Poaching: The Bigger the Buck, the Bigger the Fine?

By Drew YoungeDyke, NMCN Contributing Editor

It would be nice if hunting never got to this point: where the single-minded focus of killing a big buck sometimes overshadows the cultural and culinary experience of hunting an elusive animal and honoring it by sharing its meat with friends, family and the needy. Anyone who watches much outdoor TV, though, could hardly deny that it has reached that point. A new package of bills in the Michigan Senate, though, will crack down on trophy poachers, trespassers and out-of-state violators.

Senate Bills 1340 and 1341, introduced by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R – St. Clair Twp.) and Sen. Tom Casperson (R – Escanaba), respectively, increase the fines for poaching and trespassing. The current restitution payment to the state for poaching a deer is $1,000, in addition to criminal penalties, fines and license suspensions. Sen. Pavlov’s bill, SB 1340, adds an additional restitution fine for bucks with scores of over 100 inches at a rate of 1.65 times the antler score. For example, a poached buck that scores 100 would put the violator on the hook for at least $1,165 ($1,000 plus an extra $165). As the size of the rack goes up, so does the fine. SB 1341, which is tie-barred to SB 1340 (neither becomes law unless both do) increases the fine which must be paid to a landowner by a violator who trespasses to hunt, fish or trap.

SB 1348, introduced by Sen. Howard Walker (R-Traverse City), strengthens Michigan’s involvement in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, an agreement among 38 states to honor each other’s hunting, fishing and trapping license suspensions and revocations. That means that someone who, for example, loses their hunting license in Montana for poaching elk, in Alaska for poaching bear, or California for poaching deer will be denied a Michigan hunting license, too. Michigan was already part of the compact, but due to the wording of the existing law, the DNR could not fully recognize other states’ suspensions and revocations. This bill will allow Michigan to be a full partner in the compact.

As the percentage of Americans who hunt rebounds after declining for decades, it becomes increasingly important for hunters to make sure that we police our own. Some prominent hunting voices scoff at ethics and apologists say that we have to accept every unethical form of hunting, lest we be divided and conquered by anti-hunting groups. The reality, though, is that we still make up a minority of voters – about 20%, depending on the year – and allowing the unethical few to be the image that non-hunters have of us will harm our continued right to hunt more than anything anti-hunters are capable of.

The history of conservation has primarily been that of hunters policing themselves. After game populations were slaughtered – sometimes to extinction – by market hunters in the late 1800’s, it was hunters and anglers who pushed for season and bag limits to ensure that there would always be animals to hunt and fish to catch. After all, “the predator husbands his prey,” as observed by Jim Harrison and noted by Steven Rinella. Protecting animals and places to hunt and fish are the historical roots of the modern conservation movement (and not bizarre U.N. conspiracy theories, despite what you may have heard recently).

Hunters should support these bills because it tells the non-hunting public that we believe in ethical hunting and are willing to back it up by punishing those who violate game laws, especially when they do it for unethical reasons. While poaching any deer is unlawful, it’s a little more understandable when done to fill the freezer of a hungry family. When someone poaches for ego, though – just for the bragging rights of a big rack – it makes the stomach churn and warrants a larger fine.

These bills – SB 1340, 1341 and 1348 – should deter trophy poachers and trespassers, and ensure that those who have misbehaved in other states can’t bring their unethical ways back to Michigan. After some of the anti-conservation bills that have moved through the Legislature this year, these three are a breath of fresh air. Let’s hope the Legislature makes them a priority during the post-election lame duck session.

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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