Dave's Warden Report, vol 1

"The Trap Door"

My name is Dave Sabrowsky and I am a retired Wisconsin Conservation Warden, having retired July 29th, 2002, after 28 years of service. During my last 15 years of work a disproportionate amount of my time (as was most wardens) involved complaints and violations where bait and baiting was the catalyst for that complaint or violation. Because of the wide spread abuses I felt compelled to do something about it and started to campaign against baiting and feeding in 1992. During one of my earliest interviews I stated to the reporter that "not everyone who baits is a violator, but all violators bait." Other wardens have since used that quote. Baiting/feeding has become the primary catalyst for deer violations. It has become the tool of the violator which makes it more difficult for wardens to catch those poachers.

I'll writing a story about every two weeks which would help the public understand just how widespread the abuses are. These stories are factual accounts of arrest that were made by wardens. The names of the defendants and suspects have been changed.

On October 26, 1985, I (Conservation Warden Dave Sabrowsky) received a complaint concerning the shooting of deer from a cabin. The complainant stated that his co-worker was always bragging about shooting deer that were coming to his bait behind the cabin, which was located in northern Langlade County. The suspect apparently had a trap door in the wall and he could shoot right from the bedroom. The suspect also stated that they were getting worried about the noise from the rifle and were going to use a crossbow. The complainant also had the suspects name and a general location of the cabin. It wasn't hard to figure out where the cabin was. The suspect lived in the Appleton area and used the cabin on weekends.

On October 30,1985, at approximately 12:00 p.m., I drove into the suspect's property and discovered the complaint to be credible. On the east lawn, approximately 45 yards from the cabin, a large bait station had been established. The bait station contained apples and a corn-oats type of mash. A single light bulb was suspended from a tree over the bait pile. The light was on. A feed trough was filled with corn and located approximately 25 yards from the cabin. The bait and light were hid from public view. A small hinged trap door (approximately one foot square) had been cut into the wall next to what I assumed was a bedroom window on the east side of the cabin. I returned that night and hid my truck in the woods and walked to the suspects cabin. The cabin was not occupied. Two does and a buck were feeding under the light.

I was going to be out of town for the weekend but did not want to leave the cabin unattended so I asked Wardens Cliff Knudsen and Dave Rasmussen (both now retired) to monitor the cabin. No one showed at the cabin on November 2nd or 3rd. On Monday, November 4th, 1985, as I was driving past the suspect's property, I observed a vehicle parked in the driveway. When I returned later that afternoon, the vehicle was gone. I hid my truck and sneaked back to the cabin. The bait pile was now located approximately 20 yards east of the bedroom.

On November 7, 1985, I checked the cabin late at night but could find no one there. Two deer were observed under the light.

On November 8, 1985, Special Warden Phil Migas and I hid the truck and then walked through the woods to the cabin. We arrived at 3:55 p.m. but observed no one at the cabin or any deer at the feeder. The plan was to leave Phil in the woods to monitor the cabin and I would return at 9:00 p.m. to relieve him and remain until dawn if necessary. I left the area and when I returned at 9:00 p.m., Phil called me on the portable radio to tell me that two individuals were now in the cabin. The suspects had showed up at 5:30 p.m., parked their vehicle at the end of the driveway, walked up to the cabin in the dark, never said a word, and never turned on a light after entering the cabin. The suspects were still in the cabin.

Special Warden Migas and I exchanged places. At 9:25 p.m., I had just gotten into position (in a small cluster of pines located north of the cabin) when two male subjects exited the cabin via the walkout basement doors. For the next five minutes the two appeared to be searching for something in close proximity of the bait pile. They were not using flashlights, just the light from the single bulb and two security lights mounted on the deck that had been turned on. The two would bend over, start at one particular spot and then walk in a line away from the house. My impression was that the two suspects were looking for a blood trail. The two finally reacted as if they found what they were looking for. They returned briefly to the cabin, but then walked down the driveway to the vehicle and left. The suspects returned twenty minutes later but this time they had a dog with them. They entered the cabin again but walked out through the basement door a short time later with the dog and each carried a flashlight. The walked directly to the spot where I had assumed they found the blood trail and resumed their search. This time the trail took them out of sight into the woods to the east. I wanted to follow but the presence of the dog precluded that. I had to hope they would come back with the deer. An hour later the suspects returned but they didn't have a deer. They entered the cabin but stayed only five minutes when they again got into a vehicle and left. I decided to trail the deer myself. I instructed Phil to watch the driveway and warn me if the two returned.

