Trophy deer law imposes automatic $5,000 fine
SEVERY -- On Thursday, Dec. 1, natural resource officer Dan Melson, Eureka, received a call from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks' (KDWP) Pratt Operations Office regarding a deer poaching report. An anonymous caller had phoned the KDWP Law Enforcement Division claiming that a rural Severy resident had shot a deer with a rifle on the Friday before the opening of the season.

All Melson had to go on was the man's name and address, but the day after he received the call -- the third day of the 2005 firearms deer season -- Melson paid the man a visit. When asked about the deer, the suspect readily admitted to shooting it but claimed he had taken the deer on Wednesday, Nov. 30, the opening day of the season. He showed Melson the meat and the deer's head and cape, which was in his freezer, and then offered to show Melson where he had taken the deer.

When they arrived at the spot of the shooting, the man told Melson that the shell casing should be around somewhere. Melson is one of five KDWP natural resource officers who works with a K-9 unit, a Labrador retriever trained to find poaching evidence and poachers. Melson's K-9, "Chase," took just a few short minutes to find the .270 caliber casing, which Melson said "impressed" the suspect.

The impression must have been deep, combined with the fact that Melson now informed the man that the place they were standing was not in the deer management unit listed on the permit. Apparently feeling as if he were caught red-handed, the suspect told Melson the entire story of how he had shot the deer from his vehicle on the Friday before deer season opened.

On Dec. 14, just three days after the 2005 firearms deer season ended, the suspect pleaded guilty in Elk County District Court to five charges of poaching a whitetail buck deer in Elk County. One of the five charges was “the intentional killing of a trophy whitetail buck without a valid deer permit," a charge that carries an automatic $5,000 fine when a poached whitetail deer has an inside antler spread greater than 17 inches. This poached deer had an antler spread more than 21 inches.

The other four charges included hunting deer in closed season, hunting deer with the aid of a vehicle, unlawful discharge of a firearm from a roadway, and possession of an untagged deer. These violations brought the total fines and court costs to $6,200.

The poacher's rifle has been confiscated and will not be returned until all fines are paid.