A Washington County poaching spree during the fall of 2012 that left more than a dozen deer and three domestic cows dead has come to light, and the four defendants convicted of the poaching crimes must now pay more than $24,000 in fines and penalties.
A Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) call started it all.
In September of 2012, Fish and Game conservation officer Mark Sands received a CAP call with a vague reference to the poaching of a mule deer buck. The caller's description led Sands to a location off of Rock Creek Road northwest of Weiser, where he found a 3 x 4 mule deer buck shot and left to waste. A passing bird hunter tipped Sands off to another possible poached deer in the same general area. Following up on this information, Sands found a second mule deer buck, its skull cap removed, and the carcass left to waste. After scanning the carcass with a metal detector, Sands located and removed a bullet, then back traced the bullet's trajectory to the nearby road. After a brief search, he discovered a rifle shell casing on the side of the road that matched the bullet discovered earlier.
In the ensuing weeks, several other deer and three domestic cows were found shot and wasted along Rock Creek Road. No suspects were identified.
In January of 2013, Sands received an anonymous tip naming a local Weiser resident as the shooter and implicating several other Meridian, Idaho individuals in the poaching spree. In early February, Sands and several fellow Fish and Game officers simultaneously interviewed all the named suspects in the case. Additional interviews with the suspects and their associates were conducted in the months that followed. Interview details led to the issuance of four search warrants and the collection of hard evidence for the case.
One of the suspects cooperated from the outset, leading Sands and fellow conservation officer Jim Stirling and his service dog Pepper to the area where the deer poaching occurred. Pepper was able to sniff out several .22 rifle casings that helped corroborate statements made by the defendants.
At the end of the 18-month investigation, Sands concluded that multiple young adult men went on a killing spree over a four-week period. By their own admission, the defendants killed or wounded more than a dozen deer, protected birds, and all types of other wildlife. One of the defendants shot and killed three domestic cows.
During the course of the investigation, 65 violations were detected, including 23 felonies and 29 misdemeanors against four individuals. Several other associates were found to be in violation, but were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against the four primary defendants.
Charges included hunting without a license, taking big game with the aid of artificial light, unlawful possession of deer parts, taking deer during closed season, waste and cattle rustling.
Through plea agreements with the Washington County Prosecutor's office, the four defendants agreed to pay $24,450 in fines and penalties - including restitution for the livestock losses - and had their hunting licenses revoked for anywhere from three to five years. These license suspensions are also valid in 37 other Wildlife Violator Compact states. The defendants were each given 24 months of probation; any violation committed during that period could lead to 180 days in jail for their poaching crimes.
This case demonstrates the importance of public involvement in the protection of Idaho's wildlife. "Simply stated, without critical information provided by local citizens, this case might never have come to a successful conclusion," officer Sands commented.
Persons with information regarding a possible wildlife violation are encouraged to call the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999 twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.