Are poachers ruining your hunting experience?
August is when I typically run through a checklist of things I consider important for all serious hunters to do or prepare for as the hunting season quickly approaches.
But let’s postpone my thoughts on that subject until next month, in order to discuss a topic that at one point or another we have probably all faced.
I am talking about how pervasive and widespread poaching and trespassing seems to have become these days. I dare say most of the readers of this column have been touched, either directly or indirectly, by this problem.
I vividly remember a particular winter morning a number of years ago when my grown son, Jason, and I were deer hunting at our property in West-central Mississippi and had a close encounter with a very bold poacher.
We had noticed a few strange things happening here and there on the place over the weeks leading up to that fateful morning.
The most-compelling thing involved Jason arriving at the property before dawn one morning and hiking in to a creek bottom stand location at least a half mile in from the public road. The prearranged plan had been for me to arrive separately at about the same time, to park at a different spot and head in to a stand that was at least a half mile or more away from where Jason was posted.
After the hunt, upon arrival back at the hunting camp, Jason told me he had seen my flashlight in the far end of the creek bottom not long after he had climbed into his stand. He just naturally assumed I had changed my mind about stand location.
I looked at him, stunned and wide-eyed, and explained that I had been running late, which caused me to arrive after daylight and I 1) never pulled out my flashlight and 2) went to my prearranged stand location.
The sudden realization that an unknown third-party had also been in the woods with us caused us to quickly hop in our golf cart and head immediately to the creek bottom area to see what was going on. A slow and thorough sweep of the area turned up no visible evidence that a trespasser had been there, but we knew for certain one had been there earlier.
Before going any further with the story, I want to caution the reader about the inherent danger of directly confronting an armed law breaker on your property. Bear in mind that, in our case, my son is a highly trained law enforcement officer, and is much better equipped and experienced than most of us to deal with such a situation.
Now that we have properly set the stage, let’s return to that particular fateful winter morning that began this story later that same hunting season.
As luck would have it, we just happened to be in the same stands we had been in when Jason had seen the errant flashlight beam in the predawn gloom a few weeks earlier.
He and I were periodically checking in with each other by two-way radios and reporting on what deer movement we were seeing.
Suddenly, in the general direction of where Jason was posted, I heard a single rifle shot. I quietly keyed the mic and half whispered, “Was that you?”
He immediately came back with a “no,” but that the shot was very close to him and originated about halfway between his location and the public road, and that he was climbing down to investigate.
I immediately began to gather my gear to begin the long hike back to the camp and my pickup truck.
After climbing down from his stand, Jason quietly crept up to the ridge-top woods road paralleling the hardwood bottom where the shot originated. He would ease a few steps and then stop and listen.
As he approached the general location of where he mentally triangulated the shot in the adjacent bottom, he suddenly heard the sound of a person running in the opposite direction through the dry leaf litter. The poacher must have seen his blaze orange vest on top of the ridge and fled.
Upon arrival back at my truck, I quickly pulled out and raced up the public road to rendezvous with Jason and help with the search.
The poacher had vanished, and we came out empty handed.
A few days later I was coming out from a morning hunt along that same ridge top. As I reached the approximate spot where had heard the person run away a few days previous and was passing a deep, sunken area adjacent to the trail that served as a wildlife water hole, I heard furious wing-flapping noises and commotion from the bottom of the sunken area.
Turning off the trail and peering over the edge, I was shocked to see a dead buck with a respectable rack lying at the edge of the water hole — covered with buzzards. They all flew at the sight of me.
The poaching mystery had been solved. The trespasser who fired the shot had been trailing this mortally wounded buck when he saw Jason creeping along the ridge.
Talking to nearby neighbors about this incident revealed that they had also seen and heard suspicious activity for a number of weeks.
Subsequently, we all began to exchange information and stay in touch in a sort of “neighborhood watch” fashion. We ultimately found out who the poacher was, but with our heightened vigilance, the poaching activity stopped as abruptly as it started.
In this particular case, we had two types of trespass.
The first involved the trespasser parking nearby at a location where they had permission to park and then walking cross-country onto our place. The second involved a driver who would let the poacher off on the side of the public road where it ran alongside our property, and then pick them back up at a prearranged time and location — or after a text or cell phone call with instructions for pickup.
If you are plagued by mysterious gunshots on your property, headlighting at night, gut piles or deer bodies with the heads missing, and on and on, be smart — but most of all, be safe.
You should always call your local game warden and get him involved, but with usually only one or at most two wardens assigned to each county, they are usually stretched pretty thin.
In order to help the game warden, the more information you can gather on your own ahead of time, the better.
Tag numbers, neighborhood gossip about who your poacher might be and, of course, trail camera photos of trespassers can all be key elements to stopping poaching on your property.
Direct confrontation with an armed trespasser is to be avoided, if at all possible. Leave face-to-face confrontation to trained law enforcement officers.