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TN: Poachers damage image of hunters

Poachers damage image of hunters
December 19, 2010

I stood in disbelief at a joint press conference in an open field in the Woodlawn area Thursday afternoon. On the side of a large barn hung 41 trophy white-tailed deer mounts taken by a group of poachers at Fort Campbell, along with their confiscated rifles.

These were trophy white-tailed bucks that hunters dream about, and it was mind-boggling that a small group of criminals could have accumulated this awesome display over the ten years or so they had been poaching on the Fort Campbell military reservation.

The trophy mounts ranged in score value from the 130s to the mid-170s (Boone and Crockett scoring system) and some of them would be considered unique. Three large bucks still had parachute shrouds entangled in their massive antlers, while three others had illumination canisters entwined in their racks.

These unique mounts could only be found on deer that roam the impact areas at Fort Campbell where illumination rounds are fired by artillery and mortars as part of the military training. Deer are attracted to the phosphorus residue on the canisters and sometimes become entangled in the illumination parachute and canister device.

The deer poaching operation is the largest in Tennessee history and was discovered on Nov. 26 when officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service observed two men entering the military impact area. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was notified of the observation, and Montgomery County wildlife officers Jeremy Odom and Dale Grandstaff joined the search for the poachers.

Jim Edward Page, Clarksville, and Curtis Wallace, Dover, were apprehended during the search and later investigation resulted in charges against Wendell Taylor, Big Rock, and Gregory W. Crockarell, Dover.

The four men have been charged for illegal hunting activities by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The investigation is on-going and others may be charged before it is completed. The poachers may also face federal charges and state charges by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Those charged by the TWRA are:

Curtis Wallace, Dover. Twenty counts of possession of illegal wildlife and 20 counts of violating tagging requirements. He has pled guilty to the charges and was fined $2,500. His Tennessee hunting and trapping privileges were revoked for seven years and his mounted deer were forfeited.

Wendell Taylor, Big Rock. Fourteen counts of possession of illegal wildlife and 14 counts of violating tagging requirements. Tentative court date is Jan. 11.

Jim Edward Page, Clarksville. 12 counts of possession of illegal wildlife and 12 counts of violating tagging requirements. Tentative court date is Jan. 29.

Gregory W. Crockarell, Dover. Two counts of possession of illegal wildlife and two counts of aiding and betting violation tagging requirements. Tentative court date is Jan. 4.

The poachers were not only violating state and federal wildlife laws, but they were also putting their lives at risk by trespassing in the Fort Campbell impact areas. These areas have been used since the early 1940s for artillery and aerial bombing practice, as well as small arms practice. These off-limits areas are littered with unexploded ordnance and the poachers could have been killed or severely injured.

The isolation of the impact areas from hunter use has resulted in very large antlered deer that are seldom seen by humans. They are generally unmolested and live to old ages.

The poaching operation has been widely reported in the media and the poachers have been identified several times as "hunters." Poachers are not hunters. They are criminals and thieves, and need to be treated as such.

As a certified hunter education instructor, I try to instill this fact in my students. Hunter responsibility and ethics are so important that they are the first subjects taught in the program.

The image and perception of hunters matters and, "Responsible hunters welcome laws that enforce sportsmanlike hunting practices because the behavior of irresponsible hunters has caused some people to oppose hunting." (Tennessee hunter education guide)

You can help apprehend poachers by reporting any known or suspected poaching activity to the TWRA through the "Stop Poaching Hotline." For Middle Tennessee, the number is 1-800-255-8972. For West Tennessee, including Stewart, Houston and Humphreys Counties, call 1-800-831-1173.

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