Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Just out: Tasers for bears, moose, etc.

The folks at Taser International believe they’ve found an effective less-than-lethal way to deal with aggressive bears, moose, elk and other large animals.

Essentially, they’ve souped up and weatherproofed the law-enforcement version of the electrically powered stun gun.

According to this Arizona Republic article, wildlife officials seem excited to have the device in their arsenal. The animal-rights loonies at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals don’t like it one bit, naturally. They believe problem animals would simply go away “if left alone.”

At a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,995, don’t expect to see wildlife Tasers  hanging on the hips of too many bear-country hikers or fishermen. My guess is they’ll be used mainly by biologists, park rangers and wildlife law enforcement officers.

Illegal ‘cyber hunting’ setup found

The cyber-shooting setup

Here’s to a sharp-eyed technician for a Georgia utility company, who last fall found a battery of remote-controlled shotguns, every one hooked up to the Internet and aimed at a nearby wildlife food plot.

The technician snapped a few photos and reported the unusual setup to the Department of Homeland Security. Authorities believe it was to be used for “cyber-hunting,” a practice which allows “hunters” to log onto the Internet, aim real guns at real critters, and kill said critters by remote control. The practice is illegal in Georgia and several other states.

The story is here, in the Augusta Chronicle.

A deer-poaching ring with a death wish

How much is a trophy buck worth?

For four Tennessee men, a trophy buck apparently was worth risking one’s life.

Tennessee law enforcement agencies have broken up a deer poaching ring that operated — believe it or not — on a portion of the Fort Campbell Army base used for weapons training. Agents confiscated 41 trophy whitetail mounts, all of them allegedly taken off the Fort Campbell property over a 10-year period.

Read the complete story in The Tennessean.

I suppose the prospect of hunting an 18,000-acre area declared off-limits to the public was just to tempting for the four. Or maybe they were confident they wouldn’t step on an unexploded howitzer shell. In retrospect, it’s fortunate they survived to face the legal music.

More on that record-breaking Pa. black bear

David Price and his 879-pound bruin

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials apparently are convinced that the 879-pound black bear killed last week in Pike County was taken legitimately.

An Associated Press report quoted PGC spokesman Jerry Feaser, who said bowhunter David Price did nothing illegal when he killed the animal.

The report also noted, however, that the bear was essentially tame. Employees of the nearby Fernwood Resort routinely fed the bear, which they had nicknamed “Bozo.” Resort groundskeeper Leroy Lewis said he began feeding the bear 17 years ago when it was a cub.

PGC officials had issued Lewis a warning in September for feeding the bear, which is illegal in the Keystone State. Feaser said bears fed by humans can end up creating a public nuisance.

The negative publicity surrounding the kill — some of it legitimate and some of it unfounded — has soured the experience for Price. He told the Pocono Record that the experience that should have been the pinnacle of his hunting career had been tainted.

Steal 299 rare bird skins — for fly tying????

A Baron, tied with imitation chatterer and fruit crow

This week’s Gazette-Mail column takes a look at a little-heralded crime that has sent shock waves through the worldwide community of people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies:

