|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2007-12-19                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than nine years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
Dec. 19, 2007
Deer Poaching Probe Leads To 247 Charges Against 20 People
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas game wardens this month concluded an investigation into an illegal deer hunting ring in Southeast Texas, filing 247 criminal charges against 20 offenders.
The case involves illegal activity spanning four counties. A total of 27 animals are known to have been killed, with 13 sets of antlers and one doe head seized as evidence. Game wardens uncovered 606 possible criminal charges ranging from Class C misdemeanors to felonies, although ultimately 247 criminal charges were filed in late November and early December. A team of nine game wardens participated in the investigation, which eventually led to two search warrants and charges filed with six courts in four counties: Montgomery, Edwards, Liberty, and Houston. Two assistant district attorneys from Montgomery County assisted with most of the investigation. The suspects face paying approximately $15,000 in civil restitution, a process that compensates the people of Texas for each illegally taken wild animal.
The suspects range in age from 16 to 25 years old. Most of the charges filed against them were for hunting deer at night, hunting from a public roadway, hunting during closed season, hunting from a motor vehicle and possession of illegally taken deer.
"We did consider the ages of those involved when preparing to file charges, and more charges could have been filed," said Col. Pete Flores, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement director. "We understand that young people occasionally make mistakes. But the scope and nature of this activity goes way beyond a youthful prank, and wildlife crimes cannot be tolerated in Texas. I would add that this illegal activity is not hunting, and it is not representative of youth hunters in our state."
The case began three months ago, when a man who was aware of ongoing poaching activity by a group of young men in the Splendora area northeast of Houston was driving on Highway 59. He drove by a highway billboard advertising Operation Game Thief, the Texas wildlife "crime stoppers" program that offers rewards for tips that lead to convictions. The man later told game wardens he began thinking about the message on the billboard and the ongoing poaching activity, whereupon he turned around and drove back to get the telephone number off the billboard and called OGT.
Game Wardens Dean Fitzpatrick and Brannon Meinkowsky of Montgomery County then began leading what became a two and a half month investigation of illegal hunting dating back to fall 2006. Most of the illegal activity took place in Montgomery and Edwards Counties, with one episode each in Liberty and Houston counties. The primary targets of the illegal hunters were white-tailed buck deer. Secondary targets were exotic wildlife species such as axis deer and black buck antelope. Most of the incidents occurred at night, from a vehicle on a public roadway. The majority of the animals were retrieved by the suspects, but some were left behind because the animal's antlers were not considered big enough or the poachers were scared off by oncoming vehicles. The illegal hunting took place in developed urban subdivisions as well as rural areas.
Participants were caught poaching by two different game wardens during the course of the investigation. Game wardens had been investigating the killing of a deer on the Splendora High School football field. A few days after that incident, Montgomery County Game Warden Alan Biggerstaff caught three suspects after they shot and killed a deer in a subdivision near Conroe. Edwards County Game Warden Cody Hatfield caught four of them hunting from the roadway near Rocksprings in Edwards County. These two incidents were instrumental, providing a big break in the investigation that yielded names of many of the suspects. The two incidents also show how Texas game wardens are able to communicate and share information across the state.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than nine years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
Dec. 19, 2007
Game Warden Field Notes
The following are excerpts from recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement reports.
International poaching: Dec. 4, Zapata County game wardens spotted a Mexican boat heading into Texas waters. Around 6 p.m., the Mexican fishermen approached the brush line where the game wardens were sitting. A pursuit ensued and three subjects were arrested. The boat, the motor, and approximately 3,000 feet of gill net were seized. The three fishermen were charged with fishing with no commercial fishing license, possession of illegal equipment in prohibited waters, insufficient number of PFDs, and failure to display navigational lights.
Bottles, line and -- oh yeah -- a gill net: It is time for the winter crappie run on White Rock Creek. On the night of Dec. 2, while on patrol along White Rock Creek in Dallas, a Dallas County game warden was checking fishermen. The game warden came across four individuals sitting at the edge of the creek. They stated that they were fishing with bottles and line but had no fishing licenses. IDs were taken and the four were directed to clean up the site of their trash and go to the parking lot. While investigating the creek bank where they had been, the game warden started to pull up what looked like the end of a stringer. What was pulled up was 100 feet of gill net with more than 100 fish; mostly crappie, sand bass and black bass. Multiple cases were filed and are pending.
Kids say the darnedest things: Dec. 1, a Hill County game warden located some illegal duck hunting activity at the Navarro Mills Lake Corps area in Hill County. Since duck season was closed due to a split in the season until Dec. 8, the game warden asked one of the hunters what they were out hunting for, and the hunter stated that they, two other adults and two kids were goose hunting. After checking their guns, the game warden knew that there weren't any violations since goose season was open; then he asked one of the kids, "So, y'all didn't shoot any ducks this morning?" The kid then stated that they shot one, but they could not keep it because it was not a good duck. After a brief investigation, one of the subjects admitted to shooting the duck, a Northern Shoveler.
