By Aubrey Wieber

The Bulletin

Oregon State Police are reporting a spike in poaching of both mule deer and elk in some areas of Central Oregon.

Senior trooper Greg Love, who patrols La Pine, Sunriver, southern Deschutes County and northern Klamath County, said an average year yields as many as four reports of poached mule deer does in his district. This year, he could recall at least 10 mule deer poaching cases in his district.

For elk, he said, a typical season would include two cases of poaching. Love’s district has seen five reports of elk poaching since the season started Saturday.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife contracts poaching investigations out to state police.

Love called it a “dramatic” increase and said he and other troopers couldn’t account for the spike.

OSP Sgt. Lowell Lea oversees all of Central Oregon, including Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties. He said he hasn’t consulted the numbers, but his impression was this year isn’t above average. He said that could change as the seasons continue.

Lea said poaching, regardless of how prevalent, is an issue. To combat the theft, OSP conducts decoy operations where a fake big game animal is set out and monitored by two officers.

“Typically we go with areas where we have had problems in the past,” Lea said.

Problems could include reports of poaching, or reports of other illegal behavior such as hunters shooting from the road or spotlighting game at night, Lea said.

Another big issue, Lea said, is hunters illegally transferring tags. An example would be a hunter with a valid tag shooting two elk, and then calling a friend with a tag to claim the second animal.

Corey Heath, district wildlife biologist for ODFW, said poaching is always rampant.

“Certainly it’s always gone on,” he said. “It is an illegal activity — it is secretive in nature — so it’s hard to get a hold on.”

Heath said a study conducted from 2005 to 2012 found legal and illegal harvest numbers to be about equal in Central Oregon. Biologists collared mule deer and then tracked their cause of death, whether it was legal or illegal harvest, disease or predation.

“From a mule deer standpoint, we do have an issue with poaching in Central Oregon, and it’s significant,” he said.

Of the five elk poaching investigations this season, Love said three have been resolved.

Two were self-reported, and one involved a juvenile, he said. The two others are being investigated, he said.

Of the two self-reported cases, Love said one hunter called OSP immediately to report the issue and helped locate the cow elk and harvest the meat to be donated to charity. The other hunter waited until the next day to report the illegal kill, at which point the meat had spoiled, he said. That hunter was cited. Love said he did not investigate the case involving a juvenile hunter and could not say why he or she wasn’t cited.

Love said the decision to cite is always up to the investigating officer but that immediately reporting an illegal kill and helping with the investigation will improve the hunter’s chances of getting off with a warning.

“The person’s actions after the situation heavily impacts the decision,” he said.

While Love couldn’t speculate as to the cause of the increase, he said hunters need to follow general safety guidelines, such as know your target and what’s around it.

Love referenced an incident in September when Michael Pekarek, 52, shot and killed his hunting partner with a bow and arrow. Pekarek told investigators he stopped his vehicle after spotting a mule deer. Both he and the victim, Jeffrey Lynn Cummings, got out of the car with their bows. Pekarek told investigators he lost sight of the deer and turned to Cummings to tell him the deer was moving toward him when he released his arrow, which struck Cummings in the abdomen. Cummings died on the scene.

Pekarek has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty.

“If you don’t identify your target properly, it might not even be an elk you are shooting at,” Love said, adding that shooting at one animal near another could lead to the killing of multiple deer or elk.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376