BECKLEY — If you’ve noticed that the bucks you bagged in the past haven’t been as big as they used to be, DNR officials say you might have poachers to blame.
Officers at the Division of Natural Resources say they’ve been busy over the last month taking down poachers.
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“There are a lot of hunters who go out and spend a lot of time hunting as their hobby,” Natural Resources Police Officer Josh Lambert said. “Now these bucks aren’t there for them to hunt legally. The mounted 12-point we recovered is a big deer.
“That’s a trophy buck. It’s definitely something that people would like to get, but now they can’t because of people who just go and kill them from beside the road illegally. It hurts future generations’ hunting too if they keep taking deer like this.”
Lambert says the suspect who admitted to poaching the deer crossed state lines to keep his crime hidden. For his troubles, the poached deer will end up hanging on the wall in the Beckley DNR office.
“The subject went across the state line to Virginia and called and registered the deer as killed with a muzzleloader,” he said. “In Virginia, hunters don’t have to get the deer physically tagged. They just call a number and write down a confirmation code. That’s a system that can be pretty easy to exploit. The subject then went and had the deer mounted.
“I originally got a tip about six months ago that a guy had killed it off the side of the road near Bradshaw in McDowell County with a muzzleloader. In October I went to talk to the suspect and he confessed to killing the deer illegally from the road and then I got a statement from him and confiscated the deer.”
The suspect pulled up to the side of the road, got out of his pickup, and shot the deer from the road, Lambert says.
“You have to be at least 25 yards from the road before you can shoot,” he said. “Also, you can’t shoot a firearm or bow from or across a highway. It was a one-lane paved road.
“I think most of the public are pretty aware of their laws, especially everyone in McDowell County. Everybody knows there’s no rifle or gun season in McDowell County. It’s only bow-hunting. The public could always use more education on the laws, though. They may not know a little something that could possibly get them in trouble with us. It can never hurt to keep educating everyone about the laws. That’s why we do hunter education and things like that.”
Lambert says it’s not about people not being able to kill enough deer.
“I think it’s just a lot of these subjects have grown up being taught by their parents that poaching is OK. They don’t think it’s that big of a deal and they don’t think it’s hurting anything. They go out and look for these big deer. A lot of them do it for the meat, but other than that I think a lot of them just do it just to do it. They see spotlighting as a hobby.
“Spotlighting is just when people go out on ATVs, pickup trucks, or some type of vehicle and use some type of light, whether it’s a mining light or an actual spotlight. They’ll just shine the light across fields or through the woods and when the deer freezes from seeing the light, they’ll shoot the deer.”
Capt. Larry Case of the DNR says the department sees the most poaching right before deer season.
“Part of it is that the weather cools off and everyone starts getting the fever to go hunting,” Case said. “These guys have these big bucks spotted and they don’t want to wait.
“The root cause of it is probably greed. They want to get the big buck before someone else can. People have to wait though and give everyone a fair shake at those deer.”
Case says the biggest bust brought in officers from three different counties.
“The biggest bust was in Monroe, Summers and Greenbrier,” he said. “For about a month, Officer Frank Basile of Monroe County had complaints about bucks being shot at night, spotlighted, all illegal, and the suspects were just taking the heads. We see this a lot, but this was a bad one that was recurring in that area.
“He kept getting complaints and then about a week ago, he collected some of his colleagues and stationed them at strategic points at the three-county area, watching for the spotlight killing. They caught them and went to the house and, to date, they’ve recovered 16 illegal racks. These guys were just killing and cutting the heads or racks off and leaving the rest there.
Another DNR officer says he and the captain couldn’t be more proud of their officers.
“These guys are the brightest, most-dedicated people around,” Lt. Woodrow Brogan said. “They have to be. There are times when they have to stake-out some people who are spotlighting. They have to sit in the cold for hours, half-asleep, and not even knowing if the poachers are going to show up. Most of their work is about investigation.
“Between the captain and I, we have 50 years of experience and I’ve never once taken a statement from a deer who has been shot,” Brogan added with a laugh. “You have to rely on investigation and tips from the community. Our officers deserve all of the credit because they work really hard to get busts like this done.”
In the end, it’s hard work and help from the public that take down poachers, the officers said.
If you have any tips about possible poaching in your area, call your county’s Division of Natural Resources office. Officers say tips can remain anonymous.
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