HOUSTON A few photographs snapped by birdwatchers may be the key to capturingtwo menwho allegedly shot a deer near a popular nature trail inside Houston s city limits.

The deer was illegally shot alongside a walking path near Lake Houston. The path is popular with joggers and children, in a wooded area dangerously close to a residential subdivision.

A stray bullet is a dangerous thing, said Sgt. Tolan Harding of the Houston Police Lake Patrol. They re deep in the middle of Houston, inside the city limits.They re, in fact, in an area that s part of a public park, part of Lake Houston.

The incident highlights what law enforcement officials cite as a growing problem in the Houston area. As the metropolis expands and developers build new subdivisions, poachers routinely kill wildlife in wooded areas perilously close to private homes.

In this case, hunters shot a deer on city park land, a crime officers compare to firing a hunting rifle in Memorial Park. The problem more commonly happens on private property, either outside the hunting season or without the permission of land owners. Poachers caught by police or state regulators tell varying stories.

It ranges from total ignorance, all the way to just a confession, said Frederick Ruiz, a game warden captain for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division. They know they ve done wrong and they didn t think they d get caught. And they got caught.

The birdwatchers were walking along a trail one day last October when they heard a gunshot. Peering through the woods, they spotted two men dressed in camouflage gear, one of whom carried a hunting rifle.

They snapped several pictures before the two men walked away. The birdwatchers later found the carcass of a deer that had been killed by a gunshot.

Harding, the officer assigned to the case, posted notices about the crime on a number of social websites frequented by sportsmen. A newspaper reporter recently spotted the notice and contacted Harding, who then released the pictures.

Anyone with information on the crime is asking to call the Houston Police Department s Lake Patrol at 281-324-2250 or the Texas Parks & Wildlife Division at 713-779-8977. Anonymous telephone tips can also be directed to Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

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