VICKERY, Ohio — When a couple of hunters foolishly and recklessly fired on a group of trumpeter swans in the Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area near here last Saturday, killing two of the protected birds, the lawmen were immediately on the case. The numerous ethical hunters in the surrounding marshes made sure of that.
Those other hunters exhibited zero tolerance for such illegal activity, and many of them called to report the violations.
“Everybody around them called,” said Brian Bury, the state wildlife officer assigned to Sandusky County who is handling the investigation. Trumpeter swans are officially listed as a “threatened species” in Ohio and are off-limits to hunting.
There was apparently a group of five swans in the marsh — two adults and three juveniles. Two of the young cygnets were killed and the third injured in the incident. It is now being treated at an area wildlife rehabilitation facility.
The marsh was busy that morning, the first day of the duck and goose season in the Lake Erie hunting sector. Waterfowl opportunities in the Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area are limited and awarded each year in a random lottery.
More than 1,400 hunters attempted to land a hunting slot in the marsh this year, but just 37 permits were awarded in the lottery.
Each hunter whose name was drawn in the lottery was permitted to bring two additional hunters along, and each hunting party was then assigned a specific zone within the wildlife area. That left little doubt who was responsible when the swans were knocked out of the sky.
“We had calls from literally every zone around them,” Bury said. “Other hunters saw what had happened, and they called to report it. People were pretty upset about it.”
Calls went out to the state’s Turn-in-a-Poacher “TIP” toll-free hotline 1-800-POACHER and to Bury’s voicemail, while other hunters at the site reported the incident to a wildlife officer who was in the general area.
“We had a lot of help, cooperation, and information right away,” Bury said. At least two of the parties that used the TIP line to report the violations and ensure that the responsible individuals did not get away could be eligible for a reward from the program, Bury added.
The trumpeter swan is the heaviest bird in North America and is one of the largest waterfowl species on earth. The adults are a brilliant white with a long neck and black bill. The juveniles are dusky gray.
Bury said the family of swans at Pickerel Creek had been in the marsh for some time and had been serenading with their distinct call throughout Saturday morning.
“These guys said they thought they were geese, but having said that, you would have to be a very novice hunter to not know that these were swans,” Bury said. “You can’t mistake those swans for anything else, unless you just have no clue.”
One of the dead swans was removed on Saturday, and on Sunday Bury donned waders and after 20 minutes of pursuit through the marsh, he was able to capture the injured cygnet. Representatives from the nearby Back to the Wild Wildlife Rehabilitation Center met Bury in the marsh and took possession of the injured swan.
An examination revealed that the cygnet has a fractured bone in its wing, but it will not require surgery.
Since the injury will not heal in time for the young swan to be returned to the marsh to migrate with its parents, the facility will care for the bird until the spring.
The two hunters who allegedly shot the swans face fourth-degree misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum $250 fine, possible restitution costs of $1,000 each for the two dead swans, the potential loss of hunting privileges, and they could be liable for all of the costs incurred by Back to the Wild for the medical care and housing of the injured swan.
A third member of their hunting party has also been charged as a result of his involvement in the incident, although he is not suspected of shooting the swans. His charge is related to his actions during the investigation.
Bury, who earlier this year was named the Waterfowl Protection Officer of the Year for Ohio by the Mississippi Flyway Council’s Law Enforcement Committee, shared the frustration of many hunters as he tried to digest the facts of the case.
“They probably shouldn’t have been out there if you can’t even identify what you are shooting at,” he said. “Duck hunting is probably the most difficult hunting you can do, because there are so many different types. You need to be able to identify what is out there. If you are planning on going waterfowl hunting, people need to spend time in the marsh researching and studying the various species. They need to educate themselves first, so they are able to identify before they shoot.”
Trumpeter swans, coveted for their meat and plumage, were pushed to the brink of extinction by the early 20th century due to over-hunting and habitat loss. Restoration and management programs began about 50 years ago, gradually rebuilding their numbers in the U.S. and Canada. Ohio started a reintroduction program in 1996.
ONWR HUNTS ON: With the end of the federal government shutdown, the controlled waterfowl hunts at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge will resume today. There is no word yet on how the hunts that were cancelled during the shutdown will be handled.
GUN SIGHT-IN: The Elmore Conservation Club will hold a two day gun sight-in event on Nov. 2-3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. This is a charity fund-raiser and there will be a charge of $5 per gun to have club members sight in your firearm. A light lunch will also be available. The club is located at 15550 West Portage River Road South outside Elmore.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.