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Trusted local news leader for Prescott, Arizona & surrounding communities since 1882
5:38 AM Wed, July 18th

Operation Game Thief is biggest tool against illegal activities for Game & Fish Department

PRESCOTT – A local hunting guide led to the capture of people who poached five elk north of Seligman.

Vance Brannan, 27, a former Prescott resident now living in California, was the main culprit.

A few weeks ago, the Arizona Game & Fish Department Commission fined Brannan more than $9,500. Another man got a $1,050 fine, and both lost their Arizona hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for five years.

Note the word "privilege." Hunting is a privilege, not a right, local wildlife manager Darren Tucker emphasized.

Because of a multi-state wildlife violation compact, the two men also lost their hunting privileges in most states throughout the West and some in the Midwest.

"Arizona Game & Fish and other states are serious about taking these people out of the hunting population, because we don't consider them hunters," Tucker said.

But, with some wildlife managers covering as many as 500,000 acres alone, the Game & Fish Department depends heavily on the public for help.

In fact, a large majority of the department's biggest cases begin with someone calling Operation Game Thief toll-free at 1-800-352-0700, any time of day or night.

The Seligman hunting guide was one of those callers. In order to make that call promptly, he gave up one of the last days of the hunting season, and his client willingly agreed.

"That's the perfect example of sportsmen policing themselves," said Eric Gardner, the Prescott sector field supervisor for Game & Fish.

"We don't want people to think hunters are bad and they've really got to watch them," Tucker added. "Hunters as a group are the same as everybody else. Ninety-nine percent are legal and ethical, trying to do the right thing."

But when it comes to the "bad apple," Tucker said, "Those people we'd like to put out of business, so they won't spoil it for everyone else."

Everyone else includes Game & Fish, which relies on hunting as one of its main tools to manage wildlife populations, Tucker noted.

This is the time of year that Game & Fish especially wants hunters and others to be alert to wildlife crimes, as the hunting seasons kick into full gear.

The first rifle elk hunt started Sept. 28, and approximately 100 people have permits in the Prescott area.

The small game firearms season starts Oct. 12 and is extremely popular in the Prescott area, Tucker said.

And, the biggest season of all, rifle general deer, opens Oct. 26 with approximately 2,500 permits within a 60-mile radius of Prescott.

If you see someone illegally killing wildlife, Game & Fish officials urge you not to approach that person, but instead get their license plate number and a description of the vehicle, and a description of the violator if possible.

Operation Game Thief callers can remain anonymous if they choose.

If a caller's information leads to the arrest of any person for unlawfully taking, wounding, killing, possessing, transporting or selling wildlife, the caller gets a reward of $50 to $1,000.

The fines assessed against the violators goes into the Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, which pays for the rewards.

The Seligman elk case padded the fund by more than $10,000.

The fund also pays for Operation Game Thief telephone line costs, information and education efforts, and investigations into unlawful commercial use of wildlife.

The minimum fine for unlawfully killing, wounding or possessing elk is $2,131; or $1,279 for deer and antelope, and $426 for turkey and javelina.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com