I walked to the area they had been searching and found fresh blood. I followed the trail for approximately 250 yards when I lost the blood trail. I returned to the pines and waited. Shortly after midnight the two suspects returned to the cabin. At 1:00 a.m. it started to snow. I had to leave because I didn't want my tracks found in the snow. When I got back to the truck Phil and I discussed our options. We didn't know how we had missed them shooting the deer but could only assume that it happened when we were switching places. We had the option of knocking on the door and confronting them with what we knew. I would then have to get a confession that they had shot at a deer. I also felt that if a trial resulted from this we would be better off with the deer they shot. We finally decided to wait and hoped they would resume their search for the deer when it got light. It turned out to be a good decision.

Phil I did return the next day but instead of going to the cabin we drove down an abandoned railroad right-of-way east of the suspects cabin, which was very close to where I had lost the blood trail. We were not the first vehicle to drive down the grade. A vehicle had already come and gone. When we neared the area where I had lost the blood trail we did observe two sets of boot tracks and a set of dog tracks. Those tracks had come from the direction of the cabin, crossed the railroad grade, and a short distance from the grade, we found the gut pile. The deer had been loaded into the vehicle that had proceeded us down the grade. The tire tracks were consistent with the tracks we had seen coming out of the suspects driveway.

We decided to obtain a search warrant and then confront the suspects. For those who think getting a warrant is simple I have news for you. It isn't. Not that we didn't have probable cause. It sometimes is difficult to find someone to authorize the warrant on a weekend. We were lucky to find the D.A. who very willingly drafted the document, but the judge was another story. After an hour of phone calls we found him celebrating a wedding in Antigo. You'll have to take my word for it, but two wardens in full winter uniform will divert attention from the wedding couple. The judge was very cooperative, even finding some humor in the situation, and authorized the warrant.

At approximately 5: p.m., Warden Dave Rasmussen, Deputy Warden Phil Migas, and I drove to the cabin owned by Paul Peter, and contacted the subject. Mr. Peter invited us in and we advised him that we had a complaint that he had shot a deer but had not tagged it. Mr. Peter said he had shot an 8-pointer but he had shot it a half hour before dark the previous night, had tagged and registered the deer, and it now was at his father-in-laws house. He even was decent enough to show us where he had stood when he shot the deer. We went along with the game as he took us to the south side of the cabin and showed us where he had stood behind a cedar when he had shot the deer. We then told him that we had a problem with his story. When confronted with the facts Mr. Peter admitted that he did shoot the buck after hours, from the house, through the trap door in the bedroom, while it was feeding under the light. Mr. Peter admitted he had used his father-in-law's crossbow, and the deer was now at his father-in-laws. His partner from the previous night was his brother-in-law. While we were still taking a written statement from Mr. Peter, his brother-in-law drove up to the cabin. I quickly intercepted him so I could interview him before he could confer with Mr. Peter. The brother-in-laws story was consistent with Mr. Peter's story except for one small detail. Mr. Peter confessed to shooting an 8-pointer. His brother-in-law confessed to shooting a spike buck. After we had left the night before, they had shot a second buck. The two bucks, along with the crossbow were confiscated and charges were filed against the two. The people involved in this particular case do not fit the perceived image of poachers. Quite, the opposite. Prominent businessmen of the community. Very wealthy. I was even compelled to ask Mr. Peter why he would get involved in such activity. He could afford to go anywhere in the world and enjoy the most exotic hunt money could buy. What possible thrill was derived from shooting a couple of small bucks from a bedroom window. He couldn't answer.

This type of scenario is not unique except for the speed in which it was resolved. When I retired, I had an estimated 150 recreational cabins/trailers in my administrative area with bait/feed stations in the back yard illuminated by artificial light. This is not including year around residences. The same is true in all northern counties and is spreading south at a accelerated pace. When the time is taken to do the math it becomes quite apparent that a significant percentage of the deer herd becomes addicted to back yard feeders and deer are dying at those feed stations. There are not nor will there ever be enough wardens to monitor all these sites. Not all lighted bait stations behind house and cabins are set up for poaching, but how does a warden separate the lookers from the shooters and those that yield to temptation when a really huge buck walks up. It just simply cannot be done.

As I stated earlier, this particular complaint was resolved rather quickly. It was the exception and not the rule. The next story (vol 2) will illustrate the difficulty of apprehending "cabin shooters" and the potential danger to those wardens trying to enforce the law.

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