by: Greg Suskin Updated:
GREAT FALLS, S.C. - Neighbors heard gunfire in the woods behind their homes in Great Falls, and called 911.
That call landed three men in jail for hunting deer at night. It's a dangerous activity that wildlife officers call, nothing but poaching.
Joe Taylor was home, and heard the shots behind Brooklyn Road at the southern tip of Chester County.
"I heard pow, pow, pow, pow. They're back there shooting guns in the middle of the night, and I could be there in bed and they might kill me," he said.
Dustin Lowery, 18, John Lipford, 21, and Kevin James, 20, all of Great Falls were arrested and charged.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Officer Jason Plemmons told Channel 9 how he found the three men in near total darkness.
Night hunters use a bright spotlight to spot deer in the woods, and they often shoot them from their car window.
"These guys are poachers," Plemmons said. "They go out at night. They have an unfair advantage on the animal. They're shinning a light into the animal's eyes and it makes them stand still. They don't know what to do. And of course as they're holding the light on them, they're shooting them."
Plemmons said the poachers were driving toward him on a gravel road Sunday night, shinning the light into the trees, but they didn't see his hidden truck until they were passing him.
"When they just passed me they turned the light back and he saw my truck and took off," he said.
The trio tried to get away, but Plemmons blocked their car in on a dead end road, and made the arrests.
The men admitted they had shot a deer earlier, but couldn't find it so they came back to kill another one, police said.
Night hunting is not only illegal in South Carolina, but extremely dangerous because the hunters can't see anything beyond their spotlights.
"When they shoot a high-powered rifle in the nighttime they don't know if in the background there's a house with all the lights off and people are asleep in the bed," Plemmons said.
Taylor came outside when he heard the gunshots. He said he worries for the safety of his family, and others who live around there.
"It's ridiculous. They shouldn't be out there in the middle of the night," he said.
So far, South Carolina DNR has charged nine people with illegal night hunting just in York and Chester counties since October.
In this case, the suspects were on state hunting land . Legal hunting is only allowed from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
The suspects also did not have a permit to hunt on the heritage preserve near
Great Falls where they were arrested, police said.
Plemmons said the added danger is that this isn't only happening in the country, or on game land. He's made arrests in cities too, where the risk is extreme.
"We've seen them in residential areas, underneath the street lights shooting deer. We've had instances where they've been in neighborhoods shooting deer out of people's back yards," he said.
Though a prison sentence is rare, punishment could be up to a year in prison and a
$5,000 fine on a first offense.
James, Lipford and Lowery were all out of jail on bond as of Monday afternoon.
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