Unfortunately, opening of deer season leads to increase in illegal
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
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
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
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
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."
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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