During an annual post-hunting season count last week, state officials photographed a trophy mule deer near Hurricane.
Roughly 48 hours later, the buck was discovered dead.
Acting on an anonymous tip, state conservation officers staked out a Murray business and arrested two people in connection with the illegal killing of the buck from the Smith's Mesa area near Hurricane.
Search warrants were issued for homes in Magna and Pleasant Grove, the business in Murray and several vehicles, and officers discovered at least 15 illegally taken bucks, including five considered trophies, as well as two young bull elk and four doe deer.
The animals, killed since the end of October, came from across the state, including Washington, Salt Lake, Morgan and Wasatch counties.
"There is definitely an element of trophy hunting. They were targeting big bucks, especially during the [mating season]," said conservation officer Chris Schulze. "They were out there with the purpose of poaching. It was a well-thought-out operation."
Arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County jail were Jarod Birrell, of Magna, and Balinda Gutierrez, of Pleasant Grove.
DWR officials say they face multiple third-degree felony charges for the wanton destruction of protected wildlife as well as for aiding and assisting others with the same.
They also say their investigation is ongoing and other arrests are possible. Officials suspect a poaching ring.
Utah's mule deer population continues to decline, and biologists are struggling to keep herds at the statewide objective management goal of 15 bucks for every 100 does.
"We are seeing significant poaching cases involving large quantities of trophy deer," said Tony Wood, captain of the DWR's law enforcement section. "That certainly is having an adverse effect on buck-to-doe ratios. Poaching activities [affect] management decisions."
Got a tip?
Officials urge those who have information on this poaching case, or any wildlife crime, to call the Utah Turn-in-a-Poacher (UTiP) hot line at 1-800-662-DEER.