BUFFALO — On June 24, Buffalo resident Ray Ludwig signed a plea agreement for poaching four cow elk and harassing big game from a vehicle in November 2018. As part of the agreement, he will pay $5,000 in fines and restitution.

The case began on Nov. 27, 2018, when Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman was contacted by two hunters who witnessed and recorded a vehicle chasing a group of elk in Hunt Area 35 south of Buffalo. They also heard multiple shots coming from the vehicle. Based on the information they provided, Seeman identified the vehicle as belonging to Ludwig and interviewed him via phone that evening.

“What happened next was probably the biggest cover up and conspiracy that I have seen in my 27-year career,” Seeman said. When told that his vehicle had been seen chasing elk, with shots fired from it, Ludwig falsely claimed that several of his friends who had Area 35 licenses were in the vehicle with him that day and they had killed three elk. He also asked Seeman what defined ‘shooting from a vehicle’.

In the following days, Seeman interviewed six people by phone or in person — three Wisconsin residents, a Nebraska resident and two Wyoming residents — that Ludwig had identified as members of the hunting party. Seeman was unable to contact a fourth Wisconsin resident that Ludwig implicated in the poaching.

“The group of subjects all had been coached on what to say and not to speak with a game warden if asked,” Seeman said.

The individuals falsely claimed that among the group, three elk had been killed in Hunt Area 35 and two in Hunt Area 34.

However, the timeline from the video and evidence gathered by Seeman contradicted their statements. After further investigation and assistance from investigators and officers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Seeman learned that two of the Wisconsin subjects who claimed to have shot elk, were not even in Wyoming at the time of the incident and one of the Wyoming residents who later tagged one of the elk with his Area 35 license, was at home during the incident. 

It was eventually determined that Ludwig was the only occupant in the vehicle at the time of the poaching and he did not possess an elk license for Hunt Area 35. Two of the Wisconsin residents, the Nebraska resident and one Wyoming resident were two miles away on foot, attempting to hunt the herd of elk. As the group began shooting at the elk, the herd ran toward Ludwig.

Though Ludwig did not admit during his interview to killing the elk, he was the only person in the vehicle and in the same proximity as the elk and later statements from the rest of his hunting party laid blame for the poaching on Ludwig. Ludwig also said during his interview that in addition to the five elk killed, he saw a blood trail from a sixth, crippled elk that led onto a neighbor’s property but he did not pursue it.

Five subjects were charged with accessory to taking a big game animal without a license for their part in the crime. They each pleaded guilty and were collectively assessed fines totaling $2,375.

Ludwig was charged with killing four big game animals without a license and harassing big game with a vehicle. In addition to $5,000 in fines and restitution, Ludwig’s hunting privileges are suspended in Wyoming and 46 other Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact states for five years.

“If it were not for concerned hunters, who care about ethical hunting practices, this case would never have been made,” Seeman said. “Their willingness to report what they saw and provide video of the event was critical to determining what happened.”