The teens had killed five deer, police said. But deer weren’t what they were really hunting.
When a sheriff’s deputy in Klickitat County, Wash., detained three teenagers for having a loaded rifle in their vehicle on Jan. 15, the deputy at first had planned to let them off with a warning, police said.
But then the deputy realized none of the teens was licensed to drive the vehicle they were in, according to state fish and wildlife police. The loaded rifle wasn’t the only suspicious thing in the car, either: There was deer hair and fresh blood as well, police said.
Once police saw the blood and hair, the deputy and fish and wildlife police started searching the surrounding area. What they found was a doe, recently killed, on a nearby hillside. One of the teens had shot the deer the night before, police said. The carcass wasn’t far from where the car had been parked.
Near the doe were four other deer carcasses, police said, all older and in varying states of decomposition.
Deer, however, weren’t the teens’ target. They were after eagles, and had arranged the decomposing carcasses in a cluster hoping “to bait in and shoot eagles,” according to fish and wildlife police.
After police noticed the cluster of dead deer, they discovered a fourth juvenile, 17, on a hill above them. The teenager told police he had shot an eagle and then had been looking for it, police said.
Authorities seized two rifles during the encounter, but were unable to recover the eagle. Any criminal charges will be handled by the county prosecutor's office, police said. Two of the teens were 17 years old, and two were 15, according to police.
The teens could be charged for killing the eagle, which is a legally protected bird in the state, as well as for closed season harvest of deer, according to Jeff Wickersham, a captain with the state’s fish and wildlife police. They could also face firearms-related charges, he said.
It’s not the first time police have encountered a situation like this, either.
“This particular area has been used in this way in the past, in 2012 and 2014,” Wickersham said. “Deer were being used as bait, killed and left on hillsides. There were charges filed by another agency in those cases.”
Bald eagles and golden eagles are the two types of eagles found in Washington state, according to the Audubon Society. Western Washington is home to a large concentration of bald eagles, while golden eagles are commonly found in the eastern part of the state. Klickitat County is in south central Washington, on the border with Oregon.
Both types of eagle are safeguarded by federal law, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For a first conviction, illegally killing an eagle can carry a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year in prison under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Police are still looking for the dead eagle, Wickersham said.