DEC busts 48 "deer jacking" incidents in Catskills and Capital Region

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation may be strapped for cash and personnel, but it still managed to run a coordinated anti-deer-jacking operation with the Batman-like name of "Operation Dark Night" this fall.

According to a press release sent out by the DEC yesterday, the department staked out popular hunting areas during the beginning of hunting season in the hopes of catching hunters who cheat by freezing deer with bright lights before shooting them.

Although more "deer jackers" were caught in Adirondack Park than anywhere else, 48 incidences of poaching were observed in the Catskills region, the DEC reports.

Adam Bosch at the Times Herald-Record reports that four people with Mid-Hudson connections were charged with deer-jacking, and that 18 people with ties to Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties were charged with various hunting crimes as part of the sweep.

Here's the DEC's press release in full:

Anti-Poaching Initiative Shines Light on 137 Violators

"Operation Dark Night" Targets "Deer Jacking" Statewide; More than 250 Charges Filed

A major operation to crack down on illegal deer poaching from Montauk to Buffalo has led to charges against 137 individuals for more than 250 offenses, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today.

The initiative, dubbed, "Operation Dark Night," focused on the illegal taking of deer by use of artificial light - a practice commonly known as "deer jacking." This involves nighttime wildlife crimes where poachers shine a spotlight on a deer feeding in fields to "freeze" the animal long enough to shoot it - killing deer when they are most vulnerable. Typically, deer jacking occurs in remote rural areas, late at night. Due to these late hours and secluded areas, there are few, if any, witnesses to this crime.

This fall, DEC undertook the largest coordinated anti-deer jacking initiative in the state's history. During a seven-week period, ECOs were assigned to saturation patrols in targeted rural locations in every part of the state except New York City, with stakeouts taking place at all hours of the night. While ECOs are vigilant for wildlife poaching crimes throughout the year, these targeted patrols largely covered the weeks before the start of the southern zone deer season, when, historically, DEC fields numerous complaints about deer jacking.

"Our officers' work sends a strong message that such illegal practices will not be tolerated," said Peter Fanelli, DEC's Director of Law Enforcement. "During this operation, they put in long hours at night, often dealing with armed individuals. Their effort speaks of their dedication to the job and to protecting New York's natural resources."

"Most hunters play by the rules - but deer jackers don't," Acting Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz said. "This illegal practice not only gives them an unfair advantage but also puts many unsuspecting people who may be nearby at risk. DEC takes this crime seriously for many reasons - safety, foremost."

During the seven-week operation, DEC officers charged 137 individuals with more than 250 misdemeanors and violations. This included 10 instances of killing a deer at night with the use of a spotlight or other artificial light and 79 instances where a hunter was caught using a light but had not yet killed a deer.

Typically, other related charges were filed in these instances, such as carrying a loaded gun in a vehicle, discharging a firearm over a public highway or within 500 feet of a dwelling and using a spotlight within 500 feet of a dwelling.

By region, 124 misdemeanors and violations were filed in the Adirondack Park and surrounding North Country, 48 were filed in the Capital Region and Catskills, 47 in Central New York, 24 in Western New York and 9 on Long Island.

Fifteen guns were confiscated, along with seven spotlights and eight illegally-taken deer.

Many Environmental Conservation Law offenses relating to deer jacking are misdemeanors which may result in significant fines and/or jail time. Additionally, hunting license privileges of convicted deer poachers may be revoked in New York State as well as simultaneously in other states that are members of the Wildlife Violator Compact and honor reciprocal revocations. Turn in Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) Hotline

DEC encourages anyone with information on environmental crimes and violations to call its 24-hour hotline, 1-800-TIPP-DEC or 1-800-847-7332. Callers may request to file complaints anonymously. An online form also is available on the DEC website. Penalties

"Taking of deer with the aid of an artificial light" is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 to $2,000 and/or incarceration for up to one year, as well as possible revocation of hunting privileges for up to five years.

"Operating an artificial light on lands inhabited by deer while possessing a firearm" is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $200 to $1,000 and/or incarceration for up to 90 days.

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $250 and/or incarceration of up to 15 days.

Additionally, hunting privileges may be revoked in New York State as well as simultaneously in many other states who are members of the Wildlife Violator Compact.