Local conservation officers call it one of the largest waterfowl poaching cases they’ve seen in more than 25 years.
Fifty-eight mallards and wood ducks were confiscated in the Sunday morning incident - the second day of the duck hunting season that goes through Dec. 4 in the south zone of Michigan, according to the Grand Haven Tribune.
Not only were the duck hunters well over the legal limit of how many birds they could take, they were also hunting over bait - which is illegal, according to Conservation Officer Ivan Perez.
“The limit is six birds,” said Conservation Officer David Rogers. “Up to four of those can be mallards. Up to three of them can be wood ducks.”
“But every one is illegal because they were luring them in,” Rogers said.
Four Coopersville area men now have a court date later this month on poaching charges. Their names were not released pending arraignment in Hudsonville District Court.
The men also face up to $500 restitution per bird if found guilty of poaching. That totals $29,000.
Federal law also requires a mandatory suspension of their hunting licenses.
Conservation officers also took the men’s guns - three Benellis and one Browning - worth more than $5,000. Rogers said they would ask the judge to condemn the guns so they wouldn’t be returned.
Perez said officials received a tip on the Report All Poaching line early Sunday morning.
The caller thought there was an unusual amount of shooting occurring, Perez said.
Usually, duck hunting comes in infrequent spatters of shots, the conservation officer said.
“The caller heard consistent shooting, which usually indicates a whole lot of birds coming in all at once,” Perez said.
Rogers and Muskegon County Conservation Officer Chris Simpson responded to the area.
Rogers said he walked across a farm field and into a wooded area near a pond, where he waited for the hunters to finish.
He apprehended three of the hunters as they were leaving. Simpson stopped the fourth hunter who was leaving in his truck. That man was also cited for traveling with a loaded gun.
Perez said two of the four men worked on the farm and had permission to hunt there.
One of the men had a run-in with conservation officers several years ago as a juvenile, when he was over the limit on a turkey hunt, Perez said.
Rogers said several hundred pounds of corn were scattered in the area, both in and out of the pond.
Hunting over bait is illegal because the birds are vulnerable when they are traveling. The bait attracts a lot of birds, Rogers said.
UPDATE: Officers have now counted up to 60 ducks shot and killed, making this the biggest case of poaching in 25 years.
Conservation officers counted 35 wood ducks and 23 mallards in the bunch.
The birds will be frozen as evidence until the case is resolved.
Rogers said the ducks would be kept frozen and used for training purposes for new conservation officers next year.
Perez said it’s more difficult to find a place that to donate duck meat, than it is for deer meat (venison).
If the judge condemns the guns, they will be auctioned and the funds will go into the state’s game and fish fund for law enforcement.
Rogers said the men didn’t seem remorseful.
“I don’t think these guys realize the magnitude of what they’ve done,” he said.
Anyone who suspects somebody hunting illegally should call the Report all Poaching tip line at 1-800-292-7800.