The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) credits public cooperation, investigative work, and an anonymous tip for a major poaching arrest near the Lake of the Ozarks.
Throughout the month of October, conservation agents who work the area near Lake of the Ozarks responded to multiple complaints of dead deer with only the heads, tenderloins and other parts removed. Thankfully, one call to the Operation Game Thief (OGT) hotline ultimately led investigators to a suspect in the Tuscumbia area who now faces a litany of charges in Miller and Shannon counties.
Harold P. Piatt, 23, faces 14 misdemeanor charges for the illegal take of deer with the aid of artificial light and take of deer during closed season, two misdemeanor charges of illegal possession of wildlife parts, one misdemeanor charge of taking furbearers in closed season, as well as both misdemeanor and felony drug possession and drug paraphernalia charges.
Each wildlife misdemeanor charge comes with a potential fine of as much as $2,000 and/or year in jail. With the recent passage and signing of Missouri House Bill 260, authorities may also seek restitution of $1,000-5,000 for each antlered deer, with all associated monetary penalties going to public schools in the counties where the violations occurred. The firearms, including a .30-06 rifle, a .243 rifle, and a .22 rifle suspected of being used to commit the violations were also seized.
“This is a great example of some awesome public cooperation combined with outstanding investigative skills on the part of our agents in the field and the Miller County Sheriff’s Department,” said MDC Protection Division Field Chief Dean Harre.
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Conservation Agents Eric Swainston, Tyler Brown, and District Supervisor Mike Jones, with assistance from the Miller County Sheriff’s Office, are continuing the investigation and still need the public’s assistance with the case. Investigators believe most of the antlers were left on public lands near the towns of Bunker, in Dent and Reynolds counties, and Timber, in Shannon County. Hunters or other individuals who find something possibly related to this case are encouraged to contact the OGT hotline at 1-800-392-1111, or their local conservation agent.
Local conservation agents and contact info are listed online at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZoF, and more information about the OGT hotline is available at mdc.mo.gov/contact-engage/report-problems-illegal-activity/operation-game-thief.
“Cases like this are often initiated from concerned citizens who contact their local conservation agent or the OGT hotline to report wildlife violations,” said Harre. “Without public cooperation protecting the wildlife resources of the state, populations would surely suffer, and cases like these would most likely never be resolved.”
Poaching hurts all Missourians by stealing opportunities to hunt, fish, or collect legally. Those who cheat the permit system also cheat every Missouri taxpayer. MDC depends on revenue from hunting and fishing permits to manage wildlife populations and habitat. Callers to the OGT hotline may remain anonymous if they wish, and if they provide information that leads to an arrest they may ask to be considered for a reward. Rewards range from $50-1,000.