Ken Soring is stumped.
He’s been a conservation officer since 1984, and is now the top cop of game and fish laws in Minnesota — the director of the Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division.
One would think he’d have game violators figured out.
“Everyone’s attempting to rebuild our deer herd,’’ Soring said the other day, “and still there are people who take over their limit, who borrow licenses from other people to kill more deer than they should, or who take deer out of season, at night with a spotlight.’’
“What I don’t understand is that if you kill a big buck over bait or while shining it at night, what satisfaction is there in that? If I killed a deer illegally and had it mounted on a wall, I would feel its glass eyes looking at me every time I walked by.’’
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If Soring sounds frustrated, he is. Last week, his office announced that conservation officers executed a search warrant Oct. 21 in Lac qui Parle County that resulted in the seizure of 28 sets of deer antlers and 37 guns.
Included were 11 shoulder mounts, most of them trophy whitetails, as well as four sets of elk antlers and one set of mule deer antlers. A fully intact, untagged piebald deer that had been killed with a high-powered rifle also was found in a freezer.
Lac qui Parle County is in a shotgun-only deer-hunting zone.
It gets worse.
While conservation officers and county deputies were searching the home of Joshua Liebl, 37, a separate contingent of officers was stopping Liebl while he drove his pickup near Dawson.
With a warrant in hand, officers searched the truck and seized what they say was a freshly killed eight-point buck — an animal that also had been killed with a high-powered rifle.
DNR records show Liebl has legally registered only four deer since 2004.
Additionally, though Liebl held a 2014 Minnesota deer hunting license, he had acquired it illegally, Soring said, because he had been convicted of deer shining in South Dakota in 2013. Having lost his hunting privileges there, he also lost them in Minnesota and 41 other states.
Also confiscated from the truck were a scoped .243 rifle, a 12 gauge shotgun, ammunition and a spotlight.
Liebl was arrested, taken to the county jail and subsequently charged with gross misdemeanor transporting of illegally taken big game, gross misdemeanor use of an artificial light to take deer, hunting during prohibited time, gross misdemeanor trespassing and two counts of failure to register deer.
A passenger in Liebl’s truck when it was stopped, Daniel Lien, 33, of Dawson, was charged with gross misdemeanor aiding and abetting unlawful transportation of big game.
Other charges also were filed, based on evidence found in Liebl’s home:
• Kevin Martinson, 58, of Plymouth, was cited for illegally lending or borrowing a deer license.
• Nate Viesman, 32, of Watson, was charged with illegal party hunting, lending or borrowing a deer license, over limit of deer (one of which was a trophy class buck) and two counts of failure to register deer.
Liebl’s truck and guns will be auctioned off by the DNR, with proceeds going to the Game and Fish Fund.
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So here’s Soring’s question:
“How do we instill in all hunters, trappers, and anglers that they have a responsibility to follow game laws in a way that is fair and equitable to all Minnesotans we share our resources with?’’
Soring knows the Lac qui Parle case is highly unusual in Minnesota, and that people who commits acts like these aren’t hunters, but criminals with guns.
The only difference: Instead of holding up liquor stores, they cheap-shot deer standing at night in fields, or kill them over bait.
As my dad used to say: The easiest thing to learn about an animal is how to kill it.
Where and when it moves, and how and why. That’s the challenging stuff. And the most interesting.
But even if gross wildlife violations are rare in Minnesota, certain “smaller’’ violations are not. And Soring says the slope from “what’s the big deal’’ to more serious missteps can be slippery.
“Some people chip away at the rules meant to ensure fair chase of an animal, thinking they’re laws only ‘other’ people have to obey,’’ Soring said.
Ask yourself. Do you know anyone who:
• Has a spouse, child or friend buy a deer license or apply for an antlerless permit so he or she can kill more than their legal limit of deer?
• Hunts over bait, even if it’s only a “small’’ amount spread behind a home or cabin?
• Double-trips while fishing by taking one limit to shore, then returning to a lake to catch another?
These and other game violators steal from everyone, especially, in the current case, from the residents of Lac qui Parle County — assuming the confiscated deer came from there.
The investigation in this case began five years ago.
“A lot of the information we get comes in well after the fact, and it can take time to put a case together,’’ said Lt. Gary Nordseth, DNR enforcement district supervisor in Marshall.
But put a case together the DNR did.
And, as you might suspect, the officers found nothing to suggest any of the seized deer were needed to provide food for anyone.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org