MARQUETTE, Mich. — A northern Michigan hunter admitted to conservation officers he intentionally sabotaged another hunter's tree stand in the UP and harassed him over a hunting spot on public land.
That's according to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources investigation into the harassment that began in October 2020 on state hunting land in Marquette County.
Thomas Steele III, 23, of Chelsea, is now serving a 60-day sentence after pleading guilty to intentionally sabotaging a hunter's tree stand.
He recently pleaded guilty in Marquette County Circuit Court to misdemeanors of aggravated assault and hunter harassment under a plea agreement.
According to conservation officers, a local Upper Peninsula hunter showed up to his tree stand to find a note on his trail camera indicating he was set up in Steele's hunting spot.
Steele, who was at that time a student at Northern Michigan, left his phone number on the note asking for a callback, DNR officials said.
Authorities said Steele deleted the photos on the trail camera as well.
In Michigan, you can't claim exclusive rights on public hunting land, and any tree stand or deer blind left unoccupied can be used by another hunter.
The UP hunter called Steele to apologize, saying he wasn't aware that another hunter was using the area. Over the phone, conservation officers said Steele insisted the local hunter stay off the land.
Weeks later when the local hunter returned to his tree stand, he believed the area was untouched. He grabbed his memory card from his trail camera and then started to climb up his tree stand.
DNR officials said the hunter tugged on the climbing sticks and noted everything seemed secure. As he climbed to the top, he stepped on the platform of the stand and then immediately fell about 15 to 20 feet to the ground.
Though he landed on his feed, authorities said he injured his ankle and his back.
Looking up, he saw his tree stand dangling from the tree about 8 feet above the ground.
He was concerned that Steele was watching him on a camera, so he limped out of the woods to call 911 at home. While at home, he also learned his memory card had been wiped a second time.
After a DNR official interviewed the hunter, authorities started an investigation.
Weeks after falling from his stand, the same hunter returned to that public land hunting location to put new straps on his tree stand.
The next day, Steele, who was using a camera to spy on the other hunter, sent him a text saying, "Are we going to work something out for this spot or what? I got a picture of you yesterday going in there with climbing sticks. Just not gonna respect I was there first?"
Conservation officers continued to monitor the hunter's stand, and said they collected evidence of Steele cutting the tree stand straps for a second time.
"The straps were cut in such a way that they would support the weight of the tree stand but would break as soon as additional weight was applied to them, having a trap door effect,” DNR Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux explained. “The victim would have fallen 15 to 20 feet to the ground.”
Officers secured a search warrant for Steele's trail camera that he had left on state land and removed it.
Steele thought the other hunter had taken his trail camera, and left threatening voicemails, as well as disparaging him on multiple social media groups.
Eventually, Steele even called 911 to report his missing trail camera.
DNR OFFICERS INTERVENE
DNR officers agreed to meet up with Steele in person alongside public safety officers from Northern Michigan University.
During that meeting, Steele gave a full confession, law enforcement said, admitting he sabotaged the hunter's tree stand.
Steele was charged in the case in 2021.
Already suspended from NMU, he withdrew before being expelled, DNR officials said.
Steele’s hunting privileges were revoked. With Michigan a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator’s Compact, Steele’s right to hunt will also be revoked in nearly all 50 states.
“Hunter harassment is real and taken very seriously,” said Dave Shaw, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “Most hunters respect the land and each other and take pride in an ethical hunt.
“The DNR hopes that by sharing the details of this case, we can bring awareness to the consequences of this person’s unethical and dangerous behavior and know that it will not be tolerated.”
Additionally, Steele must reimburse the victim’s medical expenses for injuries sustained in a fall from his tree stand. He must also serve a one-year probation term.
You can learn more about hunter harassment in Michigan here.
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