Deer sign (copy)

The Missouri Department of Conservation credits public cooperation, investigative work and an anonymous tip from the public for a major poaching arrest near the Lake of the Ozarks.

Throughout the month of October, conservation agents who work the area near the Lake of the Ozarks responded to multiple complaints of dead deer with only the heads, tenderloins and other parts removed.

A call to the Operation Game Thief hotline ultimately led investigators to a suspect in the Tuscumbia area who now faces a litany of charges in Miller and Shannon counties.

Harold P. Piatt, 23, faces 14 misdemeanor charges for the illegal take of deer with the aid of artificial light and take of deer during closed season, two misdemeanor charges of illegal possession of wildlife parts, one misdemeanor charge of taking furbearers in closed season and misdemeanor and felony drug possession and drug paraphernalia charges.

Each wildlife misdemeanor charge comes with a potential fine of as much as $2,000 and/or a year in jail. With the recent passage and signing of Missouri House Bill 260 by Gov. Mike Parson, authorities also may seek restitution of $1,000 to $5,000 for each antlered deer, with all associated monetary penalties going to public schools in the counties where the violations occurred.

Firearms including a .30-06 rifle, a .243 rifle and a .22 rifle suspected of being used to commit the violations also were seized.

“This is a great example of some awesome public cooperation combined with outstanding investigative skills on the part of our agents in the field and the Miller County Sheriff’s Department,” said MDC Protection Division Field Chief Dean Harre.

Conservation Agents Eric Swainston, Tyler Brown and District Supervisor Mike Jones, with assistance from the Miller County Sheriff’s Office, are continuing the investigation and still need the public’s assistance with the case.

Investigators believe most of the antlers were left on public lands near the towns of Bunker, in Dent and Reynolds counties, and Timber, in Shannon County. Hunters or other individuals who find something possibly related to the case are encouraged to contact the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-392-1111, or their local conservation agent.

Callers to the hotline may remain anonymous if they wish, and if they provide information that leads to an arrest they may ask to be considered for a reward. Rewards range from $50 to $1,000.

Margaret Slayton can be reached