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Archers With A Sense Of Ethics And A Cell Phone Help Idfg Nab Elk Poachers

ISLAND PARK - In Idaho, like most of the U.S., hunting is rarely if ever done as a matter of survival. Thanks to modern agriculture and technology the time we spend hunting is counted towards enjoyment, not averting starvation. Today, hunting is considered a sport and as with all sports it has rules and a code of conduct. Those who break the rules are poachers and threaten to destroy opportunities for legitimate sportsmen. What could have been just another unsolved poaching was turned into a victory for sportsmen's ethics when some archers in the Island Park area sensed something was not quite right and took the time and effort to track down info to help IDFG make a case. On September 15, some archers hunting in the Island Park Zone near the Yellowstone National Park Boundary heard gunshots in an area that was only open to bowhunting for deer and elk. After observing some suspicious activity, they sensed a wildlife violation might have occurred, and the sportsmen took advantage of the ease of communication provided by modern cell phone technology and promptly called IDFG's Citizen's Against Poaching (CAP) Hotline. Information regarding the possible violation was forwarded to Conservation Officer Ryan Hilton of Idaho Falls and District Conservation Officer Doug Petersen of Driggs, who were already involved in other poaching cases and could not immediately investigate the report. The fact that the area involved was open to firearms for black bear and forest grouse hunting made the investigation interesting, but did not hinder the officers from completing the case in near record time. The fall hunting season is expectedly one of IDFG's busiest times of the year. Officers are forced to work long hours and juggle a number of cases all at once. Patrol districts for individual officers cover hundreds of square miles and assistance from the public is a crucial tool in protecting the State's wildlife. To help IDFG stay on top of the investigation, the archers took it upon themselves to try and locate the animal or some evidence of wrongdoing. The next day, they were able to lead the conservation officers to a fresh gut pile in the area they had previously observed the suspicious individuals. Using advanced investigative and forensic techniques the officers were able to deduce that the elk had indeed been illegally shot with a bullet. Conservation Officers have the ability to conduct tests in the field that are able to detect the presence of lead from a bullet. Using information supplied by the archers, Officers Hilton and Petersen were able to track down individuals from the Rigby area that claimed to have shot the animal using a bow. The suspects were an adult Mike Bloom, age 36 and a juvenile. Upon examination of the carcass it became clearly evident to the officers that while the animal may have indeed been shot with an arrow, that was only after it had first been shot by a bullet fired from a rifle. The amount of hemorrhaging present in the muscles was the giveaway concerning the order in which the animal was shot. Upon being confronted with the evidence the individuals involved admitted to using a rifle during an archery only season. While this might seem to be the end of the story, it was not; the officers had one more stop to make. The officers took the antlers of the poached animal to Senior Conservation Officer Bruce Penske of Rexburg. This last summer, Penske spent a week being trained and certified as an official scorer for the Boone & Crockett Club. The Boone & Crockett Club was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt. His vision was to establish a coalition of dedicated conservationists and sportsmen who would provide the leadership needed to address the issues that affect hunting, wildlife and wild habitat. Additionally, their methods of measuring big game trophies are the original standards sportsman still use today. The reason that Penske was sent by IDFG to be certified by Boone & Crockett is that thanks to a law passed a few years ago, poached animals that qualify as "trophies" can result in felony charges as a flagrant wildlife violation. For elk, a set of antlers must score over 300 points to be a felony. To be officially scored a number of strict criteria must be met, but Officer Penske was able to provide a green score that indicated the animal would eventually score out at approximately 330 points. Thanks to Officer Penske's training, the animal was no longer just a poached elk, it had become a poached trophy elk. The list of potential charges facing the violators was really beginning to stack up. Anyone who thinks that conservation officers are cold-hearted individuals needs to understand the difficult and sometimes life-changing decisions that officers must make. Fortunately, wildlife violations are usually not of a life threatening nature, so officer discretion is possible when deciding how to deal with a violator. Sometimes though, violators break so many laws at once, that if prosecuted to their fullest extent their lives could be virtually ruined. Often they commit a series of smaller violations without giving a thought to the cumulative consequences, but officers are later forced to assess the situation in its totality and issue citations that will convey the seriousness of the offenses. Not only do officers have compassion for the protecting the resource; they even have measured compassion for the violators. The circumstances surrounding this poaching incident were compounded by the fact that while a juvenile pulled the trigger of the rifle that killed the elk, he did so at the instruction of an adult. The adult then shot the elk with an arrow and then placed his own tag on the animal. Rather than pile all the charges on the youth, the adult was given his proportionate share. In the case of a flagrant wildlife violation, fines and court cost alone could total nearly $5,300. This would be in addition to lifetime suspension of hunting privileges, along with possible jail time! This case will come to trial in Fremont County in mid-October. This case is a perfect exemplification of how important and crucial it is for hunters to patrol their own ranks. Wildlife violators steal opportunities to hunt and view wildlife from other law-abiding citizens. Anyone with information about any suspicious wildlife related activities should call the local IDFG Office at 525-7290 or the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) Hotline at 1-800-632-5999. Calls to the CAP Hotline remain confidential and can qualify for rewards.