This time, we are going to deviate from the normal physical ailments and focus on a serious subject that can affect every one of us every time you step out of your home to go out on a hunt be it in your back yard or thousands of miles away. This situation can and will cause you enormous anxiety, emotional distress, probably an ulcer and will put a big dent in your wallet by the time it is all over with.
Let me elaborate. A few years back Dr. Merlin, a mutual friend and I went on a combination hunt to northern British Columbia with an outfitter that had been recommended to us by a hunting consultant that has been in business for years and enjoys a good reputation for quality hunts. As usual, we contacted the outfitter many times to get all our questions answered before we committed to the hunt but not before getting first hand knowledge from the list of references that had been provided to us.
During our conversations, we decided on the species we were interested in. Our target species were mountain goat, moose and caribou with the possibility of wolf. He mentioned to us that he would also have one Grizzly tag available and asked if we were interested. Two of us were interested in the Grizzly tag. He made it very clear there was only one Grizzly on quota so only one could be harvested and that he would arrange for all the licenses and tags that were needed prior to our arrival. Soon he sent us contracts delineating all the costs of the trip inclusive of the costs of the tags and licenses for each of us. We sent our deposits in and the long wait began till the next fall.
Prior to our departure, we made contact with him to ensure no changes had occurred. We were told to come as planned and that all was well. Upon our arrival, we were promptly picked up at the airport and began a four hour ride to the lake that would serve as our departure point by float plane into the wilderness. On our way up we picked up all types of supplies including even a 55 gallon drum of aviation fuel. We inquired about the licenses and were told everything was in order and that they had all been obtained for us already and were in camp with the guides.
With the exception of the weather, all went smoothly as the hunt began. This was a one on one hunt so we all split up on horseback after reaching base camp. Before departing we were cautioned again that there was only one tag available for Grizzly. But with two of us interested in the Grizzly, it was decided by the guides that they would keep in contact by satellite phone each evening and only one of us could hunt Grizzly each day and we would alternate days till the tag was filled.
As luck would have it or so I thought, I collected a fabulous specimen the second day out at less then 30 yards in thick alders. A fully furred 8’4” huge boar was in the salt. The rest of the hunt was challenging to say the least secondary to the weather and poor planning by the outfitter. Out of the 15 tags purchased by the three of us we only filled five on the 14 day hunt.
The end of the hunt was a huge rush secondary to incoming inclement weather and problems with the float plane. We all finally arrived at the original departure lake with no time to spare. It was getting dark and we still had a four hour drive back to town with a scheduled departure flight the next morning. As we quickly loaded all the gear and trophies into the back of guide’s helper’s pickup, we were asked to sign a hunt form which we did. As we left, we were told that everything was in order and that the trophies would be taken to our pre-chosen taxidermist in town for mounting. Upon arrival at the hotel at 1 am, we settled up the final cost of the trip and collapsed into bed for a few short hours.
The taxidermist expertly mounted everything as planned and after acquiring all the appropriate paper work and permits he shipped one big crate to my house with all the trophies in it including my full mounted Grizzly. We were so ecstatic to finally receive all our beautiful mounts.
Now here is where things took a huge turn for the worse. Some eight months later one hot afternoon day, I had the pleasure of being paid a visit by the U.S Fish and Wildlife at my home. Well since I have many patients that are policemen, sheriff deputies, firemen, FBI agents, judges and even wildlife officers that I see regularly and visit me at my home, I thought nothing was out of the ordinary. The polite agent asked if he could ask me some questions about my B.C. hunt and I said sure. Now, I know a lot of you are already saying to yourself how stupid I was to answer his questions but I have never been in trouble with the law and have always obeyed all the game laws to the best of my ability plus I would make for a terrible liar. I still state firmly, the truth and cooperation is your best defense if you have nothing to hide.
Needless to say there was a problem with the hunt specifically the Grizzly. Apparently by “accident” we were later told by government officials, the outfitter had submitted/attached the only Grizzly tag that he had purchased in our friends name to go along with the hide and skull although I clearly had harvested the animal. Now, let it be known that I paid for the tag, instructed and paid the taxidermist to mount it for me, shipped it to my house where it was proudly displayed and told all my friends and anyone who would listen to me that I had the great opportunity to collect such an animal as well as had all the pictures to prove it. Also, I have always kept a detailed journal of all my big game hunts throughout the years and it clearly outlined all the happenings of my B.C. hunt.
