November 13, 2003

Deer Season Can Cost Big Bucks If You Don’t Follow the Rules

Deer season means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For some hunters it means the search for the trophy buck, while others simply wish to put a little venison in the freezer. For local businesses the 11-day firearms season is the busiest time of the year as hotels, restaurants and shops are packed with visiting hunters.

Unfortunately the period in November is also busy for local law enforcement officials and agents from the Missouri Department of Conservation as the wildlife code and property line issues can arise with so many hunters taking to the field.

“When I first started as sheriff I really dreaded deer season, which is odd coming from an avid hunter like myself,” said Scotland County Sheriff Wayne Winn. “But last year was not too bad. It was really pretty quiet at our office. If folks just use a little common sense, show courtesy to their fellow hunters and most importantly pay attention to property lines, it could be quiet again this season.”

November is the busiest time of year for MDC Conservation Agent Gary Miller of Scotland County. Not only does Miller have to be on the move in search of law violations during the hunting season, he also must supervise the hunting check stations and assist officers from surrounding counties.

“I am already smack dab in the middle of the busy time of year,” Miller said. “The two weeks prior to and then the 11 days of the firearms deer season are my busiest time of year, bar none.”

Miller has been investigating numerous spotlighting incidents and said that 10 to 12 deer have been found along roadsides in the county after being illegally harvested.

“We have found several really big bucks that have been beheaded and even caped out right alongside the road,” Miller said. “That leads us to believe that there is a pretty active deer antler trade. Someone, somewhere, is buying these horns and I’m going to do my best to find out who. This is the worst I’ve seen.”

The state of Missouri maintains just 150 conservation agents in the state. While there are thousands of other MDC employees on the payroll, these agents are the sole individuals responsible for enforcing the wildlife code.

“I’m just one man covering 439 square miles in Scotland County so it’s easy to see why I must depend on landowners and hunters to report violations and suspicious activity,” Miller said. “I can’t do it myself. I have to have your help to stop the violators.”

To report a wildlife related crime individuals can reach Miller through the Scotland County Sheriff’s office 660-465-2106 or may call his home 660-328-6380. Miller said he will also make his cell phone number available through these numbers for people to report violations in progress.

On average Miller said he writes anywhere from 30 to 60 tickets the final quarter of the year. Charges range from trespassing, using artificial lights or vehicles in pursuit of wildlife, to failure to tag the deer or failure to check in the harvested animal in a timely manner.

Miller said that shooting from the roadway is typically the number one violation followed closely by trespassing, spotlighting and failure to tag deer.

“Most violations occur because the opportunity presents itself and the individual simply doesn’t believe they will get caught,” Miller said. “I don’t believe very many hunters are habitual violators, they simply get caught up in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately that bad decision can really cost them.”

Not only is a run in with your local conservation agent or law enforcement officer embarrassing for a hunter it also can have its effects on the old pocketbook.

Hunting deer without a permit is punishable by a fine of $170 plus $64.50 court costs. Taking deer during a closed season costs the offender a $270 fine as does taking over the limit of deer, a $270 fine for each animal over the limit. Using a spotlight or other artificial light in connection with firearms hunting earns a $200 fine while trying to take wildlife from the road or from a vehicle is punishable by a $320 fine. Trespass in the first degree costs $370.

The cost goes beyond dollars and cents. Each violation of the Missouri Wildlife Code also carries with it a points assessment. Any hunter or fisherman that compiles 16 points or more in violations can face revocation of all hunting and fishing privileges for one to three years.

The nature and severity of the violation also determines whether or not the ticket can simply be mailed into the court with payment of the fine or if the violator will have to appear in court before the judge.

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