JEFFERSON CITY — The sign on the storefront said "Craig's Taxidermy," and the hunters who brought in their prized deer, turkey and fish got them back stuffed and mounted.
But they also got secretly recorded. And ultimately, many of them were busted for allegedly breaking Missouri wildlife laws.
The Department of Conservation announced Monday that it had discovered 425 wildlife violations committed by 68 people who brought animals into Craig's Taxidermy in the rural southern Missouri town of Birch Tree.
It turns out "Craig" actually was an undercover agent.
The state Conservation Department set up the undercover taxidermy shop in 2008 after receiving numerous complaints about illegal hunting in the area, said Gary Cravens, the department's regional supervisor for law enforcement operations. The state agency closed Craig's Taxidermy early this year — but only after its hidden video and audio recorders captured plenty of evidence.
As customers came into the shop, "we were listening to them," Cravens said. "They were bragging about how they shot out of so-and-so's yard or off the road, or claiming it as archery even though it had a bullet hole."
As it turned out, 62 percent of the wildlife brought in for mounting at the undercover taxidermy shop had been killed illegally in some manner, Cravens said.
The cases are being turned over to prosecutors in seven counties — Crawford, Dent, Miller, Howell, Iron, Oregon and Shannon — where the hunting occurred, the department said. Although the taxidermy shop was in southern Missouri, some hunters brought animals from other parts of the state.
The alleged violations involved deer, turkey, various animals hunted for their fur, fish, and migratory birds. Conservation agents seized 240 items, including 90 mounted deer heads or antler racks, about 20 various smaller animals, 70 frog legs, one rattlesnake and 16 firearms.
"These violators are, in effect, stealing wildlife that belongs to all of us here in Missouri who obey the laws," Cravens said, "and it's our job to make sure that wildlife resources are protected."