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What is the Value of a Deer?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Federal courts are occasionally asked to decide seemingly frivolous points of law, like the value of a red wax seal or the essence of golf.

Last week, it was the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' turn to weigh in on one of the more philosophical points of law: What is the value of a deer?

In this particular case, the value factored into two brothers' sentences for poaching violations under the Lacey Act.

Brothers James and Marlin Butler sold guided hunts to out-of-state hunters seeking to shoot trophy bucks in Comanche County, Kansas. On a typical guided hunt, the brothers would drive the client to an assigned tree stand, remain with the client for most of the hunt, facilitate the bagging of the deer, and assist the client in retrieving and field-dressing the carcass. Clients were provided with lodging, food, transportation, and other accommodations.

Depending on the type of weapon used by the client, the Butlers charged approximately $3,500 to $5,000 for a guided hunt. On several occasions, they encouraged their clients to violate state hunting laws. Both pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell and transport poached deer in violation of the Lacey Act.

The district court had to calculate the fair market value of the poached deer for sentencing. The court concluded that the value of each deer was the total amount that a client paid to participate in the guided hunt. Based on this determination, the court sentenced the Butlers to several years' imprisonment, required that they pay substantial fines and restitution to Kansas, and imposed special conditions of supervision prohibiting both men from hunting, fishing, or trapping wildlife.

On appeal, a Tenth Circuit panel disagreed with the district court's method of calculation, finding instead that the value assigned to loss of wildlife must reflect the actual value of the animals involved.

The Tenth Circuit set its fair market value definition in Estate of True v. Commissioner. In that case, it concluded that fair market value is "the price at which a willing buyer and willing seller with knowledge of all the relevant facts would agree to exchange the property or interest at issue."

Concluding that there was no reason to reevaluate value now, the appellate court remanded the Butlers' sentencing with instructions to apply the True fair value test to the poached deer.

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