Lousy shot, but at least he didn't lie: Dec. 1, a Motley County game warden and a Dickens County game warden were exiting a ranch in Motley County when they witnessed a pickup pulled to the edge of the road. When the wardens approached the pickup, two subjects were standing next to the fence, one with a rifle pointed out in the pasture. One of the game wardens asked the subject if he had hit anything, and he replied: "Naw, I missed." Charges were filed.
I only poach at night: Dec. 1, a Hale County game warden was checking a large group of pheasant hunters when he encountered a man he had filed numerous charges on in previous years. The man could not produce a hunting license and stated he did in fact have one because, as he said: "I tagged the mule deer buck I shot last night with a tag from it." That statement started a four-hour investigation that resulted in seizure of three illegal mule deer from three different locations and charges on four individuals for no hunting license, improperly tagged deer, untagged deer, tagging a deer with another person's tag and hunting without landowner consent.
Busy day on the water: Dec. 1, Chambers County game wardens were patrolling Trinity and Galveston Bays for oyster violations. While stopped to look at oyster boats, an unregistered vessel came up and stopped right next to the patrol boat. Citation was issued. The wardens then began boarding oyster boats. On the first boat, the wardens counted 30 percent undersized cargo; citation issued, 25 sacks returned to the reef. Second boat had 26 percent undersized; citation issued, 17 sacks returned to the reef. On the horizon, one of the game wardens saw a recreational boat coming and the "game warden intuition" kicked-in. After a short ride, the wardens caught the boat and the two occupants had eight undersized red drum, six over the daily bag limit of black drum, and one of the guys had no fishing license. Citations issued. One of the other wardens pointed to another oyster boat and said they needed to check that boat, and the wardens found 46 percent undersized oysters; citation issued and 14 sacks were returned to the reef.
The long memory of the law: A game warden received an Operation Game Thief call about five hunters who came down from California last year to hunt exotics at a local ranch. They had bought the $45 non-resident five-day special hunting license. During their stay at the ranch, they decided to help the ranch with their white-tailed deer management. The five hunters took a total of 11 white-tailed deer- one of them scored 123 Boone & Crockett and another 119 Boone & Crockett. The ranch manager stated he confronted the hunters about getting the appropriate license, but they did not want to spend the unexpected $300. The ranch owner was contacted by the game warden and informed of the violations, and he stated those same hunters will be back this year. The game warden met them at the ranch this season, and although the hunters had the right licenses this year, they were cited for hunting without a valid non-resident hunting license last year. The heads of the two bucks were returned, and restitution will be pending on the 11 deer.
Lots of problems with this trophy: Dec. 1 a Limestone County game warden initiated an investigation into the taking of a 161 5/8 Boone & Crockett whitetail deer that was entered into a local Big Buck Contest. The hunter claimed to have killed the deer at 5:30 p.m., but Austin Communications reported that the hunter's license wasn't purchased until 7:30 p.m. on that same day. The game warden also discovered that the deer had been tagged with an antlerless tag and that the hunter did not have the required hunter education. Cases and restitution pending.
Game wardens help with Hunt for Heroes: The "Show of Support Military Hunt-Hunt for Heroes" began Nov. 29 in Midland for 26 men wounded in the war that were brought in from many states for an all-expense-paid military hunt. The soldiers from all branches of service were first honored at a reception at the Midland Hilton on Wednesday night when the group and their wives arrived in town. Thursday, the group was again honored with a dinner to thank our heroes who put their lives on the line. Each soldier was issued a rifle and enjoyed good company and good food. Game wardens assisted the soldiers on their hunt.
Only one casualty as shot is fired: Nov. 28, McMullen and Starr County game wardens were working land patrol as participants in Border Star 4. The road that they were working is known to all law enforcement in the area as a hot spot for illegal hunting activity. They spotted a vehicle coming out of Hidalgo County onto their road and proceeding about 200 yards north of their location. There was activity around the vehicle at that location and flashlights were seen. The wardens decided to go have a look and talk to the people involved and left their set. The occupants of the vehicle apparently saw their headlights and sped up. The road they were on is extremely rough and full of pot holes. The wardens followed as fast as was safely possible, and it appeared the vehicle's driver had turned the lights off about 2 miles before he came to the pavement. This portion of the chase was about 5 miles in length. Upon reaching the hardtop, the wardens were able to draw up on the vehicle and affected a traffic stop. As they left their patrol vehicle, they were on high alert due to the circumstances involved in catching the Ford pickup. As the wardens came to the front of their vehicle, but staying behind the lights, they heard a gunshot come from within the vehicle. Weapons were drawn and the driver was made to vacate his vehicle. A search of the pickup revealed a Llama .380 semi-automatic handgun lying on the passenger seat. Also found was a hole in the dashboard just above the radio and ricocheting back into the air conditioner. The man stated that he had wanted to hide the weapon and it had gone off. After a thorough search of the vehicle, and the man's history, and several lectures on the handling of weapons, the man was released with a dead air-conditioner. The main thing is that everyone came out of it safe; the wardens did not overreact and start shooting back; and all went home in one piece.
