By John McCoy
LOGAN -- The price of deer poaching turned out to be pretty high in 2013. In a three-county area of southwestern West Virginia alone, convicted poachers paid $18,300 in replacement fees for deer they killed illegally. The bulk of those replacement fees were of the "enhanced" variety, assessed for killing trophy-class bucks.
"It was a good year for us and a bad year for poachers," said Sgt. Terry Ballard of the state Natural Resources Police. "We obtained convictions on 67 charges involving 30 deer. Ten of those deer were trophy bucks."
By "trophy," Ballard meant the bucks sported antlers that -- had the animals been harvested legally -- would have qualified for the Pope and Young Club's record book for bow-killed big-game animals.
Instead, the 10 sets of antlers will decorate the "Wall of Shame," the Division of Natural Resources' traveling exhibit of confiscated trophy racks.
Logan, Mingo and Boone counties routinely produce whitetails with bragging-sized antlers. Not surprisingly, the area attracts people willing to obtain a trophy by any means, legal or illegal.
Ballard said it's becoming more and more difficult for poachers to get away with their crimes.
"Ninety-nine percent of the convictions we get come from tips," he explained
"They usually come from people who had been hunting particular bucks and found out those bucks had been poached. Sometimes they come from ex-wives or ex-girlfriends out for a little revenge. Lately they've been coming from social media. You'd be amazed how many poachers post pictures of their deer on Facebook."
Following leads those tips provide, law enforcement officers then conduct the interviews and do the legwork necessary to build strong cases against the alleged perpetrators. Ballard credited three of his colleagues - Ofcr. Larry Harvey in Logan County, Cpl. Larry Rockel in Mingo County and Ofcr. Chuck Holloran in Boone County -- for tracking down last fall's assortment of tips, leads and allegations.
The two highest-profile cases involved bucks with truly gigantic antlers. Those convictions alone accounted for more than one-third of the replacement-fee total of $18,300.
"Those were two of the biggest typical-racked bucks we've ever [confiscated\," Ballard said. "We've had one mounted already, and the other one will be mounted as soon as the taxidermist prepares the hide for the mount."
The former came from Logan County, the latter from Mingo.
"The Logan County buck was taken near the community of Lake," Ballard said. "The young man who killed the deer had already killed a doe and a nice 9-point buck. There's a one-buck limit in counties closed to gun hunting, and when that young fellow took a second buck, he broke the law."
Ballard called his interview with the youngster "the easiest I've ever had with somebody."
"I knocked on his door, and he stepped out onto the porch and said, 'I'm guilty, I know I did wrong, I knew I screwed up when I did it.' I never had to ask him a question."
The buck sported a huge 11-point rack that included a massive 10-point main frame with a 7-inch drop tine on one antler.
"The rack gross-scored at 180 2/8, and ended up netting 169 and some change," Ballard said. "Without that drop tine, it would have been a new state record."
The rack's 22-inch spread cost the poacher dearly. The enhanced replacement fee for deer with spreads greater than 20 inches is $2,500, the maximum allowed under the law.
"All told, the young man paid $3,070, which included the standard $200 replacement fee, the enhanced fee, fines and court costs," Ballard said.
The Mingo County buck was killed near Delbarton, and it too was shot by a man who exceeded the allowable limit.
"The initial complaint we got about this buck was that the guy had killed it off someone else's hunting lease [property\," Ballard said. "We talked to the guy who killed it, and he said he didn't kill it on that leased land.
"We questioned him about a couple of bullet holes in the deer's hide, and he admitted it appeared to have been shot with a rifle but claimed he didn't know how who had shot it."
The officers then asked the man if he had killed any other deer during the season.
"He said he had killed a 5-point buck near his house. We asked if he had check tags for both deer, and he did. At that point, it was immaterial whether the big buck was killed on private property, because it was clear the guy had gone over the bag limit."
The buck's massive rack gross-scored 185 inches using the Pope and Young system, and after deductions came in at 171. Had it been legal, it would have ranked among the top 10 bow-killed bucks in state history.
The man pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and paid fines, replacement costs and court fees that amounted to a little more than $3,000.
Ballard believes including the two huge trophies in the agency's Wall of Shame exhibit might help discourage future violators.
"They'll definitely catch people's eye," he said. "If folks realize poaching a big buck could end up costing them thousands of dollars, they might think twice before they pull that trigger or release that arrow."