Dealing With Poachers
Bob McNally 05.13.15
David was a proud new landowner. He bought his 640-acre place in the rural South and started fixing up the old farm house, working with his wife and kids getting everything a country family needed and wanted.
They repaired fences, pond dikes, woods, roads, and culverts. They put in a garden, got fields ready for planting, built wood duck boxes, and stocked two lakes with bass and panfish.
Life was good for the new country landlord until one morning he heard a gunshot, then two, three, five and more. They were close–on his property. No one had permission to hunt, so David got in his truck and took off for the back of his square mile of paradise, while his wife nervously watched him drive away.
Ten minutes later David spotted a pickup truck alongside a county road that abutted his land. Three men were near it, two of them across a fence on David’s property. A lifelong hunter, David sensed trouble, but he purposefully was unarmed as he drove up beside the men, stunned at what he saw.
Five wild hogs were dead on the ground, shot on David’s land from a public roadway. The hogs were wild, but in Florida they are classified not as game animals, but private livestock, so penalties for shooting them are even more severe than illegally shooting wild game.
“Fellows, those are my hogs you got there,” David said calmly.
“Them’s wild pigs, no season, no limit,” one of the men said fast and nervous. “Seen ‘em cross the road, we pulled over and shot ‘em ‘fore they got to the fence – they jus’ died on your side. We’re fixin to load ‘em and take ‘em home.”
“Well, shootin’ from a public road right-of-way isn’t legal, and I sure didn’t give you permission to shoot ‘em on my land,” David continued as he stepped out of his truck. “We better let the game warden sort this out.”
One of the threesome got into his truck, and David watched the man carefully. Then David dialed his cell phone for the local warden.
For a long 30 minutes they waited, and David worried how long he could hold the trio before a warden arrived. Finally, however, the warden showed, arrested the men, and confiscated the hogs as evidence, and David went back about his farm business.
“I worried about that situation a long time,” David said later. “Those guys were fined heavily and had their guns confiscated, and almost lost their truck. They know who I am, where I live, and I didn’t know what they might do to me or my family or farm if they wanted revenge. I lost a lot of sleep about that, but what else could I do? When you catch poachers red-handed you’ve got to throw the book at ‘em, or they’ll own you and your property.”
David’s experience with poachers is not unusual for many landowners in game-rich regions. In truth, almost every property owner with plenty of deer or good bucks, turkeys, wild hogs, or any other small or big game for that matter, is almost sure to periodically have trouble with trespassers, poachers, vandals, and other illegal renegades who have no respect for personal property, game laws, or game animals.
But how do you deal with them? Like David, apprehending them on your own and hoping for quick law enforcement backup?
Many game wardens and police officers, while admiring such nerve and resolve to capture and bring poachers to justice, advise a more restrained approach. Observing poachers from a distance, getting car license plate numbers, photographs, or video (from long range) of their offenses often is best policy.
Some landowners, however, simply ignore an occasional poacher or game-thief trespasser. If an incident is minor and rare, they believe a woods confrontation is not worth the obvious potential danger, since most poachers are armed and know how to use their guns. Furthermore, reprisals for pressing charges against a local outlaw who poaches an occasional deer or turkey from private property is a very real result.
It doesn’t stretch the imagination much that if an individual has no qualms about trespassing on private land shooting deer illegally out of season or at night, that same individual could cause major havoc if he were vengeful toward a landowner who pressed charges and put him in jail.
One of the first things many landowners and hunters who lease land do to help stem the tide of poachers is put up plenty of no-trespassing signs. That may keep law-abiding hunters from coming onto land. But for thieves and renegades, such signs do little good, and in fact can even enrage outlaws.
On large land tracts, especially big hunting leases, a full-time “woods rider” or “land marshal” is often worthwhile, and it’s effective in dealing with poachers.
In some rural regions where there are numerous hunting clubs, leases, and large landowners, pooling resources to hire a full-time game “overseer” is not only economical, but sound land management. Three or four large clubs or leases may be difficult for one man to patrol effectively, but the word quickly gets out among outlaws that someone is watching–night and day–and it’s easier poaching other property elsewhere.
Remote game or trail cameras are used by many hunters on private land to keep tabs on game activity. Digital images and video from such cameras not only reveal big bucks and turkeys, but also trespassers caught in the act. Cameras are very affordable, and they work day and night, rain or shine.
Photo or video proof of poaching and trespassing can’t hurt in making a case against a lawbreaker, especially if a local game warden is interested in the problem and helping to solve it.
But, ultimately, even the best case against a poacher usually is settled by a local judge–hopefully one who doesn’t look at game law violations as something beneath the dignity of his court. Fortunately, in many regions rural judges are coming down harder on game thieves, treating them as the lawless reprobates they are with stiff fines, probation, and jail time often doled out.
Nevertheless, dealing with poachers and trespassers is never easy, and it’s likely to be a problem landowners and hunt club members will have to deal with as long as there is wild game and thick woods.