Ethical deer hunters condemn 'poaching' subculture


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Drizzt
December 26, 2002, 05:16 PM
Copyright 2002 Providence Publications, LLC
The Providence Journal-Bulletin (Providence, RI)


December 22, 2002, Sunday All Editions

SECTION: News; Pg. C-01

LENGTH: 1860 words

HEADLINE: Ethical deer hunters condemn 'poaching' subculture

BYLINE: KATIE MULVANEY Journal Staff Writer

BODY:
Sportsmen say those who fail to follow the rules and nobler traditions of hunting give the sport a bad name.

* * *

EXETER - Behind the swimming pool, past the jungle gym, a tree stand overlooks the woods behind Mike Perras's Estate Drive home. Set in a towering oak amid pines, the tree stand is part of the very fabric of the Perras family.

It is there that Cody, 9, and Coltin, 5, learn from their father the ways of the woods. Silently, for hours on end, the boys train their ears to catch the rustle of deer passing along runs on the family's 4-acre property, their eyes to spot the flick of a tail. The stand -- metal stairs climbing up the tree's trunk about 10 feet -- is as familiar as a soccer ball or baseball diamond. Hunting is a cherished tradition in the Perras family, as in many families throughout southwestern Rhode Island. At 7, Mike Perras trailed his father, Ernie, throughout the woods of Exeter, Richmond and the Arcadia Management Area. They would wake hours before daybreak to track quarry, examining scat and paw prints along the way. They graduated from small game -- squirrels and rabbits -- to pheasant and deer. His dad would kill an animal, passing it to his son to carry.

Today, Mike Perras, his father now deceased, hunts big game in the far reaches of Maine and Canada. Cody has a .22-caliber rifle, Coltin a BB gun that they use for target shooting. Cody munches on Doritos as his dad guts and butchers deer; Coltin prefers peanut butter and Fluff. The family finds the deer heart delectable, serving it for dinner the night the animal is killed.

"It's tasty," says Cody. The fourth grader can't wait to take his first deer, which by state law he can't do until he turns 12. But he's just about ready, his dad says.

Perras strives to instill in his sons lessons he learned from his father. First, he said, respect wildlife; you don't take more than you can eat, and you don't fire a gun unless you have a clear target and a clean shot. Patience is a must.

"The worst thing is to hit an animal and you can't find it. It keeps you up at night," Perras, 36, said of wounding an animal. It's not just about getting a deer; it's about nature and controlling the state's population of 11,000 deer and other wildlife.

Perras, who grew up in West Warwick, no longer hunts on state land, which he believes has become too congested with hunters. He hunts four private properties, including 300 acres in Exeter.

Gun safety is key, Perras says. In his house, which backs up to 150 acres of forest, guns are locked with fanfare in a 5-foot-tall metal safe that sits in the family bar and recreation room. Wearing orange in the woods is mandatory during hunting season, no exceptions.

"I think starting them young is important. It's good quality time with the kids," Perras said.

Perras insists that the lessons he imparts to his sons are typical of most hunters. While some are unethical, he says, the vast majority abide by the rules and hold nature in high esteem.

"It's key that this is a sport that involves a gun -- and that's where things change," said Perras, who handles workers' compensation for the Good Neighbor Alliance.

THE FEW BAD EGGS get all the press, Perras said.

Perras and dozens of other hunters shake their heads at the two hunting-related deaths that occurred in Rhode Island in the past year, the first fatalities since 1979. In both cases, hunting laws are alleged to have been broken.

Tony Henriques shot and killed his 19-year-old son, Derek, as the two hunted in Foster one year ago. Henriques fired into thick brush, thinking he heard a deer. Derek had taken off the orange safety vest he was required to wear by state law.

The matter is being reviewed by the attorney general's office, according to Stephen H. Hall, chief of the state Department of Environmental Management's division of law enforcement.

Last month, Paul M. Santerre, of Richmond, admitted to firing the shot that killed Robert F. King, 36, of Westerly, in woods behind the Bradford Dyeing Association in Bradford, according to the Westerly Police Department. Santerre has not been charged in the incident, but four others face multiple counts, including hunting violations, obstructing justice and failing to adequately assist King after he was mortally wounded.

The hunting charges include that the men used dogs -- in this case beagles -- to track deer, hunted with shotguns during muzzle-loading season, hunted in a party greater than five and, in some cases, did not have hunting licenses. It remains unclear whether the men -- all friends who had hunted the area for years -- were wearing orange.

