Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Disabled hunters’ special privileges draw ire

There’s trouble a-brewin’ in Montana, where authorities believe able-bodied people are gaming the system by obtaining permits that allow disabled hunters special privileges. From the Associated Press:

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana wildlife regulators suspect more and more people are faking disabilities to take advantage of privileges granted to disabled hunters, so they want to remove one of those perks in hopes of curbing abuse.
Permits to hunt from a vehicle, called PTHV permits, are given to Montana hunters with certain disabilities certified by a doctor, chiropractor, nurse or physician’s assistant. The permit allows a disabled person who can’t get around without assistance to hunt from a self-propelled or drawn vehicle.
In some prime hunting areas, those permit holders are allowed to drive along roadways normally gated and closed to all other vehicles. They are also allowed to shoot cow elk without buying an additional antlerless elk license, even in some areas where licenses aren’t available to the general public.
That kind of access has led to abuse of the permits by apparently healthy hunters, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said.
“Most of what we see is people utilizing the permit as an opportunity or a resource to be able to take an antlerless elk,” said James Kropp, the FWP’s chief of law enforcement. “They’re a long way from their vehicle dragging elk off the mountain unassisted, really in a situation the permit was not designed for.”
As of Monday, 9,188 lifetime PTHV permits have been issued, according to FWP. The result has been a reduction in the number of cow elk in some areas, such as the Bitterroot Mountains in southwestern Montana, said FWP commission chairman Bob Ream.
“The population is being knocked back because of the substantial cow harvest in certain districts,” Ream said.
But even when they encounter instances of apparent abuse, it’s usually difficult for wildlife officials to penalize a person who holds a valid permit without putting them in the awkward position of deciding whether a person is disabled.
“Given the fact that these are signed off by a medical physician, it’s not really our judgment to determine whether they are or they aren’t,” Kropp said.
Ream and his fellow commissioners gave initial approval Friday to a plan that would ban holders of the special permit from shooting shoot cow elk with just a general big-game permit.
The ban, which was originally proposed by a disabled hunter’s group out called Blackfoot Access Group, aims to curb the problem by taking away one of the biggest incentives for abusing the program.
“You’ve got so many people who scam their way into getting a PTHV because of these incentives,” said George Hirschenberger, a retired Bureau of Land Management program manager who works with the Blackfoot Access Group. “We’re not asking for that privilege to go away, we’re asking the commission to suspend the privilege until the PTHV is back under control.”
Hirschenberger said he saw evidence of the abuse in the sheer number of people without apparent disabilities who would arrive at his BLM office and at other BLM and U.S. Forest Service offices seeking keys to open the gates of the roadways closed to all but the PTHV permit holders.
“If this guy can walk from his car to the front desk without a problem, what is the reason for him to have a PTHV?” Hirschenberger asked.
Ream said he hopes the ban will be a temporary measure that lasts just until the Legislature tightens the criteria to qualify for the permits, a cause the Blackfoot Access Group plans to lobby for during the 2013 legislative session.
The permit qualifications are set in state law. A person must be dependent on an oxygen device, wheelchair, crutch or cane, or else be an amputee above the wrist or ankle. The last qualifying clause is that a person must be unable to walk unassisted for 600 yards over rough terrain while carrying 15 pounds within an hour and be unable to handle or maneuver up to 25 pounds.
“That last clause — that’s ridiculous,” Ream said. “It needs to be more medically based than that. And secondly, it shouldn’t be a lifetime permit.”
That last category is where the biggest spike in PTHV applications comes from, and those applications have been rising since 2008, when the commission allowed permit holders to hunt cow elk without a license, FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said.
In 2005, before the change, 564 new permits were issued to disabled hunters who cited that qualifying condition. In 2009, the year after the change, 943 new permits citing that condition were issued, Aasheim said.
The proposed ban, which is now out for public comment before a final decision will be made in February, has been endorsed by hunters’ groups in Helena and Missoula.
“This proposal will return respect for the disabled hunters program,” said Rod Bullis of Helena Hunters and Anglers.

