January 6 – 26, 2021
To increase awareness of Conservation Police Officers’ (CPOs, or previously called game wardens) activities, the “Virginia Conservation Police Notebook” provides an overview of activities encountered by our officers who protect natural resources and people pursuing outdoor recreation in the fields, woods and waters of Virginia. These reports are prepared from the officer’s field notes by Kim McCarthy, Executive Assistant to Major Scott Naff [Operations] and Major Bryan Young [Administration] of the Law Enforcement Division of DWR. These CPO reports show the value of concerned citizens, landowners and true sportsmen in providing tips to law enforcement officers on suspected violations by lawbreakers who give other outdoor enthusiasts an undeserved bad reputation.
Region I – Tidewater
Saturation Patrols in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach – CPOs, to include three K9 units, conducted a saturation patrol on Saturday, 16 January, at four boat ramps in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach that often see heavy use during the waterfowl hunting season. Officers checked around two dozen boats and around 50 hunters. Among the violations detected were several unsigned duck stamps, one hunter without a hunting license or HIP number, and an unplugged shotgun. Officers used their discretion and handled the violations appropriately.
Region II – Southside
Repeat Violator Charged – On December 30, 2020, Senior CPO Michael Morris responded to a complaint regarding illegal hunting activity in Bedford County. Through his investigation, he determined an unknown subject had shot a deer on property where he was not permitted to hunt. CPO Morris developed a suspect and conducted an interview. The suspect admitted to hunting without the appropriate licenses and trespassing. The subject conceded this was not his first time being caught committing hunting violations. The appropriate action was taken.
CPOs Assist with Volatile Situation – On January 10, 2021, CPO Shane Wilson received a request for assistance from the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office in reference to an adult, juvenile, and family pet trapped in the woods surrounded by gunfire. CPO Wilson was able locate the victims, ensure they were safe, and escort them out of the woods. CPO Tyler Routon also responded and assisted with securing the scene and obtaining victim statements while Deputies from the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office investigated. The perpetrators were identified and the appropriate action was taken.
Region III – Southwest
Trespass Complaint Leads to Several Charges -On December 26, 2020, CPO Jason Harris received a trespass complaint regarding a possible trespassing incident that had occurred earlier in the morning. Officer Harris contacted the complainant and started working to identify the owner of the truck while in-route to the scene. Before arriving on scene, the caller advised that he was at that location and the truck was back. Officer Harris arrived on scene and tracked the subject into a small hollow where contact was made. The subject advised that he was deer hunting with a rifle and knew that it was muzzle loading season. When asked about permission for the property he stated he did not have permission. When checking hunting license a notched buck tag was observed but the subject stated that he had notched it for a deer that he shot but couldn’t find. An interview of the subject along with a consent search of his cell phone proved otherwise and evidence of another buck kill and two does that were not checked or properly checked were found. The search for additional evidence of the illegal kills led Officer Harris to the residence of the suspects father where evidence implicating the father in possession of two illegally harvested deer was found. Charges for trespassing, closed season, and failing to check deer as required by law were placed and warnings for the illegal possession of the deer was given.
Trail Camera Data Aids in Investigation Leading to Charges
– Sgt. John Koloda recently completed an investigation that started during the 2020 fall archery season. A local hunter had harvested a large buck with his crossbow that reportedly jumped onto a neighboring property after it was hit. The hunter contacted the neighbor by cell phone in order to gain permission to retrieve the deer late that night. Several days later, a hunter checking his trail cameras on the property where the deer was recovered, noted two hunters dragging the deer through an alfalfa field. The location of the trail camera was nearly half a mile from where the hunter had told the landowner he recovered the deer. The trail camera’s time stamp also documented the hunters retrieving the deer before the request to retrieve call was made. A bloody deer bed, drag trail, and entrails pile was also discovered. Throughout the investigation, the hunter changed several details of his hunt. Sgt. Koloda used these discrepancies to ultimately obtain written confessions from both subjects involved. The suspects admitted to driving onto the property after seeing the buck cross the road in front of them. The pair used a .22 magnum rifle and a flashlight to shoot the deer and dragged it back to their truck. They stated they had seen the trail camera and knew they needed to call the landowner in order to cover up their actions. Appropriate charges were placed.
CPO Attends UKC (United Kennel Club) Night Hunt – On January15, 2021, CPO Corey Gardner attended a UKC Night Hunt at the Holston River Raccoon Club in Saltville. Officer Gardner inspected permits required to host the event and contacted the hunt master and club leaders and provided them with contact information. Officer Gardner also spoke with local hunters attending the event, discussing issues and answering questions they had, as well as handing out Department brochures. Officer Gardner’s attendance at the event was well received and he was invited to accompany a group of hunters in a short, sixty-minute hunting cast during the event. During the hunt, Officer Gardner spoke with the hunt guides, as well as Landowners that allow these hunts to take place on their land. The event garnered some (25) attendees with their hounds.
Traffic Stop Leads to Violations, But No Wildlife Violations – On January 22, 2021, CPO Sergeant James Hale had a pickup truck pass him on Rt. 23 in Wise County. As the truck passed, Sgt. Hale observed it was pulling a trailer hauling a UTV. Sgt. Hale noticed several furbearers and trapping equipment stacked on the UTV. The truck stopped at a red light ahead of Sgt. Hale and he noticed the brake lights did not work properly and it was not displaying a license plate. Sgt. Hale initiated a traffic stop and was soon joined by VCP Officer Derrick Rickels. Sgt. Hale and Officer Rickels spoke with the driver about his equipment and animals on the UTV, then inspected the traps/snares for tags. No wildlife violations were detected during the inspection. The trapper had a successful morning on the trapline. He had multiple coyotes, beaver, raccoons, otters, foxes and a muskrat. The three men had an enjoyable talk about trapping and furbearer management. Appropriate action was taken on the traffic violations.
