June 9, 2021
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — With just over 7,000 wild turkeys checked in Arkansas this spring, it’s no secret that hunting was a challenge for many in The Natural State. Some couldn’t play by the rules, resulting in an alarming trend noticed by wildlife officers whose business is catching those who cut corners and prevent honest hunters from seeing increased turkey harvest numbers.
“Business was good this spring,” Col. Brad Young, chief of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Enforcement Division, said. “I’m proud of our officers for catching so many people breaking the law, but I’m concerned that they found so many major violations in the turkey woods this year.”
AGFC officers issued citations for 152 major wildlife violations during this year’s 21-day hunting season. They also assisted Nebraska and Kansas by uncovering 16 violations that occurred in those states during investigations in Arkansas.
Hunting turkeys over bait was the top violation officers found this year, with an alarming 72 cases being made in three weeks.
“We had some regions where we found more baited sites than we had officers to sit on and catch the poacher in the act on opening morning,” Young said. “We might not have caught all of the ones we found, but we will.”
Young says most wildlife officers take particular pride in catching turkey poachers, as the species is seeing a decline in many states across the Southeast and every turkey poached is one that is being stolen from honest hunters and those trying to help turkeys rebound.
Young says officers may have multiple sits on a baited site before the poacher revisits.
“It’s really similar to a hard deer or turkey hunt,” Young said. “The officer has to do their research, scout and get set up earlier than the poacher on the site, getting dropped off at the location or walking in from a long distance so they aren’t detected. You may sit all morning without the poacher showing up, and it may take a few attempts before everything comes together, but our dedicated officers know it’s just a matter of being at the right place at the right time and they’re eventually going to catch the poacher.”
Hunting in a closed season was the second most frequent violation AGFC wildlife officers found with 19 cases being made.
“Catching someone hunting outside the season is another one of those violations that requires a lot of boots-on-the-ground work and dedication on the part of the officer,” Young said. “In most cases, a call from a concerned hunter or landowner sparks an investigation, but by the time we are able to respond, the poacher may be long gone.”
Young says following up on those calls isn’t a one-and-done proposition. Most officers will keep a record of such violations and descriptions of suspects that were gathered by witnesses. It may take multiple visits, but they’ll continue to work the area to try to catch the violator in the act.
“Even if the officer doesn’t catch them on the first few calls, I encourage people to keep calling when they see someone poaching,” Young said. “The more calls and detailed reports we get, the better our chances of catching them.”
In addition to calls, Young says many officers spend hours poring over data on checked birds in their regions.
“We’re a part of our communities, and we love hunting and fishing as much as anyone,” Young said. “Everyone knows who the good hunters are, and everyone has thoughts about who’s cutting corners. Adding data from hunting records and calls from anonymous sources all helps give leads on possible violations that we can follow up on.”
Young mentions that changes to Arkansas’s turkey season structure this year may have contributed to the increase in poaching, but those changes were made to try and help the state’s turkey population and violating them is only hindering the future of the sport.
“I’m an avid turkey hunter myself,” Young said. “It’s not supposed to be easy; you know that going into the hunt. But not following the regulations isn’t just shooting yourself in the foot for next year, it’s taking opportunities from others to enjoy this sport. That’s why we work so hard to keep hunters honest and catch those who won’t play by the rules.”