By John M. Annese
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A bow-and-arrow wielding Staten Island man allegedly used a Travis park as his personal big game stalking ground, in what's believed to be the first illegal deer poaching case in New York City history.
And he's not the only alleged poacher out there.
Since the borough's deer population exploded in recent years, residents have reported roughly two dozen dead deer -- many with their heads and antlers cut off as trophies -- according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The practice has become so common that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has tasked a three-officer team to finding the poachers, sources say.
In one instance, someone used a shotgun to kill two deer near the Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, sources said. But most often, poachers use bows or crossbows to make the kills.
The law currently prohibits hunting within the five boroughs, while bow-hunting only is permitted in Suffolk and Westchester counties.
Over the course of a year, the team used night vision goggles, thermal imaging, license plate information and community tips to track David G. Oakes, of the 100 block of Birch Road in Mariners Harbor, sources said.
On Nov. 11, they caught him carrying a bow, dressed in camouflage gear, in Schmul Park, behind Schmul Playground, sources said.
He was setting up cans and bait piles to lure deer into his sights, according to papers filed in Stapleton Criminal Court, and had no hunting license.
"I was hunting today over bait, and took an 8-point last year from a bait pile in this spot," Oakes told the officers, according to papers filed in Stapleton Criminal Court.
Oakes was cuffed, sources said, but because he cooperated with the officers, he was issued summonses instead of jailed. He'll make his first appearance in Stapleton Criminal Court on Friday.
He faces multiple illegal hunting-related offenses, some of them misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail.
New York State Environmental Conservation Officers Edward Piwko, Jason Hilliard and Anthony Rigoli are credited with building the case against Oakes, and were featured in a recent issue of International Game Warden magazine for their efforts.
Sources say the officers got help from the community, including the Zimmer Club and the Richmond Boro Gun Club, to crack the case.
"Sportsmen, hunters and fishermen, they don't like poachers, they hate them. Because they bring a bad name to their sport," one source said. "They're breaking all the rules. They're committing all sorts of safety atrocities to do this. When you're poaching behind a playground, you're not really taking public safety into consideration."
No one answered the door at Oakes' home Wednesday night.
The poaching problem got recent attention on the popular Facebook.com page of Michael Reilly, a retired police lieutenant and president of the Staten Island Community Education Committee.
Reilly said he reached out to the DEC after hearing complaints about a group of deer found shot dead with a bow and decapitated in Tottenville.
Piwko replied in writing, telling him, "I am aware and investigating multiple incidents where people are illegally killing deer with what appears to be archery equipment in the Tottenville area. Most of the perpetrators then remove the head or just the deer's antlers and leave the rest.... I need the assistance of the community to help stop this illegal activity."