Beasley at Large: Let the trials begin

Elk season is over. Let the trials begin.

Last year closed another sad chapter on wildlife crimes at the Oregon coast, where poachers had their field days with deer, elk, bear and trophy game fish. Most vanished, ghostlike, into the trackless forests or crowded docks, but some were cited and will mark the new year with court appearances.

Oregon State Police game troopers, spread thin as boarding house soup across the sprawling Alsea hunting district, relied on sharp-eyed landowners and law-abiding hunters and anglers to trigger many of their cases.

For example, the citation for Alan Edward Ferguson, 31, of Tidewater started after an alert U.S. Forest Service lawman encountered three subjects field-dressing two bull elk in the Waldport area on Nov. 12. Since one of the elk had not been tagged — the law states a tag must be attached “immediately” after the kill —  the officer contacted OSP.

OSP game trooper Andrew Butler arrived to quickly unravel the hasty scheme to sidestep Oregon’s game laws. It was easy enough because one of the ostensible shooters wasn’t even there.

“Game troopers discovered one of the subjects who had allegedly shot and killed a bull elk was not present,” reported Butler, who peeled back the story’s layers to discover that Ferguson, who held an archery permit but no rifle elk tag, had shot and killed a spike bull.

Meanwhile, hunting companion Kasea Joy Ferguson, 29, shot and wounded a three-point bull. Tagless Alan took the rifle and finished the job, telling Kasea to tag the bull and call a pal in nearby Yachats to bring his wife’s tag to mark the spike. Robert J. Warfield, 33, arrived with the paperwork, according to law officers.

While it could be stipulated that these were not desperados, the swapping of game tags to lard the freezer is an old and widely-used ruse that adds to the harassment of Oregon taxpayer-managed game and robs legitimate hunters of substantial opportunity.

“We definitely have the hardened poacher type here at the coast,” remarked Todd Thompson, a sergeant with the OSP Marine Fisheries Team who parks his boat in the fall to chase big-game violators. “But what we usually see is poor decision-making or shooting the wrong animal.”

It’s easy enough to see how, in the heat of the chase, someone can make a mistake. That’s why a good grip on hunter ethics and firearm safety are paramount to any field trip.

“These are herd animals in a group, and when people encounter them they don’t stand still,” Thompson added. “They take off running, and other animals get hit as you’re shooting at the intended target. Every time you pull the trigger, it’s important to know what’s behind the target.”

Telling the truth is the only way out, in many cases. Alejandro B. Gonzalez, 32, of Salem was hunting nine miles east of Lincoln City on Nov. 22 when he shot a cow elk by mistake, but had the good sense to report the accident to OSP so the animal wouldn’t go to waste. He was issued a warning, and the carcass was donated to charity.

“We typically don’t give a ticket for self-reporting,” Thompson said, proving that game wardens have a soft side. “We appreciate that, and recognize that person’s trying to do the right thing to get that animal salvaged. There’s always a reason that things happen, just like in a traffic collision, and we look at all that.”

There was no forbearance for Alan Ferguson, however, who was charged with three counts: unlawful taking and possession of a bull elk, hunting during a closed season and lending, and borrowing or selling a big game tag — all misdemeanors. Kasea Ferguson and the accommodating Warfield were cited for aiding/counseling in a wildlife offense — also misdemeanors. Two firearms were seized as evidence.

By some accounts, poachers take nearly as much game as legal hunters in Oregon. A recent five-year study of 500 collared mule deer near Bend found that 128 had died, including 21 shot by legal hunters and 19 by poachers. What the 15 cougars and eight cars didn’t get were listed as “undetermined,” but would likely boost the poachers’ tally.

Oregon game laws aren’t written by faceless bureaucrats to irritate hunters, but rather as a painstaking annual collaboration of outdoorsmen and wildlife managers whose primary target is to maintain healthy game populations — not to slaughter them.

Anyone with information regarding a game violation should contact the TIP — Turn In Poachers — program at 1-800-452-7888 or [email protected]


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