Advances in stealth surveillance technology have made game cameras essential gear for serious deer hunters, but law enforcement agencies also know how valuable trail cams can be in solving trophy buck poaching cases.
In Grayson County, Texas, where only bowhunting is allowed to hunt the area's legendary trophy whitetail deer, crafty old bucks can be tough to find. But they can't escape the lens of a well-placed trail camera.
The same can be said about unsuspecting poachers. They can be tough to find, too, making trail cams a valuable investigative tool for law enforcement officers trying to rid our woods of illegal hunting.
Texas Game Wardens recently shared three high-profile poaching cases from last season in which trail cams were vital in gathering evidence. All three cases were documented in Grayson County, which is located in northeast Texss along the Red River.
In those separate cases, officers seized three trophy whitetail bucks that had a combined Boone & Crockett gross score of over 535 inches, and a combined civil restitution value of $34,954.80.
"Deer hunters will go to great lengths in pursuit of a trophy white-tailed buck; poachers are willing to go farther, breaking ethical rules and game laws designed to protect and conserve one of Texas' most prized wildlife resources," Texas Game Wardens said in a news release.
But wildlife agencies are meeting the challenge. The Texas agency highlighted the following cases from last season as examples:
- On Dec. 16, 2016, John Walker Drinnon, 34, of Whitesboro, Texas, told investigators that the 19-point buck he killed — before its image was circulated and fueled rumors in the area — was shot on public land in Oklahoma. But Drinnon's story didn't add up, and wardens uncovered a trail cam image on the same buck that was shot on the Texas side of Lake Texoma. Drinnon eventually confessed to killing the buck from a road with a rifle. He pleaded guilty to taking a whitetail deer without consent (a felony). The buck, which scored 202 Boone & Crockett, carried a civil restitution of $18,048.10.
- Timothy Kane Sweet, 37, of Sherman, claimed the 19-pointer (which scored 177 B&C) he killed last season was shot in neighboring Fannin County. However, the buck had a unique rack and had been captured on a trail cam in Grayson County, prompting further investigation. Sweet told wardens he made a poor shot on the deer, then checked the area later. "When the buck jumped up and began to run off, Sweet said he shot it five or six times illegally at night with a pistol," the agency said in the news release. On Oct. 20, Sweet pleaded no contest to charges of illegal hunting methods, improperly tagged whitetail deer, and hunting out of season. Civil restitution was estimated at $10,664.35.
- Brian Eugene Culp, 47, of Gunter, Texas, tagged a 10-point, 157-inch B&C whitetail using a Super Combo hunting and fishing license (available at no cost to disabled veterans) that he did not qualify to possess. He pleaded no contest to a charge of hunting without a valid license. Civil restitution was estimated at $6,242.35.
Grayson County game wardens would like to thank the public for their assistance in these cases. Game wardens would also like to remind the public that they can report any illegal hunting activity to Texas Game Wardens using Operation Game Thief (800-792-GAME) or by contacting their local game warden.