It's a rare night when Conservation Officer Chris Flynn does not receive a call about someone spotlighting deer and that shots were fired.
Just two weeks ago, Flynn received a call at 10 p.m., and while responding, he received a second call about the same thing, only five miles away. When he arrived at the second scene, the evidence indicated that it was a different vehicle involved than the first scene. His phone rang again - another spotlight and more shots fired. Three calls all within five miles of each other.
Flynn has been chasing these calls down since the middle of September, but with the harvest in full swing and the deer breeding season about to hit its peak, the phone has been ringing almost constantly.
Spotlighters who poach deer can be tough to catch, he said. Some of the poachers are real professionals at it; patterning the deer movements over a number of nights with no gun or bow in the vehicle until they see the big buck. Once they identify that buck and his pattern, they make one more trip out with the gun and take the deer home.
"These are game thieves stealing from all hunters and wildlife watchers," said Jason Sandholt, district law enforcement supervisor with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "The poachers want to show off their trophy as a way of declaring themselves a great hunter, but in reality the only way they could bag the deer was to cheat and steal it from the lawful hunters."
Not all spotlighting is illegal, but state conservation officers would prefer if all activity were reported.
"We don't know if it is a legal or illegal case until we stop them," said Flynn. The key to catching spotlighters is for officers to receive the reports as soon as possible.
"Calling the report in, in a timely manner, is the best way to help us catch these guys," Flynn said. Other valuable information includes a description of the vehicle or the people involved, the location and direction they were traveling, the number of shots and where they were shinning.
"Knowing ahead of time if they were shinning in an open field versus a timber would help us because the fur bearer hunting season opens Saturday, and raccoon hunters will be out in the timber looking for raccoons," Flynn said. "Every bit of information helps."
The activity can also be reported through the Turn-in-Poachers hotline by calling 1-800-832-2020. Callers can remain anonymous. Since the TIP was started 1985, 70 percent of the 9,200 calls received have involved deer poaching.
Poachers Keep Game Wardens Busy
Iowa Conservation Officer Chris has seen the poaching activity in Jefferson and Van Buren counties increase over the past 12 years. Just within the past 48 hours, Flynn has charged two groups of non-residents with either using a fictitious identity to obtain a license to taking deer without a license. Add in a case of shooting deer over a baited area, another case of taking deer out of season and the list goes on.
"It seems like it never ends," Flynn said. "There's not enough time in the day and we're only scratching the surface."
Flynn said the public can help protect the resource from game thieves by calling the local conservation officer directly or by calling the Turn-in-Poachers hotline at 1-800-532-2020. Callers can remain anonymous.
"I've spoken with other wardens in southern Iowa and can say that without a doubt that I've seen more deer hunters out this past weekend than during the shotgun season," he said. "It would be helpful if the public could call in with information on any unlicensed individuals as well as any other poaching activity.
"The key to catching these guys is alerting the local warden as soon as they activity is witnessed with as much detailed information as possible," Flynn said. Details include the poaching activity, a description of the individual or individuals, the location, vehicle description and license plate number if possible, and in which direction they were heading.