Every September, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl from across North America begin to arrive on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, drawing hunters out before dawn to wait quietly in the cold at the edges of fields, guts, and tidal rivers for a shot at teals, pintails, snow geese, and more, over the course of the fall and winter.
Waterfowl hunting is a rich tradition in the region — and an economic engine, driving business to local restaurants, hotels, stores, and outfitters that offer guided hunts to clients who pay a few hundred dollars apiece for the experience.
But one guiding company had been leading its clients astray.
In September, the owners of Wye East Outfitters, Josh and Kellie Neuwiller, were sentenced in the U.S. District Court in Salisbury, Maryland, for waterfowl outfitting and guiding without a license during the 2021-2022 season. Kellie Neuwiller was fined $250 and sentenced to one year probation, during which time she cannot hunt, guide or outfit for waterfowl. Josh Neuwiller was sentenced to 90 days in prison — 30 days for operating a waterfowl outfitting business without license, and 60 days for violating federal probation resulting from a 2021 conviction for Migratory Bird Treaty Act violations, including shooting from a motor vehicle.
“The defendants have long profited from exploitive and unethical practices at the expense of the Eastern Shore’s natural resources and hunting traditions,” said Ryan Noel, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in the Northeast Region. “It’s thanks to tips from the public and our close collaboration with Maryland Natural Resources Police that we were able to hold the company accountable.”
The investigation was conducted jointly by the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and Division of Refuge Law Enforcement, and the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
“Having an effective working relationship with our conservation partners is essential in securing positive outcomes in these types of cases,” said James Casey, Northeast Region Chief of the Division of Refuge Law Enforcement. “This is the result of having a dedicated group of law enforcement professionals who are passionate about resource protection.”
Maryland has among the oldest waterfowl hunting regulations in the U.S. The regulations help prevent exploitation of natural resources and ensure populations can persist on the Eastern Shore into the future.
“Commercial poaching activity puts an enormous strain on our wild waterfowl, and this type of enforcement is essential to protecting our natural resources,” said Maryland Natural Resources Police Acting Superintendent Brian Rathgeb. “The strong partnership of the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads to a vigorous enforcement of waterfowl hunting laws and regulations that benefits the hunting public and all Marylanders.”
Bait and switch
In December 2021, special agent John LaCorte, who led the investigation for the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, began fielding calls complaining about the company — they turned out to be the tip of an iceberg.
Some callers reported the outfitter had changed the dates of hunts at the last minute, refusing to refund clients who were unable to reschedule on short notice. Others complained of a bait-and-switch operation.
Part of the Wye East’s appeal was one of its owners, Josh Neuwiller, who was an eight-time world Canada goose calling champion well known in the local waterfowl hunting community.
But more than a dozen clients reported that Neuwiller failed to show up for hunts expressly advertised as being led by him. He would excuse his absence by saying he had another commitment, or that he wasn’t allowed to guide snow goose hunts due to issues with law enforcement. That part was true.
In October 2021, Neuwiller had been convicted of unlawfully taking snow geese, a charge spurred by a video posted on social media that captured Neuwiller shooting more than 80 snow geese from inside his truck while towing a hunting party on a trailer. The incident occurred along a major traffic corridor, which posed a potential threat to the public.
“Nothing about that was safe, ethical, or sporting,” said Chad Coles, a federal wildlife officer with the Service’s Refuge Law Enforcement Program who investigated the incident. The egregious video is now used in trainings on the enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The day after it was posted online, Coles visited the scene of the crime. “I found ruts from where the truck had traveled, spent shells, and wadding from shot guns,” he said.
He found feathers, too.
As a result of his conviction, Neuwiller was prohibited under a three-year term of probation from hunting, guiding, or outfitting snow goose hunts.
Nevertheless, “Just a couple of months later, we learned he was back at it,” said Coles.
Not only was Neuwiller personally booking snow goose hunts in violation of his probation, but Wye East Outfitters was also booking other waterfowl hunts without having obtained an outfitting license for the 2021-2022 season.
LaCorte, Coles, and officers for the Maryland Natural Resource Police joined forces to document the company’s violations, gathering information from social media, interviews with witnesses, and compliance checks.
In the process, they learned the company was using unlicensed guides.
Through search warrants and subpoenas, they were able to document transactions for both outfitting and guiding that took place in the absence of licenses. “We could see that they took down payments for the hunts,” LaCorte explained. “Some would go to the guides, but they were paid mostly in tips. The rest would go to Josh.”
The company booked more than 40 hunts without a license in the 2021-2022 season, the majority for snow geese, charging each hunter $250 to take part in outings with anywhere from four to 12 total participants — amounting to well over $40,000 in income.
An outfitting license from the state of Maryland costs $300. A guide’s license, $50.
The cost would have been a drop in the bucket.
Now they are paying a bigger price.
Giving future generations a shot
In total, the investigation resulted in thirty-six separate waterfowl hunting and licensing violations committed by the Neuwillers and four guides employed by Wye East Outfitters. All four guides pled guilty and paid in forfeitures of collateral posted in lieu of appearing in court.
For centuries, people have been drawn to the Eastern Shore for unrivaled waterfowl hunting opportunities. By upholding laws put in place to protect waterfowl, we can help ensure that future generations will have a shot, too.
If you suspect someone has committed a wildlife crime, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by phone (1–844-FWS-TIPS) or through our Wildlife Crime Tips form, or contact your state wildlife agency.