In just a few weeks, a deer season will open: poaching season. Those who read my rantings with any regularity know that few things trip my trigger more than senseless, illegal poaching of wildlife.
If you are one of the many who tramped around this last deer season and the extended season with bow or muzzleloader, in the rain of the first day and wind and cold and snow of the rest of the season and saw few if any deer, how do you feel about the greedy and selfish among us who stole the deer that might have been yours?
Some wonder where anybody finds any deer to poach. Since Christmas, I've had a number of reports of deer being spotted in various places that obviously were invisible during the deer season. Friends of mine hit a deer at midnight on New Year's Eve near Canoe State Park and told me there were several other deer with the one they hit.
The results of a recent poll of the public (not just hunters) might come as a surprise to some. It seems that almost three quarters of the persons polled thought that to kill a deer in a legal season just for the antlers and then not consume it is a worse moral infraction than poaching a deer that the poacher will completely consume.
I certainly was not surprised by that attitude; it's been around for as long as I have been deer hunting and that is over half a century. Most non-hunters still seem to believe that those out poaching deer are those who want to feed their family with it. But ask the Game Commission officers who have to go out and remove deer carcasses that have been illegally killed, most likely for the antlers, and then the rest left to spoil.
To test that theory, on the next trip to the supermarket, why not secrete a couple nice T-bones in the bottom of the cart or in a purse. After all, it's O.K. isn't it, if you need them to feed your family? We all know that reasoning wouldn't fly with the law in a grocery store, and it doesn't fly in the woods and fields either.
The fact is that few people poach deer these days to feed a family. That practice went on much more back in the days when most people lived on a farm or in a rural area and would kill a deer on their land for their family. Well, the Game Commission has a provision for farmers to kill deer for crop damage.
Also, with food stamps and other government programs to hand out food to needy families, few bother to go after a deer. Today's families probably would not even want to eat venison. Most poaching these days is done by greedy folks who have seen a nice buck in a place and go after it and then try to pass it off as a legally killed animal.
A fellow in Adams County tried that very trick last fall. He spotted a 16-point buck in a field and stalked up on it with his archery equipment and killed it during a closed season. Then he tried to pass it off as a legal kill from a county where the season was open.
The Game Commission got a tip from someone who knew about the poaching incident. The informant had also been watching that deer. He'd scouted after the previous season and had found the sheds from that very buck, then a 14-point. He turned the antlers over to the Game Commission who sent them away to a lab for DNA testing. The tests confirmed that both sets of antlers were from the same deer.
The poacher ended up paying $1,100 in fines and $5,000 in replacement costs. I have no sympathy.
The deer of Pennsylvania belong to the people of the state. Not just to hunters but to the entire population. Therefore poaching is a crime against all people. As I said, after I've slogged around in the pouring rain like we've had on a couple of recent opening days, waded snow, climbed hills and hollows and perhaps not even seen a buck, much less bagged a 16-pointer, I don't want to hear about someone who got one illegally.
Recent legislation has increased most fines for poaching substantially. Hurrah for that. Now poaching a deer out of season or with a light will cost at least $1,000 with the possibility of a year in jail.
Increased fines are great, but what it really takes to stop the crime of poaching is for the hunting community in particular to create the climate where this simply will not be tolerated. Where turning in a poacher is deemed as helping the resource and the legitimate hunting community.