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Iowa YouTubers Josh, Sarah Bowmar plead guilty in poaching case

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa couple famous for their hunting videos on YouTube pleaded guilty in federal court this month to conspiring to break a federal wildlife protection law.

Josh Bowmar, 32, and Sarah Bowmar, 33, were among dozens of defendants charged in a poaching case after they went on hunting tours guided by Broken Arrow, Nebraska-based Hidden Hills Outfitters, between Sept. 10, 2015, and Nov. 6, 2017. Hidden Hills owner Jacob Hueftle was indicted on charges that its 118 clients from 21 states hunted primarily by using illegal bait traps to attract white-tailed deer.

Hueftle was also charged with killing hawks, falcons and other protected non-game migratory birds, according to the indictment. Hueftle was sentenced in 2020 to 30 months in federal prison. His father, Hidden Hills Outfitters co-owner Nolan Hueftle, was sentenced to five years probation last year.

At least 36 defendants, including the Bowmars, were charged in the case, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Josh and Sarah Bowmar pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiring to break the Lacey Act, which prohibits selling, receiving or acquiring wildlife in interstate commerce taken in violation of state or federal wildlife laws. Their business, Bowmar Hunting, also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.

The Bowmars’ attorney Kline Preston told the Des Moines Register, a part of the USA TODAY Network, the Hueftles were the main targets of the investigation and that Josh and Sarah Bowmar will pay their debt to society. They should have known better and should have known how Hidden Hills Outfitters was operating, Preston said.

Who are Joshua and Sarah Bowmar?

Josh Bowmar played football for NCAA D-III Heidelberg University in Ohio. He and his wife, Sarah Bowmar, met in 2014 while participating in a bodybuilding competition, according to the website of Bowmar Nutrition, an Ankeny-based supplement company they own. They’re avid hunters who have posted dozens of videos on fitness and hunting on YouTube and social media. They also sell archery equipment under the name Bowmar Archery.

What happened during the Nebraska hunt?

Between Sept. 10, 2015, and Nov. 6, 2017, Josh and Sarah Bowmar hunted deer in three central Nebraska counties by attracting animals with bait traps, according to an indictment in U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Josh Bowmar hunted for trophy deer named “Goalpost,” ”Superman” and “Head Turner.” They filmed the expeditions and posted videos to their YouTube and social media accounts, according to the Indictment. Four charges relating to hunting in baited areas were dropped in their plea agreement.

Sarah Bowmar hunted deer and turkeys in a baited area on Nov. 1, 2016, without a valid permit, according to the indictment.

The Lacey Act can be easy to break, Preston, their attorney, said. If people break state wildlife rules or regulations and then take plants or animals across state lines, it triggers Lacey Act violations, he said.

“It’s so easy for something that under the state law would be the lowest level criminal offense, the equivalent of a speeding ticket, can become a federal case with huge penalties,” he said.

The Bowmars will be sentenced on Jan. 12 in Omaha. Each faces one year in prison and one year of probation. They must pay a total of $44,000, according to the agreement.

Josh Bowmar hunt spurred a Canadian law, his business is being sued

The federal poaching case is the latest in a string of incidents that have gained the Bowmars followers, and criticism, online.

In 2016, Josh Bowmar, who lived in Ohio at the time, baited a trap in the Canadian woods and then impaled a bear with a long spear that had a camera attached to it, according to Reuters. The video went viral in Canada and outraged some residents, hunting groups and animal-rights activists. Bowmar was never charged because Alberta did not ban spear hunting at the time. In February 2018, the province banned spear hunting because of the video, according to Canadian news outlet Global News.

The killing was ethical, and “no one cares more about these animals than us hunters,” Bowmar told Reuters at the time.

In October 2021, Bowmar Nutrition was sued by consumers who said that laboratory testing proved some of its products have 10% to 67% fewer grams of protein than advertised, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Some of those claims were dismissed in March, according to the Capital Dispatch, but the case is still ongoing.

Follow Philip Joens on Twitter: @Philip_Joens.

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