Poaching – A View From The Tree Stand

View from tree stand

Recently an Ohio hunter was convicted of poaching a giant whitetail deer. He was fined $28,000 for shooting a 26 point buck! Because the hunter paid the fine in full, his jail time was suspended and his license revocation was reduced from two years to one. Are you kidding me? I cannot understand how a judge can reduce penalties based on paying a fine in full. What is the message here? It seems we are saying that if you have money, it is ok to be unethical because you paid “restitution”. To me, this is the type of battle we as hunters should be fighting. These are the actions that give teeth to the fight against hunting and hunters. This is what threatens our legacy in the coming years.

Be Ethical

Ethics in hunting are the keystone to the future. Without ethics, all will be lost and the naysayers continue to gain the power to eliminate the sport. Read any anti-hunting publication and you will find their arguments for why hunting is unethical and should be banned. We focus so much energy on fighting amongst ourselves when we should be banding together to support the hunting community as a whole.

Like it or not, hunting is under the microscope more than ever. The anti-hunting sentiment uses sensationalized photos, stories, etc. to demonstrate why hunting is barbaric. They attempt to rebut the fact that management and conservation are the hallmarks of what TRUE hunters stand for. I find it almost comical how closely ethical hunters and the anti-hunting community are aligned. Neither side wants animals to suffer. Noone wants to have nonfatal injuries inflicted on an animal. Both sides believe in the preservation and sustainment of wild game. Both groups would love to see stiffer penalties for illegal activities.

What hurts hunters are those that go outside the scope of legal hunting activities. These acts, driven by greed, diminish the good things accomplished by the majority of hunters. It doesn’t matter that the bulk of the conservation efforts are funded and executed by hunters. The actions of a few are condemning the masses and we as a hunting community need to step up and say no more.

A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than that of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact. -Aldo Leopold

The quote by Aldo Leopold says it all. Being ETHICAL is about what you do when nobody is watching!

The Ohio hunter had every opportunity to do the right thing and pass on the big buck. Ohio is a one buck state so his buck tag was punched for the season. Instead, he chose to forgo the law and harvest a second buck. He then chose to disrespect the animals, decapitate both deer, and simply tossed the eight-point head in a ditch. This is the type of shameful behavior that gives all hunters a bad name. Harvest limits are in place for a reason in every state. These are part of a conservation program initiated by the state wildlife agencies to ensure the future of the animal populations. While we have the right to disagree with the law, we also have a responsibility to uphold it.

Time for change

I believe that we need a fundamental change in the penalty phase for poaching convictions in Ohio and many other states. The penalties for poaching should include increased minimum fines, extended license bans, and even added mandatory jail time. The laws are online and distributed by the states every year. It is the hunter’s responsibility to read, know and understand the laws. Blatant disregard of the law cannot be tolerated and should be punished each and every time. If hunters choose to ignore basic hunting ethics, then the States need to hold them accountable with penalties that have teeth.

I read an article from Massachusetts (Salemnews.com) that highlighted the states push to drive higher penalties for illegal activity. The article highlighted some aggressive fines and penalties instituted in other states for illegal activity.

In Alaska, a first-offense for hunting, fishing or trapping out of season carries a minimum fine of $10,000 and up to one year in jail. Poaching in Colorado can result in a $100,000 fine for repeated offenses and up to three years in jail. North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming classify poaching as a felony charge.


A quick search on Google showed Ohio’s deer poaching laws: “Illegally taking a deer, on first offense, is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. The state, which legally owns Ohio’s wildlife, can also collect restitution on poached animals.”

Ohio seems to go light on poachers but holds the right for restitution to be paid for the animal. I have an issue with this as well. Ohio uses a formula of payment by the total inches of antler. They use the Boone and Crocket scoring system to run this formula ((gross score – 100)2 x $1.65). This is great if it is a giant buck, but the hunter gets a $500 fine for a doe.

In the case of the Ohio poacher, his fine was so great because of the antler size of the buck harvested. I challenge this by asking is it any less a crime to shoot a spike once your buck tag is filled? Is the value of an illegally taken trophy buck actually any greater than an illegally taken doe or fawn? The system seems flawed to me in that we are emphasizing the trophy value over the animal itself. Doesn’t this rhetoric play right into the hands of those looking to abolish hunting?

There is no grey area when it comes to poaching. Hunters have to be ethical and follow the law. We must understand that our actions speak volumes even when no one is watching us. The hunting community needs to call on the state agencies that make the laws and demand stiffer penalties for poaching that protect all animals equally, not just the trophies. Our hunting heritage and legacy depend on it!

Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD!
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Author: Eric Hall

Afflicted with Whitetail OCD, I have been addicted to the Whitetail Deer since the late 1980s. It is an all-consuming and never-ending passion to learn about and ultimately preserve the heritage of whitetail deer hunting. Now I feed that addiction with the Whitetail OCD blog.

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