Deer jacking draws DEC ire

There’s something about the decoy buck that always seems to invigorate poachers.

There’s something about the decoy buck that always seems to invigorate poachers.

Facing charges

The following people face violation- and misdemeanor-level charges stemming from their encounters with conservation officers:

Albany County

Mark Meringolo, 42, of Athens; John Facci, 40, of Schenectady; Drew McCardle, 50, of Delanson; Joshua Beck, 18, of Slingerlands; John Mister, 53, of Greenville; Stephen West, 28, of Mayfield; Mark Ginter, 37, of Gloversville; Charles Welsh, 40, of Rensselaerville; Kenneth Davey, 49, of Richmondville; Mark McNally, 50, of Queens; Ando Carmello, 52, of Stanfordville; Frank Scavetta, 52, of Queens; Fred Oliver, 69, of Delmar; and Mario Pennacchia, 52, of Schenectady

Fulton County

Charles Holland, 39, of Perth; Larry Johnson Jr., 41, of Gloversville; and James J. George Jr., 28, of Oppenheim

Montgomery County

Jeremy Harrington, 38, of Canajoharie; Joseph Moreau, 54, of Nelliston; Dylan Slater, 20, of Canajoharie; Timothy Ferguson, 42, of Broadalbin; and Nick Henderson, 23, of Schenectady.

Saratoga County

Christopher Columbe, 26, of Saratoga Springs; and Justin Carr, 26, of Saratoga Springs

Schenectady County

Michael Wheeler, 48, of Schenectady

Veteran state Environmental Conservation Officer Marty Skotarczak marvels over how quickly the facsimile deer can draw gunfire. Sometimes, he’ll barely have time to finish one arrest before another would-be marksman takes a pot shot at the bogus buck.

On one occasion, Skotarczak was just tucking back into his parking spot after citing one poacher for shooting the decoy in the Montgomery County town of Mohawk when three more began jockeying for a position to take a crack at it. One man argued his way into getting the first shot, while the other two got to watch Skotarczak and his fellow officers sweep in for the arrest.

“He stood right in the middle of the road and took two shots with a 12-gauge shotgun at the mechanical deer,” Skotarczak recalled of the 2006 incident. “When the other guys saw us come out, they just started laughing.”

Annual exercise

Every fall, Skotarczak and other conservation officers find themselves making similar arrests. Since last month, they’ve already issued citations to roughly six dozen people for offenses ranging from discharging a gun over a public highway to jacking deer at night with a light.

Conservation officers declined to discuss their recent arrests in detail, because most of the cases are only now in the court system. But they said there never seems to be a shortage of people trying to flout the laws meant to promote safety and protect the wildlife population.

Spokesman Rick Georgeson said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is still compiling the data from this year’s operation, which focused heavily on the two northern regions. Deer seized during the course of the operation are cleaned by volunteer meat processors and then donated to local food pantries.

Last year, the massive sweep led to more than 130 arrests over a seven-week period and roughly 250 citations.

Conservation officer Jason DeAngelis said violators use tricks to make kills. Deer jacking involves tracking deer at night and using a powerful light to freeze the animal long enough to shoot it.

“We’re not dealing with hunters,” he said. “We’re dealing with people who are poachers, and there’s a very important difference.”

Deer jacking suspects

Such was the case in the Saratoga County town of Providence last month, when three individuals were caught, accused of shining a spotlight on a field near Hans Creek Road and shooting at deer as they spotted them. Their light was spotted by conservation officers staking out the area and all three were arrested, according to the DEC.

Craig Dufare, 18, of Middle Grove was charged with taking wildlife from a motor vehicle, possessing a loaded long gun in a motor vehicle, using a light while possessing an unsecured gun, illegally taking protected wildlife, discharging a firearm across a public highway and shooting deer with rimfire ammunition. He faces up to $4,000 in fines and up to three years in jail.

Also arrested was Elizabeth Lewis, 18, of Middle Grove, charged with possessing a loaded long gun in a motor vehicle, taking big game without a license and using a light and while possessing an unsecured gun. She faces up to $2,250 in fines and up to two years in jail.

A 16-year old boy not named by the agency was charged with taking big game without a license, taking deer with the aid of an artificial light, possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, attempting to take wildlife with aid of motor vehicle and discharging a firearm across a public highway. He now faces up to $4,000 in fines and three years in jail.

Poachers will also use bait to attract deer into an easy shot. DeAngelis said some violators have baited and shot at deer in well-populated areas, without regard to anyone living close by.

“They don’t want to work hard,” he said of the poachers. “After all, hunting isn’t easy.”

Of course, not all suspects are caught in the act. Sometimes a poacher’s boasting over a kill will lead to confessions to an unsympathetic store clerk or a picture posted on social media web sites like Facebook.

DeAngelis is amazed by how much information he can gather about a poacher’s crime just by watching and listening to the buzz around rural areas. And the poachers are even more shocked when he repeats these details to them as he’s issuing them citations.

“People have big mouths and they want to talk about the deer they shot,” he said. “They’re often amazed about how much I know.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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