An acquaintance of mine, a native Hoosier that resides out of state, had a major blow dealt to him the first week of January. This guy feels about poaching the same way I do, although due to recent events, I’m sure he now feels it on a level I hope I never have to experience.
He, along with his friends and some family members, while at his beloved hunting cabin in a remote area back in November, witnessed an illegal act by poachers in the cover of darkness. It happened not a hundred yards from where they sat around a campfire, after a long day of hunting.
Just over a month and a half later, his hunting cabin was intentionally burned to the ground under the cover of darkness
He aggressively pursued the poachers. He did everything necessary, by way of reporting what he and his buddies had witnessed with their own eyes, to ensure that these thieves, who were stealing from his local hunting community, his dream, and the dream he had for his family and friends, would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But it came with a price.
Just over a month and a half later, his hunting cabin was intentionally burned to the ground, again, under the cover of darkness.
The reason I tell this story isn’t to instill fear or prevent someone from speaking up when they see something happening that they know is wrong, but quite the opposite. It’s told as a reminder that, for some of us, it’s just worth that much.
We stand up for wildlife and for all of those who follow the rules, regardless of what we may lose by doing the right thing.
From an incredibly young age, I have felt strongly about many issues. This could literally be anything from not being able to have cookies or cereal for dinner every night, or having my sling-shot taken away for something my brother did with his.
But now as an adult, it’s more serious stuff like social injustice, politics, my local grocery store being rearranged, or how much pepper my partner uses when he cooks our dinner. I mean, we all have things that get us fired up, right?
I have always been a rule follower, so much so that it is annoying to some who are close to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means perfect.
I drive too fast in most cases, I have used office supplies at work for personal use, I’ve paid bills late, and one time I didn’t scan the toilet paper that was on the bottom of my cart while using the self-check-out in Kroger and didn’t realize it until I was loading it into my truck in the parking lot. Yes, I took it back in and paid for it, but still, I was a wrongdoer.
All kidding aside, there is one area that I feel so passionate about, that I will not falter, I will not bend the rules, and I will not turn a blind eye for anyone when it comes to poaching. I am a hunter, and as you know, just saying those words places a huge amount of responsibility on a person.
There are ethics involved, there are rules and regulations to not only be aware of, but to understand, and there are decisions made that always come with circumstances. The important thing is to make the right decisions, and to make them on purpose.
Poaching is nothing new, it’s not some super-secret idea that just popped up in the last ten years. It happens every year, most likely in every county of our great state, and has for as long as there has been regulated hunting.
Oftentimes, it is done intentionally; game is taken out of season, deer are killed over corn piles or mineral blocks, folks hunting without a license, animals shot by trespassers, over limits, spotlighting, etc.
All of these being obvious state game violations in Indiana and many other states, as well. Occasionally, genuine mistakes are made and there are hard lessons learned. But if I had to bet any amount of money, those folks making those genuine mistakes, won’t have any future run-ins with the local Conservation Officers.
Like I mentioned above, no one is perfect, mistakes happen, but poachers aren’t simply making mistakes. They are seeing what they can get away with without getting caught. They are the enemy of the ethical hunter.
When someone cognitively makes a choice, and keep in mind, it IS a choice, to break the law, they are not only making hunting hard for the rest of us, but they are also blatantly stealing from the landscape that we as hunters, so passionately try to protect. Poachers are not hunters; they are not deserving of that title. They are thieves and they are criminals.
In full disclosure, I was approached about joining the Indiana Turn in a Poacher (TIP) Citizen’s Advisory Board last year, and I gladly accepted the invitation to be a part of this volunteer group.
Turn in a Poacher, Inc. is a non-profit group focused on conservation, that works alongside the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, to protect wildlife and natural resources by offering the public a safe and secure option of reporting violators of Fish & Wildlife regulations.
Members on this board take on the important responsibility of evaluating and approving rewards to those who call the tip line to report what they believe to be violations of our state’s game laws. We evaluate the information and vote yes or no, to award the money to the concerned citizen.
And as someone who is not just new to the TIP board, but also someone who is fairly new to hunting, albeit eight years now, I am dumbfounded to learn what people who inappropriately call themselves hunters, are doing in our communities.