Westerly Police Chief Stephen Baker said the police are examining whether the men opted to replace their shotguns with muzzleloaders, delaying their assistance to King. The call for aid was made from the home of one of the hunters, more than a half-mile from the scene.

A grand jury is reviewing the incident, according to the attorney general's office.

In speaking of his son's death, Robert F. King Sr. commented that the group was innocent. "Every hunter does the same thing," he said.

IT'S THOSE COMMENTS that incensed Henry Almonte, 72, owner of Universal Firearms in Wakefield, and other hunters.

"Those guys are poachers, not hunters," Almonte said. Poaching entails the illegal taking of game, either by trespass or breaking fish and game laws.

The DEM's Hall said that his office has learned since King's death that groups in the Bradford vicinity have been well known to drive deer with dogs. Dogging deer, which is illegal in Rhode Island as well as most states, involves using dogs to chase deer. Hunters then post themselves along the deer trails.

"It's something that in organized society is not accepted," said John Stolgitis, chief of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. "It's not very sporting. You're not matching your skill against a deer. It's relentless on the deer."

In "jacklighting," another illegal method of taking deer, poachers shine bright lights, sometimes headlights, into fields or woods, making easy targets of their prey by temporarily blinding them.

Five well-known groups of two to three poachers operate in the western Rhode Island towns of Coventry, Foster, Hopkinton and Richmond, Hall said.

Officers sometimes plant decoys and stake out fields to catch offenders, usually the more easy-to-spot jacklighters, he said. Last year, 15 out of the 98 arrests made by environmental police officers were poaching-related, compared with 26 of 102 the prior year. But, officers say, most offenses can be attributed to ignorance of regulations.

Some poachers, many of whom the officers know by name, are holdovers from the days before the state enacted a shotgun hunting season in 1964, when South County and western Rhode Island had vast expanses of open space.

"Some of [the poachers] they've been chasing for years," said Clifford Gardner, 72, a retired conservation officer.

"We call them meat hunters," Gardner said. They aim to kill as many deer as possible to either sell for meat at about $100 a deer, or simply for the thrill of killing, he said.

Gardner also described a subcategory of poachers, those driven by tough economic times who hunt to put food on the table.

"We had quite a few of them during the recession. When they're up against it, they need to feed the family," Gardner said. "You can tell who they are when you see them in the woods," he said, referring to their appearance.

WITH 10 OFFICERS retiring in the last 18 months, the DEM's division of law enforcement is stretched thin.

Thirty officers cover the state, sometimes leaving only two, or even one individual to respond to calls and enforce the laws statewide, Hall said. In the late 1980s and early '90s, the division employed about 54 full-time park police and conservation officers, 12 to 14 boating safety staff and 100 seasonal workers, Hall said.

Hall said his division is in the process of hiring five officers at $32,000 to $36,000 annually. Officers work four days on, two days off. The division's coverage runs from around 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, with sporadic nighttime shifts.

"We're scrambling," Hall said. "It's difficult to cover shifts. Just the sight of officers in the field keeps people on their toes."

He said his division's policy is to "cover the big stuff, the others you don't get to."

Hall said he doubled patrols after the Westerly shooting death, further taxing the department during shotgun deer season, which ends today. Shotgun season for small game continues from Dec. 23 through Feb. 28. The season for hunting pheasant and quail extends from Dec. 23 through Dec. 31.

About 1,400 deer have been taken and 7,000 hunting licenses have been issued this year, according to DEM.

Officer Scott Bergemann, whose territory includes Warwick, West Warwick, Coventry and West Greenwich, said officers rely heavily on the public and other hunters to report possible violations to his division. Bergemann, who has worked for the division for 13 years, said the majority of offenses he sees are hunters not wearing orange. He said he's seen only one hunter drinking alcohol.

"The majority of hunters are legal, but if you're going to break the law, you're likely to do it on private land," Bergemann said. Hunters can hunt on private land during the hunting season with the landowner's written consent and out of season with a permit from the state proving that deer are damaging a property.

Bergemann and others compare hunting to driving.

Accidents happen when you push your luck, Stolgitis said: "Everyone does something stupid, everyone has a close call. Fact of the matter is that that is the greatest teacher."

Perras said he has been spared any close calls in his hunting career.

The more the merrier, he said of officers in the field.

"I don't think there could be enough ... probably they'd be more apt to abide by the rules," he said. "Sometimes hunters take guns into the woods and shoot. There's no room for that."

