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Operation Game Thief


Dennis Steward, protection division chief

On opening day of the 2007 spring turkey season, three turkey hunters saw and videotaped someone shooting at turkeys from the road. They immediately called Operation Game Thief.

The hunters had been filming turkeys in front of them when they noticed a crew-cab truck go by slowly on a nearby road. The truck went to the top of the hill, turned around and came back toward them with the driver’s side door open. The truck stopped even with the turkeys, and the hunters saw an arrow fly from the truck. The arrow missed the turkeys, and the truck left the area.

Later that day, conservation agents located the suspect at work in an adjoining county. Further investigation uncovered three deer shot from the roadway (one spotlighted) and a turkey that had not been properly checked in during the youth season by the suspect’s brother. They also issued a citation for shooting at the turkeys from a roadway with a bow and arrow.

Last deer season, a tree-stand hunter spotted a large 12-point buck. Before the hunter could get a safe shot, a truck with two men approached on the county road. The hunter watched from his stand as the truck stopped, and one of the men fired at the deer. As the two men loaded the big buck, the hunter approached close enough to write down the license plate and a description of the truck and the two men.

The hunter called the Operation Game Thief Hotline. Further investigation led the local conservation agent to a vehicle body shop. The shop’s owner confessed that he was involved but did not shoot the deer.

The agent determined the actual shooter had once been a resident of Missouri but had left many years ago. He had continued to use an old abandoned farm address in Missouri and had been taking deer on falsified resident deer permits for 12 years. The report resulted in fines, loss of hunting privileges and seizure of the illegally taken deer.

In both of these cases, people took an active role in wildlife protection by reporting suspicious or illegal activity. As so often happens, their reports led to the discovery of additional wildlife violations.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr., who wrote Life’s Little Instruction Book, said, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” However, we don’t ever want Wildlife Code violators to think no one is looking.

Operation Game Thief provides a way for citizens to anonymously report hunting and fishing violations. The program, administered jointly by the Department of Conservation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, was started 25 years ago and has proven to be very successful. Last year, 742 calls to the toll-free number or a conservation agent resulted in 290 convictions for wildlife crimes. More than $12,000 in rewards was paid. Only about half of the callers were interested in receiving a reward.

Your help is needed to apprehend and convict wildlife violators. Accurate and prompt reporting of suspected violations to law enforcement authorities is essential for successful investigations. Get involved. Call the toll-free Operation Game Thief Hotline at (800) 392-1111. Program the number into your cell phone. Working together, we can put game thieves out of business.

Dennis Steward, protection division chief

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