Arizona’s Operation Game Thief program issued 76 citations for wildlife violations in 2017

PHOENIX — “Poachers are criminals.” If you talk to any of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s wildlife managers, you’re likely to hear that phrase repeated as they go about their work as part biologist, part law enforcement officer. As part of their duties, the department’s 97 wildlife managers work to investigate potential poaching cases to ensure that the state’s most precious natural resource — its wildlife — is effectively managed so that future generations can enjoy the more than 800 species found in Arizona.

At the heart of the effort to eliminate and investigate poaching is the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Operation Game Thief program, a silent witness initiative that encourages the public to report information or suspicious activity. Last year, more than 1,000 calls came into the Operation Game Thief hotline (1-800-352-0700) as well as 75 submissions via the online form. Those reports contributed to 76 citations being issued statewide for wildlife issues including the illegal take of big game, fishing violations and the unlawful killing of raptors.

“Poachers are thieves. They do not represent the hunting community, and the majority of the reports come from hunters and anglers who are out in the field and witness suspicious activity,” said Scott Fischer, program manager for Operation Game Thief. “The hunting community does a great job of policing itself. If you see something, say something. Together we can make a difference for Arizona’s wildlife.”

2017’s top five reported violations were:

  1. 356 for the illegal take of big game (resulting in 55 of the 76 citations)
  2. 63 for fishing violations
  3. 59 for feeding wildlife
  4. 52 for the illegal take of raptors
  5. 52 for possession of restricted live wildlife

Individuals who make a report to Operation Game Thief will remain confidential and can report anonymously if needed. The program pays rewards for information that leads to an arrest.

In 2017, wildlife violators were assessed $74,500 in civil fines, and that money goes directly into the department’s Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, which pays for the rewards as well as promotion of Operation Game Thief. In addition, 51 individuals had their hunting and/or fishing license revoked by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission as part of their penalty, one of which was a lifetime revocation. The department receives no general fund money from the state of Arizona.

It’s also important to note that mistakes and accidents happen, and the department will work with hunters and anglers who immediately self-report their actions to the Operation Game Thief hotline.

“Mistakes happen in any endeavor, and the amazing thing about hunters is they frequently report themselves,” Fischer said. “Hunters respect wildlife and because of that respect they’re willing to risk penalties in order to ensure meat from the wildlife they take is not wasted.”

Meat from seized wildlife is inspected by department wildlife managers and typically donated to charities for human consumption.

Arizona’s Operation Game Thief program began in 1979, making it the second oldest initiative of its type in the U.S. The hotline (1-800-352-0700) was implemented at the time and takes reports of wildlife violations 24×7. Wildlife is the property of the state, meaning that every Arizonan has a vested interest in protecting it. Anyone who witnesses a violation — whether it’s related to hunting, fishing, feeding wildlife or illegally possessing wildlife — is encouraged to report that information to Operation Game Thief and act on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, the wildlife.

Online applications for 2018 pronghorn, elk hunts now being accepted

PHOENIX – The Arizona Game and Fish Department now is accepting online applications for 2018 hunt permit-tags issued through the draw process for pronghorn antelope and elk.

To apply online, visit https://draw.azgfd.gov and scroll down to “Apply for a Draw.” For an overview of the online application service, including license requirements, applying for bonus points and payment information, see Page 10 of the “2018 Pronghorn Antelope and Elk Hunt Draw Information” booklet. Printed booklets also are available at all Game and Fish offices and license dealers statewide.

Applicants should note separate deadlines for paper and online applications:

Online applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. (Arizona time) Tuesday, February 13, 2018.
In an effort to provide better customer service by announcing draw results sooner, all paper applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. (Arizona time) Tuesday, January 30, 2018. Postmarks do not count.

Paper applications can be mailed to: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Attn.: Drawing Section, P.O. Box 74020, Phoenix, AZ 85087-1052, or dropped off at any regional office statewide.

The department encourages all applicants to sign up for a free AZGFD portal account and apply online. The portal allows customers to create a secure account where they can manage and view their draw applications, license history, bonus points, gain access to their “I Support Wildlife” membership and more in the “My AZGFD Dashboard” section. A portal account also provides convenient access to the online license purchase and draw application systems. Draw results will be posted to portal accounts.

