Minnesota man pleads guilty to illegally killing at least 13 deer

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(Minn. DNR Conservation Officer Mitch Sladek poses with 13 illegally harvested deer mounts seized as part of an investigation last fall. Photo: Minnesota DNR)

When a game warden bumped into two women at the gate of a wildlife refuge, then found their stories didn't quite add up, things got really real for a man who apparently used borrowed tags to expand his harvest.

According to a release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the case broke when DNR Conservation Officer Mitch Sladek saw the women near a gate of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge on All Saints Day, 2014.

They had a two-wheeled deer cart, but no deer, and when Sladek asked them where they were going, the women, a mother, and daughter, advised they were on the way to their husband/father, one Michael Walz, who had shot a deer that morning and was waiting for them.

That's when Sladek checked DNR's system and found that the mother was listed as having taken multiple bucks with a bow, even though she denied being a bow hunter.

This led the wildlife officer to accompany the two women into the woods where they found the good Mr. Walz with a freshly killed 6-pointer that had been illegally taken from its kill site without a tag, and a number of hunting licenses besides his own.

As the investigation mushroomed, officials went to Walz's home and confiscated 13 deer mounts the man admitted were taken illegally in Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and the Sand Dunes State Forest, resulting in a number of charges, including illegally taking big game and soliciting/borrowing the big game hunting license of another person, filed.

“This is an example of someone who is passionate about taking deer, but has lost appreciation of the animals hunted and respect of the laws protecting a resource that belongs to all citizens,” said Col. Ken Soring, DNR Enforcement Division director.

Walz accepted a plea at the end of last month and was sentenced to a year in prison-- that was suspended-- 80 hours of community service, two years probation, and some $3,200 in fines, fees, and court costs.

On top of that, he has to write a public apology, which will run in Minnesota Outdoor News, the DNR's widely-read online and print publication, lost his privileges to enter Sherburne and Sand Dunes moving forward, as well as his hunting and fishing privileges both in Minnesota and in 45 other states for three years.

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is a 30,700-acre reserve established in 1965 and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while Sand Dunes State Forest is an 11,040-acre reserve administered by DNR.