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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS > 2005

Three plead guilty to party hunt charges

By REBECCA BOONE
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- After a year of investigation, Idaho Fish and Game officials say they've broken a major poaching case involving more than two dozen illegally taken deer in central Idaho.

Three men have already pleaded guilty to hunting violations. But Al Van Vooren, the southwest regional director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said nearly 30 more people are still being interviewed in connection with the case and more charges may be filed.

Although the case is larger than normal, Van Vooren said, the crime -- so-called party hunting, where members of the same hunting group shoot animals that others tag -- is common.

"We don't have any firm estimates," Van Vooren said, "but it's always disappointing to us in conversations with hunters how often we hear about it and how often we run across it."

Fish and Game officers were tipped off to the alleged party hunt last year by other hunters in the region, said Van Vooren. Some of the department's agents went undercover to investigate, Van Vooren said, and on Tuesday three people were arrested at a hunting camp near Council littered with deer carcasses.

On Thursday, David Frazier of Robertsville, Ala., pleaded guilty in Adams County magistrate court to possession of unlawfully taken deer. In exchange for his plea, two other hunting charges were dropped. He was fined $680 and had his hunting license suspended for three years.

Paul Wiesehugel of Folsom, Calif., also pleaded guilty to possession of unlawfully taken deer; a charge of transferring a deer tag to another was dismissed. He was fined $480 and had his hunting license suspended for three years. Both Wiesehugel and Frazier forfeited guns and camera equipment as part of their sentence.

The third man, Steve Knapp of Gardnerville, Nev., pleaded guilty to shooting across a public roadway but declined to immediately enter a plea on a charge of attempting to exceed the big game limit. He is scheduled to plead on Nov. 17, court officials said.

All of the charges are considered infractions or misdemeanors, Van Vooren said.

Idaho law limits hunting to those who have the proper license and tags, Van Vooren said, and except in rare cases hunters are limited to one deer and one elk per person per year. Some of the hunters at the Council hunting camp had killed several deer, he said.

"It's a hunting camp that has traditionally been in the same spot, and 20 or 30 or more different hunters at various times during the hunting season would be at this camp," he said. "A small portion of the people in the camp would kill all of the animals."

The operation was not commercial, he said. Instead, all of those at the camp appeared to be family or friends.

Party hunting artificially inflates the hunting success rates, potentially limiting the number of tags available to hunters in future seasons, Van Vooren said. Fish and Game officials set the number of hunting tags available each year based on hunting success rates and animal populations. The greater the success rate, the fewer number of hunting tags may be available in following years.

"I don't know what stimulates someone to poach multiple animals," Van Vooren said. "I guess it goes back to the caveman -- the guy who brought the meat back to the cave must have got all the women."

Party hunting isn't illegal everywhere. But Nate Helm, executive director of the Idaho chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said deer populations in Idaho today can't support the pressure of party hunting.

"West-wide, mule deer populations have been on the decline. The No. 1 impact of deer populations in our state is development -- it reduces feed opportunities and range. Those are the biggest driving forces that make it so party hunting in a state like Idaho isn't going to work," Helm said.

Increasingly, sportsmen are becoming more aware of the laws and less willing to break them, he said.

"There's just no tolerance of that by law enforcement and certainly much less tolerance of that among sportsmen," Helm said.

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