Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Some might have sympathy for David Manilla, but he’ll get no sympathy here.

Manilla, 49, of Montgomery County, Pa., pleaded guilty to two felony counts of illegal firearms possession and no contest to a misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter. All the charges stemmed from a hunting incident last fall.

Manilla is a former felon who later became a lawyer. As a convicted felon, he wasn’t permitted to own firearms, but he did. He was hunting illegally when he shot and killed hunter Barry Groh as Groh stood over a dead deer in Bucks County, Pa. Manilla said he mistook Groh for a deer.

Not only was it illegal for Manilla to own the rifle he used, it was also illegal to deer hunt with rifles in that county.

Manilla faces 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison for the charges against him. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get the same slap-on-the-wrist sentence  he got earlier in life for breaking a man’s skull with a weight-lifting  bar.

The full story is here, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Girl, 9, killed in hunting accident

When the news is bad, being a reporter really stinks.

What with Monday’s tornado tragedy in Joplin, Mo., I didn’t think the news could get much worse. Then I read that a 9-year-old Texas girl had been shot and killed in a tragic hunting accident.

Note the language. Usually when I describe a hunting-related shooting, I use the word “incident.” That’s because I consider most shootings, however unintended they might be, to be avoidable.

In this case, though, “accident” better fits what happened.

Police say Soren Dahlstrom of Anton, Tex., was hunting with her grandfather, Peter Dahlstrom, when a rabbit flushed and the grandfather raised his .22-caliber rifle to shoot. Just as he pulled the trigger, Soren moved into the line of fire. She died later at a local hospital.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has a more detailed account.

I can’t possibly imagine how the grandfather must feel.  Tragic. Simply tragic.

Grand theft antler?

The lust for trophy antlers is getting downright ridiculous.

Case in point: Two Maryland men have been arrested for the alleged theft of two elk trophies from a vendor at the National Rifle Association convention in Pittsburgh.

One set of antlers, a titanic rack that measured 522 inches on the Boone & Crockett Club scoring scale, was valued at $500,000. The other one, at a “mere” 486 inches, was worth $15,000.

The men, 44-year-old Stephen Christopher Lee of Cumberland, Md.; and 49-year-old Gary Curtis Felts of Jopps, Md., were charged with theft and criminal conspiracy. The two allegedly stole the trophies while the vendor, an Idaho outfitter, was busy loading his truck.

A full story is here, in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Hat tip: Don Surber

Reward offered in panther-shooting case

An endangered Florida panther found dead last month was shot, as it turned out, and Florida authorities have offered a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to the shooter.

A cyclist found the cat in a ditch alongside a rural road in Seminole County. The carcass initially showed no signs of trauma, but authorities have since confirmed that the animal died of a gunshot wound.

If found, the shooter could receive up to a year in jail, a state fine of $1,000 and a federal fine of $100,000.

Fewer than 200 panthers are known to exist in the Sunshine State.

The Orlando Sentinel has more on the story.

Five-year-old shot while turkey hunting

Photo by Maslowski/NWTF

A 5-year-old Wisconsin boy was injured by shotgun pellets Sunday during a turkey-hunting incident.

The unidentified youngster was hit in the head, chest, arm and thigh after being shot by another hunter. He was hospitalized, but authorities say his injuries weren’t life-threatening.

He was hunting with his father when the incident occurred. A sheriff’s deputy said another hunter mistook the boy for a turkey and fired from 40 to 50 yards away.

The complete story is here, in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Unfortunate though it was, the boy’s shooting should serve as a cautionary tale to West Virginia’s hunters, whose spring gobbler season opens next week. Be careful out there, folks.

American sentenced for bird skin thefts; UPDATED

Edwin Rist

A British court has sentenced the 22-year-old American accused of stealing 299 rare bird skins from the country’s Natural History Museum.

Edwin Rist, of Claverack, N.Y., received a two-year suspendend sentence for the thefts. His lawyer argued that Rist suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism, and that he was a “James Bond fantasist” who imagined he might get away with the crime.

Rist sold some of the skins to salmon-fly tiers, and made an estimated $17,000 on the transactions. Most of the skins have been recovered, and Rist’s father reportedly has promised to make restitution for those that haven’t. Update: I have been directly contacted by Rist’s father, and he told me that his reimbursements were to people who had purchased some of the skins.

Some of the skins, especially those of the red-ruffed fruit crow, the blue chatterer, the resplendent quetzal and various birds of paradise, are worth more than $1,000 apiece.

The BBC has details on the sentencing.

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.

Hunter shoots at ‘coyote,’ kills wolf

Gray wolf

A hunter near Hillsboro, N.D.,  thought he had killed a really big coyote. The more he looked at it, though, the more he realized he might have shot a gray wolf.

He turned the carcass over to a game warden, who turned it over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tests confirmed that it was a wolf, probably one that migrated across the state line from Minnesota.

The full story is here, in the Grand Forks Herald.

The feds apparently are deciding what to do about the incident. Since wolves aren’t normally seen in North Dakota, the hunter appears to have made an honest mistake. On the other hand, wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Here’s hoping that, at least in this case, justice is tempered by mercy.

