A big ego is a poacher’s Achilles’ heel.
Wildlife enforcement agents are well aware that the greediness that leads to illegally shooting a trophy animal usually is accompanied by a personality that feeds on the stature accrued from big talk.
“Our main source in making big-game cases are from people bragging,” said Capt. Mike Whorton, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional enforcement supervisor. “We’ve always encouraged officers to visit in small businesses and coffee shops, to make contacts and make themselves available to people who might have heard something.”
The Internet has become equally fertile ground, not just for big cases, but also for enforcing minor infractions an officer isn’t likely to catch in the field.
A photo posted in a chat room is worth a thousand words, as well as many hours of work by fish and wildlife agents.
Two photos published this summer on the Lewiston Tribune’s online outdoors Brag Board caught the attention of Idaho Fish and Game Department staffers.
One photo showed a good-size bull trout. The other featured three anglers with a massive white sturgeon.
In both cases, the anglers were holding the fish out of the water. That’s a no-no with these protected species, as well as wild chinook salmon, according to state fishing regulations. Photos are OK, but the fish must remain in the water.
The Internet photo led one angler to get a $109 ticket. The other received a warning from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In another case, a Boise man has been convicted of illegally guiding anglers on one of Idaho’s premier trout fisheries, the South Fork of the Boise River.
Christopher Bentley, 26, was cited for guiding without a license and for fishing with a barbed fly in barbless waters after he advertised his illegal guiding services on Craigslist.
His fishing gear, including a drift boat, fly rod and reel were seized as evidence in the case.
He was assessed more than $1,100 in fines and court costs, 40 hours of community service and his fishing privileges were suspended for two years.
Monitoring the Internet also has given wildlife agents insight on people who boast online about their fishing and hunting exploits.
“By surfing certain types of Internet pages, like the ‘big buck’ sites, we are finding issues that at least prompt a cursory investigation,” Whorton said.
“However, a lot of time, they turn out to simply be liars’ pages.”
Rope-a-dope method: Some poachers also are suckers for decoys.
Whorton noted recent arrests of road hunters lured to take shots from their vehicles at a decoy buck.
In one case, three young men in one vehicle observed the decoy for 15 minutes before shooting it with a rifle, even though the fork-horn was one point short of the three-point minimum.
The officer figured that 15 minutes was enough time to make a positive I.D., as well as to observe the laws requiring the hunter to get out of the car before loading the gun and firing.
Fortune for a wolf: A colleague was aghast recently at the news that a man had pledged a huge sum at an auction for Idaho’s No. 1 wolf tag.
“Why would anyone spend $8,000 for a wolf tag?” he asked, noting that anyone can buy one over the counter at the cost of $11.50 for residents or $186 for non-residents.
Wolf tag No. 1 brought $8,000 in an auction by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. Jonny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, bought the tag for the same reason thousands of hunters attend fund-raising banquets and pay more than retail for a gun or wildlife painting and vast sums for a special tag – because they know they are making a tax-deductible contribution to conservation, research and the future of their sport.
Ducks Unlimited fundraisers bring in money for waterfowl habitat. The Foundation for Wild Sheep raises millions of dollars for research, such as the ongoing effort by Washington State University on the diseases plaguing bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon.
Idaho Fish and Game has spent about $600,000 on wolf management in fiscal 2009. Six nonprofit groups are helping the agency recoup some of that money by auctioning the state’s first 10 wolf tags commemorating the first public wolf hunt in state history.
In a world that seems so quick to criticize hunters, it’s sobering that there’s also so much hesitation to acknowledge the good they do.
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email@example.com.