All will be quiet on the Clay-Bell Ranch this deer season. Or at least that is what an Ellis County judge ordered recent as he passed sentence on Galen Morris of Italy.

According to reports from the Associated Press, Morris, 38, was fined $250, given one year probation and ordered to refrain from making excessive noise around his homestead before noon or after 4 p.m., during deer season.

The ruling came last Tuesday, after a jury found Morris guilty of violating one count of the Sportsman's Rights Act. He was cleared of a second charge.

Enacted in 1985 and amended in 1993, the Sportsman's Rights Act makes it illegal "to intentionally interfere with a person lawfully engaged in the process of hunting or catching wildlife." Violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor.

Morris rents a home on a small tract of land adjacent to the 400-acre Ellis County ranch. Hunters who lease the ranch to hunt deer complained last year that noise coming from Morris' property continually hindered their hunting success.

Peggy Carroll, co-owner of the Clay-Bell Ranch, told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram she is pleased with the court's decision and hopes that noise restrictions and the threat of jail time will keep things quiet for hunters who use her land. Morris, meanwhile, has been advised to appeal the case by his attorney.

Interestingly, the AP and Star-Telegram didn't report the circumstances that led to the charges being filed against Morris and his subsequent arrest, last February.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement officials close to the case, it was proven in a court of law that Morris was in violation of the Sportsman's Rights Act, because he intentionally tried to spoil the chances of hunters next door by making noise to scare off game.

"Harassment is harassment, and that is how the charges originally came about," said Jeff Powell, the Ellis County TPWD game warden who investigated the case. "In a case like this there has to be pretty convincing evidence of intent for charges too be filed in the first place, and you have to prove intent was there to actually win. The prosecution managed to do that."

Powell said hunters on the ranch provided sworn statements indicating that Morris harassed them repeatedly while they manned their deer blinds last November and December. The game warden added that most of the incidents occurred early and late in the day, during peak deer movement times.

"The hunters told me he (Morris) would walk up and down the fence line and yell to them in their stands `you seeing anything yet!'" Powell said. "They also said he would drive his car along the fence line and blow his horn or an air horn repeatedly, and place his stereo speakers outside his house and turn up the volume real loud at 6 o'clock in the morning."

There was a time when such altercations were virtually unheard of, but they seem to be occurring more frequently these days, possibly because more and more non-hunters are leaving crowded urban areas and moving to the country.

Buddy Turner, assistant chief of wildlife enforcement for TPWD, cited a similar case between adjacent landowners that occurred in a suburban area of Austin.

Turner said one of the landowners repeatedly drove his truck down fence lines, layed on his horn and cranked up his radio when he suspected deer hunters might be occupying the blinds on the opposite side of the fence.

The game warden said the acts eventually resulted in charges being filed against the man for violation of the Sportsman's Rights Act. The defendant pled guilty and paid a fine before the case went to court.

"I can't say how many cases like this have been filed, but there have been several," Turner said. "And I expect we will be seeing more of them in the future."

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Matt Williams is a free lance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached at mattwilliams@netdot.com.

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