Public’s help sought in deer slaughter case

From the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – At least 13 deer were shot, killed and left lying on the ground in the Fairmont area during the month prior to the start of the deer firearms seasons this week, and the Law Enforcement Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is requesting help from the public to solve this case. The deer were found in the Apple Valley / Boothsville area, according to Capt. William Persinger of the WVDNR District 1 Office in Farmington.

Six deer were shot and killed within 25 yards of a residence in Apple Valley. Another seven deer were shot and killed on two additional properties near the same area, near several residences that were within 100 yards of each other.

“It has all the indications of being a copycat thrill killing case similar to others we’ve seen around the country,” Capt. Persinger said. “Some of the deer had small parts removed as if the shooters wanted to keep them as trophies, just like the traits we have seen with some serial killers.”

WVDNR Law Enforcement has been investigating and is asking for assistance from the public. Anyone who has information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of those involved in this crime is asked to contact Natural Resources Police Officers James Crawley, Randall Kocsis or Capt. William Persinger at the WVDNR District 1 Office headquarters in Farmington at 304-825-6787.

“Poaching is not just a violation of the law, it also deprives honest sportsmen of the opportunity to legally harvest game,” Capt. Persinger said.

Disgusting. Simply disgusting. Here’s hoping Capt. Persinger and his officers catch the perpetrators, and that the courts throw the entire library at them instead of just the book.

Steep fines for father-son bear poaching team

What is it about the water in Terra Alta, W.Va.? A couple of weeks ago, two men from that small town were fined more than $2,400 for poaching a trophy-class deer. Now two other Terra Altans have been ordered to pay more than $5,500 for poaching a black bear.

From the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. – A father and son from Terra Alta, W.Va., have been convicted of several violations of West Virginia’s wildlife laws following a two-week black bear poaching/killing investigation in Preston County.
The investigation was conducted by Natural Resources Police Officer Paul Ferguson after he received information from a confidential informant about a bear poaching. That investigation resulted in the arrest of Arnold Dalton, age 77, and his son Eric Dalton, age 47.
Arnold Dalton was charged with and convicted of illegal possession of a black bear and conspiracy to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia Code (wildlife law). He pled guilty on Nov. 14, 2011. His fines and court cost totaled $ 1,341.60.
Eric Dalton was charged with hunting without a bear stamp, illegally killing a black bear, illegal possession of a black bear, conspiring in a violation of Chapter 20. He pled guilty on Nov. 14, 2011, and his total fines, including court costs and replacement fees, were $4,163.20.
The total fines, court costs and replacement costs assessed in this case were $5,504.80. The subjects may also have their hunting privileges suspended for two years.

Deer ‘thrill killings’ traced to teens

McCoy photo

I suppose it’s more desirable to have high school students thrill-killing deer than thrill-killing their fellow students, but still, this is disturbing…

From the Associated Press:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Five Murray High School students have been cited for poaching deer — a growing problem in the state, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials.
DNR district supervisor Mark Sedlmayr tells Des Moines television station KCCI that the boys were spotlighting and shooting deer and other animals in the early evening, leaving dead and injured animals where they had been shot.
The five teens were cited Friday for hunting by artificial light, shooting over public roadway, pursuing white tail deer with a rifle out of season and abandoning dead or injured wildlife. Each charge carries a fine of $20 to $100.
Sedlmayr dubbed the illegal hunting “thrill killing,” and said it’s a growing problem in the state, especially among young people.

‘Trophy poaching law’ serves up hefty fines

West Virginia’s “trophy poaching law” has nailed four alleged perps in the last two weeks.

The law, which slaps enhanced fines on poachers who kill white-tailed bucks with trophy-sized antlers, was used in charges filed against two Preston County men and two Wetzel County men.

