Monday, February 20, 2012

Records: A single buck from Pa. with huge rack can fetch as much as $1M in Texas

But the ring's kingpin was not interested in drugs or rare gems.

The man at the center of it, Billy Powell, 78, was more interested in tapping Pennsylvania's lucrative deer farming industry to genetically engineer white-tailed deer with monster antlers that fetch thousands of dollars from trophy-hungry sportsmen.

"A lot of our hunters are turning into antler collectors," said biologist Bob Zaiglin of the Texas Deer Association, which represents breeders. "I call it 'bio ego' activity. It's very little (about) biology and lots (about) egos. People want big antlers, and it's going to tempt a lot of (breeders) because there is value."

Investigators said Powell smuggled more than 40 farm-raised deer into Texas from Pennsylvania and other northern states to breed animals with chandelier-like antlers at his sprawling 5 P ranch in New Summerfield, about 130 miles from Dallas.

Deer farming is legal throughout the United States, and Powell did not violate Pennsylvania laws, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Noble said. But Texas closed its borders to deer importation six years ago to protect against chronic wasting disease, a neurological disorder infiltrating deer herds in 19 states but not Texas or Pennsylvania, which regulates deer imports, said Dr. Craig Shultz of Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture.

Even though there's no shortage of deer in the Lone Star State — about 3.5 million in the wild and 100,000 in captivity — some antler-crazed hunters paid more than $10,000 to roam breeders' fenced-in farms to bag a goliath deer, records show.

Powell paid about $800,000 for his smuggled deer, but in the nation's $650 million deer breeding industry, a single buck with a mammoth rack can sell for up to $1 million, records indicate.

For his crime, Powell was fined $1.5 million, placed under house arrest for six months and barred from breeding deer for three years. Powell tersely said he "didn't do it for the economic benefit," and that he was just "trying to raise big deer."

Citing an investigation, Noble would not say where Powell purchased the deer in Pennsylvania, where a 1,000-farm deer farming industry generates $103 million a year.

Breeding bigger bucks

Investigators say Pennsylvania and other northern states are hot spots for breeders looking to produce the next generation of big bucks. In part, big antlers are linked to genetics, but the North's colder climate fosters deer with larger bodies and equally enormous racks, Zaiglin said. Often, deer raised in the wild have smaller racks than those raised by farmers using special breeding and feeding techniques, he said.

"We've taken years to breed those deer. We get a little smarter every year on the feed," said Andy Foor of The Wilderness deer farm in Bedford County.

The Boone and Crockett Club, a Montana-based conservation and hunting organization founded in 1887 by Teddy Roosevelt and named for Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, scores antlers based on length and circumference. The club does not recognize deer raised in captivity.

Foor said about 80 of his 325-deer herd rate 180 or higher on the club's scale and would sell for about $4,500 each. The smallest, which rates 105, would sell for about $1,250.
White-tailed deer in Texas typically score about 160, but biologists say genetic engineering created deer with ratings topping 200. Officials said one of Powell's smuggled deer scored 440, well above the 3337/8 official Boone and Crockett record set in 1981.
Jack Reneau, the club's director of big game records, declined to comment on the Powell case.

Super-sized progeny

Among breeders, the biggest bucks attain star status, easily recognized by nicknames and ornate antlers that can span 4 feet.

Timber, a buck with a score of 212, became such a celebrity in South Connellsville that owner Mark Delara believes a jealous hunter tried to assassinate his beloved pet. Delara purchased him five years ago for $1,000 and has refused all offers for Timber, including one for $15,000.

Once, Delara found an arrow in Timber's 7-acre pen. "I'll kill 'em," Delara warned anyone who gets too close to Timber. Timber produced supersized progeny, with three selling for about $5,000 each.

The distinct appearance of two of Powell's smuggled deer became his downfall.
A tipster noticed Powell's photo of a deer named Barry in an industry magazine ad to sell Barry's semen and told authorities that the animal closely resembled a legendary Pennsylvania deer known as Fat Boy. Another of Powell's advertised deer, called Hitman, was recognized as a deer named Silver Storm from Indiana, records show.

Barry and Hitman died of natural causes, but all 334 deer in Powell's herd were ordered to be euthanized to test for disease.

'Natural resources at risk'

Mitch Lockwood of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sharply criticized Powell and defended honest breeders. "The deer population in Texas is doing quite well, so it's not worth taking a risk," Lockwood said. "It really does confuse me as to why someone would try to ruin a good thing by importing deer."

