling to Atlanta, and serving a federal search warrant at QDMA's headquarters.
By sending the jawbones to another state, Game Trails was guilty of transporting illegally taken deer out of state. That transport constituted the Lacey Act violations.
The 12,000-plus acre site, bordered by about 4½ miles of Ohio River, was owned by Kimball International and leased to Ritz and sharecroppers.
The previous owner had used local draw hunting to manage the deer herd, but that Game Trails eliminated that practice because it interfered with its filming and big buck hunting routines.
As a result, the herd grew quickly and Game Trails contacted QDMA to evaluate and make recommendations about improving the deer herd.
As part of the information process, Game Trails supplied QDMA with completed data sheets and jawbones of harvested deer.
A guilty plea for Lacey Act violations has apparently spelled the end of the trail for Game Trails - at least in Kentucky.
That data, collected during Noel's and Barham's investigation, conflicted with Telecheck data. That discrepancy formed the backbone of what one observer called "an airtight government case" against Game Trails.
For the hunting industry, Game Trails case is more than another case of dubious business dealings. It's one many in the industry hoped would simply go away. That's because of the affiliations of Game Trails with many of the brand names in the outdoor
Game Trails' sole-proprietor owner is former Thompson/Center Arms owner Gregg Ritz. And Ritz' use of his many connections in the industry to promote Game Trails has many very nervous.
For years, Game Trails has been a go-to locale for television hunting programs. Thompson/Center, Realtree, Winchester, Hunter's Specialties, Nikon, Under Armour, Federal, Bad Boy Enterprises and others regularly used the property to host outdoor writers and film television shows to promote and test their products.
In fact, a brochure for Game Trails touts the success of the Game Trails property that was regularly documented on "Realtree's Monster Bucks, Bass Pro Outdoor World, Tales of the Hunt, Game Trails (hosted by Ritz), Petersen's Hunting" and various other television shows. Additionally, the brochure reads like a who's-who of writers who have hunted the property and praised the "unbelievable quality of the deer and turkey populations."
State and federal officials have not yet released the names of those hunters whose names and social security numbers were unknowingly used on false Telecheck reports. When that information is released, the sheer number of outdoor celebrities who have used the facility may mean their names were unknowingly -and innocently- tied to the Lacey violation.
Officials stress that Game Trails clients whose names were used in the Telecheck reports are not under suspicion of having done anything to violate any state or federal game laws. Neither has QDMA, billed as a "partner" in the management of the deer herd on the property been accused of any wrongdoing.
The acreage that made up Game Trails was leased land, owned by Kimball International which harvested oak, walnut and chestnut trees from the property. Yesterday, we were told that the lease was no longer in effect and the property was being "repurposed" by Kimball.
Investigating officer Noel says the property has been "vacated" and Game Trails is "moving its operations to Ohio."
The telephone numbers for Game Trails are no longer in service, and the website that formerly featured pictures of many of the best-known names in the hunting industry is "under construction".