Officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife arrested five men on suspicion of poaching deer at a ranch along the Merced River recently.
Those cited were Alfredo Martinez, 25, of Atwater, Martin Abarca, 24, and Horlando Martinez, 22, both of Snelling, and Manuel Vargas, 24, and Silvestre Guadarrama, 53, both of Merced.
They were cited on suspicion of various crimes, including unlawfully killing a deer out of season, killing a doe, unlawfully using a light to kill a deer and killing a deer at night, said Warden Mark Michilizzi.
All the citations are misdemeanors.
The investigation started when Wardens Glenn Rodriguez and Steve Chase heard gunfire while they were patrolling near the Merced River about 8:45 p.m. Feb. 26, Michilizzi said.
They found an SUV parked along a private ranch road and saw several rifles and shotguns in the vehicle, along with spent cartridges and beer cans on the floorboard, he said.
As they were checking the SUV, the wardens saw Abarca and Alfredo Martinez walking out of a field and toward the vehicle, Michilizzi said. The wardens talked to the men, one of whom was an employee of the ranch, and they said they were hunting for wild pigs.
But Chase used a night-vision monocular and spotted Horlando Martinez, Vargas and Guadarrama dragging a deer toward the vehicle, Michilizzi said. Once they got to the vehicle, they were detained.
Another man was seen running into the woods after he realized wildlife officers were present, Michilizzi said. Deputies from the Mariposa County Sheriff's Department helped the wildlife officers search for the man, but he wasn't found.
During a follow-up investigation the next morning, officers found three more deer that had been killed and signs of at least two more that had been shot before running into thick vegetation near the river, Michilizzi said
He said the ranch manager was cooperative during the investigation.
According to Michilizzi, the circumstances indicated that the men were poaching for meat.
One rifle, four shotguns, ammunition and a butcher's knife were seized during the investigation.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.