Disclaimer: All names have been intentionally changed.
I always enjoyed working the opening day of deer hunting season. It gave me a nice break from working on the water and transitioned my workload to primarily being in the woods. I was assigned as one of the two Wildlife Officers in Lake County Florida which is just north of Orlando.
Every year, we received multiple complaints from hunters about Zack Lucy. Zack had a reputation for killing and selling all types of wildlife, legal or not. He made a living off the land and he was good at not getting caught. Any time officers were seen working in the area, Zack would get a phone call warning him the game wardens were near. He was tough to sneak up on and catch killing wildlife illegally.
My work partner and good friend for many years was Officer David Adamson. David, or as the locals called him “Davey” was a hard-core Game Warden and one of the most energetic officers you would ever meet. He was good at catching people and the reason I really enjoyed working with him. We got along great and became best friends.
David and I made the plan to put the deer decoy out in an undeveloped area of the county frequented by hunters. We had hopes Zack or one of his deer poaching buddies would spot our fake deer and shoot it. At the time, deer were required to have at least one antler with a minimum 5” in length to be considered legal to be harvested. Any deer with less than one 5” antler was considered an antlerless deer by definition and hunters were prohibited from attempting to take or kill the deer.
Our deer decoy at the time was a full mounted deer with removable antlers. We could put any size antlers on the deer or present it as an antlerless deer without antlers. On this detail, we chose to set the decoy out as a doe deer without any antlers. Robotic parts controlled different body parts of the deer which made it look lifelike to even the most skeptical person.
We snuck into the wooded area at 3 AM undetected while everyone was sleeping. David picked an attractive looking field and pond across the road from our hidden location as the perfect spot to set up the deer decoy. Any hunter driving through the woods would naturally look at the field as it was the perfect place for a deer to feed.
We waited until sunrise for our deer poachers to arrive. Just like clockwork we heard a truck slowly rumbling down the dirt woods road. We almost thought the lone occupant did not see our decoy as he slowly passed by. The truck suddenly made an abrupt stop in the middle of the road. We watched as our prime suspect, Zack, opened the door and got out of the truck carrying a rifle. He quickly walked around to the back of his truck and raised up his rifle to take aim. In just a matter of seconds a loud gunshot filled the silence of the woods!
David and I sprang into action and jumped out of our hidden location on the side of the road. We ran on foot towards Zack while yelling, “Wildlife Officer! Put the gun DOWN!” Zack looked at us as we ran towards him, but he was too caught up in killing the deer. He took aim again and fired a second shot at the decoy! David ran up to him and grabbed the rifle from his hands. Zack had a dumbfounded look on his face and was placed under arrest for attempting to take an antlerless deer during the hunting season. During our interview of Zack, he only had one concern, if he had hit the deer. I must have made Zack’s day when I told him he did–twice!
Many legal hunters will tell similar stories about how they are overcome with an intense focus when seeing a buck deer and nothing can snap them from their focus. This state of mind or condition is known by hunters as, “Buck Fever”. On this opening morning of hunting season, Zack did not experience Buck Fever, he came down with a spout of Doe Fever!
Over 15 years later, Zack was arrested again as part of a large scale take down of illegal wildlife dealers. Zack sold many different types of illegally taken wildlife to an undercover investigator during a year-long undercover investigation.
By Steve Wayne
About the Author:
Steve Wayne has spent 30 years as a Fish and Wildlife Officer in the state of Florida. Steve has worked in various roles and locations throughout the state and has promoted to the level of Area Captain supervising 30 officers in 3 counties. During his career, Steve was selected as the State Wildlife Officer of the Year and 16 years later was selected as the Statewide Investigator of the Year by both his agency and from the State Law Enforcement Chief’s Association. In 2019, Steve was part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Port Investigations team which received national honors as Team of the Year.