We sportsmen like to think that the pastimes we adore are as pure as wind-driven snow, but then something like this comes along:
A 22-year-old American was arrested earlier this week for the alleged theft of 299 rare bird skins from a British museum. Authorities believe the young man was selling the pelts to people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies.
The news hit me like a cold salmon to the face. You see, I too tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies – fancy Victorian-era patterns tied with brightly colored feathers, tinsels and flosses.
Most of the materials for these flies are easy to come by. Floss is downright cheap. Tinsels are affordable and readily obtained. Many of the staple feathers – dyed turkey, barred wood duck flank, bronze mallard flank and golden pheasant – can be pricey, but are available from any number of legitimate dealers.
Some full-dress patterns, however, call for feathers that are rare, difficult to obtain and absurdly expensive. Feathers from red-ruffed fruit crows, blue chatterers, bustards, toucans and quetzals are prime examples. They’re hard to come by because many of the species are endangered or protected.
There’s a market for these feathers because some tiers like to make their flies “period-accurate,” with materials specified by the Victorian-era anglers who designed them. One 19th-century pattern, for example, calls for two red cock-of-the-rock crest feathers; two light blue chatterer feathers; two light red cock-of-the-rock feathers; two dark blue chatterer feathers and two orange cock-of-the-rock feathers.
Some of those birds are endangered. All of them are protected to some extent. Most of the feathers from those species still available legally were plucked from old taxidermy mounts or Victorian-era ladies’ hats, and routinely sell for $8 to $15 or more per feather.
The young American – Edwin Rist of Claverack, N.Y., a student in London – knew full well the value of the birds he’s accused of stealing from the Natural History Museum at Tring. Rist had been a salmon fly tier since his mid-teens. The flies he tied often contained period-accurate feathers, which he reportedly purchased with money earned by doing odd jobs.
A year ago when the Tring burglary occurred, there was widespread speculation within the salmon fly tying community that some of the stolen bird skins might eventually come up for sale on the Internet.
That’s exactly what occurred. Several red-ruffed fruit crow skins showed up for sale on Rist’s website. Their presence raised eyebrows, but few if any within the community put two and two together until after Rist’s arrest.
It had long been suspected that some of the feathers floating around on the open market had unsavory origins. Without documentation, it was impossible to know whether the feathers were legit, were poached from the wild, or were plucked from stolen museum specimens.
Now those in the fly tying community – me included – are taking a hard look at the zeal with which we once pursued period-accurate feathers. We’re also looking for ways to reduce the financial incentive to traffic in illegally obtained materials.
We’ve already had one success. Five years ago, zoos that raise speckled bustards started providing free molted feathers to interested tiers. The program virtually eliminated the sale of high-priced, illegally obtained bustard plumage.
Might we find something similar for chatterers, crows, toucans, cocks-of-the-rocks and birds of paradise? We hope so.
Until that happens, there are easily obtained and perfectly legal look-alikes for almost all those rare feathers. We need to learn to be content with those.

Lawyer: Presume innocence in warden’s slaying

WCO David Grove (PGC photo)

I realize she had to say that, but the remarks of public defender Kristin Rice ring sort of hollow because her client, Christopher Johnson, has reportedly confessed.

From the Associated Press:

HARRISBURG – The lawyer for the man charged with shooting to death a Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officer wants people to reserve judgment in the case. Kristin Rice, an assistant public defender in Adams County, said in a statement Wednesday that Christopher Johnson deserved the presumption of innocence and a fair trial. Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove was shot four times last Thursday outside Gettysburg while investigating poaching. Police say Johnson confessed to the shooting, saying he was a felon with a gun who didn’t want to go back to prison.

OK, I’ll reserve judgment while the justice system runs its course. But that won’t keep me from rooting for a conviction — and the death sentence the prosecutor intends to pursue.

Citizen’s tip leads to W.Va. poaching bust

This week’s column describes a recent poaching bust in Tyler County, W.Va. Law enforcement officers had been after these guys for more than two years. They finally nabbed them:

West Virginia’s natural resources police officers work extremely hard, but hard work sometimes isn’t quite enough. Sometimes they need a little luck.
A lucky break last month helped three Parkersburg-based officers catch two deer and turkey poachers from Florida.
A little background:
Two years ago, Capt. Steve Stewart, who heads up the Division of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement detachment in Nitro, passed on a tip to his colleagues in the Parkersburg detachment.
On a visit to his family’s homeplace in Tyler County, Stewart heard allegations that out-of-state hunters had established a well-coordinating poaching ring in the area. Stewart alerted Sgt. Stan Hickman, who visited the area and questioned its full-time residents.
The locals told Hickman that several men, mainly from Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania, routinely spent one to two weeks hunting illegally before the buck firearm season.
“They said the subjects normally arrived between Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 and did all their illegal hunting in the time between then and the buck-season opener. As soon as the season opened, they went back home,” Hickman said.
Hickman and Cpl. Terry Fluharty visited the camp before the 2008 and 2009 buck seasons but found it unoccupied.
“We knew where the camp was, but we just missed them,” Hickman said. “We concentrated on the two weeks before the buck season because that’s when they had conducted their illegal activity in the past.
“Turns out they had changed their routine. Instead of coming in before the buck season [in November], they started coming in before the bow season [in October].”
Law enforcement officers got the break they needed when a local resident noticed someone spotlighting deer. The alleged poachers drove a Dodge pickup with Florida plates. The resident called 911, and the dispatcher passed the information along to Hickman.
Hickman and officer Pat Cullinan drove out to investigate. They and Fluharty spent the following week gathering evidence and keeping an eye on the subjects. Early on Oct. 24, a Sunday morning, the officers pounced.
“We went in and took them down,” Hickman said. “We found two individuals, both in tree stands, both hunting on a Sunday. Turns out they had killed a turkey and four or five deer in the days leading up to the arrest.”
Officers charged the two men with hunting turkey during a closed season, hunting turkey over bait, illegal possession of a turkey, hunting deer during a closed season, hunting on Sunday, hunting deer from a vehicle, hunting deer from sunset to sunrise, and illegal possession of deer.
The two men, Russell L. Bell, 53, and Mark E. Thornton, 48, both of Naples, Fla., pleaded guilty to all the charges. Fines and court costs totaled $5,202.40.
“We got a lucky break on this one,” Hickman said. “The subjects were being careful by changing their routine. Someone spotted them and reported them, and that was the break we needed to catch them.”
The buck firearm season is just a week away. This would be a good time for all of us to watch what goes on in our neck of West Virginia’s woods, and to report any suspicious activity. Like the landowner in Tyler County, we might just give law enforcement officers they break they need.

