Wildlife officials battle poaching

2012-10-28T13:30:00Z 2013-04-24T17:36:49Z Wildlife officials battle poachingBy DENNIS MAGEE, dennis.magee@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

CALMAR, Iowa --- When headless deer carcasses and dead fawns and does started showing up in Northeast Iowa two years ago, tipsters pointed authorities toward Dan Wildman.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officers already were well aware of the young man from Cresco.

By the time he was apprehended on attempted murder charges Oct. 16 for a shooting incident at Calmar, Wildman had a lengthy criminal record. Much of it involved illegally killing wildlife.

"Referring to Mr. Wildman as a hunter is wrong. He is a poacher," said Steve Dermand, executive officer of the DNR's Law Enforcement Bureau.

"A hunter is someone who has ethics ... and Mr. Wildman is not that."

Following two convictions in 2006 for illegal hunting, the state suspended Wildman's right to buy a hunting license. He was 17.

When hit with a sanction like that, a true hunter responds by paying the fine and flying right until privileges are restored, according to Dermand.

But Wildman's carcass count continued to climb. He was caught shooting a fox with a rifle from a roadway and killing a turkey illegally.

In 2008 Wildman was convicted for violations nine times, including four counts of illegally taking wildlife and one count of illegal possession of fur, fish or game. After a search of his mother's home, officials seized a .223-caliber rifle and two .50-caliber muzzleloaders.

When authorities returned with another search warrant in 2010, Wildman tried to escape through a window.

Court records state officials recovered 12 sets of antlers, five deer heads, a muskrat pelt and a raccoon's paw. Officials also collected a blood-soaked blanket and towel from the trunk of a vehicle. They found spent shell casings and a spotlight inside the vehicle.

Wildman lost three shotguns, a .22-caliber rifle and a muzzleloader.

2011 brought another 14 convictions, including four counts of attempting to take fur, fish or game illegally and two for hunting with artificial lights. He was also guilty of taking fish from a hatchery, according to DNR records.

This month, following the shooting incident in Calmar for which he faces three charges of attempted murder, law enforcement officials seized a bow, a 9 mm rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and .22-caliber rifle from Wildman.

The net result over about six years for Wildman: thousands of dollars in fines, civil penalties, court costs and seized personal property. And Wildman cannot even think about hunting legally until Sept. 29, 2058.

Not that it apparently matters.

"He's the worst I've dealt with as far as just continuing to do it and the fact that he was just so indiscriminate," said Brian Roffman, a DNR enforcement officer.

Conservation officers have a name for poachers like Wildman: thrill killers. Though rare, they know others like him exist.

"Any officer you call could probably reference someone like that. Maybe not as bad. Maybe worse," Roffman said.

Thrill killers are poachers who kill not to claim a trophy or meat, but simply for the adrenaline rush. Wildman fits the definition, particularly when it comes to whitetail deer, according to officials.

"He would shoot anything. If it was a big rack it was a big rack, but it didn't matter to him as far as pulling the trigger," Roffman said.

According to Roffman, Wildman in the past shot raccoons, which he sold in Minnesota, and a wild turkey, which he apparently ate. Deer, though, were not part of the menu, at least not the 13 bucks seized in 2010.

"All the kills that he did, that I looked at, that he admitted, he never took a bite off of," Roffman said.

The largest was a 12-pointer, the kind of animal a legitimate hunter would likely hang on his living room wall. According to court documents, though, authorities also seized a 9-point rack, six 8-point racks, two 7-point racks and one 6-point rack.

Blood sport

Part of Dermand's job with the DNR is tracking habitual offenders like Wildman.

In November, five students from Murray High School in Iowa were charged with hunting with artificial lights, shooting over a highway, pursuing whitetail deer with a rifle out of season and abandoning dead or injured wildlife. A DNR officer involved with the case said the group went out at night simply to kill, gunning down deer and raccoons.

A group in Northwest Iowa did something similar, inventing a twisted game.

"It was almost like a scavenger hunt. They went out and shot things and then collected them --- songbirds, cats --- but it was just kids on the loose with guns," Dermand said.

Near Bussey a few years ago, a group of boys were living in a trailer. Their parents supplied groceries on occasion, but the young men were largely unsupervised.

"It's estimated they killed well over 100 deer by illegal means," Dermand said.

He calls the development a disturbing trend.

"It just seems like they run in groups, and some of them make a game of seeing, 'OK, let's go out ... and see how many raccoons we can shoot from the road or how many deer we can knock over," Dermand said.

