To Allen H. Thacker, it was simply a matter of protecting his property. But to the federal government, his attack on a national symbol constituted a crime.
On Tuesday, Mr. Thacker, 62, pleaded guilty to shooting a bald eagle and killing it by running it over with an all-terrain vehicle, according to the Department of Justice.
The episode took place in Smithfield, Va., on March 13, when a woman told authorities that she had witnessed a person on a red, all-terrain vehicle run over what appeared to be a bald eagle, circle the bird and repeat the act several times, according to a court filing. She said the individual then dragged the bird from a field into the woods.
Officers with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries responded to the report, but were unable to find the bird. They did, however, find Mr. Thacker on his red A.T.V.
During an interview with the authorities, he admitted to shooting the eagle and led the officers to its body, telling them that the bird was killing small game and taking fish from his pond and that he needed to protect his property, according to court documents.
Mr. Thacker said he had fired a warning shot, but the eagle was undeterred so he then shot it with a Remington .22-caliber rifle. He denied running it over with the A.T.V. and said that he instead killed it with a pistol. He later admitted to running over the eagle, the Justice Department said.
Days later, he told agents with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that he was upset by the eagle’s actions because he put time and effort into caring for the property so his family friends could use it.
He also told the agents that he believed too much emphasis was placed on protecting bald eagles and that they were a menace. Others agreed, he said.
In the end, a necropsy on the eagle found that the bird was wounded by the gunshot, but killed by blunt force trauma to the head. There was no evidence found of a pistol shot.
Mr. Thacker faces a penalty of up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Robert Rigney, Mr. Thacker’s attorney, declined to comment before the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for October.