11/29/09 — Officials: Hunters spotlighting deer is problem in Wayne County

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Officials: Hunters spotlighting deer is problem in Wayne County

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 29, 2009 1:50 AM

Deer freeze up when a light is shined in their eyes.

And that makes the practice of driving at night and using a long-range, heavy-duty spotlight to scan woods and fields for deer a handy way to locate the animals.

The practice, called "spotlighting," is legal -- just as long as you don't have a weapon along, since hunting deer after sundown is illegal.

But there are other rules about spotlighting that can land a person in District Court if they are not followed, wildlife and law enforcement authorities say.

Three people already have been charged with misdemeanors in Wayne County this year for illegal spotlighting. Four others have been charged in Johnston County, state wildlife enforcement Officer Joshua Hudson said.

The practice is more common during Wayne County's "gun deer season," which lasts from Oct. 17 until Jan. 1.

Hudson said as long as "spotlighters" do their deer-finding before 11 p.m. and don't have a firearm in the vehicle with them, they are within the law.

However, if you spotlight after 11 p.m., even without a gun, you may face a Class 3 misdemeanor. If you have a gun in the car, you can face a more serious Class 2 misdemeanor, Hudson said.

There are at least two obvious reasons that people engage in the practice, the wildlife enforcement officer said.

"Somebody might do it, if they've seen a big deer somewhere -- you're going to see them (large deer) at night, you're not going to see them during the day. They didn't get big by being dumb," Hudson said.

Others may spotlight to scope out a potential hunting ground for an upcoming hunt, the wildlife enforcement officer added.

The News-Argus has received at least one complaint of illegal spotlighting involving shooting, from a Pikeville man who lives in the Old Kenly Road area. But spotlighters can be seen conducting their nighttime operations just about anywhere in Wayne and surrounding counties, wherever hunters believe the animals can be found, officials say.

Hudson said his office has received several complaints about illegal spotlighting so far this season.

On average, Hudson said, he expects he will investigate as many as two dozen reports in which evidence will likely exist that illegal spotlighting has taken place.

"Each year it varies. We see a lot of stuff at night. We use an airplane a lot of times to spot illegal activity," Hudson said.

"It goes on. It's just a matter of you've got to catch them. That's the deal. Unless somebody calls you on it, you don't know about it."

But although there is only one Wildlife Enforcement officer in the area, the sheriff's offices in Wayne and surrounding counties have many deputies who know the spotlighting rules and will contact Hudson with information, he said.

"I do get a lot of help from the Sheriff's Department," Hudson said, referring specifically to the Wayne County office. "They know the rules. If they see somebody shining after 11 o'clock, they'll call me, and that's good."

Hudson can be reached at (252) 548-2902.