Once they were taken by poachers. Now they have been stolen by thieves, all 18 trophy whitetails that until last weekend were part of a Department of Natural Resources traveling display meant to encourage playing by the rules.

"I can't believe they did what they did,'' said DNR enforcement division Region 3 manager Capt. Greg Salo of thieves who ripped off the mounted deer last weekend from the DNR's metro storage facility along Warner Road in St. Paul.

Thousands of dollars worth of tools and other equipment also were stolen, including 16 aluminum ramps removed from snowmobile trailers, presumably for their salvage value.

The 18 confiscated trophy shoulder mounts taken from the DNR's "Wall of Shame'' exhibit would have been difficult to remove from the traveling display, which is sponsored by Minnesota Turn In Poachers, or TIP.

"I know how to do it and it still takes me 45 minutes to get [the mounts] out,'' Salo said.

Salo speculates the mounts were taken opportunistically and were not the primary target of the robbery. So much equipment was stolen, he said, that multiple trips would have been required to haul it away. "Either that or they had a few trailers,'' he said.

Discovery of the robbery occurred when DNR employees reported for work Monday morning. No one had been at the facility over the weekend.

"Occasionally a conservation officer will stop in over the weekend to pick something up, but that's about it,'' Salo said.

In addition to the enforcement division's loss of the trophies, the forestry division and state trails workers lost equipment.

"We're asking sportsmen and women to be on the lookout for these mounts,'' Salo said. "Where are they going to sell them?''

Anyone with information about the robbery can call St. Paul police, or Salo directly at 651-259-5838.

DENNIS ANDERSON