US hunter fined after trophy photo proves he shot sheep in Canada

When an Alaskan hunter ventured out into the rugged mountains and dropped his target with a single rifle shot, it seemed like the perfect crime.

The only witness lay dead on the rocky landscape.

But Donald Lee’s deception was uncovered after forensic work by a savvy online sleuth and conservation officers revealed that Lee killed a bighorn sheep in Canada – not the United States, as he had previously claimed.

A Yukon court slapped Lee with a C$8,500 (US$6,700) fine and barred him from hunting in Canada for five years after he pleaded guilty to an offence under federal wildlife protection laws.

“I am regretful for the decisions I made that day,” Lee said in court, CBC reported. “I can’t return the animal to the mountain.”

In 2017, Lee was hunting the Nation River area of Alaska, close to the Yukon border. He spotted a Fannin sheep grazing on the mountainside, less than 200 metres away.

What he didn’t realise, he later told the court, was that the animal was across the border in Canada – where he didn’t have a permit to hunt. It was only after he had bagged the sheep that the penny dropped, he alleged.

“I suppose I could have contacted someone to get in touch with the Canadian authorities somehow. Instead I made some poor decisions,” Lee wrote in a statement read to the court.

Those decisions included filling out paperwork to say the kill was in Alaska. He ate the meat from his kill and brought the carcass to a taxidermist, mounting the curly-horned ungulate on his wall.

But it was his choice to post trophy photos of the kill that was his undoing.

After Lee posted images posted to a sheep hunting forum a sharp-eyed user, suspecting the sheep had been killed in Canada, sent a tip to Yukon conservation officers, who then travelled by helicopter to the remote area where Lee was believed to have shot the sheep.

The Yukon team painstakingly recreated the scene, using landmarks including distinct rocks and scraggly trees to prove Lee had committed a crime.

Lee now has one year to pay the fine and was previously ordered to turn over the stuffed head.

“I will also say that the sentence imposed today is one which should send a strong message to the public about the price,” said Noel Sinclair, the crown attorney, told reporters after Lee was sentenced. “Unethical hunters will pay when they are careless or deliberately turning a blind eye to the regulatory requirements for hunting in the Yukon.”