Undercover conservation sting leads to more than 400 violations

WEST PLAINS, MO (KFVS) - After reports of illegal hunting in the Ozarks, the Missouri Department of Conservation launched a two year investigation that has now resulted in more than 400 violations.

The department set up an undercover taxidermy shop in the small town of Birch Tree, Missouri, to lure in hunters who killed animals out of season or were shot illegally.

Over the course of Operation Wall Hanger, 68 people, including some in Iron County, are accused of violations.

Conservationists say the results are shocking.

"We really hope it's not that bad in other parts of the state," said conservation agent Gary Cravens.

But Cravens knows illegal hunting in the Ozarks is prevalent.

In fact, he said the number of people in violation of the state's hunting laws who brought their animals into Craig's Taxidermy was astonishing.

"What really got close to me and got my attention was the percentage of violations that walked through the door. Sixty-two percent of the people were in violation of some type when they came in with their animals," he said.

Among the items seized in the operation were 90 deer mounts, 20 various small game, fish, or furbearer mounts, 70 frog legs, one rattlesnake, and 16 guns.

"They are greedy. They are basically stealing from the legal hunter. And it is our responsibility to slow that down," Cravens said.

Cravens said this is the largest number of violations to come out of a single investigation in his 34 years with the department.

He says this investigation may prompt the state to launch similar stings across the state.

And he says Operation Wall Hanger wouldn't have gotten off the ground without an outcry from hunters who said poaching was happening in the area.

"That's one of the huge, important aspects of our job, is public cooperation. We received lots and lots of information from that, and we respond to all of them," he said.

Cravens hopes this big bust sends a powerful message to those to hunt illegally.

"Watch yourself. We are looking and we will go to any method to catch you and prosecute you for game violations," he said.

The names of those suspected of the violations have not yet been released pending formal charges, but Cravens says two people who have been arrested so far are also wanted for out of state felonies.

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