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VA - Poacher's apology part of unusual turkey hunting case

March 9, 2007

Jason Wayne Cook says he's sorry.

In a handwritten letter as part of a plea agreement, Cook apologized for illegally killing scores of turkeys over a 15-year period in a case that is unique in Virginia game department annals.

"I did not realize I may be taking opportunity away from others. However, looking back now, I realize I made a mistake and I am truly sorry for it," Cook wrote in a document titled "To the Sports Men and Women of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Special Agent John Cobb, the lead investigator in the case, said he is unaware of any other cases worked by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries law enforcement officials where an adult has been ordered to write an apology.

And the court case, which was resolved last Friday, represents the largest criminal conviction involving illegal wild turkey hunting in VDGIF history, Cobb said.

Last year, officers searched Cook's Caroline County home and seized 81 turkey beards, 17 turkey legs with attached spurs, 38 additional spurs, six sets of turkey tail feathers and photo albums containing pictures of Cook posing with multiple fresh wild turkey carcasses.

Last April alone, according to Cook's confession, he killed nine wild turkeys and missed three others in just 12 hunting days, Cobb said.

The season limit is three wild turkeys per year.

During the course of the court case, Cobb asked Cook why he did it.

"The only thing he could tell me was the adrenaline rush - 'I wanted to feel that rush every day,'" Cobb said.

Authorities brought 96 charges for violations in Caroline and Richmond counties and Fort A.P. Hill, a federal military installation.

Cook was sentenced Feb. 23 in Caroline District Court to 15 days in jail with the remainder of a six-month sentence suspended. He also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay more than $10,000 in fines, including $7,000 into two VDGIF game funds. In addition, his hunting rights were revoked for seven years in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Calls to Cook's defense attorney were not returned.

Cook's activities came to light during spring gobbler season last April, Cobb said. Another sportsman contacted game wardens with information about Cook, who at the time was assistant chief of Spotsylvania County Animal Control, hunting with his 5-year-old son. The two were at Fort A.P. Hill on Youth Turkey Day, when hunting is allowed only by youths 15 and younger.

The man said Cook used his son's youth model 20-gauge shotgun to kill a turkey rather than let his son, who had some firearms training, take a shot.

"That's greed for you," Cobb said in an interview this week. "I know that's why the person called [officials]."

The tip spurred game wardens, who had no record of Cook checking in the turkey as required by law, to set up surveillance at the Cook home in Woodford on April 20. They saw him get out of his truck wearing full camo clothing, pull out a wild turkey carcass from the cab and go into his basement. He came out 20 minutes later dressed in his animal control officer's uniform and carrying a plastic bag that later was found to contain turkey remains.

"In only 20 minutes, [Cook had] changed his clothing and completely processed the wild turkey meat for storage," Cobb said.

Cook denied killing a turkey that day when confronted by wardens, and they obtained a search warrant. They found numerous illegal turkey parts - including 53 beards tacked up as a ceiling border on a wall - and numerous photos, including one of Cook posing alone with five fresh wild turkey carcasses, Cobb said.

After he was read his rights, Cook told the wardens in a taped confession that just that month he had killed nine turkeys, mostly on federal property.

"In addition, [he] later confessed that 90 percent of his 81 wild turkey beards had been killed illegally by him over the past 15 years," Cobb said.

Cook killed eight turkeys in 2005 and 12 in another year. At one point, he hunted turkeys with dogs but quit because it was too easy.

Cobb said there was no evidence of illegal trafficking in turkey parts, only signs of a hunter obsessed with "getting as many turkeys as he could get."

Cook's apology acknowledges as much.

"My goal was to go as often as possible during the spring turkey season and try to be successful," Cook wrote.

There was one other piece of evidence, Cobb said.

"They were eating about everything you could think of for turkey - turkey stew, even turkey barbecue."

Contact Lee Graves at [email protected] or (804) 649-6579.

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