He said Powell angered many in Texas, including some of the 1,200 breeders.
"People are frustrated, some disgusted, that anyone would put natural resources at risk," Lockwood said.

Pennsylvania, with the nation's second-largest deer farming industry, does not require farmers to track where sold deer are headed, but Foor does it anyway. He said it would be difficult to enforce a law making such tracking mandatory.

"How do you regulate something like that? There's a black market for everything. It's something they can't stop," Foor said. "It's (all about) the craving for the big buck."
Powell said he won't return to breeding.

"I had 15 years of breeding. I'm too old to start all over again," he said.
He was devastated by an order to relinquish his 1,200 vials of deer semen, valued at $961,500.

Importing frozen semen to Texas is legal, and some breeders pay as much as $20,000 for one vial from a record-setting animal.

Law enforcement will push ahead with its work, said Mike Merida, senior special agent for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who led the Powell investigation, the largest deer smuggling operation in the country. "Sometimes we get flak from the deer breeding industry," Merida said. "As long as everything is done legally, I have no problem with it. It's these people that get greedy and think they can circumvent the law; we're going to prosecute those cases."

Other cases

Billy Powell, 78, of New Summerfield, Texas, was convicted of illegally importing deer from Pennsylvania to Texas. Other Texans convicted of violating deer importing laws:

>> Brothers James Bobby Butler Jr., 43, and Marlin Jackson Butler, 37, agreed to a plea deal in 2011 for operating a hunting camp in Kansas guiding hunters without permits and then illegally transporting dead deer to Texas for taxidermy work. James was sentenced to 41 months in prison, and he must pay a $25,000 fine and $25,000 in restitution. Marlin was sentenced to 27 months in prison, and he must pay a $10,000 fine and $10,000 in restitution.

>> Father and son James Dwayne Anderton, 52, and Jimmie Wallace Anderton, 28, pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2010 for smuggling 25 live white-tailed deer from Arkansas to Texas. James was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and Jimmie, 27 months; each must pay $180,952 in restitution.

>> Lance Clawson, 58, and Roy Dale Leifester, 52, pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2009 for smuggling eight white-tailed deer from Oklahoma to Texas. Clawson was sentenced to three years of probation, a $15,000 fine and $7,250 in restitution. Leifester was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $15,000.

>> Robert Lawrence Eichenour, 54, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty in 2008 to federal charges of smuggling 14 white-tailed deer from Minnesota to Texas.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Commission Prepping For Trout Stocking

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One popular lake is coming back on board. Another is offering different services.
More fish in more water in some places. Less fish in less water in others.

Those are some of the changes anglers will encounter when they go trout fishing this spring.
Opening day in Western Pennsylvania is April 14. The effort to get trout stocked kicks off much sooner, though. March 1 is when trucks will begin rolling away from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries with loads or brook, brown, rainbow and trophy golden trout.

The commission is on track to raise about 3.2 million trout this year, said Tom Greene, the commission's cold water unit leader. "A little over half of those will be stocked prior to opening day and probably 92 to 95 percent will be in by Memorial Day," he said.

About 8,500 of those fish will be trophy goldens, or palominos. Fifty-eight percent will be rainbow trout, 26 percent browns and 16 percent brooks. Most fish will average about 11 inches. 
One of the places those trucks will be visiting for the first time in several years is North Park Lake. Drained, dredged and now refilled, it will again get rainbow trout this year.

The Allegheny County-owned lake was stocked with adult and juvenile largemouth bass, bluegills, white crappies and channel catfish last fall, and it will get more of those again this year. But its return to the list of trout-stocked lakes is the highlight, said Rick Lorson, the commission's area 8 fisheries manager in Somerset.

"We're certainly glad to see that because it supplies some of the highest number of anglers in the state," Lorson said. "Its return will be good for those folks in that area."
Another nearby lake, meanwhile, will see changes.

Westmoreland County has operated a boathouse offering bait and snacks for sale and boats for rent at Northmoreland Park, located near Vandergrift, for the past 15 years. It's not going to open this year.
Decreasing demand for its services, which led to annual losses of about $9,000, are behind the decision, said Greg McCloskey, director of public works for the county.

"We wanted to stop the bleeding as far as monetary losses go," he said. The county is sensitive to the needs of anglers, though, and is exploring a couple of options with them in mind, he added. The county is in talks with a company that could offer bait for sale in vending machines. It's also considering the idea of allowing anglers to use their own boats on the lake, and perhaps even moor them there, as is done at other commission and state park lakes, such as Donegal, Somerset and Laurel Hill.

