Huge Poaching Bust in N.C.

A dozen are charged with nearly 270 violations

Outdoor Life Online Editor

The much-hyped 9/11 Commission Report noted that one of the biggest failures in preventing the catastrophe was the lack of information shared between intelligence agencies. Perhaps in the future they will take a note from Macon County, N.C. officials. The U.S. Forest Service, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the Macon County Sheriff's Department were all involved in "Operation Game Thief." It was the largest poaching bust in the state since 1988, and took six months to execute.

The violations include everything from spotlighting deer, exceeding bag limits and taking turkeys illegally. In all, more than a dozen people face nearly 270 charges.

U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert told Asheville's_ Citizen-Times_, "[BRACKET "The arrest"] wouldn't have happened were it not for the cooperation between agencies."

In recent memory the only bust that compares was "Operation Smoky," a three-year undercover sting, which saw 40 people charged with the illegal selling of black bear parts. The difference between the two operations, according to officials from the U.S. Forest Service, is that those involved with "Operation Game Thief" weren't in it for the money, they were in it for the bragging rights.

Some nights, groups would go out with the intent of seeing who could kill the most deer. Using hand-held radios individuals would shoot deer and then communicate with another party waiting to pick up the carcass. To be joyriding, they had a very sophisticated network set up.

U.S. Forest Service Office Brian Southard began the investigation after he awoke one morning to find deer testicles in his mailbox. Shortly thereafter he received a phone call tip. That tip led to the discovery of the poachers' identities.

Each of the men who pleaded guilty had their hunting and fishing licenses suspended. Collectively the men face upwards of $31,000 in federal and state fines. Over a three to four year period the guilty killed more than 150 deer and 100 turkeys.