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MO: Hunters illegally kill rare swans

Hunters need to take responsibility
Killing of rare trumpeter swans shows need for outdoorsmen to be informed

by Jeff Leonard Friday, January 23, 2009

With all the media coverage centering around the presidential inauguration this week, many might not have noticed the article circulating throughout the nation about several men in Boone County, Mo., who apparently killed not one but five rare trumpeter swans.

According to a Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) press release, eight trumpeter swans arrived at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in southern Boone County (near Columbia) on the night of Dec. 29.

The following morning, an unknown number of guys hunting snow geese allegedly failed to identify their targets and killed five of the swans. After being caught, the violators apparently told conservation agents they "mistook" them for snow geese.

What's odd about this particular incident and the hunters' explanation about their case of mistaken identity was the fact that conservation agents were immediately notified of the incident by law-abiding waterfowl hunters who were nearby and witnessed the shootings. They readily identified the birds as trumpeter swans.

For those who may not be familiar with trumpeter swans, or snow geese for that matter, both birds are predominately white, but that's where the similarities end. Trumpeters, like other swans, have a very long neck relative to their body size and the feathers of adults are all white.

Trumpeters are the largest native birds in North America with wing spans approaching 8 feet. They average 55 to 65 inches in length and tip the scales at around 20 to 25 pounds. The birds fly with their long necks outstretched. They also have black bills and black legs and feet.

Compare this to snow geese during their white phase (snow geese go through different color phases), which have easily recognizable black wing feathers and much shorter necks. Snow geese also have pink-colored legs and bills.

Snow geese are also significantly smaller than swans, averaging only 29 to 31 inches in length and tipping the scales at a mere 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 pounds. The wingspan of an average snow goose is nearly 3 feet less than a trumpeter swan. The two different waterfowl species should have been easily distinquished, especially within shotgun range.

Jim D. Wilson, an ornithologist with conservation department, said it best in a press release in November of 1997 when he said "People who shoot trumpeter swans sometimes do it out of uncaring or malice." He went on to say that the number of trumpeter swans mistakenly killed by hunters is very small.

"Killing one is an act of vandalism, really," he said.

In one morning, whether intentionally or unintentionally, these men killed five beautiful, rare birds and placed themselves in dire legal circumstances with the possibility of jail time and heavy fines. Worst of all, these men gave sportsmen and conservationists from Missouri and the entire country a black eye.

Not properly identifying your target before taking a shot goes against everything responsible hunters strive for while afield. This is especially true when hunting waterfowl and should never be an excuse for any accident of this kind.

As sportsmen, we owe it to ourselves, the future of hunting and the game we pursue to have a thorough knowledge of all aspects of the hunt before we head afield. We also need the restraint to apply this knowledge and not get caught up in the moment.

Like the responsible hunters who did the right thing and notified conservation agents of this incident, we should all strive to police ourselves from within. The very future of the sport may depend on it.

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