Deer in your headlights? You may be a lawbreaker

Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A deer in the headlights has real meaning during hunting season.

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In Isle of Wight County District Court recently, two hunters were found guilty of “spotlighting,” while another Carrollton resident was found not guilty.

Based on the testimony in that case, Judge Parker Councill said there may be many people moving into the county who are unaware of the hunting laws, which include one against “spotlighting.”

The defendant in that case claimed he was looking for thieves and was not a hunter. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“Spotlighting” or “jacklighting” refers to the use of headlights or other lighting devices to blind and freeze the deer while it is feeding at night.

“It’s not a fair chase. It’s highly unethical,” said Sgt. Tim Worrell with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

In many cases, trophy hunters use it as a way to get a larger buck, he said.

“Spotlighting” is a Class 2 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,500 fine.

The law states a charge will be issued if a person is shining a light in an area that deer frequent and has a firearm, crossbow, bow and arrow or speargun in the car.

If convicted, the individual could lose his or her hunting license.

There is no excuse not to know about the spotlighting law if someone has a hunting license, as it is covered extensively in the hunter safety course — a requirement for a license, said Worrell.

Not only is spotlighting an unfair hunting practice, it is also dangerous as the hunter cannot see if there is a house or car in the line of fire, Worrell said.

Worrell said 80 percent of Virginians approve of legal hunting, but if asked, probably 100 percent would say it’s not fair to the animal to use spotlighting as a hunting technique.

“Give the animal a chance,” he said.

The number of “spotlighting” complaints vary year by year, Worrell said.

Three years ago there was a spike in the number of cases, and the majority of the hunters were from North Carolina, Worrell said.

It turns out many of those arrested were participating in a contest over who could get the biggest bucks, Worrell said.

As a buck matures, it becomes completely nocturnal. A buck doesn’t get older by not avoiding human contact, Worrell said.

But to snare them in a spotlight, “it gives hunting a bad name,” he said.

If anyone has any information pertaining to spotlighting or any other wildlife violation, they are asked to call the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hot line at 1-800-237-5712 or email at  {/mprestriction}