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Game officers nab poaching suspects

Thursday, December 9, 2004

AGFC cite four suspects in 'bust of a lifetime.'

"You better think twice before you try something like that."

Those words of advice come courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Cpl. Roger Tate in the wake of one of the largest game-poaching busts in Sharp County history Nov. 26.

"Some of the veteran AGFC officers around are calling this the bust of a lifetime," Tate said. "It ranks pretty high on the list. We haven't seen something this big since the 1950s or 60s."

Twenty raccoons, four beavers, eight wild turkeys, one bobcat and one opossum. That's the haul that a group of three adults and one 12-year-old are suspected of illegally taking during a night hunt from a boat on the Strawberry River before an anonymous caller tipped AGFC officials to their presence.

"AGFC Lt. Steve Taylor received a call between 7 and 8 p.m. the night of Nov. 26 that a boat had been launched from a ramp around the Peebles Bluff landing near Poughkepsie, and that there had been spotlights seen and shots heard coming from the boat," Tate said. Tate, Taylor and Wildlife First Class Officer Wade Spence, the local Lawrence County wildlife officer, located the boat around the Lynn area of the river.

"We arrived at the river and soon observed the subjects spotlighting the banks, the tree line of the river, and observed them shooting from the boat," Tate said.

Due to recent rains, the river was up and flowing swiftly enough that officers Tate and Taylor were afraid the boat could evade them and escape into the dark from the wide area of the river.

The decision was made to let the subjects float by and make contact at the takeout point.

Heading down river, Officer Spence was able to locate the suspect's takeout vehicle on a private farm about 10 miles from where the boat was spotted on the Strawberry River.

The three AGFC officers then gathered and waited for the suspects at the takeout vehicle for several hours, and contact was again made with the boat at around 2 a.m.

"We finally saw them again, and we actually saw them shoot a raccoon from the boat before we approached the boat and secured the subjects," said Tate.

The officers cited three of the suspects for night hunting, and they seized a Lowe flat-bottomed boat, Mariner 25-horsepower outboard motor, trailer, two .22 magnum rimfire rifles and a .12-gauge shotgun from the suspects. The AGFC officers also took possession of the spotlights, as well as the animals that were killed. The fourth suspect was not cited due to being only 12 years old.

"The saddest part of this whole call and discovery of this violation was not just the destruction of the natural resources these subjects dealt that stretch of the Strawberry River, but the fact they introduced a minor to one of the worst violations toward our state's wildlife that I have ever witnessed," Tate said. "They were planning on selling the hides (raccoon, beaver, bobcat and opossum) and probably keeping the turkeys to eat."

Tate says the plan is to hit the suspects with the maximum amount of fines and penalties allowed.

"They were fined $1,100 each in Lawrence County District Court, and we're going to ask for forfeiture of the property we seized from them at the river," he said. "And we will also ask for restitution on the turkeys, which will be $350 a bird."

This bust was made possible through the efforts of a concerned citizen who tipped off AGFC officials, a call that Tate says is vital to the commission's attempts to derail poachers and other game-code violators.

"Ninety to 95 percent of poachers we catch are due to tips from citizens," he said. "We just don't have the manpower to be everywhere all the time, so we do rely on tips from people concerned with poachers."

Anyone who witnesses someone violating a wildlife regulation is asked to call the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Turn In Poachers (TIP) line at 1-800-482-9262. Cingular wireless customers can dial TIP (847).

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