Duo Guilty of Elaborate Social Media Inspired Poaching Scheme


Zorda poses with deer taken illegally in Tonawanda Erie County in 2022On December 14, 2023, two hunters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for illegally taking two large antlered deer in an area closed to deer hunting in the town of Tonawanda, in Erie County, NY.

The investigation began a year earlier on November 14, 2022 when NYS Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Shea Mathis and the Tonawanda Police Department received separate calls about two suspicious men walking through the woods near the Raintree Apartments in Tonawanda.

A witness who is an avid hunter reported to police that they observed one of the subjects crouching in the woods behind his residence before hearing what he believed to be the snap of a bow discharge and an arrow strike a large 16-point whitetail deer buck that ran into his yard after being shot.

The witness said that they then observed a second subject taking pictures of the wounded deer with his cell phone. The subjects fled the area as police arrived but not before trail cameras photographed them. The photos were posted online, and the subjects were identified as Jayson Zorda and Kevin Butler from Oneonta (Otsego County, NY) and Afton (Chenango County), respectively.

DEC Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigators (BECI) interviewed Zorda and Butler; both denied hunting deer in Tonawanda.

DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) then applied for search warrants for the hunters’ residences. Officers from DEC Regions 4, 7, and 9 executed the search warrants simultaneously and seized cell phones, hunting equipment, and the clothes the hunters wore on the date of the incident.

A review of cell phone records uncovered a larger scheme where the subjects conspired with a network of poachers, using hunting and wildlife photography posts on social media to target large bucks in suburban and urban areas closed to hunting.

Warrants revealed that Zorda had a fictitious Facebook profile in which he posed as a female wildlife photographer. He would use this profile to contact other photographers to learn the exact locations of mature urban bucks so he could illegally hunt them.

Zorda and Butler would hide compact bows in backpacks and conceal their arrows in hollow walking sticks to look like hikers to any witnesses.

Butler and Zorda both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for illegally taking whitetail deer, paid $1,075 in fines and surcharges, and had their hunting licenses revoked for five years.

Other individuals were implicated in the warrants and charges are pending according to an announcement by DEC.

Photo: Jayson Zorda poses with deer taken illegally in Tonawanda Erie County in 2022.

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