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Colo. case a reminder that lawlessness is still a problem

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wow. That was the first word that went through my mind the other day when I read that four guys from South Carolina admitted that they routinely used poisoned arrows to paralyze and kill deer, elk and bears.

The report, from the Grand Junction, Colo., Daily Sentinel, said the men acknowledged in a court hearing their participation in the highly illegal practice. One of the men, George Plummer of Timmonsville, S.C., said he had hunted in the Collbran, Colo., area since the late 1980s, and had used arrows tipped with poison since then.

Authorities said the poison, a powerful muscle relaxant, paralyzed the animals' muscles and shut down their breathing within seconds.

The four men - Plummer, Joseph Nevling of Timmonsville, S.C., Michael Courtney of Florence, S.C. and James Cole of Sumter, S.C. - were fined thousands of dollars. An investigator said it was "hard to say how many animals they've taken illegally."

The part of the article that most blew my mind was a quote from Cole, who defended his use of poison.

"Back in South Carolina, everybody hunts with [poison arrows]," he said, calling the poison "an insurance policy."

I seriously doubt that "every" Palmetto State bowhunter heads into the woods with a quiver loaded with poisoned arrows, but Cole's statement raises a question: Just how widespread is the practice?

And if indeed it's popular in South Carolina, how common might it be in other southeastern states? Could it also be happening in Mid-Atlantic states? If so, is it being done here in West Virginia?

"Over the years, I've had people ask me if it's legal here in West Virginia, and of course it isn't," said Lt. Col. Jerry Jenkins of the state Natural Resources Police. "To my knowledge, we've never caught anyone using [poisoned arrows] in the field."

Keep in mind that Jenkins said no one has been caught doing it. Chances are if I'd asked Colorado authorities the same question, until recently they would have given the same answer. They only found out about the South Carolinians because an unidentified hunter called in a tip about them.

Law enforcement officers investigated the men for nearly two years. They finally broke the case in late August, after putting Plummer and his companions under surveillance.

The disturbing thing in all this, at least to me, is the culture of lawlessness Plummer alleges to exist in his home state.

Then again, I probably shouldn't be surprised. To some people, illegal hunting is hunting.

A couple of years ago, a Natural Resources Police officer from Southern West Virginia described an arrest he'd made. He told me the perpetrator spotlighted and shot a deer out of season.

"I asked him why he did it," the officer said. "He said that was the way his granddaddy and daddy taught him to hunt."

Happily, some of the lawlessness that used to be so rampant seems to be diminishing. Mandatory hunter-education classes, begun a generation ago, are informing the next generation of hunters that some of the "family traditions" they've observed are unethical and illegal.

One can only hope that the lessons being taught in hunter-ed classes are strong enough to convince hunters to use only those advantages the law allows.


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