Once again, Missouri citizens have put an end to large-scale poaching. Thanks to their action, poachers are paying fines running into tens of thousands of dollars, and a penalty that some poachers probably didn't anticipate - loss of hunting and fishing privileges in Missouri and other states.
At its July meeting, the Missouri Conservation Commission revoked hunting and fishing privileges of 45 Missourians for up to four years.
Of that number, 40 were caught in an undercover operation based on citizen reports of a practice commonly called deer dogging.
The undercover operation began in 1998 and continued through 1999.
Residents of Iron, Reynolds, Shannon and Ripley counties launched the operation when they became frustrated with frequent, flagrant deer hunting violations and tipped off conservation agents.
Because much of the illegal activity was occurring on land owned by the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state agents worked with federal officials in setting up the operation. All violations were processed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Central Violations Bureau of the U.S. District Court.
Undercover agents gained the confidence of poachers and documented their activities during the 1998 and 1999 deer hunting seasons. As a result, federal prosecutors issued 64 federal violation notices to 57 people. So far, fines for the violations total more than $32,000.
Just as painful for some of the violators is the revocation of hunting, fishing or trapping privileges imposed by the conservation commission. Missouri's Wildlife Code empowers the conservation commission to revoke hunting, fishing and trapping privileges of violators. Most of the revocations the commission approved in July were for all hunting and fishing privileges for one year. However, three people lost privileges for two years, and two offenders lost hunting and fishing privileges for four years.
Missouri Conservation Commission Chairman Howard Wood said deer dogging violations have been difficult for conservation agents to make stick in the past. In some counties, the practice is a long-standing activity that prosecuting attorneys have been reluctant to pursue. Even though deer dogging has never been legal in Missouri, county prosecutors sometimes demanded a level of documentation that made it practically impossible for agents to make a case.
"One of our agents risked life and limb to see that this law was enforced," said Wood. "The commission is extremely grateful to him and to all the others involved, including the citizens who refused to be silent and complained. Deer dogging is illegal in Missouri. Turning dogs loose to run deer disrupts legitimate hunters and is detrimental to the resource."
Protection District Supervisor Gregg Hitchings said deer doggers typically set a pack of hounds on the trail of deer and then position themselves to intercept the fleeing animals. Participants often use radios to communicate and drive around in ATVs or other vehicles to poach deer as they cross roads.
Many of the charges filed as a result of the undercover operation were for violations other than deer dogging. These included failing to take deer killed to check stations, using spotlights to hunt deer at night and shooting from roads.
In Missouri and other states, deer dogging has often been associated with road hunting. Counties where deer dogging is common typically have smaller deer harvests during deer season. Biologists attribute this, in part, to the stress that being chased by dogs causes to female deer.
"We hate to revoke a citizen's privileges," said Wood, "but if a citizen doesn't care about the law and the rights of other hunters, then this is the result. If you're going to violate the game laws, then you should understand there will be a price to be paid."
Wood noted that people who hunt or fish while their privileges are revoked are subject to losing their privileges for an additional five years.