You never know who’s watching you. Zackary Holdaway may not have seen the hidden trail cams that were recording him, but they saw him. Thanks to that footage, he realized the hard way that breaking the law will eventually come back to bite you after he received a felony sentencing when a multi-year investigation discovered he illegally killed a bull elk, removed its head and left the body to rot in Nevada.

Though Holdaway pleaded no contest to his killing and possessing the elk in January, he will face $20,000 in penalties and face 32 months in a state prison for killing and wasting a bull elk near Pioche.

The charges were given by District Court Judge Gary Fairman thanks to evidence collected from an investigation that started in September, 2015 after the elk was discovered by John Anderson, a game warden with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The elk was already in pretty bad shape once Anderson actually found it.

“By the time I found the elk it had already decayed,” he said. “It was like doing a necropsy on mush. There was no physical evidence there.”

It sounds like an impossible situation, but Anderson and the investigators pushed forward with their investigation. It was a really big deal, especially since hunters often wait long periods of time and spend thousands of dollars just to shoot one of these creatures.

“We manage these units for big trophy bulls, as far as sportsmen are concerned (poaching one) is blatant theft,” Anderson said. “When we are able to solve a case and get a good conviction we really take a lot of pride in that.”

“Our officers took an incredibly complex puzzle and put the pieces together into a great case,” Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed said.

A big part of solving that puzzle involved images captured by nearby trail cameras that caught both the elk and Holdaway with another hunter on an ATV. These images were a big help in getting more information from the general public on who these men were when they were released.

The only problem at the time of realizing it was Holdaway in the photos is that he was living in New Zealand and working as a guide. So the investigators waited for him to return while they continued to gather evidence for his return. He was arrested in July, 2016, after officials interviewed him when he returned.

$20,000 and nearly three years in prison may sound stiff, and it is, but that’s just how serious this case was.

“It is definitely the most severe sentence on any case I’ve ever worked,” said Anderson. “It is also the most egregious case I’ve ever worked.”

 

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