It’s easy to create an account. Just click on “My Account” in the upper right-hand corner of the www.azgfd.gov home page and then select the “Register” option, filling in the requested information. A portal account is mobile-friendly, so customers can view their information on their smartphones.

AZGFD is dedicated to assisting applicants with the online process. All department offices are equipped with customer computers that can be accessed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Customer service representatives can be reached by calling (602) 942-3000. As a reminder, customer service representatives will be available to provide assistance only until 8 p.m. February 13. (deadline day).

A valid hunting license (or combination hunting and fishing license) is required to hunt wildlife in Arizona. No one under 14 may hunt big game without having completed a Hunter Education course. While it is not necessary for anyone 10 to 13 to complete a Hunter Education course before applying for a hunt permit-tag, these courses fill quickly. Consider registering now by visiting www.azgfd.gov/huntered or calling 623-236-7239.

Paper application due Jan. 30 for 2018 elk, pronghorn draw

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department has posted the 2018 Pronghorn Antelope and Elk Hunt Draw Information online at www.azgfd.gov/draw.

The department now is accepting paper applications for hunt permit-tags. Paper applications can be dropped off at any department office statewide or mailed to:

Arizona Game and Fish Department
Attn.: Drawing Section
P.O. Box 74020, Phoenix, AZ 85087-1052

The printed “2018 Pronghorn Antelope and Elk Hunt Draw Information” booklets are expected to be available the first week of January at department offices and license dealers (PDF) statewide.

In an effort to provide better customer service by announcing draw results sooner, all paper applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. (Arizona time) Tuesday, January 30, 2018. Postmarks do not count.

The online application service for the random draw is expected to be available in early to mid-January. Online applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. (Arizona time) Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

The department encourages all applicants to sign up for a free AZGFD portal account and apply online. The portal allows customers to create a secure account where they can manage and view their draw applications, license history, bonus points, gain access to their “I Support Wildlife” membership and more in the “My AZGFD Dashboard” section. A portal account also provides convenient access to the online license purchase and draw application systems. Draw results will be posted only to portal accounts.

It’s easy to create an account. Just click on “My Account” in the upper right-hand corner of the www.azgfd.gov home page and then select the “Register” option, filling in the requested information. A portal account is mobile-friendly, so customers can view their information on their smartphones.

AZGFD is dedicated to assisting applicants with the online process. All department offices are equipped with customer computers that can be accessed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Customer service representatives can be reached by calling (602) 942-3000. As a reminder, customer service representatives will be available to provide assistance only until 8 p.m. February 13. (deadline day).

A valid hunting license (or combination hunting and fishing license) is required to hunt wildlife in Arizona. No one under 14 may hunt big game without having completed a Hunter Education course. While it is not necessary for anyone 10 to 13 to complete a Hunter Education course before applying for a hunt permit-tag, these courses fill quickly. Consider registering now by visiting www.azgfd.gov/huntered or calling 623-236-7239.

More than 4,000 permit-tags remain for 2018 spring javelina hunts

PHOENIX — Arizona hunters who were unsuccessful in the recent 2018 spring draw still have an opportunity to receive a hunt permit-tag for javelina.

As of Tuesday, 1,691 leftover hunt permit-tags were available for general hunts that begin Feb. 23. There also were 1,432 hunt permit-tags for archery-only hunts that begin Jan. 1; 1,239 hunt permit-tags for handgun, archery and muzzleloader (HAM) hunts that get underway Feb. 9; and 99 hunt permit-tags for youth-only hunts that start Jan. 26. Only 15 hunt permit-tags were left over for Challenged Hunter Access/Mobility Permit (CHAMP) hunts that begin Jan. 26.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has posted a list of leftover hunt permit-tags on its website at www.azgfd.com/Hunting/Draw/. Hunters can apply on a first come, first served basis one of two ways: Fill out a paper application and bring it to any department office statewide, at which time a hunt permit-tag will be issued, or mail the completed application to: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Attn.: Draw/First Come, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086. Allow 10 to 15 business days to receive a hunt permit-tag by mail.

For more information, including license and hunt permit-tag requirements, legal methods of take, and bag limits, view the “2018 Spring Turkey, Javelina, Bison, Bear and Raptor Capture Hunt Draw Information” booklet online, or call (602) 942-3000.

