On Jan. 25, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) received a call that a female mule deer had been killed out of season southwest of Bill Williams Mountain.
The deer was found about 20 yards from Forest Service Road 122 with an arrow wound through the lungs. An archery deer season for bucks only was open.
The incident is an example of poaching, which is a serious problem throughout the state.
Poaching can refer to several different violations, including killing an animal out of season, hunting in the wrong unit, hunting without a license, and using another person's tags or tags for another animal species.
Shelly Shepherd, a public information officer for AZGFD, emphasized that hunters and poachers are two different things.
"We do have for the most part good ethical hunters," she said. "But poaching is not hunting. It is individuals completely ignoring the laws and regulations that we have in place to protect Arizona's wildlife."
Michael Rice, wildlife manager with the AZGFD, said people poach for three main reasons: food, the trophy value of the animal's head and opportunity.
"That's kind of a catch-all a little bit, because we may or may not know what their motivation was," Rice said of the third reason. "Sometimes people may do it for some type of sport, you know chasing an animal to see if they can successfully kill it. It may be that they're out in the field for a different reason and that animal just comes across their path. It's just really hard to tell what might be motivating that individual to kill an animal."
Poaching incidents are difficult for AZGFD to track and enforce since they often occur in remote areas.
"They may be poaching deer or antelope or javelina, which can be fairly hard to detect because the carcasses are picked up and cleaned up by predators fairly quickly," Rice added.
The AZGFD runs decoy projects to catch poachers, but it also relies heavily on information from the public.
The agency found out about the recent mule deer poaching through its Operation Game Thief hotline.
"Basically it's like 911 for wildlife," Rice said.
A dispatch center in Phoenix that is staffed 24/7 receives the calls, and callers can choose to remain anonymous.
Although some poaching incidents are intentional, Rice acknowledged that hunting accidents do occur.
"Sometimes they'll intend to shoot an animal to consume it and the animal gets away from the individual where the individual can't recover it," he said.
Other times, a hunter may be trying to shoot a legal animal and they hit an illegal animal instead. In those cases, hunters can call the Operation Game Thief hotline to let officials know of the accident. At that point the AZGFD can donate the carcass to a local food bank.
"And then that way it can feed families in the community," he said. "The animal doesn't go to waste, even though it was not what they had intended to do. But in this situation when they just leave the animal and don't report it, we don't have that option anymore. The animal is basically wasted."
Poaching happens all over the state with a variety of species, according to Shepherd.
"(People) think of poaching and they think of big game animals like deer and elk, but people don't realize that there's other illegal wildlife activity taking place in our state," she said.
Poaching can also occur in fishing, with people taking the wrong species of fish, fishing in the wrong area or without a license or using illegal bait.
In desert areas, some people capture reptiles like gila monsters and snakes to sell on the black market. Poachers may also kill birds of prey to sell their feathers or talons.
In addition, some people poach bears so they can use their gallbladders to create pills or powders, which are sold as aphrodisiacs.
If a person observes any possible poaching violations, Shepherd advised the witness not to approach the possible offender. Instead, the witness should call the Operation Game Thief hotline with as much information as possible, including the date, time and location of the possible violation, the animal species involved, the appearance of the possible offender, and a description of their vehicle, license plate and firearm.
If a person is caught poaching, they receive a citation and go through a court process. If found guilty, the punishment ranges from taking hunter education classes, doing community service, or paying fines.
In addition, if found guilty, the person may need to pay a civil assessment for the value of the animal to the AZGFD commission. That assessment can be as much as $8,000 for some animal species. The offender could also lose hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for one to five years in Arizona and in other states that are within a Violator Compact.
"We really do look at poaching as stealing from the natural resources that we have in the state," Shepherd said. "The wildlife is here for everyone to enjoy whether you hunt or you go wildlife watching of you're just an outdoorsy kind of person."
Anyone with information about the recent poaching case near Bill Williams Mountain can call the Operation Game Thief Hotline toll free at (800) 352-0700 and reference case number 14-000205. A reward of as much as $250 may be available for information leading to the arrest of the violator(s).