On Oct. 8, 2017, it was all smiles for Aubrey's Travis D. Johnson, when he posed with his latest kill.
It appeared to be a record-setter, but now it will come with an asterisk: poached.
Johnson pleaded no contest Monday to illegally taking the 278-point whitetail buck and was sentenced to two years of probation and 40 hours of community service in a deferred adjudication agreement. He is prohibited from buying a hunting license during the deferred adjudication period and also faces $53,000 in civil restitution fines from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The "278-point" designation is according to the Boone & Crockett scoring system.
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"What an ill-fated legacy for what could have been, and what 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."
Had Johnson not circulated the photos of himself posing with the buck during daylight hours, along with comments noting that he had taken it with a bow the previous evening, he might have gotten away with hunting after legal shooting hours. Legal hunting hours for all game animals in the state of Texas are one half-hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset.
Game wardens were also concerned that Johnson may have failed to keep the meat in edible condition, said TPWD communications manager Steve Lightfoot.
According to a TPWD news release, rumors circulating about the kill led Denton County game warden Stormy McCuistion to meet with Johnson the same day the photo was taken. He had questions about Johnson's timeline.
According to the release, Johnson told McCuistion he wounded the buck on Sept. 30, then began pursuing it, but didn't get an opportunity to finish it off until a week later. An investigation of the scene of the kill, near Pilot Point, and a conversation with a landowner adjacent to the property where Johnson hunted, led to the criminal investigation.
McCuistion told the Star-Telegram that there were several other charges that he could have pursued against Johnson but didn't, including felony charges for hunting whitetail deer without landowner consent and wasting game. Hunting whitetail deer at night is a Class A misdemeanor.
"He's done that the last two years, hunting without consent, on the same land he killed this deer," McCuistion said. "There are more deer involved than just one."