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Inside the Hunt for Trophy Poachers

Law-enforcement officers confiscated 41 heads when they busted Wendell Taylor and Gregory W. Crockarell “trophy poaching” on Fort Campbell military base last year.

2/11/2011

Brandon Gavrock is a wildlife officer in the Mississippi Delta region of east Arkansas, a region rich with fish and game opportunities but rife with poverty. As is the case in any rural corner of the country, game laws in this region are occasionally broken for the purposes of feeding a hungry family, which is why Gavrock says, “Wildlife officers throughout the Southeast are taught to enforce game laws with a strong dose of common sense, as well as compassion.” However, Gavrock is increasingly finding that there are times when compassion isn’t needed, such as when he uncovers “trophy poaching.” No hunter likes the word “poaching,” he says. But the rise of trophy poaching is giving hunting a bad name.

A case last fall on Fort Campbell, a military base in Kentucky and Tennessee, is a shocking example of trophy poaching. Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne, straddles the Kentucky/Tennessee border, with Hopkinsville, Ky., to the north and Clarksville, Tenn., to the south. Both Christian County (in Kentucky) and Montgomery County (in Tennessee) are well known big-buck producers. Hunting is allowed on portions of Fort Campbell’s 106,000 acres, but being a military base, there are special rules hunters must observe, including off-limits areas of the base.

Jereme Odom, Montgomery County Wildlife Officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), grew up in this region and says he’s heard rumors in the past about a group of poachers who sneak into off-limits areas of Fort Campbell and kill trophy-class bucks. On the morning of Friday, Nov. 26, Odom and his partner, Officer Dale Grandstaff, learned there was some truth to the rumors. The officers made two arrests in Fort Campbell that would ultimately lead to one of the largest deer-poaching busts in Tennessee history.

The day’s events began when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Refuge Officer Jason Godwin saw two individuals headed into the Small Arms Impact Area on Ft. Campbell. This is a munitions training area (target range) on the base, and is therefore off-limits to hunting. Godwin and his partner notified several law-enforcement agencies in the area, including the TWRA and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

Odom and Grandstaff were among the TWRA officers notified, and they ended up confronting one of the two individuals, Edward Page, on foot on the target range. Page was carrying a rifle but offered no trouble. The officers called Page’s partner, Curtis Wallace, and explained the situation to him. Wallace, who was also carrying a rifle, gave himself up.

An investigation ensued at Wallace and Page’s residences in Tennessee. What the officers found, especially from the perspective of a legal deer hunter, is sickening. “We confiscated 41 trophy racks and mounts,” Odom said. “Evidently, these guys have been sneaking into these restricted areas for 10 years and poaching trophy deer. Some of the largest bucks score upward of 175 on the Boone and Crockett Club scale. The smallest racks are around 130 inches.”

Charges in the case were also brought against two other individuals: Wendell Taylor and Gregory W. Crockarell, both of Tennessee. “These guys [Wallace and Page] were having someone drop them off before daylight in these restricted areas. They were just cutting the heads off the bucks they’d killed and leaving the meat behind,” Odom says. “Taylor had dropped them off the day we arrested them."

Wallace and Page face numerous charges in Tennessee, including illegal possession of wildlife and tagging requirement violations. They also face charges from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), including hunting without a state license, illegal taking of game and Lacey Act violations. Taylor faces similar charges in Tennessee and with the USFWS. Crockarell, who is believed to have taken some of the deer to taxidermists, faces some similar charges, as well as aiding and abetting violations. As of press time, all of them potentially face more charges by the KDFWR.

“Montgomery County is becoming known as a big-buck county, but on a normal year, I only have 65 or 70 big-game cases,” Odom said. “This year I’ve had 200 cases, and about every one of them has been ‘trophy’ stuff. We’ve had guys spotlighting, hunting over bait (illegal in Tennessee) and killing bucks with rifles during bow season—and they’ve been doing it strictly for their racks.”

To combat the trend to steal game from law-abiding hunters, some states are beginning to impose especially harsh penalties for trophy poaching by tying an animal’s Boone and Crockett Club score into the resulting fines. Idaho, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are among such states. Ohio uses a formula to assess fines for illegally killed deer with a gross score greater than 125 inches. Fines are increased with the size of the rack.

Hunters have always been at the forefront of shaping and influencing game laws and are responsible for tipping off wildlife officers to game violations most of the time. No legal deer hunter wants to see the buck he’s scouted and hunted all season killed by a guy with no regard for the law.

“We do receive occasional tips from folks who don’t hunt and fish, but that’s very rare in this area. Most people who call in are sportsmen,” Odom said. “They often want to remain anonymous because they don’t want to be labeled as a tattle-tale or rat. But calls to us are always confidential. And I like to remind people that when someone poaches, they’re stealing from you. The wildlife belongs to you and the state, and when it’s killed illegally, it’s no different than someone breaking into your house and stealing something.” 

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16 Responses to Inside the Hunt for Trophy Poachers

david wrote:
May 23, 2012

why is there 2 wildlife officers standing there they both broke laws

Rob L wrote:
September 21, 2011

These poachers essentially got a slap on the hand from the charges brought by the TWRA in Tennessee. Does anyone know the outcome of the federal charges involving the Lacey Act? Was there ever federal charges even filed?

