CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If it's an honor for athletes to have their sports trophies displayed in a Hall of Fame, is it a dishonor for poachers to have their deer trophies displayed on a Wall of Shame?
Law enforcement officials who maintain West Virginia's "Wall of Shame" - a traveling exhibit of trophy antlers confiscated from convicted poachers - say poachers sometimes show up to admire their handiwork.
"Sometimes when the people who have had antlers confiscated hear their rack is being shown in our exhibit, they show up to see it," said Sgt. Jerry Payne of the West Virginia Natural Resources Police. "I've had them ask to have their pictures made, standing there with their 'trophy.'"
For the most part, though, poachers whose racks show up on the Wall of Shame tend to maintain a low profile. That's exactly what officials had in mind when they created the exhibit.
"We wanted to show the quality of some of the bucks that were being lost to poaching," said Capt. Kaven Ransom. "We wanted people to know that we were catching the poachers, and that we were confiscating the racks of poached animals."
The exhibit dates back to the late 1980s, when trophy buck poaching in southwestern West Virginia became epidemic. Four counties in the region - Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming - had been closed to firearm hunting for deer since 1979. Left relatively undisturbed, bucks in the area were able to live long enough to grow bragging-sized antlers.
The temptation proved to be too much for poachers, who either shot trophy bucks illegally with firearms or shot them out of season with bows and arrows.
"Once in a while, we would confiscate a trophy buck, and we'd take it to sports shows to display it," Ransom said. "As we began to accumulate more and more racks, it grew into an exhibit, and it kind of took off from there."
Along the way, someone tabbed the display the "Wall of Shame." The name stuck. Today the exhibit contains 40 sets of antlers, almost all of them from Logan and Mingo counties.
"[Natural Resources Police officers] Terry Ballard and Larry Rockel [who serve the two counties] are responsible for probably 98 percent of the arrests that led to us confiscating those trophies," Ransom said.
Poachers' names used to be exhibited alongside the racks they were responsible for, but officials soon decided against the practice. Today the officer manning the exhibit has a list that tells where each deer was killed, when it was killed, and its measurements using the Boone and Crockett Club trophy-scoring system.