For more on hunting and fishing, read John McCoy's Woods and Waters blog http://blogs.wvgazette.com/johnmccoy/MACARTHUR, W.Va. -- West Virginia deer hunters have killed a lot of trophy bucks this fall.
Poachers got their share, too.
In several parts of the state, Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement officials have reported an increase in illegal deer kills. Many of those kills were trophy animals.
"Right now, there's so much activity we're having trouble keeping up with it," said DNR Police officer D.W. Hylton, who is stationed in trophy-rich Wyoming County.
On Wednesday, Hylton and other officers stationed throughout the state's southern and southeastern counties gathered at the DNR's MacArthur headquarters in Raleigh County to compare notes about their poaching arrests. About two dozen sets of antlers, several frozen deer heads, a few chunks of frozen venison and even a frozen bear cub carcass were set out in a conference room to illustrate just how busy a fall it had been.
"From the first of September through early December, we've made 311 arrests in our eight-county district," Hylton said. "Approximately 70 percent of those were for illegal killing of game or illegal possession of game."
Southern West Virginia is an area renowned for trophy deer. Hylton said a vast majority of this fall's arrests were deer-related.
Officer T.A. Petrunger of McDowell County believes the poaching increase coincides with a sharp increase in the number of available trophy bucks. A bumper 2010 acorn crop allowed deer to come through the winter in prime physical condition and jump-started bucks' antler growth.
"This year, with all the bucks out there, guys were anxious to get after them," Petrunger said. "Some of them ended up being too anxious."
A few poachers have fallen afoul of the state's "enhanced penalties" for killing trophy-sized deer. Under a law that went into effect in June 2010, poachers who kill deer with antler spreads greater than 14 inches can be assessed replacement costs that relate directly to antler size.
The replacement fee for antlers in the 14- to 16-inch range is $1,000. The fee increases $500 in 2-inch increments after that, up to a maximum of $2,500 for antlers with spreads of 20 inches or greater.
Petrunger handled the case that resulted in the harshest penalties so far.
"I was checking trout fishermen on Elkhorn Creek Nov. 26 when I got a tip about a guy in Newhall skinning out a buck. I went down and found a buck lying in the front yard, but no one was home at the time," Petrunger said.
"I left, but came back later. In the meantime I got a tip that the guy had shown two other big bucks to someone. I went back and looked around, and found the carcasses of two big bucks, tied together and hidden down in the creek bed."
When the homeowner returned, Petrunger interrogated him and arrested him for hunting without a license, illegal killing of a buck with an 18-inch spread, illegal possession of wildlife, driving with a suspended license and driving without insurance.