DNR Penalties: Serious Money - December 2022

This past summer I was asked to address Department of Natural Resources (DNR) penalties as part of a talk I was giving on restitution in criminal cases. Knowing next to nothing about hunting, I naively agreed. After a great deal of research, and after speaking with several prosecutors and a DNR representative, I learned that DNR penalties can be incredibly harsh. The goal, it seems, is to discourage trophy hunting. If you take a deer illegally, and it happens to have antlers, get ready to pay. Likewise, you’ll want to be careful when taking a wild turkey with a beard or it will cost dearly.

It’s now fall, and hunting season is well underway. Defense attorneys who represent individuals charged with DNR violations may wish to pay heed. There are some serious financial penalties when it comes to illegal hunting. The penalty statute for illegal taking or possessing game can be found at MCL 324.40118, and the corresponding restitution statute is found at MCL 324.40119. You will also want to pay attention to the $10 judgment fee authorized by MCL 324.1609.

Here's a quick summary of some of the harshest penalties:

DEER:  According to an August news story, a man in Escanaba was convicted of illegally taking three deer and ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution. That report is accurate and reflects the price you will pay for taking three eight-point bucks. The base level of restitution for illegally killing, possessing, purchasing, or selling of a deer in Michigan is $1,000 per animal. Add another $1,000 if the deer has antlers. If there are 8 to 10 points on the antler, add another $500 per point (it goes up to $750 per point if the animal has 11 or more points on the antler). For three eight-point bucks, that’s $18,000 in restitution, and that doesn’t include a mandatory fine of between $200 to $1,999 per conviction and “costs of prosecution.” The offense is a 90-day misdemeanor, and because it’s a misdemeanor, there’s an additional $50 state cost (per conviction) and a $75 crime victim rights assessment (per case). To top it off, there is a $10 judgment fee (conservation fee). footnote 1

WILD TURKEY:  What’s with the beard? If you kill, possess, purchase, or sell a wild turkey in an illegal manner, the base level of restitution is $1,000. If the turkey has a beard (meaning it’s an older male), add another $1,000. There’s a mandatory fine of between $200 and $1,999, and the statute additionally authorizes costs of prosecution. The offense is a 90-day misdemeanor, meaning you can add $50 for the state costs and another $75 for the crime victim rights assessment. There’s also a $10 judgment fee. 

ELK AND MOOSE:  Interestingly, there is no moose hunting season in Michigan, although elk may be killed during limited periods. Get your wallet out if you illegally kill, possess, purchase or sell an elk or moose. For both animals, the base level of restitution is $5,000. If the moose has antlers, add an extra $5,000. If the elk has antlers, add $250 per point (8 to 10 points) or $500 per point (11 or more points). For the moose, the offense is a one-year misdemeanor; for the elk, you’ll face up to 180 days in the jail. The mandatory fine for the moose is between $1,000 and $5,000, and the mandatory fine for an elk is between $500 and $2,000. Costs of prosecution are permitted for both. Your client will also face $50 in state costs and a $75 crime victim rights assessment, and let’s not forget the $10 judgment fee.

BEAR:  If you thought we were safe from wild bears in the Lower Peninsula, dream on. There’s a bear hunting season in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, and of course bear hunting is allowed in the U.P. Should you illegally kill, possess, purchase, or sell a bear, the base level of restitution is $3,500. There’s a mandatory fine of between $200 to $1,999, and costs of prosecution. The offense is a 90-day misdemeanor, meaning there’s an additional $50 state cost and $75 crime victim rights assessment. There’s also a $10 judgment fee.

SELF-DEFENSE:  Someone asked whether a defendant could claim self-defense in the taking of a wild animal. My assumption is yes because most hunting offenses are a misdemeanor and self-defense is a recognized defense in criminal matters. On reflection, I think it might be an uphill battle to prove self-defense. For starters, the possession of any game or protected animal, if not taken as permitted under MCL 324.40101 et seq., is prima facie evidence of a violation of the DNR laws found in that part of the wildlife conservation laws. See MCL 324.40117. Moreover, your client might be asked the following questions at trial:  How did you happen to be walking in the woods with a firearm in an area frequented by wild animals? Did you provoke the animal? Did you attempt to retreat? And how do you explain a wound to the backside of the animal?

LICENSE RESTRICTIONS:  Yes, your client will lose her hunting privileges for the remainder of the year and one or more years into the future when convicted of many hunting violations. See MCL 324.40118(7)-(10).

WEAPON FORFEITURE:  A knowledgeable attorney from Chelsea informed me that forfeiture of the weapon is another possibility. I have no reason to doubt this, although I haven’t been able to pinpoint the statutory authority. This penalty may prove dear to those who love their weapons.

LESSER OFFENSES:  After speaking with four different prosecutors and spending hours studying the wildlife conservation laws, I have to admire anyone who has mastered the DNR violation/penalty scheme as a whole. It’s a highly complex and regulated area of the law. When I asked prosecutors whether there were any lesser-included offenses that would avoid the most severe penalties and restitution found in MCL 324.40118 through 324.40119, I was told there are not. That said, I heard of “creative” charging instances and a seemingly all-purpose statute for violation of DNR orders. footnote 2 One prosecutor admitted to offering recreational trespass as a lesser offense, but this crime seems to be a poor fit when the person is on public property. I’m skeptical there are no obvious lesser-included offenses, although I’m not an expert in this area and may well be wrong. That said, I recommend taking a gander at the hunting and fishing license violations found within MCL 324.43501 et seq., should you wish to find a less serious offense for your client for purposes of plea bargaining.

When it comes to DNR violations, it’s a wild world out there. My best advice is not to underestimate the extent of financial damage to your client. And don’t shoot a moose.

Anne Yantus
Michigan Sentencing PLLC
Copyright Anne Yantus 2022

Anne Yantus is a sentence consultant, working with court-appointed and retained attorneys to promote more favorable sentencing outcomes.  Anne credits her knowledge of Michigan sentencing law to the many years she spent handling plea and sentencing appeals with the State Appellate Defender Office.  Following her time with SADO, Anne taught a criminal sentencing course at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and subsequently continued to write and speak on felony sentencing law while serving as pro bono counsel with Bodman PLC.  Anne welcomes your Michigan felony sentencing questions and is happy to arrange a no-cost consultation for court-appointed attorneys using available Michigan Indigent Defense Commission funds.  Due to the volume of inquiries, the author is not able to respond to pro bono requests for assistance or analysis of individual fact situations.


1. The restitution statute refers to the antlers of a “white-tailed deer,” but I’m told we have no other deer in Michigan.
2. This general statute would appear to be MCL 324.40118(1), but by its terms it does not apply to “a violation specified in subsections (2) to (19).” Subsections (2) to (19) are the subsections with the harshest penalties for taking deer, wild turkey, bear, elk, moose, etc.