Boating Incident Resulting in Injuries – On January 23, 2021, CPOs Matthew Arnold and George Shupe responded to South Holston Lake in Washington County for a boating incident resulting in injuries. As the officers arrived, it was determined the incident involved one boat and the passengers, who had been successfully retrieved from the water and transported to shore by fishermen in the area, who came to their aid. During their investigation, it was determined the vessel had begun taking on water from the bow, causing it to capsize. The three hunters onboard the vessel had been waterfowl hunting and were returning to shore when the incident occurred. The subjects ended up in the 44-degree water for approximately five minutes before being rescued by the fishermen in the area. The PFDs that were on board did not surface from the capsized boat, causing the victims to hold on to various items that floated. One of the subjects utilized the geese decoys onboard the vessel to stay afloat until rescue arrived. One individual was transported to the local hospital for injuries of his neck and thumb, while the other two were given fresh clothes and warmed in vehicles at the nearest boat ramp by fishermen there. The Officers were able to determine the cause of the incident to be a severe overweight capacity of the vessel; totaling approximately three times the coast guard approved capacity for the vessel involved. Appropriate charges have been placed in the incident involving the owner and operator of the vessel involved.
Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont
Waterfowl Hunters Charged – On Jan. 9,2021, CPOs Josh Guizar and Roger Palmisano were conducting a waterfowl hunting patrol when they encountered several hunters in Culpeper County. Upon inspection of 3 hunters, 15 law violations were detected to include possession of lead shot, no hunting licenses, no state or federal stamps, unplugged shotgun and no HIP number. Several summonses and warnings were issued for the violations.
VDWR Personnel Team Up to Assist Homeowner – On Friday afternoon, January 8th, CPO Owen Heine received a call about a bear in a garage in Front Royal; the bear unfortunately had mange. The bear was lying in a chair in the garage after eating from a birdfeeder. Due to the location of the bear, CPO Heine contacted District Wildlife Biologist Fred Frenzel. Biologist Frenzel responded and darted the bear and they removed it from the garage. They provided the homeowner with advice concerning this human-wildlife conflict.
Spotlighting Continues Following the Close of Deer Season – On January 13th CPOs Michael Corrado and Owen Heine were conducting a spotlight patrol in Clarke County. In the late hours of the night, Officer Corrado saw a vehicle slowly driving down the road. He did not see the vehicle spotlighting the field with his naked eye so he decided to utilize his Night Vision Goggles. As soon as he did this, he saw a light shining the field coming from the vehicle. The suspect vehicle started to drive towards Officer Heine’s location, so Officer Corrado contacted Officer Heine and advised him to make a traffic stop. Officer Heine made the traffic stop with Officer Corrado quickly responding. During the traffic stop the officers found two suspects in the vehicle with a rifle equipped with a night vision scope and an Infrared Light. The suspects also had a pair of night vision goggles. Appropriate charges were placed.
Incident Involving Otter is an Extremely Rare Occurrence – On January 13, 2021, District 41 CPO’s were notified by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office that an unprovoked otter attack had just occurred. A juvenile and an adult female were walking around a county owned pond when the otter came out of the water and began attacking both of them. They were able to run to a picnic bench about 50 yards away. The juvenile was bitten several times on the leg and foot. While assessing their wounds from the picnic table, the otter again came out of the water and began attacking them. The adult was able to fend off the otter, while the juvenile went for help. Both persons were bit by the otter. EMS was contacted and the juvenile was transported to the local hospital for medical treatment. Once CPOs arrived on scene they observed a very aggressive otter that was displaying signs and symptoms consistent with rabies infection. The district biologist was contacted and a course of action was determined. District 41 CPO’s, with the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control, captured and euthanized the otter. The Virginia Department of Health conducted a rabies test on the otter which confirmed the otter was positive for rabies. VDH notified the victims who are being treated for rabies exposure. While all mammals can contract rabies, otter attacks are rare.
Facebook Assistance from the Sheriff’s Office – Senior Officer Wayne Billhimer had received a complaint regarding two individuals trespassing to kill deer on posted property with the use of a thermal scope and a suppressed rifle. The landowner provided pictures from a trail camera showing the individuals on prohibited property after hours and with a set of antlers attached to one of the backpacks worn. Billhimer provided the pictures to the Rockingham Sheriff’s Office who posted them on their Facebook page requesting information from the public in identifying the poachers. Within 30 minutes of the post and 1600 shares later, Officer Billhimer had his suspects. The Sheriff’s Office received over 100 calls to their tip line with information as well. After a lengthy investigation and multiple interviews, the suspect confessed to the killing of a 9-point deer with his girlfriend’s assistance. Appropriate charges including closed season, illegal kill, trespass and others are being made.
K9 Team Locates Lost Firearm – On January 17, 2021, Senior K9 Officer Richard Howald was requested to assist in locating a firearm that a hiker had lost when it had fallen out of his ankle holster along a popular hiking trail in Nelson County. The owner had noticed it missing after his hike the day before, and he and a few other had searched part of the trail without locating the pistol. Officer Howald deployed K9 Sky along the trail and she searched 6.1 miles of very steep and rocky trail before locating the firearm, several feet from the trial and under the leaves. The owner was very appreciative and impressed with the K9 team’s willingness to help locate the weapon before it was found by someone else or possibly a child.