Idaho wildlife officials: Misdemeanors make up bulk of hunting, fishing violations
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — An Ashton man was driving along Fisherman’s Drive in Ashton on Oct. 20 when he saw a pheasant near the road. He stepped out of his car and shot the bird.
It would have been a good shot if the man hadn’t broken Fish and Game rules in the process. The bird was on private property, and the shooter was still standing on the road when he fired the shot. A witness contacted law enforcement.
“I just shot and didn’t even think,” the man told the Idaho Fish and Game officer who responded, according to an incident report. He told the officer he knew it was illegal to shoot the pheasant from the road and he “shoulda just took one more step.”
Fish and Game violations cover incidents of illegal or improper hunting in Idaho. Most of the incidents are misdemeanors that usually end with a fine. This fall, multiple hunters received such fines, usually for hunting without a license or with the wrong license, improperly tagging or not tagging an animal, or for allowing the animal to waste.
Scott Wright, regional conservation officer for the southeast hunting region around Pocatello, said officers may issue warnings instead of citations if they think a violation is committed out of ignorance rather than carelessness. Officers will issue about as many warnings a year as citations, Wright said.
Doug Peterson, regional conservation officer for the upper Snake region around Idaho Falls, said this year did not see a significant change in the number of incidents over 2018.
Information books about the hunting seasons and regulations for each type of game are available for free at licensed vendors. Hunting regulations also are available on the department’s website, idfg.idaho.gov.
Few of these incidents result in the defendant serving any jail time, though repeat offenders may have their license restricted or revoked. One of the exceptions was in 2016 when Idaho charged seven people with 35 felonies for hunting elk out of season. Officers discovered dead elk that had been shot before the hunting season began in 2015, prompting the investigation that lasted several months. Three of the defendants were sentenced to probation and lost their hunting licenses, while three more are scheduled to be sentenced in December. The seventh defendant’s case was dismissed.
A growing concern for Idaho Fish and Game is hunters using vehicles, particularly all-terrain vehicles, to hunt. ATVs may be allowed for hunting in some areas with restrictions, but not for hunting big game.
“Hunting with the aid of an ATV where prohibited is our number one complaint reported during the hunting seasons,” Fish & Game Officer Raliegh Scott said in an incident report. “Catching violators is often difficult and time-consuming because of suspect mobility and long response times or distance to the violation.”
Scott responded to one such incident on Oct. 12 near a U.S. Forest Service Trail by Caribou Mountain near the Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge. He found three hunters using a utility vehicle to hunt after one of the hunters injured his knee. While hunting with a vehicle was allowed in the area, hunters were required to remain on a designated trail, and these three had gone off-road. The driver of the vehicle had to pay fines adding up to $665.
Covering the hunting region can be difficult for regional offices with small teams. Wright said his office can staff 10 officers, two supervising officers, and himself. This year he was two officers short, and the remaining officers had to work overtime to cover the area.
“We have hired two people, but it takes a year to train them,” Wright said.
Peterson said his office was operating at full capacity this year with 15 officers. Fish and Game officers spend about half their time on enforcement, Peterson said, and split the remaining time managing wildlife and education programs.
The new officers must go through 16 weeks of training at Idaho’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy, then spend another 10 weeks of field training with senior officers at the regional office.
“I’m confident we’ll be in a better position next fall,” Wright said.