Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

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.

Big-buck fines for poaching big bucks

This one would cost you about $2,000

One of my stories for this week’s Gazette-Mail outdoors page points out the sea change that has taken place in the fines charged for poaching trophy deer in West Virginia:

Deer poachers are learning that West Virginia’s game laws are no longer cheap to violate.
Since a 2010 law increased the fines for killing deer with trophy antlers, state Natural Resources Police haven’t been shy about imposing what they call “enhanced penalties” on violators.
Several times already this season, officers have cited individuals for killing bucks with antler spreads greater than 14 inches. Courts haven’t yet levied fines in cases still pending, but they have handed down steep fines in others.
In Preston County, for example, 39-year-old Ernest Nice of Terra Alta was charged with illegally killing and possessing a buck with a 15 1/2-inch antler spread. Nice was assessed $1,782.40 in fines and court costs.
Nice’s alleged accomplice, 37-year-old Bryan Sypolt of Terra Alta, was fined $682.40 for hunting without a license, illegal possession of wildlife, and providing false information to an officer.
One thousand dollars of Nice’s fine related to the buck’s antler size. The new law established the “replacement fee” for killing a buck with a 14- to 16-inch spread at $1,000, a buck with a 16- to 18-inch spread at $1,500, a buck with an 18- to 20-inch spread at $2,000, and a buck with a spread of 20 inches or greater at $2,500.
Division of Natural Resources officials pushed for the law during the 2010 legislative session, hoping it would help curb the toll poachers had been taking on the state’s trophy-rich southern deer herd. In four counties – Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming – deer hunting with firearms has been illegal since 1979, and since then the area has attained a reputation for producing big-antlered bucks.
Only a handful of cases were prosecuted last year, mainly because trophy bucks were less abundant than in previous years. This year, by all accounts, the number of big-antlered whitetails has increased dramatically. So, apparently, has interest in poaching.
“We have a couple of cases pending down in Logan County already,” said Capt. Kaven Ransom, the head Natural Resources police officer for the state’s southwestern counties. “Both of them were eight-point bucks. One barely qualified for the enhanced fines; the other was pretty-good sized.”
Fines haven’t yet been levied, but Ransom expects the courts to stick to the letter of the law. “They’re pretty protective of their deer down there,” he said.
Capt. Larry Case of the Beckley office said poaching arrests are up in his neck of the woods, too, although so far only one of the arrests involved a trophy-sized buck.
“This fall, for whatever reason, we’re busier than usual,” he said. “We’re definitely getting more illegal deer kills, mainly in Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties.”
The trophy arrest occurred earlier this week, when Natural Resources Police officer Gabe Wood arrested 38-year-old Tommy Witt II of Princeton for the out-of-season shooting of a nine-point buck with an 18-inch antler spread. Witt faces a $2,000 trophy replacement fee and additional fines that could total as much as $1,000 more.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that several trophy-related arrests have been made in the state’s northern counties, which usually don’t produce many big-antlered bucks.
“In our neck of the woods, some serious arresting is going on in relation to the enhanced penalties,” said Capt. Bill Persinger. “In addition to the [Preston and Wetzel county cases] we’ve issued news releases about, we have a case pending in Harrison County, another in Preston and another in Wetzel.”
Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, called the timing of the arrests “perfect.”
“A lot of guys are out in the woods now, and they’re seeing some nice bucks. If they know they might have to pay $1,000 to $2,000 in additional fines, they might think twice about taking those bucks illegally,” he said.
Lt. Col. Jerry Jenkins, second in command at the DNR’s Law Enforcement Section, also believes the enhanced fines will help deter would-be poachers.
“As news of these arrests gets out, it will have a deterrent effect,” he said. “I know one thing: It sure is a far cry from the ‘old days,’ when poaching a buck of any size only brought you a fine of $20 plus court costs.”

Remembering a slain game warden

WCO David Grove (PGC photo)

A year after Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove was killed while making an arrest, folks in Pennsylvania are pausing to remember the young officer.

The Waynesburg Record Herald did a good job updating the story.

One of the things I find most interesting is that Grove’s alleged assailant, 28-year-old Christopher Johnson of Fairfield, Pa., has not yet been tried. According to the story in the Record Herald, Johnson’s lawyer has been filing one pre-trial motion after another, effectively delaying his client’s day in court.

This is a West Virginia-focused blog, but I too want to keep Grove’s memory alive. Call them what you want — conservation officers, game wardens, natural resources police officers — but those guys have tough, tough jobs. They work long hours for meager pay, and despite this most of them remain dedicated to their profession. Hats off to WCO Grove and to all the men and women who try to keep the woods safe for law-abiding sportsmen.


From the Associated Press:

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (AP) — A 16-year-old Bridgeport boy has been charged with illegally killing a trophy buck deer and could be fined $1,000 if convicted.
The Division of Natural Resources says a taxidermist reported the boy after he brought in a 10-point buck and claimed it had been shot with a bow and arrow.
Officers recovered a bullet and determined the deer was shot before rifle season.
When confronted with the bullet, the DNR says the teenager admitted he shot the deer with a rifle from a tree stand on Youth Hunting Day Oct. 29.
Only antlerless deer can be killed on Youth Hunting Days.
The teen was cited for killing deer during closed season, illegal possession of wildlife and improper checking of game. The case is in Harrison County Magistrate Court.

Here’s my question: What responsibility does the young person’s adult companion have in this matter? The law requires that all youth hunters be accompanied by a properly licensed adult who remains close enough to render immediate advice and assistance.

