Poaching continues to tarnish the image of hunting

Big game season is over and all in all, it wasn’t a bad season for me. I harvested a nice whitetail buck and though I didn’t fill my elk tag, I had a few good days sneaking around the woods with my buddies.

Sometimes it’s true – the experience is worth it.

On the last day of the season, I bought a doe tag and trudged around the river bottoms looking to put a little more meat in the freezer. I was hunting public land, like I had most of the season.

Sneaking through the willows, I stumbled on a disturbing site. Someone had killed a whitetail buck and sawed off its horns and left the rest to be picked over by the magpies and crows.

I called the game warden, but my guess is with very little evidence, tracking down the poacher will be nearly impossible. This crook will, in all likelihood, get away.

Stories of poaching get pretty thick around here during big game season, probably like they do everywhere else in the state.

I’ve heard about a handful this season – two bull elk shot and left to rot near the Ennis Airport, a bull moose poached west of Ennis and Monday night a buck, shot with a shotgun, in the middle of the night just off of Main Street in Ennis.

Curbing this behavior is an endless and often impossible task for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and responsible hunters and sportsmen. Some of the problem is culture – many people still feel comfortable with some level of breaking the hunting laws.

I don’t have the answers, but one thing I would like to see is more teeth in game laws. Too often, game crimes receive too small of a penalty, which means there isn’t much of a deterrent.

Also, there’s not enough incentive to report crimes other than because it’s the right thing to do. TIP Mont, which is the toll free number to report game crimes, does offer a reward for information leading to an arrest. I think besides money, they should also offer people reporting crimes preference points toward drawing a special tag. This would cost the state no money and would be a meaningful and simple reward for hunters doing the right thing.

Also, if someone is convicted of illegally taking an animal, they should lose all their preference points automatically. Maybe that would deter someone inclined to empty their rifle at a herd of elk running across the flats, or shooting an extra deer just because they have the opportunity.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the most frustrating thing about poaching. It’s a theft of what is a public resource – that’s certainly upsetting. But poaching also tarnishes the reputation of responsible hunters. Unfortunately it can lead people to question the morals of someone who is wearing a hunter orange vest on and carrying a rifle.

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