Game wardens: Record book deer was taken illegally
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 30,2013
Vermont Big Game Trophy Club Photo
These antlers are from a huge buck shot in Stamford — one day after the November deer season ended.
STAMFORD — The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department had good news and bad news for a local hunter in December.
The good news was that the large, trophy-antlered whitetail buck that Jim Smith, 47, of Stamford, had harvested in Stamford was the largest taken in Vermont in more than 20 years.
The bad news was that the buck was taken a day after the 2012 rifle season ended so instead of congratulations, Smith is now facing criminal charges for which he is scheduled to be arraigned in Bennington criminal court Feb. 11.
In a press release, officials with the department said someone had witnessed Smith removing the 10-point buck from the woods Nov. 26 and then tipped them off.
There was no record of the deer being reported so Vermont Game Wardens Richard Watkin, Kelly Price and David Taddei conducted an investigation.
During an interview Dec. 19, Smith admitted to killing the deer the day after rifle season ended but said he had mistakenly believed the season was still open, wardens said. The antlers, meat and hide were seized by wardens.
Smith has been cited to appear in court for taking a deer during the closed season. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 60 days in prison, lose his right to hunt, fish and trap in Vermont for up to three years and be fined up to $3,000.
Curtis Smiley, a lieutenant with the Fish and Wildlife’s enforcement division, and president of the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club, said the buck would have boasted a Boone and Crockett Club score of 165 2/8 gross. The Boone and Crockett Club is a national conservation organization, the keeper of North American big game records and the creators of a standardized scoring system.
According to Keith Balfourd, B&C marketing director, the score would make it the fifth- or sixth-largest buck reported from Vermont since the scoring system began almost 100 years ago.
The minimum score to make the B&C Awards book is 160 inches. To make the B&C’s “Records of North American Big Game” record book, the antlers must score 170 inches.
Vermont doesn’t historically produce big-racked, white-tailed deer and there are only 13 in Boone and Crockett’s record books, Balfourd said.
Watkin said he agreed with the characterization that the deer would have been a “once in a lifetime” deer especially in Vermont.
The buck could still be entered into the record books if it’s submitted by the state, but the name of the hunter, if he is convicted of taking the deer illegally, will not appear. The value of listing the buck would be for tracking the deer population and conservation efforts in Bennington County.
Balfourd said the people of Bennington County should take some pride in their management of public land because a deer would not grow so large unless the habitat was being well-managed.
Officials with Fish & Wildlife’s enforcement division said they couldn’t provide much more information about the incident because it is a pending criminal matter but Chief Warden Col. David LeCours said on Tuesday there was no evidence that any other illegal means of taking game, such as using a spotlight or shooting from the road, was involved in the alleged incident.
LeCours said Smith didn’t have any previous violations on his hunting record.
According to LeCours, most hunters are very aware of when the hunting season begins and ends.
“Anyone who hunts deer any length of time in Vermont for rifle deer hunting knows that the season ends on the Sunday after Thanksgiving day as it did this year,” he said.
State game wardens asked that people who see or hear activity that might be illegal, call their local Vermont State Police barracks or call Operation Game Thief at 800-752-5378.