In 2021, hunters in West Virginia took 42,143 whitetail deer. It’s safe to assume that most of them were taken over by law-abiding white-tailed wackos who worked hard to do everything by the rules.
Unfortunately, a deer, which likely would have been in the top 1% of deer hunted nationwide last year, became the focus of an investigation after the West Virginia Natural Resources Police (WVNRP) received a notice that the deer had been poached rather than legally harvested.
WVNRP Officer 1st Class Jacob Miller responded to the tip and first contacted Ronnie Stumbo II, the alleged violator, to get his story. Stumbo told Miller that he had shot the deer with a rifle in neighboring Lincoln County on Nov. 26, 2021, and left the guts there. But after Miller and Stumbo drove to the field and searched in the dark for half an hour, Stumbo admitted that he actually shot the deer in Mingo County, one of four counties in West Virginia where only handgun shooting is practiced. arc, and then verified it in Lincoln County. . Stumbo then took Miller to the actual poaching location.
“The deer was shot in a church parking lot,” Miller told MeatEater. “[Stumbo] he actually used the church as some sort of cover to get close to the deer. She stood behind the building and shot the deer out of the parking lot, and the deer ran. She fired again, actually towards some houses, and the deer was killed in the creek.”
This wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill white-tailed deer. According to a post on the WVNRP Facebook page, the male would likely have scored in the 180-inch class, with a 19 ¼-inch spread and 14 scoring points. In the pictures, the main beams look thicker than those from a gas station.
“Because we are a bow-only county, the deer have a lot more time to grow and have a better age structure. The genetics are definitely there,” Miller said. “We have a lot of what you call trophy class deer, 160 to 180 deer, some 190. Our state record is in the 190s and it comes from one of those four bow-only counties.”
Stumbo’s case was tried in Mingo County Magistrate’s Court, where he was fined $9,842. The judge found him guilty on six counts, including improper gambling control and providing false information, according to the court clerk. The value of that particular deer was factored into the fine calculation, resulting in a higher price than it might have been if Stumbo had poached a less impressive deer.
But some hunters denounced the nature of the punishment in comments on WVNRP’s Facebook post and elsewhere. Many thought the fine was too small and demanded that the poacher face jail time. West Virginia has dealt with some pretty big poaching cases recently, and the hunting community is understandably frustrated. But Officer Miller offered a slightly different point of view.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for a long time, and I’ve always had that problem with the magistrates and the prosecution, that they don’t want to put anybody in jail,” Miller said. “A lot of magistrates are now taking these cases more seriously, but I think a lot of times, the way they see it, these people are in poverty – they can’t afford to buy groceries, so how are we going to fine? So much for a deer or a turkey? They don’t see it the same way athletes do.”
Clearly, though, you can still feed your family while following the rules of the game. West Virginia regulations allow hunters to hunt multiple deer per season, especially females. At the end of the day, Stumbo was caught because someone had the courage to submit a tip, something Officer Miller asks the rest of the public to feel comfortable doing.
“No one wants to make that call,” Miller said. “It’s very close down here, they’re all friends. There will be a family member or lifelong friend who does this and you will be very reluctant to report it. But that’s the way we catch them. You’re not just helping yourself and the area around you, you’re helping the entire state.”