Poacher fined for taking big buck illegally on Texas WMA


Mar 11, 2001
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Jan. 14, 2002

TPW News

Man Fined for Taking Big Buck Illegally on WMA.

FAIRFIELD, Texas -- Mature white-tailed buck deer have a propensity for disappearing during hunting season. It's a character trait that enables them to reach maturity in the first place.

Big bucks vanish by traveling mostly under the cover of darkness and they seldom leave the safe confines that dense vegetation offers. So it came as no surprise to Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists on the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area to catch glimpses of a particularly large-antlered buck only during their nighttime deer census surveys or through spotting scopes from great distances.

"We see a lot of our big deer at night during our spotlight surveys," said Jeff Gunnels, area manager on TPW's 13,700-acre Richland Creek WMA in Navarro and Freestone counties. "But, this one deer in particular was tremendous."

He guessed the buck to be about 5 years old; heavy beamed antlers on a typical eight-point frame, but with tree root-like clusters of points jutting out in all directions.

Gunnels was hoping that one of the bow hunters accessing the WMA during archery season with a TPW Annual Public Hunting Permit would get a shot at this deer of a lifetime. He knew the odds of that happening were pretty slim, considering archers account for only 10 percent of the annual deer harvest in Texas and less than one-sixth of those hunters who take a deer with a bow do so during the October archery-only hunting season.

By the end of the 1999 archery season no hunters had claimed the prize and in fact, no one reported seeing the big buck. Period.

Then, in late January 2000, Joseph Randall Haydon brought a set of deer antlers to a sporting goods shop in Fairfield to be mounted by their taxidermist. The people at the shop became suspicious when Haydon claimed to have killed the deer on Richland Creek WMA during bow season three months earlier, yet this was the first anyone had heard of such a magnificent deer being taken - especially off of public land.

Haydon hadn't preserved the deer's head or cape with the antlers, as one would typically expect with a specimen of this magnitude brought for mounting. The antlers were untagged when taken to the taxidermist. When questioned by the taxidermist, Haydon claimed he had lost his hunting license. Haydon obtained a duplicate license to tag his antlers, which sparked a call to the local game warden.

Word of the Richland Creek monster buck got back to Gunnels and the WMA staff began checking their registration slips from the 1999 archery season and found Haydon had only checked in once - on the opening day of the season. With an Annual Public Hunting Permit, hunters had open access to the WMA during archery season, but were required to fill out a registration card each time they entered the property. Haydon had informed the game warden he killed the buck around the third week of bow season, which led authorities to believe he may have taken the deer illegally.

"This wasn't his first rodeo," explained TPW Game Warden Captain Robert Carlson, who oversaw the ensuing investigation into how Haydon obtained the deer. "The local wardens are very familiar with him."

Following an investigation by Freestone County Game Warden Gary Robinson, Haydon was charged with failing to fill out a registration card prior to hunting, which is a Class C misdemeanor. Although a minor infraction - the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket - a criminal conviction would return the antlers, which appeared to have been illegally taken, to the State of Texas.

In December 2001, a jury in Freestone County returned a guilty verdict against Haydon and assessed a $250 fine. A person convicted of illegally taking a wildlife resource in Texas is also subject to civil restitution for the value of the lost resource and in this case, the penalty was severe.

The civil restitution for a white-tailed buck is based on the size of the animal's antlers and measured under the Boone & Crockett Club scoring system. This buck grossed 208 points and netted 195 points after deductions - a score that could potentially qualify for the Boone & Crockett Club record book. Civil restitution amounted to $12,189.50.

Haydon was also ordered to forfeit the antlers, which will go on permanent display at Richland Creek WMA.

While the loss of the buck in this manner was a blow to wildlife biologists on Richland Creek WMA and the bow hunters who legally hunt the area, Gunnels believes the big deer may have left something by which to remember him. "I've seen two different young bucks with a non-typical configuration similar to this deer, obviously not as big yet, but there's some potential."

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