Poachers Draw Stiff Sentences Under New Law
Poachers who cross fences in Texas can end up behind bars.
Two years ago, a state law created tougher penalties for illegal hunting, including hunting or fishing without landowner consent, hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting with a light and hunting at night. Now, instead of a minor slap on the wrist, some poachers are getting a severe kick in the pants. For example:
- A Bell County poacher is serving two years in state jail for shooting a six-point buck on another man's property. He got there by violating terms of a five-year probation that included 180 days of jail time to be served on weekends.
- In Montague County, a repeat offender will spend the upcoming season behind bars, having been sentenced to 120 days in jail and having his hunting license suspended for five years for taking wildlife without landowner consent.
- A Williamson County jury found a poacher guilty of hunting deer at night and without landowner consent. He was fined $4,000, sentenced to 14 days in jail and two years probation and had his hunting license revoked for two years.
Before Sept. 1, 1999, the worst-case scenario for a poacher might involve a stiff fine and civil restitution, according to David Sinclair, chief of wildlife enforcement with Texas Parks and Wildlife. The new laws provide for felony charges and a mandatory jail sentence, even for first-time poachers who violate certain statutes in addition to civil restitution. "I think based on the number of cases we've filed, the new laws are working," said Sinclair. "The stiffer penalties, including potentially losing your equipment and having your license revoked, not to mention having a felony on your record, is a good deterrent."
In 1997, TPW game wardens reported 458 violations for hunting without landowner consent. Last year, only 131 cases were made. The agency is seeing similar declines in other violations that fall under the new laws, including hunting from a vehicle (414 cases in '97 to 113 last year) and hunting at night (280 cases in '97 to 41 last year).
Under the TPW State Jail Felony classification, individuals convicted of taking a desert bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope or mule deer without the consent of the landowner are subject to incarceration for 180 days to two years and a fine of $1,500 to $10,000. A second violation is prosecuted as a TPW Felony and upon conviction is punishable by incarceration in the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for two years to 10 years and a fine of $2,000 to $10,000.
Stiffer penalties will also apply if a poacher is convicted of wasting a big game animal carcass, as is often the case with poachers known as "head-hunters" who take only the trophy racks. On first offense for wasting a big game carcass the violator is subject to confinement in jail for up to one year and a fine of $500 to $4,000. Upon a second conviction for wasting a big game carcass, the violation becomes a TPW State Jail Felony.
While taking big game without landowner consent was the focus of the 1999 law, penalties for other illegal hunting and fishing activities were also upgraded. A second conviction for hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting at night, hunting with a light or wanton waste of wildlife resources carries a TPW State Jail Felony charge. The legislature also created provisions in the law allowing for the confiscation and forfeiture of equipment used in the commission of these violations, including weapons and other personal property, aircraft and vessels.
In addition to the enhanced criminal penalties for these violations, including using or possessing an electricity-producing device for catching fish, the violators are subject to the revocation of current hunting and fishing licenses and the inability to purchase in new hunting or fishing license for a period of one to five years.