North Carolina hunters who once bragged about the number of deer they illegally killed have nothing to boast about now. Almost 270 state and federal wildlife violations were issued as a result of Operation Game Thief.
The six-month-long poaching investigation concluded last Monday with charges brought against more than a dozen people, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. Authorities said most of those arrested have pleaded guilty to at least one of the charges, which included spotlighting deer, illegally taking wild turkeys, and exceeding bag limits.
Operation Game Thief began after a deer was killed near the home a U.S. Forest Officer Brian Southard and parts of the deer’s body were left inside Southard’s mailbox. After Southard received calls from people who claimed to know who was behind the prank, more people became interested in the case and the investigation.
But unlike poaching arrests made in the past, investigators said the hunters charged in Operation Game Thief were not in it for money. Instead, many of the accused admitted to participating in contests to see who could kill the most deer. The men involved with these slaughter fests have admitted to killing more than 100 turkeys and 150 deer in the last three years.
The men who have pleaded guilty have had their hunting licenses suspended and face state and federal fines totaling more than $31,000.
“These people are not hunters or sportsmen,” Southard told the Citizen-Times. “They’re poachers. There’s no sport in driving down the road and shooting something from your vehicle.”