For example, in early December the TIP board members received an email that was asking us to review four different cases that were called into the TIP line by other hunters or concerned citizens.
This is a glimpse into what poachers think they can get away with, and probably would have, had these folks not been brave enough to report these crimes, and had the Turn in A Poacher hotline not been in place to begin with.
An individual was actively hunting when he observed a car slow down and then heard a gunshot. The hunter immediately called the potential poaching violation in from his deer stand and officers were dispatched to the area. Officers located an individual who stated that he and his wife were out looking for their dog. The female was located in the woods later and subsequently admitted that they saw a deer from the road and that she got out and shot the deer from the road on property that they did not have consent to hunt on.
We received a Turn in a Poacher call in reference to an individual who had shot multiple deer without a license, over bait and failed to check any of them in as required. The complainant agreed to speak with the officer and provided enough firsthand information for the officer to obtain a search warrant. A subsequent search and interview resulted in the suspect admitting to shooting three deer over bait and without the required licenses. During the search, the officers also discovered a variety of illicit drugs and paraphernalia.
An individual was actively hunting when he observed a small pickup truck leaving a field that he was hunting. He noted where the truck came from and went to investigate the area that it came from. The hunter located three dead deer, all of them bucks, and all of them near a pile of corn.
The hunter contacted our Dispatch Center, and we sent an officer to the scene. As the officer arrived a truck matching the description was just leaving the field in question. The truck had three dead antlered deer in the bed and the hunter admitted to shooting all three over bait.
One of our officers was contacted by a local sheriff’s deputy who had taken a call from a hunter that witnessed an individual shoot at a group of deer from the roadway. The hunter agreed to speak with our officer and met him and the deputy at the scene. The hunter pointed out the area in question and our officer was able to locate multiple .300 Blackout casings lying in the road. He was also able to locate deer blood on the roadway.
The vehicle description sounded familiar and the officer contacted an off-duty officer that knew who the suspects likely were. Our officer drove to the residence in question and noted the same pickup truck pulling in the driveway at the same time. The driver admitted that he took his grandson out road hunting and that the grandson shot and killed a deer from the middle of the road. He then left the grandson to drag the deer out and returned later to pick the boy and deer up.
These specific examples revolve around just deer season, but poaching isn’t limited to deer, or a certain time of the year. It includes all wildlife including non-game species.
It is important that the hunting community continues to look out not only for our own best interests as ethical hunters, but for the wildlife that we pursue and value. Many hunters and non-hunters alike, may not realize that there was a time in our country, not so long ago, that hunting was not regulated and because of that, many species including the white-tailed deer and eastern wild turkey were extirpated from the very areas that they are plentiful today.
There were no deer or turkey to hunt, period. Hard work and coordination by conservationists and wildlife biologists in several states, fought tirelessly to get these animals back, and back to respectable numbers. Regulations by our Fish & Wildlife agencies are in place so that these animals will continue to be here for future generations of hunters to pursue, without the risk of diminishing populations.
So, we as sportsmen and women have a responsibility, whether we all feel brave enough to accept it or not, to always do the right thing in the field. We have a responsibility to instill in the new hunters going out for their first seasons that idea that being able to hunt is a privilege, and by following the regulations in place, it’s a privilege we will all be able to enjoy for years to come.
If you asked my friend, who sadly lost not just a cabin, but multiple family heirlooms, artwork from his children’s childhood, taxidermy that belonged to his grandfather, and so many other valuable possessions in that fire, if he would do it again, knowing what he knows now, I can just about guarantee that he would tell you, “You’re damn right I would.”
The Indiana Turn in A Poacher (TIP) line (1-800-TIP-IDNR) is an anonymous way to always do the right thing.
For the sake of this activity that we love, the animals that we revere, and the traditions that we hope to pass on to future generations; if you see something, say something. Our hunting community will thank you for it.
About the Author: Born and raised in Indiana, Stites been an angler for most of her life, and an avid hunter for the last eight years. She considers herself a generalist, as she enjoys hunting whitetail, mule deer, turkey, squirrel, dove and pheasant. She hopes to add elk and caribou in the near future.
Cindy Stites is Hunting Field Editor for Sportsman Magazine