Proving once again that it doesn’t take brains to be game-law violators, Florida Fish and Wildlife authorities recently caught up with a poaching foursome after some of the ne’er-do-wells posted photos of their illegal hunting activities online via social media.
As a result of its investigation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has charged four individuals, including two juveniles, with illegally killing at least seven deer at night on Elgin Air Force Base—including two trophy-class velvet bucks—and taking only the antlers.
Agency law enforcement officers said they began receiving calls immediately after two deer, one minus the head, were found on private property adjacent to Northwest Florida State College in Niceville in August. They were subsequently alerted by concerned citizens after posts apparently showing photos of the deer heads began appearing on electronic social media.
“The suspects were sending Facebook posts to each other, and the posts were then circulated,” said Lt. Mark Hollinhead, FWC law enforcement supervisor. He said the deer were killed at night along Highway 85 in the Duke Field area of Eglin.
According to Hollinhead, the racks were clearly shown in the Facebook posts and would likely measure in the 120s to 130s Boone and Crockett—above-average whitetails for The Sunshine State. The racks were apparently tossed into the Yellow River and were not recovered.
“The thing about this case is the suspects didn’t use any of the meat from any of the deer. They simply left the animals to rot,” Hollinhead said. “The suspects did remove the velvet antlers of two large trophy bucks but they got rid of the antlers when they heard we were conducting an investigation.”
FWC reports Justin Leon Bailey, 23, of Niceville, , 23, of Mossy Head, and 16- and 17-year-old juveniles from Niceville are each charged with taking or killing deer during the closed season, discharging a firearm from a public roadway and willful and wanton waste of wildlife. Each of the charges is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and one-year imprisonment.
Two rifles reportedly used by the suspects were seized as evidence.
Florida is one of 39 states participating in the Wildlife Violator Compact. Depending on the outcome of the court case, Florida statutes allow a 3-year in-state license suspension, which would also apply to all Compact member states.