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Wildlife officials gear up to catch hunting violations

Dusk settles across the pasture, muting vibrant colors intoshades of grey, as a white light lances through the underbrush ofthe surrounding forest.

A circle of light emitted from the window of a parked pickuptruck meanders through the pasture until it comes to rest on agrazing buck. The deer looks up into the light and freezes. A shotshatters the stillness of the night.

It’s called headlighting and it’s illegal, but that doesn’t stopmany irresponsible hunters from resorting to it to put meat in thefreezer, said Lt. David DeOrnellas, District 5A supervisor for theDepartment of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

“It’s starting right now. When these cool nights hit they comeout of the woodwork,” he said.

The department began receiving a lot of headlighting complaintsabout three weeks ago.

“The closer we get to gun season, the more (poachers) that willbe out there,” he said.

Gun season in the Lincoln County area is Nov. 18 to Dec. 1 withdogs, Dec. 2-15 for primitive weapons, Dec. 16-23 for gun withoutdogs and the second gun with dogs season is Dec. 24 to Jan. 17.

DeOrnellas estimated 75 to 80 percent of the game violationsfrom October to December are related to deer poaching. The mostcommon violations are headlighting, hunting over a baited field andtrespassing during that period.

“One of the most common reasons used is that they’re just tryingto get meat for their freezer, their family is starving, orsomething like that – all while driving a late model vehicle andtoting a gun more expensive than I could afford. It’s not a goodexcuse,” DeOrnellas said.

Headlighting is the most serious of those offenses because ofthe danger involved, he said. Shooting into homes is notuncommon.

“And several people have lost horses and cattle toheadlighters,” DeOrnellas said. “A lot of times with headlightersdrugs and alcohol is involved.”

Baited fields are also common, he said.

“We’re finding baited stands all over the place. We have thisproblem every year,” the ranger said.

Some violators are genuinely confused about the baiting issue,he said. It is legal to buy bait, so many believe it must be legal.Further complicating the issue, is that it is legal in severalstates, and motions to make it legal here come up for a vote in thestate Legislature nearly every year.

“One of the main reasons we haven’t legalized it in Mississippiis because of the likelihood of diseases,” DeOrnellas said. “It’snot deer, they’re resistant to a lot of diseases, but turkeys andother game. Turkeys are highly susceptible to diseases and theylike corn, too.”

Poaching enforcement is a long waiting game. Rangers locatelikely areas, such as a baited field or high deer traffic area, andstation a detail of several officers around it. Then they wait forsomeone to hunt the area.

It’s a hit and miss prospect, DeOrnellas said. Many nights theystake out an area and nothing occurs. On others, they might getlucky and make several arrests.

A more aggressive approach officers use is to place a decoy in afield at night to lure headlighters. But, it’s a still a waitinggame to see if anyone takes the bait.

Apprehension of game law violators can also be dangerous,DeOrnellas said.

“You can’t let your guard down. You know the subject is armed,”he said.