Poacher-Proof Your Property

Six tips that make it harder for a poacher to target your whitetails.

Poacher-Proof Your Property

Installing gates, or even keeping existing gates closed, can reduce trespassing activity. Anything you can do to make it a little harder to get onto your land will automatically reduce trespassing and poaching.

A flock of buzzards gather around a dead animal just a hundred yards from the road. You walk over to investigate and find a large-bodied deer, the head sliced off at the base of the neck. It is the sure sign of a poacher who likely shot the buck at night, cut the head off in a matter of seconds, then tossed it in the bed of his truck before moving on to the next field.

What you found is no different than coming home to find your front door kicked in and your valuables gone. Poachers are nothing more than common thieves who steal from all of us, hampering our management efforts. Those young bucks you’ve been passing up? Your local poachers thank you for the steady supply of big antlers. The food plot tucked in the back corner of your land? The neighbor’s kid just may be sitting over it right now.

You don’t have to be a victim. You can protect your hard work and the deer that live on your property with a few steps. Some take just a few seconds, others can be a tedious and fairly expensive undertaking. Combined, though, they can eliminate most poaching and trespassing incidents, and allow you to reap the benefits of your hard work.

1. Post Your Property

The simplest way to keep people off your land is to tack “Posted” signs to fence posts or trees at entrances and along the entire perimeter, says Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources game warden, Lt. Jerry Fincher. Hunting on private property without permission is illegal in most states even if the land is not posted, but the presence of no trespassing signs helps law enforcement officers make a stronger case.

“If the land is posted, there is no doubt. It will help us in court when the accused trespasser says ‘I didn’t know,’” said Fincher.

Some states allow paint marks to serve as posted signs. There might be a specific color or a specific type of mark, a ring around a tree trunk, for instance, that indicates property boundaries. Check your state regulations and follow them so there can be no doubt about your boundaries. 

“If you use posted signs, put them up high enough that they can’t easily be torn down. People will sometimes do that so they can play dumb,” added Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries game warden Dallas Neel.

Something as simple as tacking Posted signs to trees surrounding your land can send a clear  message to potential poachers. It can also aid in the prosecution of those poachers.
Something as simple as tacking Posted signs to trees surrounding your land can send a clear message to potential poachers. It can also aid in the prosecution of those poachers.

2. Prosecute

Fincher says in most cases, poachers are local residents and know who owns local properties. They also know which landowners are pushovers and which ones are tough on poachers. That’s why Fincher recommends prosecuting every time you (or a game warden) catch someone on your land.

“I had a landowner call me about a trespasser during turkey season, and I actually caught a guy with a turkey. I had the guy for a number of violations, but when I told the landowner what happened, he told me just to write the guy a warning,” recalled Fincher. He continued, “You might as well just go ahead and tell everyone in the neighborhood to hunt your land. If you don’t prosecute trespassers, the word gets out and people will think they can have the run of your land.”         

Neel agrees and says it is a good idea to build a relationship with your local conservation officer. Ask them to walk your land and identify any weak spots that might encourage poachers.

“Law-abiding citizens are some of our best allies. We need them to help catch poachers. We welcome the opportunity to meet with landowners and discuss ways to deter wildlife crimes. That makes our job easier,” he added. 

3. Plant Screens

One common mistake Neel sees is food plots planted within sight of roads. Ideally, those plots should be well within the interior of your land and out of sight of any potential poacher. That’s not always an option, of course. The best — or only — place you have to build a plot may be adjacent to or within sight of a public road.

Food plot or not, fields adjacent to roads are prime targets for spotlighters who drive remote rural roads late at night in search of deer. Some poachers are so bold they don’t care if a house is within sight of the field. In fact, they might even see it as a challenge.

The best way to prevent spotlighters from stealing your hard work is to block their view of the field or food plot. A screen of trees or shrubs can eliminate the ability to see into the field. Pines are a good choice. They provide a thick screen of limbs all year. However, they will eventually grow tall enough that they will no longer provide any cover. A better choice is a tree or shrub that will reach 6 or 8 feet and then stop growing. Indigo bush, bi-color lespedeza or some other wildlife-friendly shrub can provide enough cover that it is difficult to see through and impossible to shoot through. You may need to plant three or four rows to create an effective screen if the plants drop their leaves in the fall.  

“Just putting up a sturdy fence might be enough to discourage someone from a drive-by spotlight because they can’t drive into the field to get the deer they shoot. Ideally, though, you want to block their view so they can’t even see into the field,” said Fincher. “That’s usually enough to discourage even the most dedicated poacher.”

4. Install and Lock Gates

A few may see a fence or a screen of trees as a challenge, just one small obstacle in the way of a night of spot-lighting. Hardcore poachers just find a road or open gate leading through that fence and onto your property.

“I see that all the time,” said Neel. “A landowner will have posted signs at the roads and trails leading into his property, but no cables or gates. It’s like leaving the door to your house wide open while you are away. If a poacher wants onto your land bad enough, a posted sign isn’t going to stop him. A locked gate or cable will.”

5. Hang Trail Cameras

Gates and cables may not be right for your situation, but trail cameras are always a good idea. Today’s trail cameras can not only tell you who was on your land, but they can also tell you who is on your land. Cellular-linked cameras send an image to your cell phone almost immediately, allowing you to monitor your land from the comfort of your home or office. Of course, those cameras need to have good cell service and they can be expensive.

You don’t need those higher-priced cameras to catch a thief, though. Any camera that takes a clear photo of a trespasser will help law enforcement officers make a case. Just make sure they take good photos both day and night, and make sure they are angled so they catch faces or license plates.

“Hang them high enough that someone really has to work to steal them, and hide them as best you can. Put them up with a ladder, but make sure you angle them down,” said Neel. “Photos provide pretty solid evidence, so any time I have pictures to back up a case, there’s a much better chance the charges will stick.”

6. Let Someone Hunt Your Land

Cameras may help you catch poachers coming in from a few locations, but trespassers don’t always use roads and known trails. They just walk in from neighboring properties at random locations. The simplest way to prevent that is to allow a trusted friend or even an honest, ethical stranger to hunt your land. They will keep an eye on your land and report any possible poaching activity. 

“The best way to keep illegal hunters off your land is to allow legal hunters on your land,” said Fincher. “When someone you trust is out there, people are less likely to trespass because they know there is a better chance of getting caught. Put it this way: If no one is hunting your land, everyone is hunting your land.”

That’s especially true for absentee landowners. It doesn’t take long for shady neighbors to figure out that you are rarely on your property, so they help themselves. A truck parked at a gate or along the edge of your woods sends a clear message to potential poachers: Someone is hunting the land. 

Even that may not stop all poachers. Some simply don’t care about getting caught or the consequences that come with it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though. Fincher says most poachers are opportunists, guys who can’t resist breaking the law when they have the chance. Taking a few simple steps can reduce those opportunities, allowing you to manage your land and your deer herd for you, not for those thieves.

Allowing a trusted friend or even an honest and ethical stranger to hunt your land can send a message to local trespassers and prevent them from sneaking onto your property at will.
Allowing a trusted friend or even an honest and ethical stranger to hunt your land can send a message to local trespassers and prevent them from sneaking onto your property at will.
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