LOGAN -- The price of deer poaching turned out to be pretty high in 2013.
In a three-county area of southwestern West Virginia alone, convicted poachers paid $18,300 in replacement fees for deer they killed illegally. The bulk of those replacement fees were of the "enhanced" variety, assessed for killing trophy-class bucks.
"It was a good year for us and a bad year for poachers," said Sgt. Terry Ballard of the state Natural Resources Police. "We obtained convictions on 67 charges involving 30 deer. Ten of those deer were trophy bucks."
By "trophy," Ballard meant the bucks sported antlers that -- had the animals been harvested legally -- would have qualified for the Pope and Young Club's record book for bow-killed big-game animals.
Instead, the 10 sets of antlers will decorate the "Wall of Shame," the Division of Natural Resources' traveling exhibit of confiscated trophy racks.
Logan, Mingo and Boone counties routinely produce whitetails with bragging-sized antlers. Not surprisingly, the area attracts people willing to obtain a trophy by any means, legal or illegal.
Ballard said it's becoming more and more difficult for poachers to get away with their crimes.
"Ninety-nine percent of the convictions we get come from tips," he explained
"They usually come from people who had been hunting particular bucks and found out those bucks had been poached. Sometimes they come from ex-wives or ex-girlfriends out for a little revenge. Lately they've been coming from social media. You'd be amazed how many poachers post pictures of their deer on Facebook."
Following leads those tips provide, law enforcement officers then conduct the interviews and do the legwork necessary to build strong cases against the alleged perpetrators. Ballard credited three of his colleagues - Ofcr. Larry Harvey in Logan County, Cpl. Larry Rockel in Mingo County and Ofcr. Chuck Holloran in Boone County -- for tracking down last fall's assortment of tips, leads and allegations.
The two highest-profile cases involved bucks with truly gigantic antlers. Those convictions alone accounted for more than one-third of the replacement-fee total of $18,300.
"Those were two of the biggest typical-racked bucks we've ever [confiscated]," Ballard said. "We've had one mounted already, and the other one will be mounted as soon as the taxidermist prepares the hide for the mount."
The former came from Logan County, the latter from Mingo.
"The Logan County buck was taken near the community of Lake," Ballard said. "The young man who killed the deer had already killed a doe and a nice 9-point buck. There's a one-buck limit in counties closed to gun hunting, and when that young fellow took a second buck, he broke the law."
Ballard called his interview with the youngster "the easiest I've ever had with somebody."