Court records show Wildman at times apparently did have others with him. He would announce late-night adventures by texting, according to one associate who helped authorities.


Though technically "poachers," typical violators of wildlife regulations may simply not understand the rules. Or they forget their hunting license or shoot the wrong duck. Or they cut a corner.

When such a violator is apprehended, they pay the fine --- a minimum of $2,000 for a whitetail buck deer --- and make amends, Dermand said.

But not everyone.

"Some of these folks are very habitual. For some reason or another, they just don't quit," Dermand said. " ... They get thrills or kicks or whatever you want to call it by knocking over deer."

Making a lasting impression on such a violator is difficult.

"The truth of it is if you are truly broke, a fish and wildlife violation doesn't really hurt you," Roffman said.

Tickets and fines go unpaid. Losing a hunting license is meaningless if you plan to hunt without one.

One solution would be to put more bite into penalties, Roffman said. In other states, repeat wildlife offenses carry the threat of prison time.

In Pennsylvania, a third conviction for hunting with artificial lights becomes a felony. In Washington, first-degree unlawful hunting of big game is a Class C felony.

This month in Colorado, two men from Tennessee pleaded guilty to killing a black bear before the season opened. One received a two-year deferred prison sentence. He was also fined $4,000 and ordered to "donate" an additional $6,000 to Operation Game Thief, a tip line for wildlife infractions.

Dermand is less certain about the felony option. But he notes an existing tool in the enforcement arsenal: the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. The agreement for "reciprocal recognition" began in 1991 in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon and now includes about 40 states.

The bear poachers in Colorado, for instance, are barred from getting a hunting license for five years --- and that will follow them back to Tennessee.

Dermand also believes in providing guidance to hunters before they devolve into poachers. Many agencies and nonprofit groups such as Pheasants Forever offer mentored hunts. Though frequently set up for youngsters, older novices sometimes participate.

The first mentored deer hunt in Iowa was held in 2004.

"The intent is to educate them about hunting and how to do it, but also to help them pick up on why we hunt," he said.

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. CSS
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    CSS - October 29, 2012 8:48 pm
    Now... too the story. As far as I'm concern... Wildman and these teens should NEVER be allowed to hunt again. People like Wildman (an appropiate name) need to be prisoned for years on second and 3rd offenses.
  2. CSS
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    CSS - October 29, 2012 8:42 pm
    ME1969 said it correctly. The DNR budget has been cut and the Director (a Braindead Hack) will make sure the DNR is toothless. I've been on the DNR's list for farmers and landowners that are having problems with deer and other nuisance pests. Unfortunately... I have never been called to reduce these problems in the last 5 years. Reason.... either it's not a problem or the information is not getting out to those property owners. I will guess the reason is the latter as the DNR site is confusing. As a sharpshooter in a previous life and a hunter, I've been willing to donate any deer I shoot for HUSH, IF and WHEN I get called out to help someone... that is what I'll do.
  3. BogeyMan
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    BogeyMan - October 28, 2012 8:33 pm
    @ me1969: Let me bow hunt your land and I'll help with the coyote population also.
  4. me1969
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    me1969 - October 28, 2012 2:38 pm
    OK . Miked lets turn it over to the poachers ? since this guy who is taking our tax dollars to take up the courts time and not only braking the laws , but is not paying any fines for witch goes to pay for roads, public service, schools, and your safety . did you know the dnr funds have been cut more than any state service. i do agree we have a wild life control issue . My family lives on a century old farmsted with plenty of deer , and a verry concerning growth of coyotes . raccons are only problems when food is left out to lead them near.. why not tell law makers to issue extra tags ? these are the people who are obeying the laws . why not give felons guns and go out to provide a public service and poach ? gee they can contribute by helping with animal issues and provide for our safety .. I am not a member of the states payrol and do not agree with all laws . just by going to the dnr webite out of 356000 acres for public use there are 16 officals not including volunteers so maybe insted of bitching how bad 16 people are dealing with this maybe donate one hour a year ? we are proactive with our natural resources and yes we donate at least 10 hrs a year ..
  5. miked
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    miked - October 28, 2012 9:42 am
    Every time a deer is poached Iowa's road ways become slightly safer. If the DNR isn't able to handle out-of-control deer populations, turn the task over to the poachers.


  6. verkalak
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    verkalak - October 28, 2012 9:08 am
    At least the DNR is doing something because they sure don't do a very good job of wildlife management as a whole.
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