Game Commission tries to deter practice by using
decoys to catch poachers in act.
From The Morning Call
By Dan Nephin - The Associated Press
October 17, 2006
Several weeks ago, a poacher shot what was all but certainly a 180-pound
buck with a trophy-sized rack — sawing off its head at the neck and
leaving some 90 pounds of venison to spoil in a farmer's field.
For hunters in Fayette County, it will mean one less prized buck this
For Stephen Leiendecker, a wildlife conservation officer for the
Pennsylvania Game Commission, it was an all-too-familiar scene.
Poaching-related offenses typically account for about 2,000 — or a
fourth — of all game law violations each year in Pennsylvania, but Game
Commission officials say there's no way of knowing the true extent of
Though both poaching and combating poaching are year-round
activities, this is the time of year when complaints really start
rolling in, Leiendecker said, with a call or more every day.
Richard Palmer, the commission's acting director of Wildlife
Protection, said almost all deer he has seen taken illegally are
''Now, if you need food, you'd shoot a doe,'' he said. ''Why do they
do it in my experience? Greed. It's simply one of those things where
it's, 'I want to do this.'''
The poaching also upsets farmers.
''If (hunters) want to come here and hunt, nine times out of 10,
we'll let them. But this is why we don't,'' said Mike Lester, whose
father owns the 154-acre Jefferson Township farm where the headless buck
was found last month.
''It's just not the right thing to do,'' said his brother, Dave
Lester. ''When I hunted, I didn't hunt for horns. I like the meat.
There's people starving throughout the country that could probably use
Catching poachers in the act is difficult. After shooting a deer,
they will usually leave the area, returning later to get the deer when
they're sure no one is around.
Wildlife conservation officers and deputies are also stretched thin.
The Game commission employs about 130 wildlife conservation officers
throughout the state. Leiendecker is responsible, along with two
deputies, for 800 square miles in Fayette County.
Besides responding to poaching calls and conducting surveillance, he
and other conservation officers respond to small animal complaints, pick
up roadkill and run hunter-trapper education programs.
After investigating the poached buck, Leiendecker drove his Ford
Expedition onto a hill in a farmer's field to conduct surveillance.
He was on the lookout for slow-moving vehicles spotlighting deer.
Spotlighting is legal, but only until 11 p.m. After that, Leiendecker
said, spotlighters are typically looking to ''jacklight'' — use their
spotlights to freeze deer in their tracks so they can easily be picked
Leiendecker hears gunshots on some of his patrols, but not during the
couple of hours of surveillance he carries out this night.
Sometimes, the Game Commission uses deer decoys. Leiendecker will set
up a decoy buck just off a roadway and use a remote control to move its
head. Typically, they are set up on the property of someone who has
Though many people think decoys are used as a form of entrapment,
Leiendecker said that's not the case. He can outfit the decoy with racks
of various size and he doesn't use the largest rack possible so as not
to entice someone into shooting at a trophy animal they otherwise
wouldn't shoot, he said. Because of the time involved, the decoys are
used only selectively.
Once, he said, he had the decoy set up and a poacher shot at it with
a crossbow. The man was so intent on shooting it, Leiendecker said, that
he was unfazed when Leiendecker walked up to him in uniform as he was
readying another shot.
Poachers sometimes rat each other out, but Leiendecker said it is
important for the public at large to get involved and let the commission
know where and when poaching is taking place.
The commission doesn't break down poaching cases by species because
the game violation laws doesn't make the distinction. Poaching includes
jacklighting, killing a species out of season, exceeding bag limits and
killing non-game wildlife species.
Generally, poaching-related offenses are considered summary or
misdemeanor offenses and violators typically receive fines, but rarely
jail time. The commission can also revoke an offender's license.
In a case three years ago, Michael Allen Lake, of Fulton County, was
found guilty of more than 80 poaching-related offenses and fined more
than $25,000. Investigators found a notebook detailing 250 deer and 82
turkeys Lake killed during two decades, many illegally.
Pennsylvania's laws governing poaching aren't as stringent as in
other states, Palmer said, but the commission plans to seek harsher
penalties, which would require legislative action.
''In some parts of the state, a box of 22s, a case of beer and a
pickup truck — that's a Friday night date,'' Palmer said. ''Basically,
they're stealing an opportunity to the lawful hunter, but that's a loss
to anybody who enjoys wildlife.''
Copyright © 2006, The Morning Call