ATWATER -- Four teenagers have been cited by Warden Scott Hall of the state Department of Fish and Game on four misdemeanor charges in connection with the weekend killing of 19 cottontail rabbits near Atwater.
Hall said Wednesday that Johnathan White, 18, of Atwater, Rodney Regert, 19, of Merced, Frankie Flores, 19, of Winton, and a 16-year-old Atwater boy were cited Tuesday. The rabbit carcasses were spotted Sunday morning on Quinley Avenue near Highway 140 in the Atwater area by Pat Sese as she was on the way to church.
The teens face charges of taking cottontail rabbits out of season, violating shooting hours for resident small game, wanton waste and spotlighting, Hall said. They allegedly killed the rabbits about midnight Saturday using two air pellet rifles and a 15-million-candlepower spotlight.
Hall said all four teens turned themselves in, confessed to the shootings and gave him written statements. The youths, all avid hunters who had hunting licenses and had passed required hunter certification classes, knew what they were doing was wrong.
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The teens apologized for their deeds and were very remorseful, Hall said.
Cottontail rabbits are considered game animals. The season for hunting cottontails is from July 1 to the last Saturday in January. Allowable shooting hours for rabbits is a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset, Hall said. Hunters are allowed to take five rabbits in a day's time or have 10 in their possession.
Hall said he would be filing a formal complaint with the Merced County District Attorney's office in Los Banos. A formal complaint also will be filed with the county probation department with the 16-year-old. It is also against the law to use spotlights to hunt cottontails.
The youths face $3,000 in fines if convicted. Persons convicted of three Fish and Game violations could lose their hunting licenses for three to five years.
Cottontail rabbits tend to hang around structures and brush piles. While there has been a recent decline in cottontail habitat, overcrowding is not an issue, Hall said.
Hall said the youths were using a .177-caliber Gamo air pellet rifle with scope and an Outfitter Thumbhole .177-caliber air pellet rifle with scope, along with the Cyclops spotlight.
About a month to six weeks ago, a woman reported finding five to 12 dead rabbits but Hall can't recall any other similar incidents.
Lt. Andy Roberts, Fish and Game supervisor for Merced and Mariposa counties, said farmers can receive formal depredation permits for killing rabbits if they are causing real property damage and affecting harvesting operations.
Cottontail rabbits seldom weigh more than three pounds and are marked by their stubby tails with a white underside. Their colors range from reddish brown to gray and their average lifespan in the wild is less than three years.
Pat Sese, who discovered the rabbits scattered over the road, said it was the strangest sight she had ever seen. Her friend Robert Griffin went to check out Sese's report and placed three rabbits in his deep freeze for authorities to examine. Griffin reported finding 15 dead rabbits stacked on top of each other two weeks ago at Trindade Road and SP Avenue.