The Looting Of Indiana's Hunting Heritage

When we watch the looting and destruction during recent rioting, we wonder why anyone would want to destroy their neighborhood and the future of their community for the short-term gain of a few stolen items from a smashed store window. But then, I feel the same way when I hear of a poaching case involving the wildlife of Indiana.

This is a segment of society that is ignorant or apathetic to the reason behind Indiana’s regulated hunting and fishing. We have a rich and beautiful ecological tapestry, but its resources are not infinite. We only have to look back at our history to see what we have lost forever. The slaughter of our wild Passenger Pigeons and Carolina Parakeets are just two examples.

In the early 1800s the Passenger Pigeon, a larger cousin of the Morning Dove, seemed as numerous as the stars. It is estimated that three to five billion Passenger Pigeons lived in eastern North America in the late 18th Century. Newspapers of the day told of flocks in unfathomable numbers that darkened the sun for hours as they migrated.

“[My father] says, in 1831-2, the pigeon roosts in the vicinity of Vernon, which had become noted as the most extensive in that part of the State, were occupied by great numbers of pigeons. They moved in flocks so large the sky could not be seen in any direction as far as the eye could reach. They also nested in that locality in great abundance.” Amos Butler, Birds of Indiana (1897) (Project Passenger Pigeon, n.d.)

Passenger Pigeon

“In the early seventies of the last century, wild pigeons were plentiful in Dubois County. They flew over Jasper in flocks long enough to hide the sun, often in what seemed a quarter of a mile wide and twice as long.” George Wilson, Historical Notes on DuBois County, Vol. VII, date unknown, Jasper, IN Public Library (courtesy of Theresia Schwinghammer) (Project Passenger Pigeon, n.d.)

Their combined weight would bend and break tree limbs as they roosted.

“The pigeons came in such flocks [in Wabash County] that we frequently found places where they had settled so thickly on the branches of trees having brittle wood, such as maple and beech, that quite good-sized limbs had been broken down from the weight of the pigeons that swarmed over then to brood by night. In my childhood it was customary for men to take long poles and big bags and lanterns and go searching through the woods until they found of these perching places of the pigeons. The half-a-dozen men would flash the lanterns in such a manner that the light would blind the birds, and with the clubs others would beat the birds from the limbs, strike them down and gather them up by the bagful.” Gene Stratton-Porter (mid 1870s), Tales You Won't Believe (1925) (Project Passenger Pigeon, n.d.)

Their numbers seemed endless as farmers suffocated them with smudge pots by the thousands as they roosted, just to feed their hogs with the lifeless bodies. Markets hunters would follow the flocks and slaughter as many as they could to sell by the barrel to the hungry city dwellers back east.

Even as conservationists started sounding the alarm that the Passenger Pigeon was rapidly vanishing, train loads of people would follow the remaining flocks to kill their share of the wild pigeon. While legislation did get passed to halt the slaughter, it was too little, too late. What they didn’t realize is that the passenger Pigeon needed large numbers of birds to continue breeding. Many hunters refused to believe that they should change and continued killing as many as they could.

In 1914 the last Passenger Pigeon died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Few Hoosiers realize that a species of brightly colored parrot used to call Indiana home. Huge flocks of the noisy Carolina Parakeet searched our forests for mast and fruit. As pioneers moved west, the parrots found the lush orchards of Hoosier farmers perfect for a meal. Understandably, the farmers didn’t appreciate having the fruits of their labors consumed by 200-300 parrots at a time. War was declared.

Audubon's Carolina Parakeet

Along with the anger of the farmers, women’s fashions turned to brightly colored feathers to decorate hats and dresses. The markets hunters didn’t have to go to the tropics to find them, and the Carolina Parakeet was the perfect prey. When one bird was injured, the rest of the flock tried to protect their flock member and stayed close by for support. The market hunters easily slaughtered entire flocks at a time

Like the Passenger Pigeon, the last one died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

A true hunter is ethical and respects the life that they take. They do everything in their power to assure that the species they hunt more than survives, it must thrive. If a person is just out for the thrill of killing something or to destroy a resource, then let’s call them what they really are, a criminal, because they are robbing future generations of something wonderful; a thread in our rich tapestry.

Many of our natural resources are already under siege. As grain commodities rise, more and more marginal land is drained, cleared, and tilled. Urban sprawl infects places that once held quail and grouse. Change of land use is inevitable, but there is one act that should never be tolerated, and that is the sense poaching of our wild creatures.

The dominate image that comes to mind when poaching is brought up is of a husband and father trying to provide a meal for their family. In ninety-nine percent of the cases, this is simply not true. Studies from neighboring states have shown the vast majority of poachers are after monetary gain, a trophy to mount on the wall, or simply for the lust of destroying another creature.

Regulated hunting is sustainable. The IDNR strives to find a balance in the interaction of man and beast, fish, and fowl. Poaching circumvents the balancing act and hurts Hoosiers in many ways.

The most obvious is the loss of endangered animals. Ruffed grouse are on the brink of becoming extirpated across much of its range, including Indiana. The poaching of just one or two grouse can cause generations of damage. While there has been some progress in revitalizing ruffed grouse habitat in some southern counties, it means nothing if there are no ruffed grouse left to use it.

Another danger of poaching is the disenfranchising of existing hunters and fishermen. Some of Indiana’s wildlife, such as wild turkey, are extremely easy to kill in mass, if a poacher knows how. Indiana’s turkey are already in decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Wiping out an entire flock could cause the loss of regulated hunting opportunities for generations. In such a case, hunters often give up hunting and do not pass their knowledge and passion on to future generations. The loss of any hunters lessens our collective voice in the statehouse on matters that concern Indiana’s natural resources.

Poachers are rarely good land stewards. They usually commit other unlawful acts such as property theft and property damage as they steal our wild game. The frustration of dealing with cut fences, stolen tools, vandalized farm implements, and damage to valuable hardwoods often hardens a property owner’s heart to legal hunting. The non-hunting public has a tendency of painting hunters with a broad brush of irresponsibility and mayhem.

Not to mention every time a Bald eagle, Sandhill crane, or some other high-profile game or non-game animal is poached, the media impugns the integrity of all hunters, which further hardens the public's’ hearts and minds.

Why am I sounding the clarion trumpet? As I travel the state and talk to the IDNR biologists and Conservation Officers, I hear the stories of the senseless waste of our natural resources and have to question the direction segments of our society are taking. We should all be passionate about conservation, and what we pass down to our children and grandchildren. Along with protecting our freedoms, we should also be protecting their heritage. Stamping out poaching is just one arrow we have in our quiver to assure that future Hoosiers will hear the springtime drumming of grouse, watch the soaring of an eagle, or feel the tug of a massive flathead catfish.

This last year an amazing and wonderful part of our history has been returned to Hoosiers. As many of you know, a black bear has taken up residence in southern Indiana. Many of us hope it is the beginning of the re-population of an animal that has been too long gone from our forests and hills. There are others that would like nothing better than to seek it out and kill it.

Black bear in the Vince Shute WS, Orr, Minnesota

When something wild is lost, like the Passenger Pigeon or Carolina Parakeet, we lose part of ourselves. To have the possibility to regain something wild is almost magical. We need to do everything we can to assure that struggling species survive, and with them, our hunting heritage.

How can you help? If you see something, say something. It’s that simple. Whether it’s on social media, an Internet discussion board, or the local coffee shop, poachers seem to love to brag about their exploits. If you hear or see something, just call in. It couldn’t be easier with the TIP program.

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 ( 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