Hunting season in Idaho is officially open. Every year the Idaho Department of Fish and Game writes hundreds of citations for hunting violations. They can land some hunters in jail and result in thousands of dollars in fines for others.
Just this past week, Fish and Game wrapped up an investigation that dated back to last hunting season. In the end, officers charged seven people with a total of 35 felony wildlife charges. Each charge carries with it up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine.
Last year, Fish and Game officers wrote more than 2,000 violations. Those violations ranged from fishing without a license to hunting during closed season. Fish and Game says the best way a hunter can avoid violations is to validate their tag immediately.
"That's taking the notches out, don't just slit the tag, but take complete notches out," Regional Conservation Officer Charlie Justus said.
Most violations that Fish and Game hand out are misdemeanors, but can still carry penalties.
"Maximum of six months in jail, $25 to $1,000, and anywhere from zero to three years of license suspension," Justus said.
One of the more serious violations is poaching, which could mean anything from hunting during a closed season to hunting outside their zone. However, Justus one of the more common violations is party hunting.
"Where multiple people shot animals that they didn't have tags for, or they shared tags, or somebody shot something and then somebody else tagged it," Justus said.
Depending on how many violations or the amount of wildlife a hunter poaches in a single season, those misdemeanors could escalate to felonies with stiffer penalties. Fish and Game is aware that accidents can happen.
"Call Fish and Game right away, if you can from the hill before you get back down here and just tell us what happened. We understand accidents happen and we treat people accordingly," Justus said.
Any animal bagged illegally, even if it's an accident, is taken away. The meat, if salvageable, is then given to needy families.
If a hunter shoots an animal that wanders onto either a refuge or private property, Justus says you have to get permission to go onto that land.
"Private property rights trump the hunter's legal requirements to retrieve," Justus said.
Fish and Game does have a hotline that people can call if they suspect someone may be poaching or breaking the law. Justus says that number is located right on the back of your hunting or fishing license. People can also remain anonymous.
That number can also be found here.