An illegal moose-poaching ring in a rural northern portion of Hancock County was thwarted recently thanks in large part to tips from the public.
Earlier this month, Warden David Simmons received a report of an illegal moose kill from a group of legal hunters in Hancock County.
Wardens charged H. Dean Smith, 39, of Aurora with illegal hunting or possession of moose in that case, but the investigation and additional tips led officials to other hunters who did not have permits.
Moose hunting is a Maine tradition every fall, but only a small percentage of sportsmen and women get the chance. As many as 70,000 apply for a permit each year, but fewer than 3,000 permits are issued.
As a result, some Mainers will hunt moose illegally, especially in rural parts of the state.
While probing into the case involving Smith, wardens procured warrants to search two residences in Osborn and Great Pond, two small communities in northern Hancock County. Another home was searched in the western Washington County town of Beddington.
Those searches turned up remains from two dead moose that had been killed illegally.
In addition to Smith, seven more individuals were charged.
Those charged with night hunting and illegal hunting or possession of moose were Steven F. Jordan Jr., 18, of Osborn; Brandon A. Shorey, 19, of Osborn; and James E. Ahern, 18, of Osborn.
Those charged with two counts of illegal hunting or possession of moose were Steven F. Jordan Sr., 37, of Great Pond; Hollis D. Smith, 39, of Aurora; and Donald I. Hayward Jr., 58, of Beddington.
Norman W. Grindle, 37, of Aurora was charged with one count of illegal hunting or possession of moose.
All of the charges are Class D misdemeanors, which carry a minimum fine of $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of three days. Those charged also could lose their right to hunt for at least one year.
Warden spokesman Mark Latti said more charges could come out of the investigation.
The investigation was possible thanks to tips from legal hunters but also because of calls to Operation Game Thief, a privately funded, nationwide anonymous tip line.
The hotline offers rewards to anyone with information about illegal activity and has helped wardens uncover countless cases of illegal hunting, fishing and trapping all over the state.
The Operation Game Thief number in Maine is 1-800-253-7887.