Game and Fish Commission opposes proposed initiative to ban hunting of wild cats

PHOENIX – At its regular December meeting, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission passed a motion in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative that would ban the hunting of mountain lions and bobcats and restrict management of the state’s wild cats by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The proposed initiative has not yet qualified for the ballot, but the Commission regularly takes positions on federal and state legislation with potential impact on the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the management of Arizona wildlife. The Commission voted 4-0 “in opposition to the initiative related to wild cats, and to affirm that the department has all the tools necessary to manage our state’s wildlife.”

“I like to describe it as ballot box wildlife management versus scientific management of wildlife,” said Commissioner Kurt Davis, of Phoenix. “This is very dangerous for the ability of our wildlife professionals, our scientists, to effectively manage all the forms of wildlife in the state. It removes management tools that are used by the department and I think that’s a very dangerous path to go down.”

The proposed measure, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), also seeks to protect “lynx,” a species not found in Arizona, and two endangered species already under federal protection, jaguars and ocelots. None of these animals can be legally hunted in Arizona.

For more information on how the Arizona Game and Fish Department manages the state’s large cats, visit: https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/mountainlionsinarizona/

Young hunters wanted for Pintail Slough Junior Waterfowl Camp

KINGMAN — Young hunters who want to learn all about waterfowl hunting are invited to attend the annual Pintail Slough Junior Waterfowl Camp, sponsored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The camp will take place January 6-7 (hunters check in January 5) at Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The deadline to register is December 22. The event is limited to 18 hunters between ages 12 and 17 (each must be accompanied by an adult). No prior experience is necessary.

All young hunters will learn how to identify, hunt and clean waterfowl before putting those skills to use in the Pintail Slough duck blinds.

“If you aren’t getting out, you’re missing out,” said AJ Lander, wildlife manager. “This is just a great opportunity for parents to get outside with their kids and enjoy the outdoors.”

To request an application, contact Elise Theel at etheel@azgfd.gov, or call the department’s regional office in Kingman at (928) 692-7700. A refundable $40 registration fee is required. All participants will be chosen through a random draw and will be notified by e-mail or telephone.

Is an OHV part of your hunting strategy? Buckle up

PHOENIX — When hunting for big game, off-highway vehicles (OHVs) can be a key part of how hunters retrieve downed animals. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way to retrieve a harvested elk or bison. As hunters hit the trails on OHVs like side-by-sides, it’s important to buckle up if the vehicle is equipped with seatbelts.

Numerous fatal accidents this year have involved utility task vehicles (UTVs) that roll over and pin the operator underneath. Wearing a seatbelt is critical because it will help keep the operator and any passengers inside the UTV in the event of an accident.

“You wear your seatbelt when driving a car or truck, make that habit the same for operating an OHV,” said Josh Hurst, OHV law enforcement coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “If your off-highway vehicle is equipped with seatbelts, there’s no reason to not take the simple step of buckling up. Stay in the vehicle, stay alive.”

And if your kids are joining you on the hunt, helmets are required for all OHV operators and passengers under the age of 18 (but they’re strongly recommended for everyone).

In addition to seatbelts and helmets, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind when combining hunting and OHVs:

  • It’s illegal to discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle, including OHVs.
  • Ask for permission before operating an OHV on private roads and trails.
  • Off-trail use on Arizona public lands is illegal, with the exception of specific areas for the retrieval of lawfully taken big-game animals. Consult with the land management agency responsible for the area to find out about the rules and regulations.
  • Share the road with others whether they’re hunters on foot, OHV recreationists or anyone enjoying Arizona’s outdoors.

Any acts of vandalism or habitat destruction can be reported 24/7 to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s 1-800-VANDALS hotline. It’s helpful to provide a license plate number and description of both the OHV and operator as well as a location of the activity so law enforcement personnel can follow up on the information.

If the illegal take of wildlife is witnessed, the department encourages anyone with information to report it to the Operation Game Thief hotline at 800-352-0700 or visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt. The department pays cash rewards to individuals whose reports of wildlife crimes lead to an arrest.

Get more information about OHV education and safety as well as rules and regulations at www.azgfd.gov/ohv.

Hunters get second shot at doves beginning Friday

PHOENIX – Arizona dove hunters will be able to double their wing-shooting pleasure when the state’s “second” season begins Friday, November 24.

