According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a poacher (noun) is 1: One that trespasses or steals; 2: One who kills or take wild animals (as game or fish) illegally. They also say that the term was first used in 1614, and that would be aligned with the social changes in Europe and the private ownership or exclusive use of wild game by certain strata of society (more often that not, the king and “his friends”) and the taking of those same animals by the underprivileged class or classes.
Since I understand that there are certain persons or populations, commonly known as subsistence hunters, that do take game not always legally for their own survival even in this “modern” times, personally I would complement the definition of a poacher as “one who kills or take wild animals (as game or fish) illegally and for a profit.”
One of my first personal experiences with poachers or poaching was during my 2005 safari in South Africa. If I remember correctly during my first day out, my professional hunter Frans Bussiahn spotted a single drop of blood as we walked a trail to spot for kudu, and his alarm bells went immediately on.
He started to carefully scrutinize the area for any tracks, spoor or more blood, but we could not find any other traces. As we continued on our track to an advantage point to glass for kudu Frans mentioned that “poachers are the lowest form of life form on earth, even lower than child molesters.”
That is a very strong statement, but when you consider that poaching was responsible for the slaughter of uncountable elephant herds during the 1970’s bush wars in Southern Africa, wiped out wild game in most of Kenya, and currently is driving the African rhinoceros into virtual extinction, I am not sure that I would disagree to Frans.
The next time was in North Dakota in 2009 while on a pheasant hunt. Before meeting in New England, ND, my friends Bob and Rick had been grouse hunting in Montana, and both of them came across the skulls (with attached antlers) of winter killed deer, and not knowing better they collected them as souvenirs.
Then one afternoon Bob and I were hunting a fantastic piece of non-posted private property (which is legal to hunt in North Dakota) when the local game warden came by. Bob already had his limit and was at the truck and I was about a half mile away. While I walked back I saw that Bob was getting something from the truck.
I generally hunt upland birds with a side-by-side shotgun, so when I arrived the warden said that he did not have to my gun for the maximum legal three shells capacity and politely asked me for my license.
At this time I noticed that Bob was worried and that “his” deer skull was at the warden’s truck, and that Bob was not looking very happy.
The warden then explained that in most Western states it is illegal to pick-up, or in many cases even touch, any skull of a dead animal with antlers or horns attached to it, while it is completely alright to collect shed antlers.
The reason is that many poachers will shoot a trophy animal out of season when they are most vulnerable, and abandon the animal to rot in the woods, returning several months later to “find” a trophy rack that can be sold for a large sum of money.
In order to complicate matters, the fact that that particular skull had been picked-up in Montana, and we were now in North Dakota could be qualified as a federal offense.
I am proud to be a hunter, and unhappily I experienced more than once the heart breaking pain of losing a wounded animal, after a long and unsuccessful search for it, and I have trouble of thinking of a more disgusting act than abandoning an animal on purpose, wounded or dead, and then attempt to profit from this act.
While in most of South Africa game is private property and the game ranching is way of the land, under the United States conservation model, wild animals are the property of the people, and only become yours or mine property once properly tagged. Thus, while in my first exposure to poaching in Africa Frans was being robbed, any poacher acting in the US is actually stealing from you and me.
Our incident in North Dakota end well enough. The warden was extremely polite and reasonable, and said that if it was OK with us he would just apprehend the skull and not pursue any further action.
We got some education on a rather ugly side of the great outdoors, and that made me think that perhaps Frans was right after all.