Truth Behind the Headlines: Bowmar Hunting Cleared Of All Hunting Federal Charges

Bowmar Hunting

News about celebrity bowhunters Josh and Sarah Bowmar has been everywhere lately, with headlines tying them to a Nebraska poaching case, the federal charges brought against them, and their sentencing details as a result of the nine-year battle. But once you look a little deeper into the truth behind the headlines, things aren’t quite as scandalous as they seem. So, what did the Bowmars actually do? Aside from trusting the wrong hunting outfitter, not much. 

While the hunting charges against the Bowmars, which included illegal baiting and poaching, were dropped due to lack of substantial evidence, what’s often left out in the media is that you can legally bait in Nebraska. However, you must be 200 feet away from the bait when hunting. Josh and Sarah relied on the outfitter they hired to ensure they were in compliance. 

In fact, hiring Hidden Hills Outfitters of Broken Bow to guide them through outfitted hunts for mule deer was where their trouble began. Although highly recommended by others in the hunting community, unbeknownst to the Bowmars, the outfitter was also embroiled in a multi-year sting investigation by the Nebraska Fish and Game Association for suspected use of illegal poaching tactics, like hunting at night with spotlights, hunting over bait, shooting deer without proper tags, and hunting with prohibited weapons.

Unfortunately, the Bowmars’ three hunting trips with this outfitter, which took place between 2015 and 2017, occurred during the middle of this investigation, and as a result, they were caught up with 33 other Hidden Hills clients. However, another point left out of most coverage is that the Bowmars never hunted with any of those clients, only bowhunting by themselves. Josh states, “Yes, this has been a classic case of ‘guilt by association’—we absolutely were not doing the things that some of the outfitter’s other clients were.”

Specifically, although the charges against the outfitter, its owners, and clients involved nearly 100 animals, the Bowmars’ involvement consisted of only two deer and a wild turkey, and again they were cleared of all hunting charges, unlike 33 of those other clients. Which, in hindsight, now makes sense to the Bowmars as they had wondered why they hadn’t been as successful as they’d heard other hunters had been with this outfitter.

Where the Bowmars did make a mistake, and willingly pleaded guilty once they realized it, was a misdemeanor federal charge of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a law of which they were previously unaware. Sarah said, “Josh has hunted his whole life, and I also have my hunting license and have taken a hunter’s safety course, and neither of us had ever heard of the Lacey Act. That’s not an excuse, we accept accountability for our ignorance here, but the average hunter either doesn’t know about it or doesn’t fully understand the ramifications.”

The Lacey Act, a piece of federal legislation written in 1900, is not actually a hunting law but instead a form of protection for wildlife and conservation, including plants and trees. The Bowmars were in violation simply because they planned to take their hunt back home to Ohio. 

“We’re satisfied with the final outcome of our case because it was fair and aligned with the facts, but it has had serious implications for us as well. We don’t want this to come across like this conspiracy charge isn’t a big deal because it most definitely is. This comes with hefty fines, probation, and even hunting restrictions in Nebraska. This is serious, and we are taking it that way,” Josh shares. 

Although the couple was only charged with one count of the federal misdemeanor of conspiring to violate the Lacey act, the fine of $25,000 was tripled−$25,000 for each Bowmar and another $25,000 for their hunting company Bowmar Bowhunting LLC. In addition, they were placed on three years probation and aren’t allowed to hunt in the state of Nebraska for three years.

 While the Bowmars are thankful that the case is over, they’re still reeling from sensationalized headlines, which they believe targeted them because of their 3 million combined social media following making them “the big fish” in regards to the others involved in this case. 

Sarah states, “What we want the world to know is that we are not criminals. We are not bad people. And we are certainly not poachers—not only has that been proven in a court of law, but we have far too much respect for the natural world to abuse it anyway. We’ve learned some very valuable lessons from this experience and our mistakes, and we look forward to doing our best to leave a positive footprint on the hunting community and involving our children in the boundless joys of the great outdoors.”

Read Also: 5 Tips to Lead a Successful Mule Deer Hunt