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Operation Bruin: Bear bums caught

BY Randy Zellers

ON 06-20-2021


June 20, 2021

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

FORT SMITH — We’ve all heard the term “shooting fish in a barrel” equated to something so easy it should be illegal. In fact, it is. Shooting any game species except furbearers in Arkansas with the aid of traps isn’t just unethical, it can land you in some hot water with the law as well as the true sportsmen and sportswomen of the state. But that didn’t keep two poachers from cutting corners during Arkansas’s black bear season.   

In October 2018, Arkansas Game and Fish Captain Nakia Crims received information that an individual on private land within the Ozark St. Francis National Forest was using large traps made of culverts to catch bears during hunting season, and then shooting them in the trap. The informant said the individual also was allowing other hunters to shoot bears in the traps.

After an initial investigation, officers found three large trap sites set and baited with pastries, but because the season was near its end and the suspect had already checked his bear for 2018, they decided to monitor the sites and wait until the next year to catch the poachers in the act.

The culvert trap used to catch bears and shoot them during bear season.
Officers returned to the site weeks before the opening of the 2019 bear season to see if the traps were still in place. Not only did they discover that they were still in place, but they documented two traps that had been “freshened up” with bait on at least eight occasions. Video and photo surveillance equipment were placed to monitor the areas and officers waited patiently for their efforts to bear fruit.

They didn’t have to wait long, as the poacher posted to his social media account at the beginning of bear season with news of his latest kill.

“Got it done again this year…Male about 200 lbs. Killed with a crossbow at 11:30 a.m. at one of my bait stations,” the post read with an accompanying image of the suspect and a bear. Of course, he failed to mention exactly how he “got it done.”

After a quick check of surveillance cameras, officers watched footage of the suspect walking up to the trap, shooting the bear with a crossbow and dragging it out using a tractor. Surveillance footage from the second baited trap showed another suspect walking up to the trap with a longbow at the ready.

Upon questioning, the second suspect admitted to helping build the traps and illegally taking a bear from one in 2018. Search warrants were issued for both suspects’ residences and one’s taxidermy shop to recover further evidence.

The first suspect also admitted to illegally harvesting a black bear out of season with a rifle in 2015 as well as illegally harvesting bears from the traps during the previous three years. In all, seven bears had been taken illegally from the property. The first suspect also admitted to trading marketable parts of the bear (the gallbladder and spinal column) for bait.

The first poacher pled guilty to 19 charges and fines totaling $7,180 and restitution of $1,000 for the final bear taken from the traps. He also forfeited all items seized during execution of the search warrants, which included a full-body mount of one of the illegally harvested bears. The second poacher pled guilty to six charges and paid fines totaling $3,070. He also forfeited all evidence taken during the search warrant for his case. Both individuals also received seven-year suspensions of their hunting and fishing licenses. Since Arkansas is a member of the Interstate Violator Compact with 45 other states, their hunting and fishing ban will apply on a nearly nationwide basis. 

Officers involved in Operation Bruin: 400 man hours were spent catching these poachers in the act.

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