A major operation to crack down on illegal deer poaching across the state has led to charges against 137 individuals for more than 250 offenses, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Thursday.
By region, 124 misdemeanors and violations were filed in the Adirondack Park and surrounding North Country, 48 were filed in the Capital Region and Catskills, 47 in Central New York, 24 in Western New York and nine on Long Island.
Fifteen guns were confiscated, along with seven spotlights and eight illegally-taken deer.
Environmental conservation officers were dispatched across the state this fall to track down illegal deer poaching practices.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
DEC Region 5 Captain Lawrence DiDonato said that there were 16 people charged in his region.
"We've always worked on deer jacking," DiDonato said. "(But) this is the largest initiative in the state's history."
The initiative, dubbed "Operation Dark Night," focused on the illegal taking of deer by use of artificial light - a practice commonly known as "deer jacking." This involves nighttime wildlife crimes where poachers shine a spotlight on a deer feeding in fields to "freeze" the animal long enough to shoot it. Typically, deer jacking occurs in remote rural areas, late at night. Due to these late hours and secluded areas, there are few, if any, witnesses to this crime.
During a seven-week period this fall, environmental conservation officers were assigned to saturation patrols in targeted rural locations in every part of the state except New York City, with stakeouts taking place at all hours of the night. While ECOs are vigilant for wildlife poaching crimes throughout the year, these targeted patrols largely covered the weeks before the start of the southern zone deer season, when the DEC historically fields numerous complaints about deer jacking.
"Our officers' work sends a strong message that such illegal practices will not be tolerated," said Peter Fanelli, DEC's Director of Law Enforcement. "During this operation, they put in long hours at night, often dealing with armed individuals. Their effort speaks of their dedication to the job and to protecting New York's natural resources."
During the seven-week operation, DEC officers charged 137 individuals with more than 250 misdemeanors and violations. This included 10 instances of killing a deer at night with the use of a spotlight or other artificial light and 79 instances where a hunter was caught using a light, but had not yet killed a deer.
Typically, other related charges were filed in these instances, such as carrying a loaded gun in a vehicle, discharging a firearm over a public highway or within 500 feet of a dwelling and using a spotlight within 500 feet of a dwelling.
Many Environmental Conservation Law offenses relating to deer jacking are misdemeanors which may result in significant fines and/or jail time. Additionally, hunting license privileges of convicted deer poachers may be revoked in New York, as well as other states that are members of the Wildlife Violator Compact and honor reciprocal revocations.
"Taking of deer with the aid of an artificial light" is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 to $2,000 and/or incarceration for up to one year, as well as possible revocation of hunting privileges for up to five years, according to the law.
"Operating an artificial light on lands inhabited by deer while possessing a firearm" is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $200 to $1,000 and/or incarceration for up to 90 days.