The statewide hotline for reporting poaching incidents is already on pace to surpass last year’s call total, reflecting a possible changing attitude among Montanans that is more disapproving of “thrill kills” and other illegal shootings of wildlife.
Yet the problem persists, particularly in Northwest Montana. Local wildlife enforcement officers have seen more poaching cases than usual for this time of year. More than eight deer have been found shot dead in the last few months, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 officials.
“It’s just alarming to see them being shot,” said Jon Obst, game warden sergeant for FWP’s enforcement bureau. “We don’t like to see it at all, but having it happen this early, we’re trying to figure out what people are thinking and why they’re doing that.”
Wildlife officers are investigating along with sheriff’s deputies. Obst said the incidents likely occurred at night and on the outskirts of the valley, including off Farm to Market road west of Kalispell. Most recently, officers found a buck shot dead up the North Fork. Most of the poaching involves bucks, Obst said, but a few pregnant does have also been killed.
In early January, Whitefish police reported two deer were killed in neighborhood yards.
“It’s a total waste,” Obst said. “Hunting season is coming up … Guys can do it legitimately pretty soon. They just don’t need to be poaching. If they want to go shoot their rifles, there’s plenty of shooting ranges around the valley. This is just one of those things I don’t understand.”
Most poaching cases are reported during the fall when general hunting season is in full swing. There are several theories as to why someone poaches: boredom, thrill seeking, sighting in a gun or even simply running across a trophy animal and falling victim to temptation. Another common excuse is that more animals are shot during tough economic times for food. But that’s not often the case, according to Brian Shinn, FWP’s coordinator for TIP-MONT, the state’s toll-free 24-hour hotline for poaching and other wildlife violations.
“You don’t shoot an animal and cut its head off for subsistence. You don’t shoot them and leave them there if you’re recovering the meat,” he said. “Those are thrill kills that are going on.”
Since being founded in 1985, TIP-MONT has helped combat poaching in the state by offering residents a free, anonymous outlet for reporting violations.
“We couldn’t do it without the public,” Shinn said. “The wardens are spread so thin, we basically rely a lot on the public’s eyes and ears to help solve a lot of these crimes taking place.”
Shinn said the hotline received more than 2,200 calls last year. For the first five months of 2012, there have already been 110 more calls than this time last year, he said.
“We’re at the point where people are not tolerating this type of behavior,” he said. “More people are making more calls, where 10 to 15 years ago they may have said, ‘It’s just one deer.’ Now it’s like, ‘Yes, I am going to call it in.’ I believe people are seeing that it’s a resource we’re protecting.”
Shinn said rewards are offered to those who help catch poachers, although most people decline payments or donate the reward back to hunter education programs. People are asked to call as soon as they believe a violation is taking place and to gather as much information as possible, like a license plate number.
“Until we stop (poachers) they will continue to do it,” Shinn said. “It doesn’t take long for one person to actually eradicate wildlife in an area. They can decimate an area.”
Call 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for cash rewards.
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