Licensed hunters contribute to wildlife conservation when buying hunting permits, firearms, ammunition and most archery equipment. Ethical hunters also pursue species while following fair-chase practices, and abide by regulations to ensure healthy wildlife populations. Not everyone, however, hunts legally. Those who illegally hunt or capture fish and wildlife are called poachers.
Conservation officers, aka game wardens, arrest thousands of poachers annually nationwide, but many poaching crimes aren’t reported. According to a National Deer Alliance poll, 53.2 percent of respondents know someone who killed deer illegally, yet 75.7 percent didn’t report them to authorities.
When asked why they didn’t report the violator, 62.8 percent said the violator was a friend or relative, and 19.3 percent said they didn’t want to get involved. Another 14.4 percent said they didn’t think anything would be done even if they reported it. Meanwhile, 2.1 percent said they didn’t know who to call, and 1.2 percent said it wasn’t a big deal.
But poaching is a big deal, and those who poach – whether they’re friend or family – break the law, hurt wildlife populations, and put hunters in a negative light.
“When a particular resource is poached, it not only affects that species but other species in the environment,” said Jason Jones, a lieutenant game warden in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “There are a lot more ethical hunters than unethical hunters, but the news feeds on poaching [crimes], so that’s what we hear about, which gives the hunting community a bad rap.”
Game wardens protect wildlife by investigating poaching crimes and catching violators. Criminals face fines, penalties, license suspensions or even jail, depending on the violation. However, wardens can’t be everywhere, and must rely on tips from hunters to catch poachers.
What should you do if you accidentally break the law or see someone poaching?
Edward McCann, a conservation warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said if you’ve violated a hunting regulation it’s best to call the state wildlife agency where you’re hunting and turn yourself in.
“Turning yourself in is better than trying to hide it, getting caught and facing stiff penalties,” McCann said. “If you admit your mistake, you’ll get scolded, but we’ll also thank you and appreciate the fact you showed enough integrity to turn yourself in.”
If you see a poacher, Jones recommends collecting as much information about the person as possible, and then report what you witnessed to a game warden or the state wildlife agency. He warns hunters to stay safe by gathering information from a distance.
“Do not approach the violator,” Jones said. “Try to get a description of the person, the vehicle, and what illegal activity is being done. If the person leaves, give a direction of travel. Then call all information in and report [the crime] as soon as possible.”
Not sure who to call? Visit your state agency’s website. Most wildlife agencies have anonymous or confidential hotlines for reporting poachers. In addition, the Quality Deer Management Association has a webpage listing toll-free poacher hotlines for all 50 states. Click here for the list.
Be a responsible bowhunter by reporting poachers, and learn the hunting regulations in your area to avoid accidental violations.