Ron wrote:
February 27, 2011

Dan is correct. From my house I can hear the ranges when in use. I have also hunted on FT. Campbell. As for it going on for 10 years this is not quite right. Curtis Wallace father died running from LO coming off the fort on an ATV

Dan wrote:
February 23, 2011

You are WRONG about the security of the base. They poach outside the wire, meaning: The hunting areas on Ft Campbell are NOT on the part of the base that is secure. The hunting areas are open country with ranges and training areas. The training areas are pretty much just forest and crop fields with roads . There is nothing out there to get into unless you want to break into a range shack and steal target and wood. Anything important on the base is high fenced and guarded.

Kimi P wrote:
February 22, 2011

First of all trophy killing is horrible , when you kill for food for your family on land that is not restricted , I see no problem with that , I don't like it but that is because I feed those beautiful deer every morning from my back yard here at Fort Campbell..As far as security goes try coming in a gate that has day to day activities , not happening . There is hunting allowed here on post , but it is restricted not because we want to be the big guy and make all the calls , it is for your SAFETY and the well-being of security for our Soldiers and Families.Abide by the rules people .I think that rule was taught in kindergarten .One more thing ..When those firing ranges are in use you will never gain the chance to see it only hear it , so yes it is very secure . Thanks Everyone .

Carl Bogan wrote:
February 21, 2011

Great idea,Hold a public auction for ALL confiscated trophies and whatever they bring an equal amount added to the poachers fine. Both amounts then used to fund youth hunter programs and/or food banks in tne counties where trophies were poached. Dont waste a great opportunity, use an internet auction or an established organization such as Ducks Unlimited to avoid excessive costs. Many sportsmen wouldbe honored to serve on setting this up an no cost to the program. Offlimit areas are fair to all including the game and result in the increased production of trophy animals.

Rob wrote:
February 19, 2011

Question, who's to say, that if it wasn't for some stupid rule of off limits, these individuals wouldn't have used the entire animal other than just the head for display. These government imposed restrictions are what we should be upset about. Yes theses men need punishment for what they did. But why follow a rule that is unjust. Why do these restrictions exist? Restricted area, why is this area off limits? What gives 1 person to say to another, this is off limits to you and all of your friends but I can go there when ever I want? This was a small arms impact area, so basically this was behind the berms where the military occasionally used pistols and rifles for target practice. This is their, "buffer" zone. I say make this and ALL areas open to hunters, fishermen, hikers whatever. It's not like the military does anything unscheduled or without permission from superiors. On the days they are not using this buffer zone let the public use it, that's all I'm saying.

factman wrote:
February 18, 2011

To Tony, as far as the trophy heads, if it's like Shelby county, I am ashamed to say, some of the heads would probably end up over the fireplace's of some of the warden's home's. No one polices the wardens and sadly, the few unethical wardens out there set a bad example by shooting deer from their TWRA vehicles while supposedly watching for violators. It's amazing what one can witness while looking through a pair of Steiner binoculars. My respect goes out to the rest of the officers who risk their lives to protect our wildlife.

Tony wrote:
February 18, 2011

OK, Well now that the damage is done what now happens to the trophy's? Do they get destroyed? Sold at auction? I feel that the crime is a crime and they should get nailed hard for it. Now the trophy's are going to waist? Or should they go to raise money for fish and game. Let the deer be honored as the fine buck they are. Maybe with story of what happened to them' the crime punishment for it. Or do they go into a storage place to never be seen again. To me that is a waist. Lets take and make a good thing out of a sad and horrible situation.

RyDaddy wrote:
February 18, 2011

Glenn, there are specific situations where leaving the deer overnight is exactly the RIGHT thing to do. Coming from a guy who has bumped and lost deer I should have left alone overnight, over worrying about souring a little venison can be a recipe to go home with NO venison and a dead deer that you can't find anymore.

Glenn Summers wrote:
February 17, 2011

This is a prime example of the present day fixation on trophy animals. TV shows routinely show hunters leaving their trophy animals lay out overnight and this results in soured venison. The animals is not the point anymore, just the rack.

Roy Inhulsen wrote:
February 17, 2011

My wife and I made a trip to FC and drove right onto the fort through a back gate. The gate was wide open and the road went right past firing ranges. I never seen anything like it.

MikeD wrote:
February 17, 2011

To Muzzle: Nope... Firing ranges are not normally gated or offlimits.. Once your "on base", its matter of knowing where you are in relation to offlimits areas...

Kevin wrote:
February 17, 2011

I agree with Muzzlehead Wayne. So all a Muslim extremist needs to do to get access to a base is pretend to be a deer hunter???

Skip wrote:
February 17, 2011

Apparently this was an area restricted because it was a small arms impact area- not likely an area that has anything sensitve. I would suspect that the area is well secured and patrolled when the ranges are active (safety issue). But with the manpower committment overseas, it would be a waste of resouces to guard what is probably hundreds of acres whose main use is to absorb stray bullets. I'll wager the poachers were not apprehended when the ranges were hot. I do wonder what federal charges may be coming for tresspassing on restricted federal property, discharging firearms on restriced federal property, etc.

MuzzleHead Wayne wrote:
February 15, 2011

Sneaking into restricted areas on Fort Campbell to poach deer for at least ten years. Does anyone else see a problem here beside poaching? I don't mean that the poaching isn't disgusting and these guys should be smeared with Tink's 69 and tied to a tree during the rut. But I would imagine security would be a little tighter on a military installation.