Wildlife Poaching Means Big Business

By: Jared Cerullo Email
By: Jared Cerullo Email

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Outdoor enthusiasts from all over the state are spending the cool days of a Kansas fall looking for their favorite wild game. But game wardens are also on poacher patrol looking for those who illegally deplete the populations of wildlife and cheat good hunters out of their game.

"Even if you don't hunt it, you can get out and enjoy wildlife," said Dennis Zehr.

Zehr has been a game warden for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism for more than 20 years.

Each year, thousands of hunters purchase licenses and tags for whatever game they choose to hunt. but a small percentage of people don't play fair. And the problems it causes are much more than small. They range from the nuisance of having animal carcasses left on your property to possibly being injured or killed by an errant shot.

"Last year, we caught several young adults," Zehr explained. "They were just shooting to be shooting and they were just dumping them here."

Zehr sees the ill effects of careless hunting every day. On this day, he took us to an area that is often used as a dumping ground for carcasses.

"They know where the location is," he explains. "The deer is dead, so they'll they'll come back. Maybe a day, maybe a month. Then they'll cut the head off. That's all they want."

Just this year, the feds broke up what they called the largest deer poaching ring in state history. James and Marlin Butler were sentenced to prison time and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for selling guided hunts to out of state visitors to Southern Kansas.

Another problem good hunters run into is the use of land. Bob Morris and his daughter are avid outdoor enthusiasts.

"There are not a lot of things that me and a teenage girl see eye to eye on and this is one thing that we both enjoy doing together," Morris said.

Morris finds it harder every year to find land to hunt on.

"The old days of going up and asking a farmer to hunt on his land, they're over," Morris said. "It doesn't work that way anymore."

So poachers sneak onto land mostly at night. They find their prey and leave everything behind but the head or rack. A good buck mount or rack of antlers can profit thousands of dollars.

"We've caught some people numerous times," Zehr said. "They're not going to stop. They're willing to pay the fines. Some of them have lost their hunting rights, but that's not going to stop them. These are the ones making money off it."

Spotlighting along the river and along drainage dikes is also a major concern.

"There could be two or three (people) in the vehicle," Zehr explains as he walks along a levee. "Sometimes they'll even use two vehicles and just call ahead and that's their shooting vehicle."

A number of states have begun to set up deer decoys to catch people in the act of roadside hunting. Zehr, meanwhile, keeps after the small percentage of people who cause serious problems for the hunters that do it right.

"It's more that I want kids later in life to be able to enjoy the outdoors," Zehr said. "Something for them to hunt and appreciate wildlife."

Another poaching problem that wildlife officers are now seeing is the reptile trade. Sellers can often make lots of money on turtle shells and snake skins, as well. Zehr says they are often shipped across the country and even globally.

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