Texas Game Wardens, Leon County Sheriff’s Office Put Stop to Mass Poaching Rampage
Oct. 21, 2015
Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701, email@example.com
Outlaw Road Hunters Used Suppressor to Mask Wildlife Carnage
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AUSTIN – A three-month-long outlaw road hunting rampage in Leon County this summer that state game wardens are categorizing as one of the most egregious poaching cases on record in Texas has come to an end.
Four adults and two juveniles are facing more than 175 state jail felony and Class A misdemeanor wildlife violations stemming from a surreal chain of poaching events between June 4 and August 29. While investigators suspect the toll on wildlife and property is likely greater, the suspects have been charged in the illegal killing of at least 68 white-tailed deer, numerous other wildlife species and livestock, and the indiscriminate and widespread destruction of public and private property.
The group is alleged to have used various firearms at night to shoot wildlife, livestock and property from a motor vehicle on a public roadway and on private property without landowner consent. Game wardens confiscated nine firearms ranging from .17 HMR to .270, including a .22 rimfire rifle fitted with a homemade suppressor.
The majority of the deer shot illegally were scattered from Jewett, in northwestern Leon County, to Leona, located in southeastern Leon County. Centerville was a midpoint between the two outlying communities and was nearest the majority of the wildlife violations, with more than a dozen deer shot from the feeder road along I-45 alone.
While some of the deer killed had portions of the carcasses retained by the suspects for consumption – loins and hindquarters – most were simply left to rot in the field. In addition to deer, the suspects purportedly shot numerous other animals from a motor vehicle on a public road, including: vultures, squirrels, foxes, feral hogs, doves, ducks, cormorants, blue herons, alligators, white egrets, armadillos and raccoons.
“This investigation represents one of, if not the most egregious poaching cases I am aware of in my 41 years in law enforcement,” said Col. Craig Hunter, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Law Enforcement Director. “I am extremely proud of the strong relationship between our game wardens, the Leon County Sherriff’s Office, and local landowners. Simply put, open communication is the cornerstone of solid police work and without great interagency cooperation this investigation would not have been a success.”
In addition to poaching wildlife, the violators also allegedly were involved in more than a dozen burglaries, mostly hunting cabins, according to Sgt. Brian Stafford with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, which is also investigating numerous other illegal activities believed to be related. Those acts include the shooting of a plate glass window at a service station, repeated shooting of a pickup parked at a residence, target shooting numerous road signs and residential mailboxes, along with several house cats. Additionally, they are being charged with shooting and killing five cows and hacking to death a sixth cow with a machete.
“This reprehensible and senseless killing spree has absolutely no resemblance to hunting, and I know sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere will be appalled to learn of this thoughtless waste of life,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “It is fitting to see these violators brought to justice, thanks to an observant landowner who provided the initial tip and the diligent work of our Texas Game Wardens working with the sheriff’s office.”
Despite the atrocities committed over the course of the summer, investigators are baffled at how little attention the suspects’ actions drew. Had it not been for a phone call on September 1 from a concerned citizen who reported a deer had been poached, the investigation might not ever have gotten off the ground.
“It amazes me that over a three-month period these young men likely fired hundreds of rounds of ammo, most of which were at night and in various locations, and no one reported gunshots or suspicious activity until September,” said supervising game warden Capt. Mike Hanson. “Not a single call.”
Some landowners interviewed during the investigation told game wardens they recalled hearing gunshots at night, but dismissed them as feral hog hunters. Hog hunting at night is legal year-round in Texas, with landowner consent and a valid Texas hunting license. Deer hunting at night or from a vehicle on a public roadway is not legal at any time.
Shooting up road signs, storefront windows, pickup trucks and mailboxes, among other things, is also not legal. State game wardens worked closely in the investigation with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, which was also putting together penal code violations against the suspects, to piece together what was happening along the roadways at the hands of these individuals.
“The danger that the violators placed the public in, the sheer number of violations committed and the fact that they had little or no fear of being caught really stands out in my mind,” said Hanson. “From a wildlife enforcement point of view, I hope this case raises public awareness and convinces people to work with and inform their local law enforcement to prevent situations like this from happening in the future.”
Hanson noted ironically a sign on Highway 7 in downtown Centerville reads “REPORT POACHING-CALL GAME WARDEN.” Surprisingly, this group did not shoot that sign…one of the few things they did not shoot.