By Jeff Berti
Let’s face it. Many of us know “sportsmen” who would report a spotlighter in a flash, but see no harm in selectively bending the hunting and fishing rules a tad; they use Uncle Charlie’s turkey tag or release a dying bass from their stringer after a larger bass has been caught to fill their limit. As long as they cooperate with the conservation agent and do nothing flagrant, they would never call themselves “poachers.”
Well, are they? The dictionary definition of poaching is “taking game and fish illegally.” Under the letter of the law, a violation is a violation, whether it’s killing a goose five minutes after shooting hours or shining a dozen deer after dark.
Some hunters and anglers believe that these small violations “aren’t that bad.” They can be referred to as “subtle poachers.” It’s a fitting term, because this type of violation avoids perception by those who do it and by the many sportsmen who don’t understand the danger that subtle poaching poses to hunting, fishing and the resources upon which they depend.
The problem of subtle poaching is real, and is at least as serious as massive over-bagging In terms of overall effect, there is little difference between a small number of people who flagrantly take far more than the legal limit and the large number of people who shoot their hunting partners ducks on top of their own, or catch theirs and their child’s limit of fish.
What about using Uncle Charlie’s turkey tag – known as cross-tagging? Some folks say, “What’s the difference if I shoot the turkey or Uncle Charlie shoots it?”
First of all, cross tagging leads to over-bagging. It’s simply a way for hunters to harvest more game than they are legally allowed. If they can get away with it with turkeys, they will do the same with ducks, geese, quail and fish. Where does it end?
Moreover, many tags are “borrowed” from family members and friends that don’t even hunt. I’ve heard many hunters say, “What’s the big deal? We need to reduce the deer population, anyway.” Think of it this way. You hunt a large buck for several days, only to have someone (who has already taken his legal buck) shoot your “dream deer” on a borrowed tag. It doesn’t seem so innocent anymore.
Subtle poaching fuels anti-hunting and fishing opinions. It also creates a gray area for conservation agents. An example of this would be the hunter that doesn’t check his deer. An honest hunter might forget to check the deer because of the sheer excitement of the moment. Another hunter may deliberately disregard the checking rule so they can harvest another deer. As a conservation agent, how do I distinguish between the two?
The bottom line is, if you cheat the wildlife laws even a little, you’re a poacher. Even for sportsmen who don’t necessarily agree with every fish and wildlife regulation, it’s hard to argue with that statement.
By Jeff Berti