A three-month-long outlaw road hunting rampage in Leon County this summer that state game wardens are categorizing as one of the most egregious poaching cases on record in Texas has come to an end.
Four adults and two juveniles are facing more than 175 state jail felony and Class A misdemeanor wildlife violations stemming from a surreal chain of poaching events between June 4 and August 29. The suspects have been charged in the illegal killing of at least 68 white-tailed deer, numerous other wildlife species and livestock, and the indiscriminate and widespread destruction of public and private property.
The group is alleged to have used various firearms at night to shoot wildlife, livestock and property from a motor vehicle on a public roadway and on private property without landowner consent. Game wardens confiscated nine firearms ranging from .17 HMR to .270, including a .22 rimfire rifle fitted with a homemade suppressor.
The majority of the deer shot illegally were scattered from Jewett, in northwestern Leon County, to Leona, located in southeastern Leon County. Centerville was a midpoint between the two outlying communities and was nearest the majority of the wildlife violations, with more than a dozen deer shot from the feeder road along I-45 alone.
While some of the deer killed had portions of the carcasses retained by the suspects for consumption – loins and hindquarters – most were simply left to rot in the field. In addition to deer, the suspects purportedly shot numerous other animals from a motor vehicle on a public road, including: vultures, squirrels, foxes, feral hogs, dove, ducks, cormorants, blue herons, alligators, white egrets, armadillos and raccoons.
“This investigation represents one of, if not the most egregious poaching cases I am aware of in my 41 years in law enforcement,” said Col. Craig Hunter, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Law Enforcement Director.
In addition to poaching wildlife, the violators also allegedly were involved in more than a dozen burglaries, mostly hunting cabins, according to Sgt. Brian Stafford with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, which is also investigating numerous other illegal activities believed to be related. Those acts include the shooting of a plate glass window at a service station, repeated shooting of a pickup parked at a residence, target shooting numerous road signs and residential mailboxes, along with several house cats. Additionally, they are being charged with shooting and killing five cows and hacking to death a sixth cow with a machete.
“This reprehensible and senseless killing spree has absolutely no resemblance to hunting, and I know sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere will be appalled to learn of this thoughtless waste of life,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director.
Despite the atrocities committed over the course of the summer, investigators are baffled at how little attention the suspects’ actions drew. Had it not been for a phone call on September 1 from a concerned citizen who reported a deer had been poached, the investigation might not ever have gotten off the ground.
“It amazes me that over a three-month period these young men likely fired hundreds of rounds of ammo, most of which were at night and in various locations, and no one reported gunshots or suspicious activity until September,” said supervising game warden Capt. Mike Hanson. “Not a single call.”
Some landowners interviewed during the investigation told game wardens they recalled hearing gunshots at night, but dismissed them as feral hog hunters. Deer hunting at night or from a vehicle on a public roadway is not legal at any time.
Hanson noted ironically a sign on Highway 7 in downtown Centerville reads “REPORT POACHING-CALL GAME WARDEN.” Surprisingly, this group did not shoot that sign.