MS hunters who kill deer fleeing high water can be cited

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It is illegal to kill deer that have fled from high water, officer says.

By: John Martin, Greenwood (MS) Commonwealth

January 04, 2002

A poorly understood hunting law that deals with game fleeing from high water has game wardens even busier than usual this hunting season.

Capt. Charlie Myers, administrator for the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks District 3, and local game wardens have been spending more time interpreting state statute 49-7-77 for hunters who violate the law and those trying to avoid violations.

Under the statue, passed in 1964, it is illegal to hunt any wild game forced from its natural habitat by fire or flood.

"The water hasn't been this high in several years in this district," said Myers, who has worked for the wildlife department for 23 years. "Normally our conservation officers get two days a week off. In this period of high water, some have had to work a little bit extra."

Many of the officers are busy clarifying which grounds are open for hunting and which are off limits because of stray wildlife. Hunters often confuse closed areas for closed season, Myers said.

"The hardest thing to explain is that you can be in violation of 47-7-77 and the season still be open," he said. "We've had numerous calls to see if the season is closed. We have not closed the season anywhere in the district."

Leflore County Undersheriff Jimmy Tindall, who hunts regularly, tries to stay away from any high water areas when he's hunting deer.

"If it's there, we don't even go there," he said. "We know it's illegal to start with. You're more or less trapping deer. If you get them on high water, there's no sport involved, but you got people who don't care."

Myers advises any person hunting around backwater who doubts whether the area is prohibited under the law to call a local conservation officer. Each county has two officers.

With water covering some habitats, it is not uncommon to see deer roaming raised roadways, making them easy targets for hunters to illegally shoot them from motorized vehicles. Hunters may also traverse flooded areas on boats to scout for deer, Myers said. Shooting animals from boats is also a violation.

Myers said hunters have already come out in boats this deer season, which began Dec. 25 and ends Jan. 15.

"The first tickets written under 47-7-77 were in Sunflower County along the Quiver River and the Sunflower River," he said. "The day after all the rain quit - that's the day it happened."

When hunters fire shots near roadways, they encroach a human habitat, thereby increasing the risk of a hunting accident.

As of Dec. 31, nine hunting accidents have been reported in the state this season, with two of those in District 3, which covers most Delta counties. One fatality related to hunting occurred in Itawamba County. All of those numbers are below average, Myers said.

Myers credits hunter education for fewer accidents. "Undoubtedly, we're doing a good job right now," he said. "Hopefully we can keep it up, but keep in mind we've got another month of deer season, and turkey season is coming up in the spring. Any accidents at all are too many."

Myers cited alcohol as a main factor driving hunters to knowingly break the law. Inclement weather, impulsive behavior and hunger are also contributors, he said.

"I've heard people say they didn't have anything to eat," he said. "Well, it's sort of expensive to risk getting a $50 ticket."

Despite the unfavorable hunting conditions, the number of violations is slightly down compared to previous years. In December 2000, officers filed 363 cases. This December, officers filed approximately 300 cases, an estimate Myers called conservative. "The number runs in the same vicinity every year," he said.

Two officers can only cover so much ground in one county, and Myers encourages the public to take an active role in reporting violations to conservation officers. That goes for hunters and non-hunters, he said.

"We often try to decide where to work headlighting on a particular night," he said. "If reports from the public tell us, 'They be shooting out here the last couple of nights,' it gives us more information as far as setting our sites up."

The most common deer-hunting violations, according to Myers, are trespassing, hunting from public roads or motorized vehicles, baiting, headlighting, hunting without a license, and not wearing hunter orange. All hunting violations are misdemeanor charges. Class 1 violations, which include headlighting, carry fines between $2,000 and $5,000. Class 2 violations, such as trespassing, bring $150 to $200 in fines for a first offense. The penalty for Class 3 violation, under which statute 47-7-77 falls, is $25 to $100.

The Leflore County Jail docket will often list violators with multiple charges. With people hunting from roadways or motor vehicles, one thing usually leads to another, Myers said.

"Our officers don't necessarily stack charges," he said. "If a guy's trespassing, he's going to be checked for a license.

"Numerous charges can go along with road hunting. They probably don't have a license. There's a good chance they're not going to have hunter orange. There's possible trespassing if they retrieve deer on another person's property. All thing can be added to it, but that's not always the case."

The Department of Wildlife gets none of the fine money, Myers pointed out. All ticket money goes to the county where the incident occurs.

The District 3 office moved to Florewood State Park in December 2000. It is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every weekday and provides hunting licenses, boat registration and other services.
 

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