Ernest Nice, 39, and Bryan Sypolt, 37, both of Terra Alta in Preston County, were arrested Oct. 22 at a hunting camp near Terra Alta. Natural Resources Police say the two men had illegally killed a 10-point buck. Because the buck’s antlers had a spread of 15 1/4 inches, it qualified for what the Division of Natural Resources calls “enhanced penalties” under the 2010 trophy poaching law.

The law calls for poachers to pay replacement fees of at least $1,000 on any buck with an antler spread of 14 to 16 inches, $1,500 for a spread of 16 to 18 inches, $2,000 for a spread of 18 to 20 inches, and $2,500 for a spread greater than 20 inches.

Charges against Nice and Sypolt are pending in Preston County Circuit Court. If convicted, the men could end up paying a total of $2,805 in fines and court costs.

The Wetzel County arrests occurred Oct. 28, when officers were called to a remote location along the Tyler County line to examine two deer carcasses with the heads cut off them. An investigation led the officers to a subsequent location, where they found the heads of two trophy eight-point bucks.

Tylor Hostuttler, 18, of Jacksonburg and Codie Leek, 18, of Pine Grove were issued what officers described as “various citations.” The bucks the two men allegedly poached both qualified for enhanced fines.

DNR officials are reporting higher-than-normal numbers of big-antlered bucks in the woods this fall, so the trophy poaching law will likely be used several more times before the state’s hunting seasons end. DNR officials pushed for the enhanced fines to deter would-be poachers from taking such a heavy toll on trophy whitetails.

Now that people are getting busted, maybe the word will get out.

‘Robo Deer’ still catching poachers

Florida's Robo Deer (AP/Fla F&W photo)

More than two decades ago, I wrote a story that got picked up by the Associated Press and got a ton of national attention. It was about Robo Deer, a radio-controlled deer decoy used by West Virginia conservation officers to catch would-be poachers.

The name “Robo Deer” caught on. Now many states use mechanical whitetails to nail scofflaws. Here’s the latest on the trend, from the Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nighttime deer poachers beware — that shadowy creature on the side of the road may just be remote-controlled.
State wildlife officials across the country have for several decades been rolling out roadside robot decoys to nab unscrupulous hunters, and the effort has paid off with hundreds of citations.
A robotic deer decoy used in Georgia had to be replaced in 2006 after being shot more than 1,000 times.
“It’s a time of year when some Utahns can’t resist the sight of a big buck on the side of the road — even if shooting hours are over for the day,” said Amy Canning, a spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Utah’s five DWR regions now each have their own robot decoys, which are deployed in various spots along roadways where deer often gather or where poachers have been a problem in the past.
Hunting is not allowed at night in Utah, starting a half hour after sunset until a half hour before sunrise, but authorities say the sight of a big deer on the side of a road can just be too tempting for some.
Once a plan is in place, authorities put the mechanical deer near a road where it can be seen by passing cars. Then they hide nearby and keep watch, waiting for someone to take the bait, occasionally using the remote control to move the decoy’s head and tail “to make it look as realistic as possible,” said Utah DWR Sgt. Matt Briggs.
“We try to mimic some of the movement that takes place in the field,” he said.
Hunters will generally use headlights to illuminate the deer, then take their shot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bow and arrow or a rifle — if it’s at night, it’s illegal without special permission, Briggs said.
The shooters in Utah are issued a class B misdemeanor citation, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Authorities also seize their weapons.
Briggs said he’s seen it all, from bow hunters shooting multiple arrows at the inanimate robot deer, amazed that it’s not going down, to shooters with rifles repeatedly firing shots at the mechanical beast.
“I’ve seen an individual shoot it with a 30-06 (rifle) and couldn’t figure out why it didn’t go down after he hit it five or six times,” Briggs said. “It can be really entertaining.”
Elsewhere, poachers are catching on, and have become wary of shooting from the road not only for fear of arrest, but of the embarrassment that comes along with it, said Lt. Bill Bruce of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. His state’s decoy was effective for about 10 years, but wasn’t deployed last year after it became less useful.
“If somebody gets caught shooting the deer from the road, it ruins their reputation as a hunter,” Bruce said. “Their name goes up on the wall of shame among local hunters.”
Florida officers have also used a robotic deer in all six wildlife regions, said state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Katie Purcell.
“It’s been successful at catching poachers,” Purcell said. “It’s a tool that officers can take to where the violation is actually happening.”