And the AP story significantly underestimates the fines. The $1,000 fine is only the “enhanced replacement fee” for a buck with a 14-inch minimum antler spread. There will likely be other fines — a minimum $200 standard whitetail replacement fee plus magistrate-determined fines for killing deer during a closed season, illegal possession of wildlife and improper checking of game. And on top of all those, court costs will be added.

If, indeed, a responsible adult was present during the hunt, he or she should be held at least partially responsible.

UPDATE: When I wrote the preceding paragraphs, I completely forgot that 16-year-olds are allowed to hunt during the youth season without adult supervision. Youths age 15 and under are required to have adults along; youths age 15 to 18 may hunt independently. For some reason, I completely brain-cramped on that point. Sorry.


‘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.

Thirty-six point buck poached; three charged

Big antlers too often bring out the worst in people.

From the Associated Press:

MORRIS, Ill. (AP) — Three men have been charged with illegally killing two dozen deer, including one Illinois officials say might have set a new state record.
The Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday that 45-year-old Christopher Kiernan of Minooka, 49-year-old Larry Smith of Williamsburg, Ontario, Canada, and 31-year-old Garret Armstrong of Avon, N.Y., each face multiple charges.
Grundy County State’s attorney Johnathan Bates said Kiernan turned himself in and was released on bond. The other men have not yet been jailed.
Kiernan did not return a call from The Associated Press. None of the men have entered pleas.
Bates said the deer were shot at a site just outside Morris in north-central Illinois.
The largest deer was a 36-point buck that DNR officials said could set a new whitetail record.

Man ticketed for helping wildlife officers

In the spirit of “no good deed goes unpunished,” the National Park Service is trying to fine an Alaska man for helping to retrieve a caribou shot by two state wildlife officers.

From the Associated Press:

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — National Park Service authorities have issued a $225 citation to a Cantwell man who helped two off-duty state troops retrieve a caribou they shot while hunting.
The troopers asked 25-year-old Justin Norton to use his all-terrain vehicle to help them collect the caribou from Denali National Park and Preserve, about 150 miles south of Fairbanks. Wildlife Trooper Jim Ellison had legally shot the animal a day earlier.
But Norton, who has lived in Alaska just six months, isn’t a qualified subsistence user, so it’s illegal for him to drive a four-wheeler in the park. Park Service officials met him at a restaurant Friday to issue the ticket for the Aug. 26 incident.
Norton knew the troopers through his girlfriend’s family.
“I was home sick that day and they called me up and said, ‘We shot a caribou. Can you come help us? We’ll give you some meat,'” Norton told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Norton said one of the troopers knew he was new to Alaska but nobody told him he shouldn’t be driving an ATV in the park. He didn’t know it was illegal, and if it was, he assumed the troopers would tell him, he said. Neither trooper was available for comment on Friday.
Norton doesn’t blame Ellison and Trooper Eric Jeffords for the ordeal, he said. They’ve offered to pay his ticket, but Norton said he was inclined to fight it.
“The park service is bullying me,” he said. “I don’t like to be pushed around.”

‘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.”

Illegal net kills 3,000 sharks off Texas coast

What a waste. From the Associated Press:

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) — As many as 3,000 sharks died in an illegal gill net state officials say stretched for miles just off the South Texas Gulf coast.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot says game wardens found the three-mile net just off the South Padre Island beach on Sept. 20.
Lightfoot says no arrests have been made, but officials suspect Mexican nationals set the net.
KGBT-TV of Harlingen reports overfishing has all but ruined commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on the Mexican side of the U.S. border.

Hunter died from bullet, not bear, autopsy says

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Remember that hunter killed last week in Montana by a grizzly bear? Turns out the bear didn’t kill him. One of the hunter’s friends, in a desperate attempt to get the bear off him, shot him. From the Associated Press:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A hunter attacked by a wounded grizzly in a Montana forest was killed not by the bear, but by a gunshot fired by a companion trying to save him, authorities said Friday.
Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe said an autopsy determined 39-year-old Steve Stevenson of Winnemucca, Nev., died of a single gunshot to the chest. The cause of death was determined by a medical examiner with the Montana State Crime Lab.
The shot was fired by 20-year-old Ty Bell, also of Winnemucca, as he attempted to stop the bear’s attack. No charges are expected, Bowe said.
The autopsy found bite marks on Stevenson’s leg caused by the bear.
“We’re fairly convinced it was obviously an accident,” Bowe said. “But the county attorney will review the final report once we’re done.”
Bell and Stevenson were on a black bear hunting trip with two other people in a thickly-forested region along the Montana-Idaho border when the attack occurred Sept. 16.
The foursome had split into two-member teams, and early in the day Bell shot and wounded what he thought was a black bear, which are considered less aggressive than grizzly bears.
Bell and Stevenson waited about 15 minutes until they thought the bear had died, then tracked the 400-pound grizzly into thick cover, according to Stevenson’s mother, Janet Price.
When the bear turned on the men, Stevenson yelled at the animal to distract it and keep it from attacking Bell, Price told The Associated Press last week. When the animal instead went after Stevenson, Bell fired multiple shots trying to kill the animal, Bowe said.
It was unclear how many times the bear was hit, or whether the bullet that killed Stevenson had first hit the bear. Bowe said that possibility was under investigation.
The bear also died.
It is illegal to kill grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, where the animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the case is also under investigation by federal wildlife agents.
Grizzlies were largely exterminated across the lower 48 last century, but their population has rebounded dramatically in recent decades.
The grizzly shot by Bell was one of about 45 of the animals that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates live in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Area in northwest Montana and northern Idaho.
Ron Aasheim with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the case underscored the potential danger hunters face when pursuing wounded animals.
“Anytime you follow a wounded animal, but particularly a predator like a bear, you have to be very careful,” he said.

My heart goes out, not only to the victim, but also to his hunting partner.