One of the biggest wildlife crimes is poaching. Most poaching is not done by someone trying to feed a hungry family. Many poachers are out for monetary gain. Unbelievably there is a market for trophy proportion antlers for people that want to claim that they harvested a trophy deer. Some poachers are hunters that get caught up in antler envy and feel they must harvest a bigger rack to prove their hunting ability. A few poachers are in it for the thrill. The excitement of clandestine urban and rural hunting smacks of special ops missions. It is like a video game to them, only there are real ramifications for their actions.
In 2005 the deer herds around Little York, Indiana were being decimated by poachers. Countless deer carcasses were being found, most of which were missing their antlers with the meat left to rot. Sometimes the deer were shot in urban areas. Some of the poachers were so bold as to kill the deer while feeding in resident’s yards at night. “It was amazing some of the places these kids were going,” Gary told me. “They were doing it late at night when most folks were in bed.” In many cases the shot was never heard above the summer sounds of air conditioners running or TVs playing, coupled with having all the windows closed. Even if a shot was heard, there rarely was a second shot, and the event was soon forgotten.
The Indiana Conservation Officers working the case finally got a break when a concerned citizen called in on the poaching hotline 1-800-TIPIDNR. Using the information from the tip ICOs Gary Pennington and Jim Hash set up surveillance on a home of one of the major suspects. Their fear was the suspects would dispose of the evidence. Staying into the morning hours with no action, they finally located and questioned several of the individuals believed to be involved. As they interviewed the suspects, one started confessing and the scope of deer killed became staggering.
The poachers were a party of a dozen juveniles and young adults ranging in age from 13 to 19. “A couple of them were going out on a nightly basis poaching deer,” Gary said. “The one boy had supposedly killed over fifty deer himself that one summer.”
Peer pressure was one of the main motivators to recruit new poachers. The two or three main instigators would talk their friends, both boys and girls, into spotlighting deer with them. Traveling about Scott, Washington, and Harrison Counties at night, the juveniles would shoot the deer using a relatively quiet .17 WMR caliber rifle. “Honestly, some of the kids had done enough poaching that they were very good shots.”
If the poachers felt safe and the deer dropped quickly, they would cut off the rack as a trophy, and then leave the area quickly. If the deer ran off to die or they felt in danger of being discovered, the juveniles would leave and look for easier prey. “We found numerous dead bucks that they couldn’t find,” Gary told me. “They were afraid of someone calling in on them and getting caught.”
The fear of getting caught just added to the excitement of the poaching. “The biggest reason for doing it was the adrenaline rush,” Gary said.
Along with confessing, one of the poachers led the ICOs to the areas where much of their poaching had been done. As a result, they found many more deer carcasses, but not all. “We knew there were other deer that were killed that we couldn’t locate,” Gary said. “We photographed the carcasses we could find and cut off the racks as evidence.”
The total number of deer killed was shocking. “We recovered a total of thirteen deer racks from one of the main instigators of the poaching party,” Gary said. “After getting a confession from one boy we seized a mounted deer rack from his bedroom wall that he had poached the year before.”
Since most of the poachers were juveniles and they cooperated with the investigation, only one spent a day in jail. The rest received probation and small fines. In most cases like this any firearms used would be confiscated, but like everything about this case, there was another twist. “Yes, we did seize the .17 cal. rifle but it was given back to the subject by court order!”
Amazingly, while devastating our wild resources, some of the teenagers had higher aspirations. “The funny thing about it was that two of them wanted to have careers as Indiana Conservation Officers,” Gary laughed. “One even asked if this was going to affect his chances at becoming one.”
Who knows? Crazier things have happened…
What is TIP?
Turn in a Poacher, Inc. (TIP) is a non-profit conservation organization that works hand-in-hand with Indiana DNR Law Enforcement to protect our fish and wildlife resources by increasing public support and involvement in bringing violators to justice.
A poacher is a thief who illegally steals wildlife that belongs to each Indiana citizen. Poachers rob licensed, ethical hunters and anglers from recreational opportunities they bought through license fees.
Citizens can help stop poachers in two ways:
- Call 1-800-TIP-IDNR if you see, hear or learn about a poacher or another fish and wildlife violation. If your “TIP” leads to an arrest, you may receive as much as a $200 reward, and you can remain anonymous.
- Become an honorary member of the Turn in a Poacher Advisory Board (tip.wildindiana.com). Annual and lifetime memberships are available, and all proceeds from memberships go directly to assisting Indiana DNR Law Enforcement with catching poachers. (TIP hats and gear also available).
More information is available at www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/2745.htm.