Suspect Sentenced After Multi-Year Elk Poaching Investigation

A Utah man was recently sentenced for the felony killing and waste of a bull elk near Pioche, Nevada back in August of 2015. The case generated tremendous public interest and led to an incredibly complex investigation and a strong case against the shooter.

Zackry Holdaway, 26, of Cedar City was sentenced to pay a $20,000 civil penalty as well as ordered to pay another $576 in additional fines and fees. Holdaway loses all hunting and fishing license privileges for six years and was also given a suspended sentence of 32 months in state prison and ordered to serve five years on probation.

"This kind of punishment is reserved for the most egregious poaching of big game animals. Our investigation took on added gravity when we learned that the suspect had previous wildlife violations in Utah," said Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed. "This case was a blatant theft and waste of Nevada’s resources, and we are grateful to everyone involved for ensuring justice was served."

The case was a complicated set of circumstances that included these major steps:

  • NDOW discovered the elk in early September at Pearson Ranch in Lincoln County, about a week after it was shot. There was almost no physical evidence remaining, because of advanced decomposition. The head was cut off, with almost the entire carcass left to waste.
  • The initial investigation located several pictures of the crime that were captured by happenstance on a nearby trail camera.
  • After a month with only weak leads in the case, NDOW issued a press release about the crime, including some of the trail camera photos. The release generated tremendous public interest around Nevada and Utah, leading to information indicating Holdaway’s involvement.
  • For eight months, game wardens waited for Holdaway to return to the United States from a guiding job in New Zealand. During this time, NDOW developed stronger evidence of the crime, finding a photo of Holdaway with an animal that was an exact match to one captured on earlier trail camera footage of the crime scene.
  • In early July 2016, NDOW interviewed the suspect and put the case together. A second press release announced the arrest of Holdaway in late July.
  • Holdaway was sentenced on Friday after pleading no contest to the crime.

"We can’t divulge all the behind the scenes work that went into this case, but our officers took an incredibly complex puzzle and put the pieces together into a great case," said Turnipseed. "I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done to protect Nevada’s prized big game animals. The reaction from the public and sportsmen has been overwhelmingly supportive. People are very offended by this type of crime and they want their wildlife protected."

You can hear the game wardens discuss the case in detail on an NDOW podcast that was released Aug. 12, 2016 on www.nevadawild.org. Follow Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed on Twitter for updates on the case @Chief_GW_NV.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. Find us on Facebook, Twitter or visit us at www.ndow.org.