"I actually think people will be more excited if they're able to use their own boats than the way things have been," McCloskey said.

A few places across the region will see changes in how many trout they get and where.
Piney Creek in Somerset County will be stocked just once this year, in preseason, because of newly-encountered problems with posted property, Lorson said. Previously, mit was also stocked in-season. Middle Creek, also in Somerset, will see a light reduction in the number of fish it receives, also because of posting.

Posting is also the reason why a section of Mill Run in Fayette County that flowed into Quebec Run is being removed from the stocking list altogether, Lorson said.

The commission is adding a section of Clear Shade Creek upstream of the delayed harvest area to the stocking list, though, with a corresponding increase in the total number of fish stocked, Lorson said. The removal of a water supply dam paved the way for that, he said.
All in all, things seemed largely ready to go when it comes to trout, Greene said.

"It's been a good water year, for sure, so if we don't run into any bumps, it should be a good year," he said.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

At Pymatuning Lake, Hearty Walleyes Stocked In 2009 Are Reaching Legal Size

Sunday, February 12, 2012
Above, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
 biologist Gary Smith holds a sauger-walleye crossbreed,
 a saugeye, left, and walleye, right.
A successful plan is a beautiful thing, especially when the story grows from an apparent failure.

In 2001, electro-fishing surveys conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission charted a disturbing decline in walleye numbers on jointly managed Pymatuning Reservoir. In 2005, surveys counted no walleyes in the lake -- zero -- and anglers reported a catch rate of one for every 30 hours of fishing.

But by 2011, DNR netting surveys showed the walleyes had bounced back to healthy population levels, and those stocked in 2009 were near or over the 15-inch legal size. Angler surveys reported one walleye caught every 1.3 hours -- unofficially some fishermen were boating three per hour.

Biologists in both states predict outstanding walleye fishing at Pymatuning in 2012.
The dramatic changes at the 14,000-acre impoundment are the result of natural cycles and a progressive wildlife management approach on both sides of the state line -- a scientific method in which actions were taken, analyzed, reconsidered and improved until the desired impact was achieved.

Matt Wolfe, a fisheries biologist at Ohio DNR, will explain the Pymatuning walleye recovery and assess this year's fishery at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show at the Monroeville Convention Center at Monroeville Mall.
"Once we noticed a problem, we realized that in a lake the size of Pymatuning, there was only one thing we could control -- what we were stocking," said Wolfe, who grew up in Jeannette, Westmoreland County, and briefly worked for the Fish and Boat Commission.

With little natural walleye reproduction, in the late 1980s DNR and PFBC began stocking millions of inexpensive and easy-to-raise half-inch walleye fry. A large percentage of vulnerable fry routinely succumb to predation, weather and water conditions, but enough seemed to be surviving until the 2000s.

It's still unclear what changed at Pymatuning resulting in the elimination of an entire year-class of an important predator. Water quality was good and no over-fishing occurred -- suspected causes include unusually high predation, a decline in the health of zooplankton that fry eat, or both.

Following the walleye's population collapse, Ohio switched management tactics, stocking only hatchery-grown fingerlings of 1 to 2 inches. Pennsylvania followed suit, continuing to stock some fry.

In recent years, tons of rock reefs and 100 wooden crib structures were dumped onto the muddy, decaying bottom of Pymatuning Lake, improving a small portion of habitat.
"The fish we're seeing now are mostly the result of stocking, not natural reproduction," said Wolfe. "It's probably about 20 percent natural, 10 percent from the fry that survived and the rest from the fingerlings, which really seemed to take hold in the lake. In fall netting surveys, we found a large number of fish from that 2009 year class."

That year, excess walleyes from Pennsylvania hatcheries were added to the planned stockings. Fish and Boat biologist Tim Wilson, who is not part of this week's walleye seminars, said from a wildlife management standpoint it would be unwise to continue stocking at 2009 levels despite the positive results.

"We've had respectable survival from other years, as well," he said. "You don't want to oversaturate the population to the point where we affect the growth rate. I'm not sure it would be good to have that number every year."

Wilson said Pennsylvania continues to stock some fry, despite limited results, "with hopes that things [could] return to the days when we could stock fries only. We'd like to go back to that, but so far survival has favored fingerlings."

Wolfe said he hopes his talk will "give anglers hope," and recommended bottom-bouncing worm harnesses at Pymatuning Reservoir. Mild winter conditions may encourage walleyes to spawn early this year.

"Once they're done spawning in mid-April through June, that's the time to hit that 2009 year-class," he said.

