How Landowners can Help Stop Poaching

How Landowners can Help Stop Poaching

Poachers suck. As divided as hunters may be on issues surrounding our pastime, we seem to all agree that poaching fish and game is a serious offense. Poaching cases always make the ethical hunter's stomach turn, but with deer decline occuring in many states it's an even more heinous offense. 

This is not a topic that we enjoy writing about. Nor is it a new problem. But it’s important for landowners to understand the laws around poaching and how to handle situations that may arise.

Poaching in the News

Conservation officer with record deer rackPhoto from http://news.dnr.state.mn.us/

In the wake of some high profile poaching cases, some state lawmakers are taking action. Last week in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton backed a bill that would make poaching fish or game valued at $2,000 or more a felony.

A Tennessee poaching bill (SB 0904/HB 1185), sponsored by State Senator Jim Tracy, is currently making it way through the cogs of the law-making process. If it becomes law, the fines of poaching will significantly increase in the Volunteer State.

Yet, there is still some ignorance among our lawmakers. Don’t take our word for it. Watch the video clip of the committee meeting discussing this bill in March. Tennessee State Senator, Frank Niceley, made some comments that raised our eyebrows:

“Well you need to send these poachers to a little town up north of [Nashville],” said Niceley. “I forget which one it is actually trying to negotiate with USDA, Fish and Wildlife, TWRA to thin out the deer herd in the town.  They’d welcome the poachers up there to get rid of some of these… they wouldn’t charge them. In fact, they might pay them to kill some of these extra deer.”

Hmmm?

The next week, Nicely made his opposition known again as seen in the 55:45 mark of this video. His remarks include laughing at the game warden in his county because he can’t catch a poacher and his estimation that there’s been 2,000 deer poached down River Road near the farm where he lives. Yet, he still thinks this bill is overkill.

Finally, the news story from New York last month tells us poachers are getting more brazen. A man spent two years poaching in New York City parks, baiting and hunting deer with a crossbow and then cutting off their heads and leaving at least a dozen headless deer carcasses around Staten Island.

Poaching is more than stealing from our natural resources. It’s a safety concern for many landowners. When an armed person trespasses on private land with the intent to illegally harvest wildlife or shoot a deer from the road, the situation can become dangerous quickly.

While fines and punishments do need to be increased to more than a slap on the wrist, landowners and hunters can help the usually understaffed law enforcement officers to catch the offenders.

What We Can Do

Make Poachers think Twice about Trespassing

Protect private property with gates

Don’t let your piece of recreational land be an easy target for trespassers and poachers. Even if it’s not required to post “No Trespassing” signs in your state, do it any way. This way there is no confusion and you take away a poachers most common defense: “I didn’t know this was private land.”

Put as many of these signs out as you can so there is no excuse for someone to think the land is not yours. Concentrate on obvious parking spots and vehicle turn-offs along the road, trailheads, and corners of the property. In order to make legal complaints, be sure to look up your state laws regarding what defines trespassing and the required posting in rural areas. States vary on the specifics of sign size and distance between them.

Consider adding locked gates, surveillance cameras and automatic lights to entry roads.

While these measures may not deter all trespassers, it makes making a case against one much easier. If after all this, there are still intruders, it’s time to get in touch with law enforcement.

Get to Know the Game Warden

Game Warden on Hunting Land

It’s more likely you will be a witness to a poaching crime on your hunting property than a game warden. Game wardens often patrol large territories and simply can’t watch every property. Poachers know this too, and they use the lack of manpower to their advantage. But if they knew you are resolute in helping prosecuting poaching cases, they might think twice.

Call and introduce yourself to your local game warden. Invite them out to the property if you are having issues with poachers. Put their number in your cell phone, and, if at all possible, open up your land for the robotic deer decoy stings if they need it.

While they can’t watch the land for you all the time, a relationship helps when it comes time to ask for their help.

Build a Case

Trail camera setup

In most cases, a time-stamped trail camera of a poacher is enough for an arrest and conviction. Problem is, poachers know where to look for the cameras and will steal or destroy them to get rid of incriminating evidence. It is worth it to use a few cameras with the intent to catch poachers, and not view wildlife. These can be placed higher in trees, on the ground at an angle and along areas where trespassers park.

Look for tire tracks and hang a camera there. If you are lucky, you will get photos of the violator, their truck and maybe even a pic of them carrying away their loot. Turn any evidence over to law enforcement and never try to confront the offender on your own.

Let Law Enforcement Make the Arrest

watching for poachers

Poachers are armed and in the act of committing a crime. You are angry and have all sorts of adrenaline pumping through when you see someone unlawfully using your land. That’s a volatile situation. As hard as it may be, gather as much information as you can (physical description, vehicle description, what weapons they are carrying and anything else that may help identify the individual), and call the local game warden or sheriff. Nearly all states have a hotline for you to report poaching activity to. You can find the number for your state here.

We can’t stress that last point enough. Just because you want to stop poaching, don’t be a vigilante. Poaching rings are often serious operations where antlers or venison fetch a pretty penny, and they may not give up without a fight. Allow trained law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Poachers violate the rights of landowners and can pose a threat to their safety. As states begin to reconsider the fines and punishments for offenses, which will hopefully curb repeat offenders, landowners need to work with the laws in place and bring the importance of this issue to the lawmakers in your area.

Minimizing poaching will come down to sending a clear message to lawbreakers: Wildlife is important to us, and if you steal it, you will be caught and punished. And that punishment may no longer be just a slap on the wrist.