Hunt bags 182 ducks, but 1 is costly

January 04, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

A prominent Washington lobbyist who entertained a Michigan congressman and other guests at a Thanksgiving Day hunting party has been fined $4,000 for illegally shooting a wild duck over a baited farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said a group of 20 hunters at a private Dorchester County shooting preserve leased by lobbyist Thomas Hale "Tommy" Boggs Jr. fired a barrage of shotgun pellets shortly after sunrise on Nov. 25, the opening of a two-day state duck season.

Forty-five minutes and nearly 700 shotgun blasts later, the toll was 182 dead ducks and an undetermined number of wounded. But one of them was a federally protected duck, and that proved Mr. Boggs' undoing.

"It sounded like a war," said Vernon Ricker, a federal agent who watched the shooting with two Maryland Natural Resources Police officers until they emerged from hiding to stop the hunt and seize the dead birds.

Upon inspection, only one of the ducks -- a mallard -- was determined to be wild. The other 181 birds had been raised in pens and released specifically for the purpose of legal sport shooting at Mr. Boggs' private hunting farm.

But because agents had evidence that the farm had been baited recently with sorghum grain, also known as milo, to lure the ducks, the shooting of the wild bird was illegal.

"That one wild bird is the only one that made it a federal offense," said Mr. Ricker. Under federal hunting regulations, it is illegal to shoot wild ducks over land that has been baited within the preceding 10 days.

Maryland laws governing private preserves, or regulated shooting areas, do not prohibit baiting, and there is no limit on the number of pen-raised ducks that can be killed.

Mr. Boggs has state permits to operate two regulated shooting areas -- one in southern Dorchester County and another outside Cambridge, not far from the preserve where President Clinton hunted ducks two days after Christmas.

Mr. Boggs, a lobbyist with the Washington law firm Patton, Boggs and Blow, apparently decided to take responsibility for the illegal duck kill to save his guests the embarrassment of being charged with a federal hunting violation, Fish and Wildlife officials said.

One of his guests, Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus that has fought proposed legislation to curb hunting on the duck preserves.

Mr. Ricker, who said wildlife officers watched a farmhand spread milo on the farm on Nov. 18, was not certain whether Mr. Boggs' Thanksgiving Day guests knew the farm had been baited.

Representative Ford's press secretary, Bennett Minton, said yesterday that the congressman would not comment publicly about the incident, other than to say he was not aware the farm had been baited.

"He was the guest of Tommy Boggs, and that was the extent of his knowledge until the agents showed up," said Mr. Minton.

Mr. Boggs, son of the late House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., did not return repeated telephone calls.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Thomas said Mr. Boggs and farm caretaker Kenneth S. Hughes were the only two men in the hunting party charged with federal hunting violations.

Late last month, Mr. Boggs paid the $4,000 fine for illegal hunting over a baited field. Mr. Hughes paid a $200 fine for aiding and abetting Mr. Boggs.

By deciding not to contest the charges in court, Mr. Boggs and Mr. Hughes avoided a public trial.

In addition to paying the fine, Mr. Boggs paid to have all but two of the ducks picked and cleaned and donated to the Jesuit Community of Georgetown, a Washington-based religious group that helps feed the city's needy.

Under Maryland hunting regulations, Mr. Boggs could lose his permit to operate the shooting preserve where the wild duck was killed, according to Mary Jo Scanlan, wildlife permits coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Animal rights activists, who already have been critical of regulated shooting areas, said the duck kill at Mr. Boggs' preserve is evidence that Maryland waterfowl hunting laws are too permissive.

"This clearly was not a hunt, but a cold-blooded slaughter of tame birds on a baited field," said Wayne Pacelle, national director of The Fund for Animals Inc.

"There's nothing regulated about this kind of shooting. It's one of the most outrageous acts of cruelty that we can imagine."

Mr. Ricker described the Thanksgiving Day shoot as one of the most lethal he has ever seen.

"Ducks were falling out of the air all over the place," he said. "There were crippled ducks swimming everywhere."

"It was such a small area," he added, "that shot being fired from one side of the field was falling on people on the other side."

He said one of the reasons wildlife officials stopped the shoot was because none of the hunters stopped to collect the birds they had killed.

"No one knew if they were killing wild ducks or preserve ducks," he said. "They couldn't have. They never stopped firing long enough to see."

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