Denton County Man Admits to Poaching Record Whitetail Buck
AUSTIN – The second most significant whitetail buck ever in Texas could head to the record books with an asterisk: poached. Earlier this week, a Denton County man pleaded no contest to illegally taking the trophy deer, which scored 278 points under the Boone & Crockett scoring system, last October near Pilot Point, Texas.
Travis D. Johnson, of Aubrey, Texas, was sentenced in Denton County Criminal Court on Monday, Jan. 22, to two years of probation and 40 hours community service, plus court costs. He also faces more than $53,000 in civil restitution fines from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is prohibited from purchasing a hunting license for the duration of his deferred adjudication period.
“What an ill-fated legacy for what could have been, and should have been, a remarkable testament to Texas whitetail deer,” said Col. Grahame Jones, TPWD Law Enforcement Director. “It’s tragic that in the pursuit of this magnificent specimen, Mr. Johnson chose to violate hunting’s code of ethics and the game laws designed to protect our state’s precious wildlife resources. It’s something he’ll have to live with.”
Almost immediately after news of the massive buck broke on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, Texas game wardens became aware of rumors alleging Johnson may have harvested the buck after legal hunting hours the night before. Based on a photo circulated online that showed Johnson posing with the field dressed deer during daylight hours, along with comments that he had taken it with a bow the previous evening, wardens had concerns about the care and disposition of the venison considering the warm temperatures. Hunters are required to keep the meat from a harvested game in edible condition.
Denton County Game Warden Stormy McCuistion met with Johnson at his residence the afternoon of Oct. 8 to inspect the carcass and discovered he had discarded it at a different location due to concerns about the meat possibly being infected. Johnson claimed to have wounded the buck on Sept. 30 but was unable to retrieve it. When he saw the deer on images captured by his game trail camera a few days later, it exhibited entry and exit wounds. Since then, Johnson explained that Johnson began pursuing the animal in earnest in hopes of putting an end to its suffering, going so far as to spend the night in his hunting stand to avoid spooking deer. He said he got his opportunity at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, and dispatched the buck with his bow.
After inspecting the deer carcass, game wardens then went to the area where Johnson claimed to have killed the big deer to confirm the details of his story. During a conversation with the landowner adjacent to the property where Johnson hunted, game wardens became suspicious about the timeline. The landowner recalled texting Johnson at about an hour past dark on Oct. 7 asking if he was okay since he noticed he had not returned to his vehicle. Johnson replied that he was safe, but made no mention of having taken the big buck an hour earlier.
A thorough investigation ensued, with game wardens gathering documentation and evidence that led to Johnson confessing to having killed the buck after legal shooting hours and on property he did not have permission to hunt. The absentee landowner declined to file trespass charges.
“We owe it to the hunters of this state, and to the wildlife, we dedicate to protecting to seek the truth,” said Game Warden Capt. Cliff Swofford. “I am proud of the investigative efforts our game wardens put in to resolve this case, and to the Denton County District Attorney’s Office for expediting closure.”
Had Johnson harvested the buck legally, it would have ranked as the highest scoring deer taken with bow and arrow ever in Texas, according to Pope and Young Club records. The antlers will instead be mounted and displayed in the Texas Game Warden Wall of Shame exhibit.