Hunting Accident File > Violations

PA: Many examples of illegal hunting

August 8, 2010

"With so many repeat offenders, the Legislature had to do something," James "Jay" Delaney, the chairman of the board of the Game Commission, said.


Jail time toughens law to discourage poaching Rewards curb illegal hunting

Poachers have always paid fines, but now they can pay with jail time under a law that takes effect in September in Pennsylvania.

"For the worst offenders ... their wrists should not be slapped. I said it's time we cuffed them instead of slapped them," said state Rep. Edward Staback, D-115, Archbald, the law's sponsor in the state House.

The Legislature approved the law after hearing that lax penalties attracted poachers to Pennsylvania from other states and that some people were spotlighting and shooting several deer per night for thrills.

Carl Roe, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, referred to thrill kills while testifying before the Game and Fisheries Committee that Staback chairs.

"It opened my eyes and a good number of people on our committee. I had never heard that before in conjunction with hunting," said Staback, who has been a hunter since he was 12.

The Game Commission obtained convictions in two thrill kills this winter.

In Washington County on Jan. 16, a 22-year-old West Virginia woman killed three deer.

She paid $3,100 in fines, $2,400 in restitution and $506 to replace a light that she shot out.

Two young men fired 60 shots overnight from Dec. 19 to 20, 2009 in Westmoreland County. They killed six deer, wounded another that had to be killed, and hit an occupied house and parked car with buckshot. Their penalties included $3,400 in fines and nearly $9,000 for damage to the home and car.

None of the three, however, was sentenced to prison.

"You could kill every deer in Pennsylvania and not see one day in jail," Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said of the old law.

Under the new law, which takes effect 60 days from July 9 when Gov. Ed Rendell signed it, offenders can be charged with various misdemeanors and summary offenses that can carry jail sentences. Fines increase from those now imposed.

For example, a person who illegally kills a deer will face a first-degree summary charge that carries a fine of $400 to $800 and up to one month in jail.

"If nothing more, it will serve as a major deterrent to those people who haven't done it but are thinking about it," Staback said. "Kill five whitetailed deer in a single episode, you're looking at $15,000 and a strong possibility of jail up to three years depending on the mood of the judge."

The current law didn't dissuade poachers from dealing antlers, meat, hides from illegally killed animals or bear gallbladders, which are falsely considered an aphrodisiac, on the black market.

"Basically a lot of other states increased their penalties. In Pennsylvania it was sort of like a cost of doing business. If you're going to be a poacher if you get caught, the fines were not very high," Feaser said.

In the new law, charges may be brought for each animal that is illegally killed, bought, sold or possessed. Trespassing while violating other provisions of the act tacks $100 to $200 onto the total fine.

Penalties under the new law increase when poachers take endangered and threatened species or big game.

Repeat offenders also incur harsher punishments.

Anyone convicted a third time for taking an endangered or threatened species would be charged with a third-degree felony that carries a possible sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $15,000.

"With so many repeat offenders, the Legislature had to do something," James "Jay" Delaney, the chairman of the board of the Game Commission, said.

People convicted of felonies under the new law won't lose their jobs or their right to vote as they might with other felony convictions.

They will, however, lose their right to own firearms, which might be a more effective deterrent than loss of hunting privileges. A poacher is more likely to kill a deer illegally when he doesn't have a gun than when he doesn't have a license. A 19-year-old Adams County man had a valid license when he shot a 16-point buck out of season in September 2009 in York County.

The poacher falsely said he downed the buck during archery season in Lycoming County, but was fined $1,100 for game law violations and billed another $5,000 for killing a trophy-class animal, the Game Commission said.

The law does allow judges to strip illegal hunters of the privilege to buy a hunting or fur-taking license for up to 15 years. A companion bill, which lawmakers ran out of time to pass before the summer recess, will add Pennsylvania to a group of more than 30 states that enforce hunting license bans collectively.

Under the bill, which Staback expects will pass in September, anyone who loses hunting privileges in Pennsylvania will be banned from buying a hunting license in the other states that belong to the compact.

"I think it's wrong that people commit these crimes against wildlife the way they do," Staback said. "It takes away from the opportunity of the legitimate hunters."

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Pennsylvanians can protect wildlife by reporting poachers to the Game Commission.

Reports can be made anonymously, and rewards of $100 are offered.

The commission operates a hotline for cases of poaching endangered or threatened animals or multiple kills or abductions of game animals.

The number is 1-888-PGC-8001. It rings to an answering machine that only authorized commission workers can access. Callers need not leave any personal information, but to collect a reward they have to provide a way for the commission to send them a reward if the tip leads to a conviction.

On the commission's website, people can obtain a form to report poachers. They can submit the form by e-mail or at the post office.

To report lesser crimes, such as the killing of a single animal, people should call the commission's nearest regional office. In the Hazleton area, the regional office is in Dallas, Luzerne County. The telephone number is 675-1143. Schuylkill County residents can call the office in Reading at 610-926-3136

Game law fines poachers an extra $200, which goes to rewards and the system for reporting poaching.

Currently the commission offers a reward of up to $2,500 in a case of a hunter and his 9-year-old son who were shot on the first day of the spring gobbler season in Clearfield County.

The pair were struck in the face, back and side with shotgun pellets on the DuBois Beagle Club property off state Route 119 in Sandy Township, and saw the shooter head north to leave.

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