We've been looking for you: While patrolling Espiritu Santo Bay at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 26th, a Victoria County game warden and a Wharton County game warden boarded a commercial vessel to check for compliance. A Seadrift native well-known by coastal game wardens was arrested after wardens confirmed 10 outstanding warrants from TPWD involving cases of six different game wardens from two regions. Wardens escorted the vessel to Port O'Connor where it was towed by a wrecker service after it was secured by Calhoun County game wardens. After obtaining bids, the subject's catch of flounder were sold to the highest bidder. The subject was transported to the Calhoun County Jail where he will remain until he pays over $4,000 in fines or time served in custody.
Group hug, anyone? Nov. 24, at approximately 6:30 p.m., a Houston County game warden and an Angelina County game warden came upon a camp with two untagged buck deer on the ground. After visiting with the lady of the camp, it was determined that the two men were in the woods looking for a third buck they had taken a shot at. While waiting, the wardens looked around and found another buck head. The wardens followed the blood trail into the shed and located a walk-in cooler with six more deer inside. One was untagged, one was an illegal buck, and the others were not tagged properly. A check of the coolers revealed duck breasts with no identification as well. There was another camp close by and a quick look at their deer revealed an untagged doe and an improperly tagged buck. The wardens issued seven citations, fifteen warnings and seized two deer. Charges filed for over the bag limit of buck deer, untagged deer, improperly tagged deer, fail to complete harvest log, and possess illegal buck less than 13 inches. As the wardens prepared to leave, the hunters not only shook the wardens' hands, they gave them hugs for not putting them in jail. Cases pending.
Helping out a neighbor: Nov. 25, a Gray County game warden Logan Hudson received a phone call at his residence where the caller stated his name and that he needed help before the call was terminated. The game warden recognized the name as being that of a gentleman who hunts the property north of the game warden's home. The game warden patrolled up to the property and located the man's pickup. As he approached, he could see the man slumped over the steering wheel. Believing the man may have had a heart attack; the game warden approached the truck and called out to the man. Getting no response, the warden reached through the window and touched the man's shoulder. The man sat up with license and pen in hand and said: "I've just killed the biggest deer I've ever seen and my phone had gone dead and I think I'm going to need help to load it." Warden Hudson asked him where the deer was and he said, "It's out there about 75 yards and I haven't had the guts to go look at him but you can see his rack from here." The man and Hudson were able to load the 14-point whitetail, which weighed in at 305 pounds on the hoof.
It's a small state after all: A Travis County game warden was in West Texas for the Border operation during mule deer season, and on the first day he got to check hunters standing in the snow. Ironically, the first hunter the game warden checked on opening day had a mule deer not properly tagged and he was from Austin. The hunter's name seemed familiar to the game warden, so he ran his name for warrants and sure enough he had an outstanding warrant from the same game warden. The game warden gave him a citation for the tagging violation and advised him to contact him about the warrant when he returned. When the game warden returned to Austin, the hunter took care of his warrant.
Good detective work leads to felony charges: Nov. 22, a Wise County game warden observed an area known for Thanksgiving Day trespassing. At about 8:45 a.m., two suspects were observed scoping a large grassy pasture with their rifles. The game warden was able to get behind the suspects and detain them. Neither suspect had a valid hunting license. The leader of the two identified himself as a well-known poacher, who has a lengthy criminal record with TPWD. The lead poacher was also found to be in possession of narcotics. He stated that he was only hog hunting and did not need a license. The game warden explained that a grunt call was not required to hog hunt. The game warden requested assistance from a Wise County colleague. While the second game warden was securing the gate, she observed a small blue extended pickup being driven by a female. The game warden believed that this was possibly the vehicle that had dropped off the trespassers. The second game warden was able to locate a container that had methamphetamine in it. When the first game warden returned to photograph the scene, he observed a vulture leaving a wooded area, which he found to be unusual because the area had been observed for several days. The warden later located a cleaning site in the wooded area and a rear half of a white-tailed deer carcass. Believing that this deer had something to do with the blood that was found in the rear of the pickup, a search warrant was requested and granted. One nine-point deer was located at the suspect's residence. Two days later, a second nine-point deer was found in the next pasture. DNA evidence was collected from the suspects, the vehicle and the scene to determine if the suspects were involved. Bullets were removed from the carcasses to determine if they matched the guns of the suspects. Felonies are pending
Stolen honor ends in charges: A special operations game warden received information concerning three subjects discussing their ability to obtain free active military super combo licenses, even though they were not active military. The three discussed their misdeeds on an internet chat room on a hunting based Web site. They told other hunters how easy it was to obtain the free license and that they had been checked many times by game wardens and never caught. Information was gathered on the ringleader regarding where he worked, lived, hunted, and what he killed. The information obtained was passed on to another game warden who was more than willing to visit with the talkative Web chatter. She caught the subject while hunting and filed on him for hunting with an invalid license. Additionally, the game warden was able to seize last year's buck from the subject and file restitution charges because he had bragged about shooting the deer on public land and getting checked but not caught. Investigation continues into additional subjects.