Slain Pa. conservation officer had W.Va. ties

WCO David Grove (PGC photo)

Bad news from Pennsylvania — David Grove, a Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officer, has been shot and killed in the line of duty.

Grove, 31, was killed in an apparent shootout with an alleged poacher. Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27, was arrested Friday in connection with the incident. The Gettysburg Times has the complete story.

A Maryland native, Grove became a full-time conservation officer in 2008. A Game Commission news release said he attended Appalachian Bible College in Bradley, W.Va., between 1997 and 1999.

Wife, mistaken for deer, killed by husband

Oh, my. This just in from the Associated Press:

HEIDELBERG, Miss. — Officials are investigating a deadly hunting incident in Jasper County.
WDAM-TV reports that the incident involved a husband and wife who were hunting Saturday and became separated near Heidelberg. The husband reportedly shot his wife after mistaking her for a deer.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is investigating the incident, along with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff’s investigator Thad Windham confirmed a fatal shooting had occurred, but referred questions to the wildlife agency. An agency spokesman James Walker couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Monday.

Why — WHY — can’t people just make sure of their targets before they pull the trigger? Is bagging a deer really important enough to risk ending another human’s life in order to get a shot off more quickly?

We all know the answer to those rhetorical questions. So why don’t we act accordingly?

WVDNR plans hunter ed ‘Blitz Weekend’

This just in from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The gun seasons for deer open soon in West Virginia, and to meet the needs of young or new hunters, the Law Enforcement Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources will be sponsoring a Hunter Education course “Blitz Weekend” across the state November 13 and 14. During that weekend, there will be at least one Hunter Education class offered in nearly every county. Some counties will offer the course the week before, Nov. 8-12. Any person born on or after Jan. 1, 1975, must complete a Hunter Education course before purchasing a hunting license.
Many Hunter Education courses are being offered throughout West Virginia now and will continue through the Sunday before the deer buck season, which begins Nov. 22. However, during the Blitz Weekend, some counties will have as many as three courses running at the same time. There is no charge to take the Hunter Education course, but you should register in advance to make sure you can get into a class.
“Classes held between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 are generally small, while classes held September through November could be as large as 200 if we had the available space and instructors,” said Lt. Tim Coleman of the DNR Law Enforcement Section. Coleman is state coordinator of the DNR Hunter Education Program. “So don’t miss out on these extra opportunities available during the Blitz Weekend. You will have only yourself to blame if you cannot hunt this year because you did not take the Hunter Education course.”
As an alternative, classes are continuously offered online at www.wvdnr.gov for a fee, and the required practical exam that must be taken in person will be offered in various locations across the state during Blitz Weekend.
For information about class locations, go to www.wvdnr.gov, scroll to “Law Enforcement” and click on “Hunter Education,” and then “Class Search,” or call the DNR District Office in your area: Farmington, 304-825-6787; Romney, 304-822-3551; Elkins, 304-637-0245; Beckley, 304-256-6945; Nitro, 304-759-0703; Parkersburg, 304-420-4550; and Charleston, 304-558-2784.