Spotlighting deer hunters will have their day in court; lawful sportsmen soured...

Spotlighting deer hunters will have their day in court; lawful sportsmen soured by illegal kills

Deer hunting gun season in Western North Carolina generally opens late November and last approximately three weeks. Photo by Betsey Gooder

Abraham Mahshie -Contributing Writer

Just after dusk on the night of Dec. 27, a group of hunters took their truck out to hunt from the roadside. They held their rifle barrel out the window as they shined a spotlight in the open fields, hoping to freeze a deer they could shoot.

Derek Michael Bryson, 33, of Fred Dalton Road in Franklin got one and was cited for possessing a whitetail deer, knowing it to have been taken unlawfully. That’s three separate charges: hunting from the road side, possessing the deer and transporting it. 

Michael Lynn Antes, 25, of Teem Hollow in Franklin was also part of the hunting party cited at around 6:15 p.m. when North Carolina Wildlife Game Warden Mickey Carpenter came upon them. Altogether, each hunter is looking at fines in excess of $1,600 plus court and lawyer’s fees.

Both declared themselves indigent to the court and requested a court-appointed attorney. Ron Cowart was appointed to represent the two on Feb. 5. On March 5, their case was continued until April 23. The burden to the court system and lawyer’s fees if they should not pay are up to Macon County taxpayers and local hunters, who resent the bad reputation such hunting violations give to lawful sportsmen.

“It’s illegal!” exclaimed Justin Anderson of Wilderness Taxidermy, when asked about spotlight hunting and other illegal tactics used by hunters. “It goes on around here… Everywhere there’s legal hunting, you’re gonna have bad apples.”

Anderson said it’s just a lot easier to shoot a deer in an agricultural field out the window of your truck.

“It’s kind of like cheating on a math test, it’s the easy way to get a good grade,” he said. “Shooting deer after dark is basically cheating at deer hunting.”

Carpenter said hunting out of season – which includes more than 30 minutes before sunrise or 30 minutes after sunset during deer season – is often opportunistic, seeing a deer in a field and shooting it. But hunting at night is intentional, and the penalties are stiffer.

“It’s more of a public safety issue,” he said, noting that as night falls it becomes harder for a hunter to see beyond his target. Hunting without a spotlight that freezes the animal in place is also a fairer approach, he said. “It’s ethically right for the deer.”

This past hunting season, which ended in Western North Carolina on Dec. 8, Carpenter wrote citations for hunting deer from a public roadway, possessing and transporting; failure to tag deer; hunting without a big-game license; and hunting at night. He said he has yet to write a citation since the season closed, noting that once deers lose their antlers, even poachers lose interest.

Hunting with a spotlight carries a $500 fine, then there’s a $602 replacement cost (for the deer), and the $250 fine each for unlawful possession and unlawful transportation of the hunted deer. Violations can lead to losing your hunting license, while multiple violations can bar you from hunting legally for life.

And the charges add up. But, Carpenter doesn’t believe that an indigent person cannot pay their fines or their lawyer, but still has money to hunt. “If you can go out and shoot deer at night, you’re going to spend money in fuel and ammunition.”

Asked if he has ever come across a hunter who claimed he was hunting for food, he said never in his 12 years as a game warden.

“I myself couldn’t be proud of that,” said Anderson, reflecting on a hunter’s sense of integrity. “You can’t brag about it. We all want to show off our big buck that we killed, but you can’t do that if you’re out poaching at nighttime.”

Wilderness Taxidermy requires all patrons to sign a waiver that says their kill was legally obtained, but Anderson notes that a hunter willing to shoot a deer unlawfully is also willing to “shoot you a lie.”

Anderson believes hunting out of season is simply not worth the financial risk and the possibility of losing your hunting license. He also said it’s thanks to vigilant sportsmen and other citizens who tip off wardens when they see illegal hunting happening.

“Regulations are only as good as the enforcement behind it,” he said, noting the local wardens have a lot of territory to cover. Carpenter believes there are sufficient wardens in Macon County to detect and prevent illegal harvesting.

“Some people just pride themselves on being able to get away with something – get away from the game warden, to get one over on him,” said Anderson. Antes and Bryson didn’t get one past this warden. He’ll meet them at the Macon County Courthouse April 23.