“Know your target and what lies beyond it” is a core tenet of marksmanship, and the spirit behind Ocean Shores’ law against hunting within city limits.
But this law is being challenged, and has been for years, by people who illegally poach on the city’s large, docile and well-fed deer population for trophy kills, said Chief Neccie Logan.
“It has always been a problem, as far as I know,” Logan said in an email. “It has definitely been a problem since I came here, eight years ago.”
The municipal law bans hunting of all animals within the city limits, which begins at the iconic pillars where state Route 115 ends and extends south, Logan said.
The issue isn’t a misunderstanding of the rules by normal hunters, said Sgt. Brian Alexander of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement division, but a clear effort by a small number of people to circumvent the law in the quest for easily acquired trophy kills.
“The vast majority of hunters are good ethical hunters that follow the law. A very small segment goes out of the way to do stuff like what’s happening out there,” Alexander said. “We did catch some kids from Olympia a couple of years ago that were doing it.”
The lack of predation besides coyotes and cougars and the general tolerance toward deer by the population has created a situation where the deer are both very habituated towards human, and where bucks tend to live longer, growing correspondingly more magnificent racks.
“It makes them pretty susceptible to getting killed. That and the volume of large, mature bucks,” Alexander said. “The bucks that are running around on Ocean Shores are extremely large and for black-tail deer, they’re truly trophy bucks.”
Deer are frequently hunted with bows or crossbows, Alexander said, eliminating the sound of a gunshot, and those hunting the deer frequently cut the head off the deer for a trophy, leaving the rest of the animal to rot.
“Imagine walking out on your front porch to drink some coffee in the morning and there’s a headless deer in your front yard,” Alexander said. “That’s a scene that’s been repeated a few times in the last few years.”
The issue of arrows overpenetrating the target or missing entirely is not a hypothetical one, Alexander said, but a very real scenario that’s reenacted each year.
“In terms of threats to the residents, we have pulled more than one arrow out of the side of someone’s house. It’s a residential area,” Alexander said. “Arrows are recovered in people’s yards. Arrows are recovered in people’s houses. We pulled an arrow out of someone’s front tire last year.”
The department usually handles 5-10 calls each year related to finding the remains of deer hunted for their heads, Logan said. The actual number, if poachers take the entire deer, may be much higher, Logan said.
While there’s limited information that can go out with an ongoing investigation, Alexander said they are looking into it. The city has made a few arrests, Logan said, usually from residents noticing suspicious behavior or hearing a gunshot. WDFW makes the majority of arrests in these cases, Logan said.
“The activity is ongoing. The investigation is ongoing,” Alexander said. “We don’t really see the people who are doing this stopping.”
There are a few things Ocean Shores residents can do, including keeping their home surveillance equipment operating.
“There’s so many people that have motion cameras and ring cameras that aren’t on. That would certainly probably improve our chances when we go to the scene,” Alexander said. “It certainly would help us potentially identify a suspect.”
Suspicious behavior, such as a vehicle going unusually slowly at night, can be a tip-off that they’re looking for deer, Alexander said.
“This is typically occurring in the hours of darkness,” Alexander said. “The probability that you’ll be driving down the main road at 10 mph at 2 a.m. is not real likely. (Look for) the type of activity that any person can look at it and say, ‘that’s not normal.’”
While the activity is particularly noticeable in Ocean Shores, it’s not limited to there, Alexander said. Illegal hunting is also an issue in parts of Aberdeen and Hoquiam. Anyone with information that leads to an arrest is eligible for a reward, either in cash or in preferential hunting allowances, Alexander said. People with information on illegal hunting activity in Ocean Shores — or elsewhere — should contact him at 360-580-6200 or the department’s enforcement division at WILDCOMM@dfw.wa.gov or 360-902-2936.
Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.