Pennsylvania's new rule permitting three rods per angler went into effect Jan. 1. Ohio restricts anglers to two fishing rods, but will permit three rods on Pymatuning at the March 1 start of that state's license year.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

When it comes to trout fishing...there's more than one way to drift a nymph

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The limestone streams of central Pennsylvania famously pour from the ground at precisely the cool temperatures favorable to trout. But on a chilly January mountain morning on Spring Creek, the brown trout waited for some warming sunlight to break through the clouds.

Daniel said he titled his book "Dynamic Nymphing" to drive home the idea that there's more than one way to drift a nymph.

"It's all about creating a whole tool set -- an arsenal of techniques," he said, "so an angler can walk up to any stream at any time on any part of the globe, find the technique that works best for the given conditions and be able to catch fish. The book is about applying the right technique to the right piece of water at the right time."

Illustrated with instructive photos and line drawings, the book is a hefty 240 pages covering nymphing lines and tackle, weight, tight-line drifting, suspension tactics, hot patterns, reading the water; fishing in high, low, muddy and small-stream conditions; and includes a dust jacket blurb by Daniel's mentor, Joe Humphreys.

With a little sun on the water, we tried again, relying on nymphing techniques championed in the book. "In the winter, I like moving into slower sections of water, places where I know the fish are going to hold," said Daniel. "Even on spring creeks like this where the temperature is regulated, the temperature will fluctuate a little. The trout's metabolism slows down in cold water and they don't want to work as hard to obtain energy. When I'm fishing in slow moving sections where there's very little current, I prefer to use indicators -- I call them suspension tools -- so I can hold the fly at a fixed point for a prolonged period of time to maintain control."

A strike indicator, like a flat-water bobber, can let an angler know when there's a hit, but its primary function is to position the fly at a fixed depth.

"When you need to hold the fly at a specific depth, suspension tools work great," he said. "When you don't need that, there are any number of things anglers can use for strike indication that don't impact the fly's depth. The tip of the fly line where it meets the leader can be an indicator. Sighters -- colored monofilament actually built into your leader -- can be the indicator. So can a dry fly rigged above the nymph."

A common nymphing mistake, on European and American waters, is failure to properly lead the drift. In order to get a natural drift, the angler advances the rod tip ahead of the nymph. In water with a changing flow rate or depth, the movement of the rod tip is altered.

"One of the things I like to do is make sure my sighter is angled, pointing upstream," he said, "That's telling me that my flies are upstream of the sighter, that there's tension. If I see my sighter begin to move downstream, that's telling me my flies are downstream of my sighter and there's slack in that system. What I'm looking for is the rod tip just ahead of the flies, a little bit of slack in my sighter [and] it's moving a little back and forth. That's telling me my flies are bouncing on the bottom naturally, I'm not dragging my flies, I'm leading them through the drift without creating any tension."

Learn more about George Daniel and "Dynamic Nymphing" at

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Hunter Exposed To Rabies By Field Dressing Deer

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced that a Lancaster County hunter has undergone post-exposure rabies shots after harvesting and field dressing a deer on Jan. 20, in Valley Township, Chester County, that ultimately tested positive for rabies.
“The hunter contacted us about his concerns that the deer was unfit for human consumption,” said John Veylupek, Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO). “The hunter said that he saw the deer standing in a creek, straining and growling. He thought there was a coyote nearby from the sounds the deer was making.

“After gathering information from the hunter, as well as samples for testing, it was determined that the deer was rabid. Because the hunter had scratches on his hands and had field dressed the deer without wearing gloves, we considered this a human exposure and urged him to contact his doctor about post-exposure rabies shots.”

Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, reiterated the agency’s long-standing recommendations that hunters and trappers avoid harvesting animals that appear sick and to wear rubber or latex gloves when field dressing any mammal.

“All mammals are susceptible to rabies and can spread the virus in the right circumstances,” Dr. Cottrell said. “To prevent the spread of wildlife diseases, we encourage hunters and trappers to contact the Game Commission about any animals that they encounter that may appear to be sick. Also, when field dressing any mammal, it is critical to wear rubber or latex gloves to prevent exposure to not just rabies, but also to other disease organisms.”

For more information on rabies, visit the Game Commission’s website (, put your cursor over “Wildlife” in the menu bar listing, then put your cursor over “Wildlife Diseases” in the drop-down menu listing, click on “Wildlife Disease Reference Library” in the second drop-down menu listing and then select “Rabies” in the alphabetical listing.