By Kathryn Moschella
On a sunny and warm fall morning, all appears peaceful in rural southeastern Hillsborough County.
Farmers survey citrus crops while their workers tend to the orchards. Cattle graze in the fields, ranch hands care for property and equipment, and quiet envelopes the small homes and farms that dot the landscape.
But lately, poachers and thieves have marred this country serenity, killing animals on private property and stealing equipment. The problem has grown so persistent that the sound of shots echo through night and early morning hours, and its not uncommon to find cut fences as violators encroach onto private properties.
A task force made up of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Agricultural Crime Unit and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to monitor the poaching problem.
Last month, the task force arrested a 19-year-old Mulberry man. Authorities charged Dalton Gant with felony armed trespassing after arresting him near Bethlehem Road and Albritton Road for poaching a deer on private property.
Deputies found a pickup truck known to be used by poachers hidden in the woods. It contained hunting equipment and remnants of recently killed animals.
The task force operation centers primarily on ending the illegal hunting of deer, but perpetrators also trespass to hunt pigs and turkey and to net fish, according to Sgt. Ed Raburn with HCSO's Homeland Security Division. Raburn says the hunters will shoot anything they see whenever and wherever they see it as long as it's convenient.
"It's a crime of opportunity," Raburn said. "People don't have access to land to hunt on or don't want to travel to a place to hunt, but they live in close proximity to private property or public land where hunting isn't allowed. More....