The Great Outdoors: Poaching Patrol

BY BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

“How are you doing?”

“I haven’t seen a damn thing!”

Oregon State Police Lieutenant Tim Schwartz says there are three kinds of hunters:

The 85 percent who observe the rules, obtain the required licenses and tags, hunt in designated areas and during legal hours;

The 5 percent who will take an animal illegally if the opportunity presents itself;

And the “blatant poachers” who will shoot and kill as much wildlife as they can for the thrill of killing. These folks often leave dead wildlife behind to rot.

“On or around Sept. 6, we received a call from a concerned citizen about a dead deer lying off Camp Polk & Wilt Road north of Sisters,”  Schwartz said. “One of our troopers went out there to investigate and found a 4-point buck mule deer that was laying a short distance off the road. He investigated and found that it appeared to be a rifle shot. It had a bullet hole that entered and exited so we weren’t able to recover a bullet in that case. So we put out a news release to see if anyone in the public had heard of it, seen anything suspicious, heard any gunshots or observed anybody in the area.”

Oregon State Police has about 125 fish & wildlife officers on duty throughout the state. Blatant poachers take advantage of thin law enforcement presence, primarily by hunting at night in areas where they think nobody is around. But fish & wildlife officers are, first and foremost, police officers, and they are good at gathering evidence, developing leads and tracking down perpetrators.

“Near The Dalles we were working a wildlife enforcement decoy where we set up animals at night to target poachers and people who are unlawfully hunting at night. During that operation, two vehicles pulled up. Eventually one of the operators shot at the decoy from within the vehicle. We stopped that truck and subsequent investigation revealed two antler-less deer that were covered by a tarp in the bed of one of the trucks,” Schwartz said. “Those were unlawfully taken. There were no seasons or tags for those antler-less deer. It was a good example of using those wildlife decoys that we encounter sometimes. Obviously the ultimate goal of those decoys is to arrest people who are taking animals unlawfully.”

We rode along with Fish & Wildlife patrols during deer rifle and elk rifle hunting seasons in the Metolius Unit west of Sisters.

A typical patrol entails making contacts with hunters on roads, trails and campsites, checking that everyone has the proper licenses and tags, listening to hunters’ experiences in the field, and asking if they’ve encountered anything out of the ordinary.

Officers’ suspicions are aroused when hunters try to avoid contact.

“If they’ve got something stashed. If they’ve got blood on their hands. If they’ve got bloody coolers, anything that they might be hiding,” said Trooper Creed Cummings, Oregon State Police. “Also, looking at their demeanor. Is there something that is setting them off? Is there something that is sparking my interest? Is there something they are telling me that’s not true?”

Decoys are an important tool in Fish & Wildlife’s campaign against poaching. These life-size and realistic mounts are often set up at night, after legal hunting hours, along roads where passing motorists see them. One officer will hide nearby to observe while another waits in a pursuit vehicle ready to pull an offender’s vehicle over.

On this night, one vehicle approached the decoy and the occupants took a long, hard look.

But no one broke the law by taking a shot from the vehicle or getting out and shooting from the road, after legal hunting hours, so the observing officer approached and asked them to move on.

The job is not easy. The hours are long, officers are frequently far afield in rough terrain, difficult weather and they interact with people who are armed with high caliber weapons. Troopers are frequently called out of the woods to backup highway patrol incidents. Despite the many challenges, Fish & Wildlife officers, many of whom are hunters and anglers themselves, are dedicated to the work.

“I’m documenting plate number, vehicle description. You never know if something’s been reported,” Schwartz said.  “The public is our best source of information. People out hiking, biking, seeing stuff like that, give us a shout so we can come out and took a look. And even the smallest of details. Yeah, even very minute things. If they are thinking something’s not right, don’t hesitate to call because you never know, it could be the key piece of information we need to apprehend somebody. In any of those situations give us a call.”

Anyone can report a wildlife violation or suspicious activity by calling 1-800-452-7888 or emailing: TIP@state.or.us

 

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