Shooting deer illegally in Iowa and bringing them to the Show Me State to be checked as legal kills may have seemed like a slick idea to three Missouri men, but the scheme cost them more than $20,000.
Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources learned of the three's activities in February through an anonymous tip on their Turn In Poachers hotline. The Missouri Department of Conservation got wind of the violations through its Operation Game Thief (OGT) hotline, and the two agencies coordinated their investigations.
Conservation officers discovered that the trio had used archery gear to take five deer without permits in Iowa. They brought the deer back to Missouri, where they checked them as legal archery kills, thereby breaking laws in two states.
James A. Sheats Jr., 34, of Eldon; Robert D. Reeves, 34, of Lebanon; and Jeff R. Farris, 25, of Camdenton, were charged with hunting without permits and taking deer unlawfully.
The three paid a total of $1,029 in fines for the Iowa violations. Under Iowa law, violators can be assessed as much as $4,000 damages for the value of each deer taken illegally and can forfeit equipment used to commit violations. The three paid $16,000 in damages and forfeited $2,500 worth of equipment for a total cost of $19,523. In Missouri, Farris and Sheats each paid $154.50 in fines. Reeves' Missouri case has not been resolved yet.
Besides the monetary penalties, all three have had their hunting privileges revoked for three years. Conservation agents also confiscated deer mounts and antlers that scored 132, 148, 151 and 205 on the Pope and Young scoring system.
The three actually got off relatively easy. Transporting illegally taken deer across state lines is a violation of the federal Lacey Act. Under that law, their fines could have been $100,000 per count.
Morgan County Conservation Agent Kurt Heisler is one of the Missouri officers who worked on the case. He said it illustrates the importance of private citizens in stopping poaching.
"Conservation agents can't be everywhere all the time," said Heisler. "We rely heavily on the help of people who are outraged by poaching. Picking up the phone and calling the nearest sheriff's department or Conservation Department office is the best way to put a stop to game theft."
One of the deer had been entered in the records of the Pope and Young Club. The club honors hunters who take outstanding deer with bows and arrows. Pope and Young spokesman Glen Hisey said the club takes wildlife violations very seriously. He said that any record kills involving wildlife violations are removed from the club's books, and the person who entered it is permanently barred from the club's record book.
OGT is sponsored by the Conservation Department in cooperation with the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The toll-free hot line allows citizens to make anonymous reports of game and fish violations. The program also offers cash rewards for tips leading to the arrest of game law violators or forest arsonists. The OGT number is 800/392-1111.