Preparing for Wildlife Investigations by Law Enforcement: Being Unprepared Isn't an Option

By Rick Feldmann

Hunting season is just around the corner and excitement is building to be in the field again. Preparations are made. Rifles are sighted in, packs stuffed full, and maps spread all over the table looking for that spot that holds that trophy of a lifetime. Hours are spent making plans for the hunt, and for some it seems that the preparation is just about as much fun as the actual hunt.

Unfortunately, a lack of preparation and even innocent mistakes can lead to serious legal consequences, including felony and federal wildlife violations. For example, if in the opinion of law enforcement you do not pack out enough of the animal you can be charged with waste of game meat. This determination is completely subjective to the investigating officer. Trespassing does not require intent; mistakenly being in the wrong section to hunt is not a defense to the violation. Mistakes in properly tagging your animal may result in violations. Violations in one state effect hunting rights in every state that is a part of the Interstate Compact, which may include your home state. Hunters are often surprised at receiving lifetime bans for violations.

It is important to prepare yourself "legally" as you prepare to hunt. Mentally preparing for a hunt many leave out important aspects that may affect you for the rest of your life. It may be the lack of mental prep, like a short cut when climbing down a steep embankment, resulting in a bad fall, broken bones, or worse. It could be cutting ourselves from being careless as we cape our trophy. We may push our physical limits and become dehydrated or maybe not pay attention to the weather as we should. All these things are important considerations for which you should to mentally and physically prepare. for. Having a wildlife attorney and preparing yourself for communications with wildlife law enforcement is, in many ways, among the most important preparations you can make.

A lack of legal preparation is one of those things that may have far reaching consequences, be costly, and have long lasting effects in your life. As wildlife laws get more complicated it becomes very apparent that the possibility of violating a state (or federal) statute(s) is a real risk. A seemingly simple, inadvertent, or careless act could become a federal crime and be devastating to your life. If a wildlife or other state violation has been committed, inadvertent or not, the act of transporting your cape, horns, and meat across state lines may violate the Interstate Commerce Act or the Lacey Act, and at that point you could be charged in federal court.

Preparation is the key in all things. Preparation can and will mitigate injuries, make for more enjoyable hunts, and will substantially increase your ability to be properly defended against a wildlife violation. What if a wildlife officer stops you to check your license, checks to see if your gun is unloaded if you are in your vehicle, or checks your animal for proper tagging? You have all this covered, have read all the game laws, and have hunted ethically – nothing to worry about, right? But what happens when you find out from the wildlife officer that you were trespassing, even though you didn't cross a fence? Maybe it was shooting a doe when you thought for sure it was a buck; maybe you were hunting on private property and, unknown to you, the owner was involved in some sort of game violations. If you are an outfitter or are hunting with one and a violation takes place, you may be charged with complicity or aiding and abetting. If you report yourself, or if you are turned in by a witness, what do you do now?

Again, preparation is the key. Do you have an experienced wildlife attorney's number available? How do you answer the questions presented by the wildlife officer? What are your rights? What questions must you answer, and what questions should you never answer? Knowing these things can make this potential nightmare much less terrifying.

Preparation is not an admission that you are unethical or a wildlife violator - it is a sign of someone who understands the consequences of being unprepared and does something about it. If you have questions, ask your attorney.

Wildlife officers that investigate wildlife offenses are Class II Peace Officers, and they are often quick to pass judgment without knowing all of the facts of a particular situation. Too frequently, hunters' rights are compromised by a presumption of wrongdoing from the very beginning of an investigation.

At Feldmann Nagel Cantafio PLLC, we advise individuals to know their rights before they ever get into a situation where wildlife officers are questioning them. When under investigation, you must identify yourself and offer proof of your license, but nothing further is required. Utmost care must be taken, as your words may be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, and even misused. In addition, these words may then be used as incriminating evidence against you in a court of law. All U.S. citizens have a right not to incriminate themselves, enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At Feldmann Nagel Cantafio PLLC, we encourage all hunters to exercise this right, and all [no comma] constitutional rights, by promptly contacting a competent wildlife attorney at the earliest opportunity when under investigation, or when questioned by a wildlife officer. We have experienced wildlife attorneys available 24/7, because the nature of these investigations makes it so that we have to be able to respond to hunters at a moment's notice. Make sure that your rights are not surrendered or exploited.

Be fully prepared for your hunt – know your rights, and carry your wildlife attorney's number with you when you hunt. Remember that, pursuant to the Wildlife Violator Compact Act, any action against you in one state will be automatically enforced in no less than thirty states in total.

About the Author

Rick Feldmann is an avid hunter and sportsman. He has hunted in eight states, including Alaska, and Canada. He has taken a wide variety of big game and prefers to bow hunt. He is a wildlife consultant at Feldmann Nagel Cantafio PLLC, which specializes in the defense of wildlife and related violations in state and federal court.