Wildlife Officers in the Crosshairs

Photo by Chip Gross

Call these professionals what you will--wildlife officers, conservation officers, game wardens--their job is inherently dangerous.

And never more so than during fall, when deer poaching ramps up. This was pointed out in spades just a few weeks ago (October 30) when two Ohio wildlife officers had their vehicle fired upon by poachers. Here's how the incident went down.

State wildlife officers Jeff Tipton and Adam Smith were seated in their patrol vehicle, a pickup truck, parked along a field edge at night, on surveillance for spotlighters. A vehicle pulled into the same field, opposite the officers, and directed its headlights at the patrol vehicle.

Within seconds a single shot rang out from the suspect vehicle, the bullet smashing through the officers' pickup windshield. Luckily, neither officer was hit, the round passing between them. Recovering from their initial shock, the officers quickly turned on their emergency lights, and the suspects fled.

The ensuing high-speed chase covered 4.5 miles from Johnson Township to Concord Township in Champaign County, where the suspects subsequently ran off the road, crashing their vehicle. As a result, three suspects were apprehended and taken into custody. Assisting officers from the Ohio DNR, Division of Wildlife, were the Ohio Highway Patrol and Champaign County Sheriff's Office. The suspects were charged and released the next day.

It seems poachers will stop at nothing nowadays to hang a trophy deer head on their wall or, during this down economy, try and sell the antlers for quick cash. Some trophy antlers can be worth hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.

But according to the Boone and Crockett Club, courts in a growing number of states are using the Boone and Crockett scoring system to slap poachers with more felony charges, stiffer fines, and longer revocations of hunting privileges. The Boone and Crockett scoring system originated early in the 20th Century as a means of recording details on big game species thought to be disappearing.

"I can't think of a better use for Boone and Crockett's scoring system than assessing trophy-class fines for poaching trophy-class animals," said Lowell E. Baier, president of the Club. "All wildlife violations are setbacks for conservation ... but we're especially pleased to see stiffer penalties for illegally taking an animal that is larger, has lived longer, is worth more as a benchmark of good management--and would have been a rare and cherished prize for a legal, ethical, license-buying hunter."

Idaho, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states now use all or parts of the Boone and Crockett scoring system for wildlife law enforcement purposes.

Ohio, for example, is in the second year of a new penalty structure that is, "based on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system to calculate restitution values of illegally taken or possessed deer," said Ken Fitz, law enforcement program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife.

The penalty structure includes a formula that is somewhat complex, but for illegally killed deer with a Boone and Crockett gross score of 125 or greater (without drying time), the result is an exponential increase in restitution charges. In fact, the new regulation increased Ohio's penalty for poaching a 200-class whitetail buck from $400 to $17,000!

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