This guy gives hunting a bad name


If there is justice in this world, Jeff Foiles will never hunt again.

He’s already given hunting a couple of big, shiny black eyes. He shouldn’t get the opportunity to further besmirch the reputation of an otherwise honorable pastime.

The latest black eye came Wednesday, when Foiles, an Illinois hunting guide who produces commercial waterfowl-hunting videos under the “Fallin’ Skies” brand, pleaded guilty to 10 counts, some cruelty-related, in an Edmonton, Canada, court. This Winnipeg Free Press story has the disgusting details of some of Foiles’ violations.

Earlier this summer, Foiles pleaded guilty on U.S. federal charges on illegal sales of wildlife and falsification of records. He faces up to 13 months in jail and a $100,000 fine on those charges. In addition, he admitted to a slew of other violations that included shooting more than the legal limit of ducks on at least 15 occasions. Details are here, in the Springfield Journal-Register.

No word on how long he might lose his hunting privileges. But if I were a judge and it were within my power, I’d ban this bad egg permanently.

Shooting ranges are getting shot up

Too popular?

This week’s column explores the down side to operating shooting ranges on public property. West Virginia operates 27 of them, and lately has been fighting a losing battle with littering and vandalism:

West Virginia’s shooting ranges have become victims of their own success.
Maintained by the Division of Natural Resources at 27 state-run wildlife management areas and state forests, the ranges attract throngs of hunters and recreational shooters.
Ordinarily that would be a good thing. But lately, people seem to be abusing the ranges instead of using them.
“There’s been a major change in the way people act at the ranges,” DNR director Frank Jezioro told me.
“The ranges were originally built so hunters could go and sight in their rifles, to try out new equipment, and to teach young people to shoot. Now the ranges’ primary users are recreational shooters, many of whom are not hunters.
“An average hunter uses a range one or two times a year, and probably doesn’t shoot more than 25 rounds per visit. Recreational shooters are coming one to two times a week and are shooting dozens or even hundreds of rounds per visit.”
Even that wouldn’t be a problem, Jezioro added, were it not for the targets those high-volume shooters have been choosing.
“They’re bringing in a lot of military-style firearms, from AR-15s to .50-caliber rifles, and they don’t seem content to shoot paper targets with them,” he said. “They’re shooting at old TVs and computer monitors. They’re shooting at milk jugs, glass bottles and tin cans. They’re even bringing in watermelons to shoot, like they see on TV.”
What’s worse, some shooters are even taking aim at the DNR-provided steel frames that hold paper targets.
“I don’t know if it’s to see if their bullets can pierce metal, or if it’s just to hear the clang of the bullet hitting something. The bottom line is that they’re literally cutting the frames down,” Jezioro said.
The job of fixing the damage and cleaning up the litter usually falls to DNR wildlife managers.
“Those people should be spending their time planting wildlife plots, or mowing fields to provide better wildlife habitat,” Jezioro said. “Instead, they’re spending way too much time cleaning up and repairing ranges.”
The problem came to a head a couple of weeks ago at a range near Morgantown.
“One of our employees encountered a guy who had brought a sack of beer bottles and was planning to set them up as targets. The range was littered with shot-up propane bottles, bowling pins and electronic equipment. It looked like a landfill,” Jezioro said.
Similarly irresponsible behavior caused the range to be closed at Berkeley County’s Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.
“Two years ago, people started putting targets on top of the earthen bank that serves as a backstop for the targets,” Jezioro explained. “Shots were going over the backstop and were hitting people’s houses. We couldn’t allow that to happen.”
The good news is that DNR officials aren’t taking the abuse lying down.
“We’ve instructed our people to clean up the ranges and to rebuild them, and we’re appealing to the shooting public to abide by the rules,” Jezioro said. “From now on, if we catch people shooting stuff up and leaving it, we’ll cite them for littering.”
He has simple advice for shooters who wish to avoid those $500 tickets.
“Clean up after yourselves,” he said. “Anything you bring in – paper targets, ammo boxes, beverage containers – you take out with you. Pick up your shotgun hulls and spent brass. Treat the place as if it were your own property, because really it is.”

