BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Hunting license sales in Idaho are up as more residents seek a way to safely get out of the house without contracting COVID-19, but that has led to inexperienced hunters misidentifying and killing moose and a grizzly bear, wildlife officials say.
In addition, blatant poaching has increased in northern Idaho.
“Hunting is that outdoor activity that follows all the COVID recommendations and gets people outside,” Idaho Department of Fish and Game Enforcement Chief Greg Wooten said Friday. “They're doing what they're being asked to do. They just need to comply with the (wildlife hunting) laws.”
Virus guidelines and restrictions, where they are in place, typically call for social distancing of at least 6 feet. Statewide, group limits of no more than 10 people are currently in place, though that doesn't apply to religious gatherings or free-speech events.
Wooten said poaching appears to be at normal levels throughout most of the state and the agency has been trying to publicize incidents using social media in an attempt to catch poachers.
Wooten said the most shocking incident for him has been the illegal killing of three moose in Valley County over a two-week period this fall. Two appear to be hunters who thought the moose was some other animal. Wooten said the third appeared to be a case of someone shooting a large bull and just leaving it to rot.
“Three moose in this one area is an anomaly that wouldn't be normal, if there is such a thing as normal,” said Wooten, noting the area in west-central Idaho doesn't have a large moose population. “So you would just not expect to have a lot of moose poaching occur.”
Idaho has also had at least two federally protected grizzly bears shot and killed. In September, a hunter in northern Idaho mistook a grizzly bear for a black bear. The hunters reported the mistake to Fish and Game.
In late September in eastern Idaho, someone shot and killed a 20-year-old, adult male grizzly weighing 500 pounds (225 kilograms) in Fremont County. That bear had on a radio tracking collar as part of a research study.
Blatant poaching has been occurring in the Fish and Game's Clearwater Region in northern Idaho. Wooten said there's been an increase of poachers shooting from the road and killing deer on private property. Shooting from the road and taking wildlife on private property without permission are both illegal.
Wooten said the killing doesn't appear to be due to inexperience.
“I think the majority of them know what they are doing and accept the risk,” he said, noting that twisting roads and hilly terrain reduce the chances of being seen and caught.
Wooten said the agency has been using fake deer to catch violators around the state.
For those who are caught, the penalty can be a loss of hunting privileges. The ban can range from a year to a lifetime if the offense is serious enough.
Idaho is also part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, meaning if someone gets banned from hunting in Idaho, that person is also banned from hunting in 48 other states. Hawaii and Massachusetts are not part of the compact.
Wooten said enforcement officers in the field have changed how they interact with hunters and anglers, but still write citations and are working to make sure regulations are followed.
“They've probably just been frustrated with me asking them to be as cautious as possible,” Wooten said.