S. Africa’s answer for rhino poachers? Kill ’em!

Not so easy to poach in S. Africa

South African authorities have apparently taken off the gloves when it comes to dealing with rhinoceros poachers. From the Associated Press:

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Park rangers in South Africa are cracking down, hard and with lethal force, on rhinoceros poaching. Nine alleged poachers have already been killed this year by rangers, twice as many as in all of 2010.
The sharp increase in the number of poacher deaths has gone hand-in-hand with an uptick in the number of killings by poachers of rhinos for their horns, which fetch top dollar in Asia where they’re prized for their purported medicinal powers.
The rangers only fire on poachers in self-defense, insisted Bandile Mkhize, chief executive of KwaZulu-Natal parks and a former top manager at South Africa’s premier Kruger park.
“The major problem is that the poachers are heavily armed,” he said. “Do we allow them to shoot our rangers as well as our rhinos?”
Last year, 333 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa, nearly three times as many as in 2009. Park rangers have responded by stepping up training and patrols. South African army troops are even expected to join anti-poaching patrols in Kruger, which is the size of Israel and is in northeast part of the country near Mozambique, later this year.
Wildlife agents in Kenya undergo paramilitary training and hunt down suspected poachers using battlefield tactics. In December 2009, poachers shot and killed a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger. In response, wildlife agents set up an ambush of the suspects and killed two of them. Armed wildlife agents walk Kenya’s national parks on foot to hunt for poachers.
Kenyan wildlife agents shot and killed five poachers in November, the highest ever in one month.
“The efforts from the rangers on the ground are a lot better, and more sharp,” said conservationist Faan Coetzee of South Africa’s private Endangered Wildlife Trust. “Inevitably you are going to pick up more poachers, and obviously the poachers are armed, and they normally shoot first.”
The poachers often come from impoverished communities around game parks, said Joseph Okori, Africa rhino program manager for the Washington-based World Wildlife Fund. Law enforcement must ensure that using deadly force against poachers does not become the norm, he said, adding that those killed by rangers would quickly be replaced in a country where a quarter of the work force is unemployed.
International syndicates which traffic in rhino horns and take large profits are also recruiting poachers from countries like Mozambique that have even weaker economies. Coetzee said it is difficult to estimate how much a poacher is paid, but believes that while it may seem like a small fortune to an unemployed immigrant, it is only a fraction of what the syndicates earn.
Shooting poachers, Okori said, will alienate those who could help conservationists identify recruiters and lead them to the masterminds of the illicit multinational, multimillion dollar rhino horn industry .
“The people being killed are just trying to survive,” Okori said. “Focus should be paid to the demand side. It will really be good for people to know that what they are striving to have, this rhino horn, is leading to not just loss of rhino life, but loss of human life.”
Since Jan. 1, eight suspects have been killed in the South African national parks and a ninth in a province-run park, said Wanda Mkutshulwa, spokeswoman for South Africa National Parks. Last year, four suspects were killed. No rangers have been killed in the confrontations, she said.
Wildlife officials in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province said a shoot-out earlier this month happened after rangers responding to a tip about a poaching attempt were taking up positions and heard shots. They spotted two suspects and identified themselves. One suspect fired on the rangers and they returned fire, killing the suspect, authorities said in a statement.
KwaZulu-Natal parks chief executive Mkhize said a police investigation determined the rangers fired in self-defense. Police did not respond to requests for comment.
Coetzee said he expected an escalation in violence. Poachers are desperate and determined and rangers are getting better training and equipment in the face of an explosion in poaching.
South Africa has more than 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country.

Three arrested for W.Va. bear poaching

Some careful sleuthing earned West Virginia’s Natural Resources Police a strong bear-poaching case against three Barbour County residents. From a Division of Natural Resources news release:

            PHILIPPI, W.Va. – Three Barbour County residents have been arrested and charged with several violations of West Virginia wildlife laws involving the illegal killing of two black bears, according to Division of Natural Resources Lt. Jon Cogar. 
            Natural Resources Police Officer Josh Prickett, stationed in Barbour County, received a complaint regarding two dead bears hanging in a tree on Talbott Road near Route 33 in the Belington area.  Officer Prickett spoke with Brandan Allen of Belington, who lives at the residence and was in possession of both bears. The bears were checked in by two different hunters and the tags showed the bears were taken in the area of Cheat Mountain in Randolph County. Officer Prickett contacted both alleged hunters who checked the bears in during the first week of bear season in December.
            While conducting the interviews, Officer Pickett determined that it was highly unlikely that alleged hunters had killed either of the bears in question because they could not remember key points of the hunt. After a second interview conducted by Officer Prickett and Sgt. Bob Waybright, they were able to prove that all parties involved fabricated their story of the bear hunt to cover up their illegal activity. Tickets were issued January 24 and 25.
  • Brandan Allen, age 26 of Belington, was charged in Randolph Co. for exceeding the season limit on bear and violating the bear checking regulations. He was charged with Conspiracy to Violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia Code (wildlife laws), Withholding Information, and Illegal Possession of Wildlife in Barbour County. Allen entered a guilty plea to the Randolph County charges and was fined a total of $2,677.60 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.  The Barbour County charges are still pending.
  • James Edgell, age 36 of Belington, was charged with Conspiracy to Violate Chapter 20, Withholding Information and Illegal Possession of Wildlife. These charges were filed in Barbour County. Mr. Edgell entered a guilty plea and was fined a total of $542.40.
  • Kimberly Smith, age 40 of Belington, was charged with Conspiracy to Violate Chapter 20 and Withholding Information. These charges were filed in Barbour County. Smith entered a guilty plea and was fined a total of $361.60.