On a recent Friday afternoon, when some boys might be playing video games, Cody Perras, a solid child with short brown hair and long eyelashes, hangs onto his dad's every word.

Like his father, who hunts up to three times a week, he views any daylight during hunting season as an opportunity to get a deer.

"There could be a deer out there right now," Cody said, peering out the window to the woods about 100 yards behind the house.

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Art Eatman
December 27, 2002, 01:24 AM
Again: "Ethics is what you do when nobody's lookiing; conscience determines how you feel after you've done it."

Me, I've always liked to be able to look anybody in the eye and not worry about shame...

Art

nygunguy
December 28, 2002, 05:14 PM
Here in Upstate NY I know of families who are "down on their luck" and take a few deer and other game out-of-season out of necessity. I would hope that the DEC officers have the heart to "look the other way".

I also know of a few slobs who find amusement in taking as much wildlife as they can whenever they can, in season or not. I hope that when caught the DEC hits them for the maximum penalty that they can.

JohnBT
December 28, 2002, 09:05 PM
Okay. I don't like slob hunters either. Now, with that out of the way...

"Dogging deer, which is illegal in Rhode Island as well as most states, involves using dogs to chase deer. Hunters then post themselves along the deer trails."

"It's something that in organized society is not accepted," said John Stolgitis, chief of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.
_________

(note: I don't deer hunt more than once in a blue moon. There weren't any deer here when I was a kid and I never caught the bug.)

Only in seven states Chief Narrowmind. That's how they get the deer up off their beds back in the swamp. That and wading in with the dogs. It isn't legal in every county here, certainly not west of the mountains, and lots of folks are ticked at the dogs crossing their property, but that's the way they still do it in the eastern part of the state.

We used to have a duck blind on a main channel in a cypress swamp just east of Richmond and would see deer swim by with some regularity. The dogs could NOT keep up. Ever. Not once. They'd get out gasping and the deer would be hundreds of yards away going strong. It was really interesting to see this unfold 20 yards away on the other side of our decoys. Some of the dogs were better swimmers than others, but none of them could touch the deer.

No. We didn't take cheap shots at the deer or the dogs(for barking and scaring the ducks.)

End of rant containing some useful information in case Chief Imsosmart happens to read this.

John

PATH
December 29, 2002, 01:31 AM
I agree with nygunguy. If someone is taking out of seson to feed his family I don't like it but I understand it.

Boneheads who kill for the fun of it, out of season, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I also think they should beat up on the nitwits who shoot up the deer crossing signs!

Art Eatman
December 29, 2002, 01:38 PM
Probably a whole bunch of folks who think dogs were domesticated in order to have something to warm your lap. "It's cold, Marthy; pull up another dog!"

People have been using dogs for hunting since they first got dogs.

And in jungly, swampy areas, it's hard to find deer and hogs without some serious help...

:), Art

JShirley
December 29, 2002, 04:18 PM
I'm not real quick to point fingers for much. Not wearin' orange while out with folks who are stupid enough to just "fire into the brush" seems pretty darn idiotic, though.

Gewehr98
December 31, 2002, 01:27 AM
Ethics be damned, they're wiping out damned near the entire whitetail deer herd, on purpose. Slob hunters please apply. (Chronic Wasting Disease)

Marshall
January 13, 2003, 03:20 AM
I am land owner and can't stand it!

I have roughly 960 acres that IDIOTS come on to routinely without permission. They tear up fences, don't close gates, take deer out of season, etc. There is little they don't do that's against the law.

I have caught and prosicuted some, not nearly enough though. The sad part is if you piss em off, and don't catch them, they will burn your place down. You also have the whole liability issue of some ignoramous killing himself on your land.

Those who contact me and ask for permission to legally hunt, I am usually more than happy to let them and even assist them where I can. But no, that's too damn MUCH EFFORT.

I try not to let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch but I find it difficult to keep that attitude sometimes. I really get a lot of enjoyment and satifaction out of watching a Dad and his son or daughter make life long memories and being able to provide them with a place to do so for a day!
I know other land owners that have stopped letting anyone on hunt their land because of the lack of respect people show for their land when hunting as well as a disregard for hunting laws.

It's all about knowing right from wrong, having morals or lacking them and respecting others as well as yourself!

As for the truely hungry and desperate, I agree, a family needs food! I would rather see them get food for themselves this way than rob stores and homes or sell drugs. :(

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