This hunting season, plenty of deer and elk have been harvested from the fertile mountains of Eastern Oregon.
Many of them were taken legally. But too many were not.
Poaching has been a problem since the first king laid down the first rules for hunting. And it continues to this day to be a concern for hunters, as well as other Oregonians who use their tax dollars and their management practices to protect and lawfully and ethically harvest our state’s bounty of nature and protein.
Just this year, multiple violations have been witnessed by police and ethical hunters, from Heppner to La Grande and from Tollgate to Ukiah. Animals senselessly slaughtered for their antlers or for nothing at all — blood lust or stupidity. When that happens, everyone loses — though no one more than the animal itself.
Last year, a Pendleton hunter and guide — a former board member for the Mule Deer Foundation — admitted to illegally killing one of the state’s largest mule deer. For his crime, he paid $8,500 restitution and his hunting license was suspended for three years. Also in 2016, an Elgin trio was charged with killing and wasting two bull elk. Then there was also the illegal poaching of bighorn sheep from alongside Interstate 84 in Gilliam County. Wolves have been killed in suspicious circumstances from the Blue Mountains all the way to Klamath Falls. And in Tuesday’s police log, we noted a man allegedly driving drunk down Highway 11 with a poached deer in the bed of his pickup.
And these are just the few high-profile or highly stupid, isolated incidents that law enforcement are able to build a case around. Much more often, investigators are not able to pin a crime on anyone, or those crimes go undiscovered in the first place. It is exceedingly difficult to get convictions on game crimes.
There are two kinds of poachers: those who purposely take illegal actions, knowing full well their mistake, and are unable to stop themselves or frankly just don’t care. But there are also hunters who have every intent of following the law, but make in-the-moment errors in judgment or fact. For them, self-reporting an error is critical. But a much better option is going back to basics: Before you take any shot, look closely at your animal. Look at it again. Look at what is on its head, look at what is behind it, know what is legal with your tag in your unit.
The best way to defeat poaching is good ethical hunting practices. The sport relies on it for safe and reasonable harvest that reduces pain and unnecessary harm. It must be taught from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters.
Yet we know that many poachers learned their poaching habits from their mothers and fathers — that’s where media and law enforcement must come in, and hunter’s education classes that are required for young hunters.
We must teach and promote the right way to do it, and we must punish those who fall short.
In our opinion, a continual reminder of hunting ethics must be in tandem with increased punishments. It does not seem too cruel, harsh or unusual for a poaching crime to cost a person their hunting privileges for the rest of their life.
And poaching an animal that the state has sunk significant resources into — by conserving necessary habitat, paying for game wardens and biologists and attorneys — should cost a criminal a significant dollar amount if they are convicted. On top of it, they should pay for depriving other hunters of a lost opportunity to harvest.
In our book, it doesn’t matter whether the poached prey is an elk or steelhead, moose or wolf. Our outdoor heritage rests on playing by the rules. For the system to remain, those rules must be enforced and they must be followed.