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It Affects Us All

Big bucks that become talk of the local community are often the target of poachers. Conservation Police Officers work hard to apprehend these law violators who are robbing from law-abiding fair chase hunters.

By Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III for Whitetail Times

Photos by Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III

For many years I worked as a New Jersey State Deputy Game Warden and a Warren County Deputy Sheriff. When I read the reports written by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) I am fully aware of the countless, fruitless hours they have to devote before they are able to make an arrest. Suspicions don’t count, it is the facts that matter, the evidence collected.

I well remember one night when Bob Burns, our local Game Warden, and I were in the right spot when a car with several suspected poachers shone a spotlight into a woodland field, looking for deer. Bob flipped on our headlights, the rack lights on the roof, and the siren all at one time, as we pulled out onto the road and raced down to check the suspect’s car. Instead of just sitting there, the car fled down the road at top speed for about a mile before pulling to the side of the road.

Then, with a great pretense of innocence, they wanted to know why we had stopped them. Yes, they had a gun with them, but no, it was empty and lying cased on the floor behind the front seat. No, they didn’t have a single shell with them although we sure looked for them. We quickly realized they had simply raced down the road ahead of us, ejecting the shells, casing the gun, and throwing the shells out the car window on the curves where we couldn’t see them. Your conservation officers need all the help you can give them.

When game law violators shoot deer illegally they are robbing all of the law-abiding hunters because in most cases the poachers shoot the biggest bucks in the area. I am always impressed with the fantastic-sized heads Virginia hunters have taken that are shown at the annual Deer Classic and I hate to think of any of those heads being lost to a poacher.

You also have to remember that many poachers are really good deer hunters; they are knowledgeable about deer as some of them get lots of practice. In most cases they know the land and where the big bucks are as they have checked it many times. They may have placed bait in order to lure the bucks into the precise areas where they want them to be. Most often the bait, being either corn or high protein pellets, is hidden from sight but the deer can locate it through the use of their sense of smell.

A poacher quite often happens to be like a fellow I once knew who never did anything legally that he could do illegally. He just wanted to have the upper hand over everyone else. A poacher intentionally hunts illegally, without permission from landowners, proper license, or with his hunting privileges revoked. What has always bothered me greatly is that time and again the poachers take only a buck’s head, leaving the meat to go to waste. I was brought up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, living the mantra of waste not, want not. The waste of valuable meat is a horrible crime in itself.

An image of a white tailed deer buck...missing the head; the poacher had only wanted the head and thus left the rest of the body.

Pictured here is the remains of a big buck that was poached. The poacher only wanted the head and left the meat to go to waste. With the number of hunters declining and more non-hunters moving to the rural communities, the poacher is giving hunting a bad name.

In almost all of the cases where illegality is suspected, the average person should not attempt to become involved with the suspect as no one knows what level of violence may occur. The recording and reporting of a license plate number is far more valuable than the description of the vehicle as the license plate may be changed to different vehicles but there is no way that the actual license plate can be denied as it and its owner are recorded forever and usually with a current photograph of the holder of that license. That is one of the basic great advantages of the law enforcement database.

A growing problem also is that, as our population is expanding, more land is being developed and folks from urban areas move into the more rural areas. Most of them never hunted and, in many cases today, actually are anti-hunting. If signs of poaching are discovered on their land, it is a loss for the honest hunter as the anti-hunter landowner often shows no discrimination and tends to lump all hunters together. A great loss here is that much of the land that was formerly open to hunters is now being denied to them. There also is no denying that the number of hunters is steadily declining nationwide, and the lowering amount of license fees provides less money for the state wildlife agencies to pay for the staff needed to patrol the land properly.

There are three programs currently taking place in Virginia that will be of great help in insuring the number of hunters will not continue to decline. One program is called the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) program. This archery program teaches young folks, in both elementary and high schools, the basics of shooting a bow and arrow indoors in schools. The students are not being taught to hunt; they are learning the basics of archery. However, I have found that many of the students, after learning how to properly shoot a bow and arrow, are anxious to actually do something with their newfound skills and many of them are then interested in learning to hunt. The latest list I could find for the number of schools enrolled in the Virginia program was in excess of 500 schools. That is a lot of potential hunters.

A second program has been initiated by a number of hunting clubs that have laid out a network of trails leading through their areas, whereby youngsters can have a realistic hunting experience by shooting at lifelike game animal targets. Even kids who have no intention of ever going out to actually hunt gain a more readily accepted understanding of hunters and the reason that they do hunt.

The third program that is exceedingly beneficial is one whereby a seasoned hunter takes a young person with him, or her, out into the woods and fields and actually teaches them the proper way to be successful at hunting different types of game. Those same adults also teach the tremendous privilege to be in the out-of-doors observing everything else that is taking place whether they see any game or not. It is that type of instruction whereby the youngster is also taught the moral responsibility to hunt according to the laws of the state. When receiving such “hands-on” personalized education there is very little chance that this young person will ever turn into a poacher.

Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on whitetail deer in the country. His 31 books and more than 1,400 magazine articles and columns about whitetails are regarded by many wildlife enthusiasts as their reference library. Rue has a website at which he invites everyone to visit. Questions and comments can be submitted via e-mail at

©Virginia Deer Hunters Association. For attribution information and reprint rights, contact Denny Quaiff, Executive Director, VDHA.

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  • October 20, 2021