Virginia game officers seize 112 sets of whitetail antlers


Mar 11, 2001
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112 sets of antlers seized from NN home
Wardens also confiscate bear paws; hunter charged

By David Chernicky, Daily Press

January 29, 2002

NEWPORT NEWS -- Virginia game officers have taken more than 100 sets of deer antlers from a Newport News man's home and garage, as part of an investigation into possible violations involving the harvesting of white-tailed deer.

Virginia game wardens look over confiscated antlers Wednesday at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' regional office on Mooretown Road in York County.

Kenneth Silver, Hampton Roads (VA) Daily Press

Five game wardens spent two hours collecting the deer racks and several bear paws from a two-story house on Whits Court under a Jan. 18 search warrant, Lt. Ken Conger said. Conger is a supervisor for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' regional office in York County.

Shawn Hopson, a game warden from Southampton County, sought the warrant based on an informant's tip that officials would find "multiple deer parts" at the house.

On Monday, Hopson obtained warrants charging the homeowner, Stephen Wrightman, with seven counts of unlawful possession of wildlife parts -- the antlers and paws. Game officials wouldn't comment on specific evidence that led to the charges or say how they settled on filing seven charges. No other animal parts were found.

A hunter who kills any big game during the season is required to take it to a checking station for tagging. "There has to be a record of it being legally harvested," said Col. Herb Foster, chief of law-enforcement operations for the state agency.

Wrightman denied any wrongdoing. "It was my antler collection," he said. Wrightman later said that not all the racks were his. At one point, he said he was a taxidermist. He said he had been hunting big game for 30 years.

Game and wildlife officials wouldn't say whether the 112 antlers represented the most that they had ever confiscated during such an investigation or how it compared with similar cases in the state or region.

"Part of this investigation is to determine whether he has a valid reason to possess that many," said Julia Dixon Smith, a department spokeswoman.

Several of Wrightman's neighbors said that they knew Wrightman liked to hunt but that they were surprised when they saw the game and wildlife officers haul away so many deer racks.

The antlers taken from Wrightman's house ranged from six-pointers to 14 points. A "point," also called a tine, is the tip of the antler. "Each tine has to be more than 1 inch long to be considered a point," Foster said.

The game officers found 77 sets of antlers behind a hidden door in Wrightman's attic, the search warrant indicated.

They also found antlers in the garage and in an attic above the garage. They found seven bear paws in a white bucket.

Conger said Wrightman cooperated with the officers during the search. The officers loaded the antlers and bear paws onto a state truck and carried them to the regional office, where they were cataloged as evidence.

Virginia game laws make it a misdemeanor to unlawfully possess wildlife parts.

If convicted, Wrightman could be fined up to $500 per charge.

Hypothetically, Foster said, a Virginia hunter could harvest 100 or more deer in a single season by purchasing special "bonus permits" and participating in deer-depopulation programs. "But I know of no one who has ever done that," he said.

Most hunters would be happy to bag one buck a season.

"This is an ongoing investigation. We may learn that he has a legitimate reason for possessing that many antlers," Dixon Smith said.

The state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is appealing to the public for help. Anyone with information that might help investigators is asked to call the department's regional office at (757) 253-4160 or the Wildlife Crime Line toll-free at 1-800-237-5712.

David Chernicky can be reached at 247-4743 or by e-mail at

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