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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of elk and deer antlers are lined up in neat rows in the parking lot of the Lee Kay Public Shooting Range. The line of antlers stretches nearly a half mile.
Captain Rick Olsen, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, talks about poaching as he walks along the seemingly endless line of antlers. He tries to explain what motivates poachers in our state.
"They just get incensed with needing the biggest and the most," he said. That fuels their greed for bigger trophy bucks, and the willingness to kill them out of season.
An unusual auction Tuesday at the shooting center in Salt Lake will highlight the beauty of Utah's wildlife, but also the ugliness of illegal hunting. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will auction off dozens of hides and hundreds of antlers seized in poaching cases over several years.
To report a poacher you can call 1-800-662-3337. You can also submit a report online.
While poachers go after illegal profits and unfounded bragging rights, hunters who play by the rules, and all of us who enjoy Utah's wildlife, are the victims. An elk hunter may have to wait 20 years to draw a permit to harvest a trophy elk with a big rack. But, if a poacher illegally takes a bull, or several, that hurts the chances for the legal hunter.
"They're basically stealing everyone's wildlife for themselves," Olson said.
He battles poachers along with 48 conservation officers, who depend on the public's eyes to catch the illegal hunters. The DWR simply doesn't have the resources to keep up with all of the cases.
"Most of the major cases we've had originated from a tip from the public," Olson said. "There are several hundred illegally taken animals every year."
Inside the center, they've never had this many hides up for auction.
From a massive elk head, to dozens of bobcat pelts, and even a couple of bear hides, you get a sense for just how lawless and unethical some hunters are. Olson says poaching numbers are rising slightly, and they're seeing more families and groups of friends hunting illegally together.
Lee Kay Shooting Center, 6000 W. 2100 S., Salt Lake City, Utah. Sale items may be viewed beginning at 9:00 a.m. The auction will start at noon
"What we have seen an increase of lately, which is pretty disturbing to us, is rings of poachers that go after multiple animals."
They go after profits of $300 to $600 for a bobcat pelt, and thousands of dollars for a deer head ready to mount on a wall.
"Every one of these animals here that was poached, has taken away an opportunity for a law-abiding sportsman to legally harvest," Olson says.
The DWR is expecting quite a crowd for the auction. The area is open from 9 a.m. until noon, so that bidders can walk through and see what they might like. The auction starts at noon.
After they pay the auctioneer, the money goes back into fighting poaching.