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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS

Poachers prowling as deer season begins

November 27, 2011

By Bryan Brasher, CommercialAppeal.com

Unfortunately, opening of deer season leads to increase in illegal hunts

Like many Tennessee deer hunters, Clay Canaday spends the off-season grooming his property and counting down the days until he'll be able to get back in the woods.

But along with that anticipation, he also feels a little dread.

Canaday knows that deer season is also open season for poachers -- and if he wants to keep them away, he'll have to spend almost as much time patrolling his land as he spends hunting it.

"I've helped prosecute 27 people for poaching on my property," said Canaday, who has had several large patches of hunting property through the years in West Tennessee. "I wish I could say that I don't have any trouble with poaching now, but I can't."

Poachers are most active during deer season because it allows them to blend in with the crowd.

If a poacher kills a deer illegally during late spring or summer, he or she can run into a long list of stumbling blocks.

They can't wear full camouflage or carry a high-powered rifle in their trucks without raising suspicion. They can't haul a dead deer in their truck for fear of being noticed, and they can't take a big buck to a taxidermist for fear of being reported to local conservation officials.

But the opening day of deer season changes all of that.

While they do still have to sneak quietly onto private property to shoot and kill a deer, poachers are often home free once they have that deer in the back of their trucks. They can take it to any deer processor or taxidermist with no questions asked.

Canaday believes poaching would be curtailed quite a bit if people only realized the magnitude of the risk they're taking when they make the decision to hunt and kill game animals illegally.

According to Don Crawford of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the most common offenses that fall under the poaching label in Tennessee are spotlighting deer at night, hunting deer with dogs and bag limit violations.
Those offenses are Class B misdemeanors that carry fines up to $500.

Another common offense in Tennessee -- one that poses extreme danger to innocent bystanders -- is hunting from or across a public road or near a dwelling. That's a Class A misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $2,500.

The monetary fines in Tennessee are enough to make many prospective poachers think twice about breaking a law -- and a fairly new regulation is designed to make them think even harder about crossing the line.

Depending on the severity of the offense, judges can take away a poacher's hunting privileges for as long as they see fit -- and when people lose their hunting privileges in one state, the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact prohibits them from hunting in most other states around the country.

"That's the regulation that really gets people's attention," said Ty Inmon, a Tennessee conservation officer who patrols Fayette County. "A lot of people are willing to risk the fines because they still come out cheaper than they would if they had joined a hunting club or leased some property -- and that's assuming they get caught at all. But when it comes to losing their hunting privileges completely, that's hitting them where it really hurts."

There are numerous examples of that stiff penalty being put to good use in
Tennessee:

Jimmy Daniel Prater of Waynesboro spent 80 days in jail during 2009 for repeatedly ignoring Tennessee's hunting laws. Then when he was freed, he was prohibited from legally hunting in the state again.

Last year, TWRA officers made history when they used the Interstate Wildlife Violator's Compact to prosecute a Bradley County man who was caught fishing in another state while his hunting and fishing privileges were suspended in Tennessee. The man, Kurt Wesley Ellis of Cleveland, received two consecutive 364-day jail terms.

In October 2010, Ricky Williams of Mason, Tenn., pled guilty to illegally killing a 24-point buck that conservation officials believed might have some day been a Tennessee state record. He lost his hunting privileges for two years, had his gun and crossbow confiscated and was forced to pay $500 restitution for the deer.

Despite the high-profile nature of those cases and the sentences that were levied for them, poaching remains a problem in Tennessee -- and landowners and lease holders must keep their eyes peeled for illegal activity this time of year.

Canaday has already had problems this season.

"I picked up another hunting spot approximately 40 miles away from the land I had last year," Canaday said. "On the first day of gun season, I had to get Ty Inmon to come and catch the neighbor that was trespassing across us and hunting over baiting. That case is in the Grand Jury now -- and as sad as it is, I don't expect it to be the last time I catch someone hunting illegally on my land."

REPORT POACHERS

Here's how to report poaching in the Mid-South quickly and easily:

Tennessee: Call 1-800-831-1173 between 7 a.m. and midnight. TWRA offers a reward up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of wildlife poachers.

Arkansas: Call 1-800-482-9262 anytime, 24 hours a day. Caller's names are kept anonymous, and each caller is eligible for a monetary reward based on the amount of the minimum fine in the event a citation is issued for the violation being reported.

Mississippi: Call 1-800-BE-SMART or use the online form at mdwfp.com.

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