Unlike the 15-day season that begins September 1, the late season lasts 45 days and runs through January 7, 2018. There still is a 15-bird daily bag limit, all of which must be mourning doves. The possession limit remains 45 mourning doves after opening day, of which no more than 15 may be taken in any one day. As always, there is an unlimited daily bag and possession limit for the invasive Eurasian collared-dove.

Here are a few things to remember to make the most of the upcoming season:

A license for youth hunters ages 10 to 17 is only $5. Children 9 and under do not need a license when accompanied by a licensed adult (two children per adult). Licenses can be purchased from any license dealer, regional department office or online at https://license.azgfd.gov/home.xhtml. NOTE: All department offices will be closed Thursday, November 23, in observance of Thanksgiving. All offices will reopen 8 a.m. Friday, November 24.
Hunters 18 and older must purchase an Arizona migratory bird stamp for $5 from any license dealer, regional department office or online at https://license.azgfd.gov/home.xhtml.
Shooting hours are 30 minutes before legal sunrise until legal sunset. On opening day in the Phoenix area, legal sunrise will be 7:08 a.m. Figure up to nine minutes earlier for eastern areas and nine minutes later for western areas.
One fully feathered wing must remain attached to each harvested dove until it reaches the hunter’s home.
Keep in mind that dove hunters are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Shell casings (shotgun hulls) and associated debris constitute litter and must be picked up and packed out. Littering while hunting or fishing are revocable violations, and a conviction can result in the loss of hunting privileges for up to five years.
For everything “dove,” visit https://www.azgfd.com/hunting/species/smallgame/mourningdove.

Dove hunters play an important role in conservation. Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) funds are comprised of excise taxes collected on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment (including 11 percent on ammunition), the benefit of which comes right back to Arizona for habitat improvements, shooting ranges, boating access and more.

Here’s a fishing license deal ​​​​​​​you’ll want to gobble up


PHOENIX — Happy Thanksgiving from the Arizona Game and Fish family to yours! At AZGFD, we are grateful for many things – especially you. Thank you for making Arizona’s outdoor heritage a part of your life.

To express our appreciation, between now and December 1, 2017, we’re offering a 25% discount on Arizona adult general fishing licenses and community fishing licenses purchased online. And as always, youth licenses (for ages 10-17) are only $5.

This is a great time of year to get outdoors, enjoy Arizona’s spectacular weather and scenery, and spend quality time fishing with family, friends and out-of-town visitors. Invite them to experience their own Arizona outdoor adventure!

Thank you for your loyalty, and may the upcoming holiday season be filled with happiness, BIG fish, and lots of outdoor memories.

FISHING LICENSES
General Fishing: Valid for take of all fish species statewide, including at Community Fishing waters.
Available to Residents and Non-residents Resident $37 Non-Resident $55
Community Fishing: Allows take of all fish species at Community Fishing waters.
Available to Residents and Non-residents Resident $24 Non-Resident $24

COMBINATION HUNTING AND FISHING LICENSES Resident $57 Non-Resident $160
Hunt/Fish Combo: Valid for take of all fish species statewide (including at Community Fishing waters), small game, fur-bearing animals, predatory animals, certain nongame animals, and upland game birds. A valid tag or stamp is required for the take of big game animals and migratory game birds. Using this license to hunt big game requires a permit-tag (obtained through the big game drawing), or a nonpermit-tag (obtained at any Game and Fish office or at a Game and Fish authorized license dealer).

2018-19 elk, pronghorn proposed hunt recommendations online

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s proposed recommendations for 2018 and 2019 elk, pronghorn, and population management hunts are available for review online at www.azgfd.gov/huntguidelines.

The hunt structures and recommendations were formulated based on a five-year hunt guideline package that was approved in September.

The department recently hosted several “meet the game biologist” events at local businesses and sporting goods stores to discuss and answer questions about game species management and hunt recommendations. For those who might have missed these events, questions or comments about a particular game management unit or hunt can be e-mailed to: azhuntguidelines@azgfd.gov. The public also can call a game management biologist at any of the department’s statewide regional offices. No formal presentations are planned.

The proposed hunt recommendations will be presented for consideration at the next Arizona Game and Fish Commission meeting December 2 at department headquarters in Phoenix. The agenda will be posted at www.azgfd.gov/commission.

For more information about the hunt recommendations and hunt guidelines processes, visit www.azgfd.gov/huntguidelines.