Four men who were stopped in rural Ellis County last week with 209 doves in their possession have outraged hunters and outdoor enthusiasts across the state.
The men were stopped Tuesday, the second day of dove season. The daily limit is 15 doves per hunter.
“I hope they throw the book at them and take them to federal court and give them jail time,” said Spencer Tomb, a retired Kansas State University botany professor in Riley County and an avid hunter.
“We have game laws so everybody gets a fair chance at hunting. And they did that in one day?”
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials are in the process of deciding what type of charges the four will face, whether it will be on a federal or state level, said Dan Melson, law enforcement supervisor for the western region of Wildlife and Parks. The four have yet to be charged, he said.
Melson would not give the ages of the men, or say whether they were Kansas residents.
If wildlife officials decide to pursue a federal case, the process could take a year or more, Melson said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently processing a similar case from last year from Ellis and Graham County.
Doves are a migratory bird. If the men are found guilty of violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the four could face stiff fines and possible jail time. In addition, poachers can face revocation of any hunting, fishing or trapping licenses.
For now, the 209 doves are being preserved as evidence, Melson said.
Most hunters despise poachers, said Mike Hayden, former governor of Kansas and former director of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. He is now director of the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes.
“Certainly hunting ethics is something very important,” Hayden said. “When things like this happen, it casts a shadow. It is unethical and jeopardizes the future of hunting.”
One of the problems in rural areas is that game wardens often have to cover four and five counties each, an equivalent of 4,000 to 5,000 square miles, Hayden said.
“It does sometimes cause people to have a lax attitude toward game laws and to let them think they can get away with anything,” Hayden said. “This shows they can’t always.”
But residents can help. If they are aware of poaching or see it happening, they are encouraged to call the KDWP’s Operation Game Thief at 877-426-3843.
As game birds go, doves are relatively small. Fifteen doves per day per hunter is typically enough meat to feed two people, Tomb said.
“What a waste this is,” Hayden said. “The season limits are very generous and why you need to break the law goes against everything I was ever taught.
“My thought is that if somebody has shot this many birds, they have probably violated other laws. There may be a series of violations other than just being over the bag limit.”