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MDNR Report

Thomas Steele III, 23, of Chelsea is serving a 60-day sentence in the Marquette County Jail after pleading guilty to intentionally sabotaging a hunter’s tree stand.

Steele recently pleaded guilty in Marquette County Circuit Court to misdemeanors of aggravated assault and hunter harassment under a plea agreement.

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.

Steele’s hunting privileges were revoked for an undetermined amount of time. 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.”

Incident details

The harassment began in October 2020 on state hunting land in Marquette County.

A local Upper Peninsula hunter arrived at his tree stand one day and found a note on his trail camera, stating that he was set up in Steele’s hunting spot.

Steele, then a student at Northern Michigan University, left his phone number on the note asking the hunter to call him. He deleted the pictures from the hunter’s trail camera.

In Michigan, you cannot claim exclusive rights on public hunting land. Any tree stand or deer blind left unoccupied on state land can be used by another individual.

The hunter contacted Steele, apologizing that he was unaware someone was using the area. Over the phone, Steele insisted that the hunter stay off the land. Eventually the hunter lost patience and told Steele he would stay away.

Dangerous trap

Weeks later, when the hunter returned to his tree stand, he surveyed the area, which looked untouched. He grabbed the memory card from his trail camera, then started to climb up his tree stand.

Yanking on the climbing sticks, everything was secure. He climbed to the top, which appeared intact, then stepped onto the platform of his stand and immediately fell 15 to 20 feet to the ground.

The hunter landed on his feet but injured his ankle and back. Looking up, he saw that the stand was dangling from the tree, about 8 feet above ground.

Concerned that Steele was watching him on a camera, the hunter quickly limped out of the woods. Once at home, he called 911 and checked his memory card, which had been wiped clean of images for the second time.

DNR Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux responded and took the hunter’s statement, launching an investigation.

Continued harassment

Weeks went by and the hunter returned to the hunting location and used new straps to setup his tree stand.

The next day, Steele – who was using a camera to spy on the hunter – sent a new text to the hunter, 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?”

Boudreaux and Conservation Officer John Kamps continued to closely monitor the hunter’s tree stand. They acquired evidence of Steele cutting the victim's tree stand straps 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,” Boudreaux explained. “The victim would have fallen 15 to 20 feet to the ground.”

Boudreaux obtained a search warrant for Steele’s trail camera, which Steele had left on state land. Conservation officers removed the camera.

Steele, who thought the hunter stole his trail camera, left threatening voicemails on his phone and disparaged him on multiple local social media groups.

Steele eventually called 911 to report his missing trail camera.

Officers intervene

Boudreaux took the call and arranged to meet Steele in-person, with Kamps and public safety officers from NMU.

During the meeting, Steele offered a full confession, admitting that he sabotaged the hunter’s tree stand.

He was charged in the case in 2021. Steele, who was already suspended from NMU, withdrew prior to being expelled.

Find out more about hunter harassment in Michigan.