February 29, 2012
Why did the snow goose cross the road? To get shot in a wildlife refuge, evidently, at least in Delaware.
The shortest investigation in the history of poachers occurred when lifelong WILDFOWL reader Charlie Long was out shooting snow goose photos at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna, Del., on Feb. 15. The Hook is the biggest staging area for greater snow geese on the east coast. Long has seen up to 100,000 snows there at once and was there Monday, Feb. 13 when the migration moved in.
He took a photo of geese crossing the road with cars backed up, and the local newspaper ran it front page. As it turns out, some miscreant saw the photo as a scouting report. Long was back down photographing geese on Wednesday and had just moved 200 yards down the road when he heard a single shot ring out from the spot he'd just vacated. He thought, "there is no way that was a shot." "Geese flew everywhere, and I backed up to investigate only to find this gentleman standing next to his truck with a shotgun and then walking into the field."
Two other witnesses began talking with Charlie in disbelief. The trio called the police and the game warden, and the alleged poacher walked out in the field to get his birds. In an especially poignant moment, Long and the other witnesses stared in disbelief at the suspect as he stared down at a goose flopping around in the refuge.
"He was waiting for one to die and also watching as two crippled geese ran into the woods," Long said.
It all happened an incredible 500 yards from refuge headquarters. Long took off to get the refuge manager, then left him making phone calls and went back down to the crime scene, where he and another witness saw the man's gun laying on the ground.
"I said 'let's go get it,' and we took his gun and the other guy took his keys. Then he came back with the birds and argued with us that it was legal," Long said.
The game warden showed up at 5:30 p.m., corporal Julie Jones with the State of Delaware Division of Natural Resources. She investigated and determined the goose gunner was, um, wrong. Way, way, wrong. She searched him and his vehicle, arrested him and towed the vehicle, Long said.
Long relates: "He plead ignorance. She said 'this is a federal refuge and you are in possession of lead shot, shooting from a roadway and have no hunting license, and are in illegal possession of waterfowl without stamps and have unlawfully discharged a weapon inside a federal refuge.'"
When the officer asked him what made him decide to do this, he said he saw the photo in the newspaper showing the birds at Bombay and wanted to "get some geese," Long said. "He was apparently unaware you couldn't shoot them inside the refuge. But the guy really didn't care. He kept professing 'this is perfectly legal, I'm allowed 15 of these.' I told him if you are an ethical hunter and know the rules and regulations, you'd know there's no limit."
"I asked him to see his license and he said 'what do I need a hunt license for,'" Long said. "He was a perfectly rational guy, not mentally ill, he was in a solid frame of mind. I was in total disbelief. As a (waterfowl) hunter I was disgusted."
Hats off to Long for having the gall to disarm a poacher and act decisively to make sure a violator paid the price.