The problem was this. I had in my position an animal that did not have a legally correct tag/permit and thus I was in clear violation of THE LACEY ACT and was informed that I could be prosecuted. Now as one would expect I quickly became very familiar with the Lacey Act which I had never heard of before and my guess is most of you haven’t either. So after a little bit of education, I quickly recognized that I needed an attorney but not a regular attorney but one who specializes in Federal law and specifically one who knows a lot about the Lacey Act and all its implications which is neither easy to find nor cheap.
Now, I don’t profess to be an attorney or an expert in the field of law but let me give you the relevance of the Lacey Act to all our readers. The Lacey Act was first passed in the early 1900’s to protect our game populations from illegal trade. It has had many changes and modifications over the years and today is a Federal law that basically addresses the issue of transportation of any game species, endangered species or protected species that have been deemed to have been taken illegally for whatever reason. It is not limited to animals only but includes fish as well as plants. Game deemed to be illegal can be simply the result of incorrect paperwork or multiple other reasons all the way to actual poaching. To be in violation of the Lacey Act, all you must do is transport personally or have the item transported for you across state or international lines and you are in trouble. You DO NOT need to know the item be it plant or animal is illegal to be in violation of the act. In fact with any federal animal you do not need to cross any line. It was related to me that if you go to a dove shoot or a duck hunt and collect over your limit of federal migratory birds and you place it in your vehicle and drive 200 yards to your house, you have now violated the Lacey Act because they are a federal species and you can be charged federally.
The law is very clear and leaves no ambiguity. If you have in your position the species in question of violation, you MUST abandon it or it will be seized, period. The U.S. district attorney upon recommendation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent has the authority to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony if they see fit, both of which carry hefty penalties. This is one law you must be very careful with. You can be guilty and can not prove yourself innocent despite the fact that you may truly have no concept of any wrong doing whatsoever.
A good example given to me was this. You go to your local reputable car dealer, purchase a used car, title and register it as required. A few months later you answer your front door and there stands your local policeman. You are informed the car was stolen a year ago in another state. Despite having no knowledge of that, you are in position of stolen property and you must relinquish it to the authorities. Your car dealer also had no knowledge of it and thus your ability to get your money back is about zero and you could still be potentially charged for receiving stolen goods although not likely in this scenario.
What you don’t know and I didn’t until recently, is that there are many, many, many hunters in the U.S. that are investigated each year for violation of the Lacey Act. Some are innocent and some not. Go to “The Hunting Report” publication and ask them for all the stories of investigated hunters that had no knowledge of any wrong doing. If your outfitter without telling you allows you to shoot an animal that is right outside his guide area in a vast wilderness with no clear boundaries for you to know and you take that animal home, you have violated the Lacey Act and will lose that animal and possibly be charged. If a foreign government contacts the U.S. and states your animal is illegal for whatever reason, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will investigate you, seize your trophy and potentially charge you. As mentioned before the Lacey Act is now a large document with many permutations and I am sure you can view it on the internet if I haven’t scared you enough.
Now back to the story, I willingly abandoned the full mount Grizzly bear in order to cooperate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. I found them neither to be harsh, threatening or unreasonable. They simply were enforcing the law that ultimately protects our game species not only in our country but around the world.
The moral of the story is that if you wish to avoid months and months of severe anxiety, heart palpitations, GI distress, heartburn and ulcers, sleepless nights and long discussions/meetings with an expensive attorney please do the following. One - Research any outfitter you are going hunting with thoroughly. Two - Try to get as familiar with the game laws in that area as possible. Three – Inform your guide that you in no way want to violate any law knowingly or unknowingly. Four – Make it a habit to personally inspect all your licenses and tags to ensure they have been filled out correctly even though your outfitter is charged with that responsibility. Ignorance of the law is absolutely no excuse here.
You can take my advice because I promise you if you hunt enough you will at some point unknowingly violate the Lacey Act and the consequences can be severe. An ounce of prevention in this case is worth a ton of cure.
As always, enjoy the outdoors and be safe.