Taze-and-release hunting? Not in Alaska!

I suppose it had to happen. When engineers at Taser International came up with a stun gun that could be effectively used on big-game animals, the potential for abuse became apparent.

Not  any longer — at least not in Alasksa, where wildlife officials have banned the use of Tasers for “catch-and-release” hunting.

From the Associated Press:

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Board of Game has passed a statewide rule prohibiting the use of stun guns when hunting game or posing with it, in an effort to prevent what state wildlife officials call “catch and release hunting.”
“Conceivably someone could Taser a moose or bear, go up and get a picture taken with it, shut the (Taser) off and then release the animal,” said Larry Lewis, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist in Soldotna who wrote the proposal.
Lewis said there have been no reports of something like that happening, but with no regulations on the book to outlaw such an action, “it’s ripe for abuse,” Lewis said. “What we wanted to do was kind of head off at the pass any non-trained use of this equipment.”
He said he is not aware of any other states that have similar regulations.
Fish and Game staff, law enforcement and others may be authorized to use stun guns on wildlife, but only after going through a training course taught by Lewis, a certified stun gun master instructor, and receiving a permit.
Lewis said about 25 state wildlife biologists have been trained in the use of stun guns on wildlife so far. Wildlife stun guns are similar to those devised for humans but are more powerful and pulse at a quicker rate. The devices cause involuntary muscle contractions that cause the person, or animal in this case, to fall down. Once the stimulation is ended, the muscles work properly again. Hand-held models can be used at 35 feet but other types allow for much greater distances, he said.
Wildlife biologists in Fairbanks recently unsuccessfully used a stun gun on a cow moose in an attempt to stun it so they could remove a rope from its neck. The moose had been roaming a neighborhood since early January after residents rescued it from the Chena River. The animal’s long winter coat appears to have prevented the device’s prongs from sticking.
Lewis said he has used a stun gun to haze bears and moose on the Kenai Peninsula and it has been effective. He also used the device on a moose so he could remove a chicken feeder stuck on its head.
“I was able to knock it down, remove the feeder, examine the animal for injuries and release it,” Lewis said.
While stun guns could be used to immobilize moose and deer that have become entangled, Lewis said he would not recommend using the devices on bears except to scare them off.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recognized the lack of authority to regulate the use of stun guns on wildlife and took Lewis’ proposal to the state Game Board, which approved it at a recent meeting in Anchorage, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
“Restricting the use of (stun guns) will reduce the risk of improper or unethical use on wildlife by the public or other agency personnel who are unfamiliar with the potential effects and hazards,” Fish and Game said in a statement.
The measure does not bar Alaskans from using stun guns on moose or bear if being attacked.

The high price of deer poaching

The $24,000 rack

Ohio has thrown the book at another trophy buck poacher.

James Alspaugh of West Mansfield, Ohio, has been ordered to pay $23,816.95 in restitution for a buck he shot in 2010. The buck’s non-typical rack scored 218 7/8 on the Boone & Crockett Club’s scale for scoring big-game trophies.

It’s a significant story, if for no other reason the size of the fine.  Newspapers outside Ohio have taken notice.  Check out this account in The Los Angeles Times.

Kudos to the judge for socking it to Alspaugh. Maybe would-be poachers will think twice now before drawing a bead on an illegal buck.