Poacher-Proofing Your Property

By Brad Herndon

 Afew years ago during deer season, I was sitting in my easy chair late one evening when the phone rang. When I answered the phone, I recognized the voice of a landowner next to one of our leases in an adjoining county about 40 minutes away.

“Brad,” he said, “a few minutes ago I heard a shot down the road on your lease, and I jumped in my car and raced down there as fast as I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there quickly enough to get any identification on the vehicle. I believe they probably poached one of your deer near the wooded point that comes down close to the road.”
The next morning, I drove over to our lease and, sure enough, just inside the woods I could see the outline of a deer’s body. I walked to the deer and found it to have a huge body for our region, but it was headless. Obviously, a poacher had shot one of our best bucks and took only the head and antlers, which, though taken illegally, was still obviously a “trophy” to him. Instances of poaching such as this just leave us with a sick feeling in our stomachs. And although we typically associate poaching with huge bucks, this isn’t always the case. For example, six years ago, soon after dark, I was waiting for my wife, Carol, to pick me up from my hunt when I heard a shot in a field east of me. “They’ve shot another one of the area’s good bucks,” I thought. When Carol showed up, I told her about the shot. She had seen a truck in the field, so we went and checked it out. We found a small gut pile in the field, indicating they had poached a fawn of some type. Although a trophy buck is a monster to all of us, we must remember that a fawn, doe and small buck might also be something worth poaching to many people. Even when a small buck is shot, we lose years of growing time, and our lives are only so long. Let’s examine some of the steps that can be taken to keep deer poaching to a minimum.


Regardless of whether you lease or own land, hunt with permission on private property or hunt public land, we all can help curtail poaching by using the TIP (turn in a poacher) program, which, I believe, exists in every state. In all TIP programs, the caller remains anonymous, and in some states the caller is given a reward when a conviction is attained. Montana, for example, gives a $1,000 reward and their total reward amount runs about $15,000 to $20,000 annually. Certainly, any sportsman who sees anything resembling poaching should immediately call their local TIP line. This is the deer hunter’s first line of defense against poaching.


Obviously, all hunters who lease or own land should heavily post their property. Even many farmers and other landowners who give deer enthusiasts permission to hunt will usually agree to placing some no-hunting signs on their land. Although that seems simple enough, there is more to posting than meets the eye. For example, some rascals might tear your signs off if they are down low. It’s a good idea to take a ladder and place your no-hunting or no-trespassing signs up high where they are much less likely to be removed. Also, what the sign says can determine the amount of impact it has on a potential trespasser or poacher. A sign saying “No Hunting, Posted and Patrolled,” has more impact than a simple “No Hunting” sign. And be sure to keep those signs fresh. Even if you have many signs up that are in decent condition, put up a few new ones every year. This tells other hunters you are there often, and they might be caught if they do trespass. Here’s another good idea to use. Back in the 1960s, I squirrel hunted a lot. At that time, hunters could hunt virtually every woods in the big bottom regions in my county without permission. Oh, a rare tract of timber might be posted, so we stayed out of it. Interestingly, though, while squirrel hunting one day, I walked into a woods that wasn’t posted. As I moved more into the timber, I started seeing no hunting signs everywhere. “This guy means business,” I thought. “I’m out of here.” There is no doubt placing no-hunting signs within the timber deters trespassers who make it that far. Without the signs being there they can say they came in the back side and didn’t see a sign, or some other lie. With bright no-hunting signs staring them in the face as they walk through the interior of a timbered tract they will be more apt to leave, simply out of fear of being caught. Another excellent idea is to make a few signs posting your position on other hunters blood trailing wounded deer onto your property. If you want hunters to call you before tracking a deer onto your land, you'd better put it in writing and be sure to list your phone number on the sign.


Everyone I interviewed had the same description of trespassers and poachers they had encountered. They are all liars. “I shot from the road to get a deer because I have a heart problem and can’t walk very far.” “I’m out of work and needed meat for my wife and children.” “The landowner gave me permission to hunt here.” “I didn’t know this land was leased.” And on it goes. Alan Collins lives in northern Indiana and has a very successful antipoaching program in place. “Moreover, it is important to immediately prosecute trespassers,” he said. “No warnings. No excuses. Trespassers for the most part are a bunch of liars, and when you have a reputation for zero tolerance, you are on your way to solving the problem.” I agree with his advice wholeheartedly. Many years ago, we gave two guys a break. One cried when caught, and the other one was a young man who the conservation officer told me was a good kid but came from a bad family life, and he could use a break. Believe me, letting them off didn’t work out. Since then, we have arrested several people and our poaching problems have significantly diminished. Take no prisoners.


Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” states, “Good fences make good neighbors.” There is a lot of excellent meaning in this poem, and it is worth Googling and reading. In a similar vein, good fences and good gates mean good hunting. This is true because they limit access to your property. If you have a hidden food plot that deer flood into during the night and have an open lane leading back to it, you have a perfect setup for a poacher. By placing fences and locked gates in any access area, you have again reduced the odds of your deer being killed by a poacher. In this regard, investigate every possibility of actions you can take to limit access to your hunting land. Jon Stahl lives in Indiana, and he owns 160 acres in a river bottom region. There was an old county road leading down to the northern edge of his woods, and it continued on for a distance before dead-ending. Stahl did a terrific job of posting and patrolling his land and prosecuted several people. Nonetheless, that old road accessing his land was still used by midnight partiers and, at times, poachers. Stahl hired a lawyer, and after two meetings with the county commissioners they agreed to close the road because of the dangers it presented from a washed-out culvert. Stahl, incidentally, had smartly pointed this out to them. Today, a locked gate stands on this old road a quarter-mile mile from Stahl’s woods. Stahl is a deer hunter who considered every angle of limiting access to his hunting property, and it paid off. You should do the same.


If you follow the information provided thus far in this article, you will certainly save some of your whitetails from poachers. Despite this, more must be done. Let’s say you put an 8-foot-high woven wire fence around your property. Wouldn’t that help? To a degree. Charlie Alsheimer, an outstanding writer and photographer who contributes to this magazine, has 35 acres enclosed by an 8-foot-high fence. An interstate highway runs within 100 yards of this enclosure. He has whitetails within this tract that he studies and photographs year around. Five years ago, Alsheimer had just finished hunting and was walking along the outside of the enclosure when he saw a man hunkered down behind a pine tree near his fence. Three shots rang out, and the man ran back to a truck parked on the interstate berm. Alsheimer hustled down to where the man had fired the shots, kneeled down and waited. Before long, the man returned. “Stop, and don’t even look at me,” Alsheimer yelled. The guy turned around, saw the gun on Alsheimer’s shoulder and melted. Alsheimer marched the 19-year-old man to the truck, photographed the license plate, and the man’s and his dad’s hunting tags. By then, it was dark. The next morning, he discovered a dead doe and buck within his enclosure, both gut shot. With the information he had obtained, Alsheimer had the men arrested and convicted. As this true story reveals, poachers will go to any length to kill deer when they are desperate to show their buddies how good of a deer hunter they are. This is why, if at all possible, “deer screens” should be implemented on your property. Several years ago when Collins started poacher-proofing his land, the first thing he did was plant rows of Lombardy poplar. This tree grows six feet per year. Because their branches start near the ground and parallel the trunk, they form a great screen which will hide your whitetails from view in just a few years. Because Lombardy poplar have a short life span, Collins used a variety of plantings after this to finish off his great poacher-proofing plan. He quickly described to me what he did. “In open areas near the roads, I build ‘living fences,’” Collins said. “I use spruce, pine or fir trees in the center rows of my cover plantings, or I place them toward the inside of the farm. This provides visual blocks with their year-round evergreen foliage. This definitely slows down the road hunting, On the outside of these trees, closer to the roads, I use autumn olive and/or Washington hawthorn. Good luck crawling through the tangle to access your farm. “White pine works well for me because they are native to the Midwest and disease resistant. White pine also will grow two to three feet per year, making them outrun us old folks. Be careful to understand the spacing strategy for both evergreens and deciduous plants. White pine will grow quickly and can be planted 20 feet apart and still grow together in less than six to seven years. Spruce and fir grow much slower but should still be spaced at 20 feet unless you intend to thin your planting at some point. It will take 10 to 12 years for spruce and fir to fill in the row spacing. “Autumn olive and Washington hawthorn can be spaced on 10-foot centers and should fill in to form a barrier in less than five years. Other plants that may be substituted for autumn olive in states where this plant is controlled might be highbush cranberry, silky dogwood, red twig dogwood, nanking cherry and ninebark, but none of them will compete with growth quickness nor tangle typical of autumn olive. All of the aforementioned plants, with the exception of autumn olive, can be considered deer ‘candy,’ and will be susceptible to depredation from browsing, especially Washington hawthorn.” Collins also noted that spacing from row to row for spruce, pine and fir should be not less than 20 to 30 feet if thinning is not intended. Moreover, deciduous plants can be as tight as 10 feet between rows. Collins prefers two rows of shrubs next to the roadway, and then three rows of White pine followed by two more rows of shrubs. Collins also stressed the importance of consulting your local USDA office to ensure controlled plants are not placed inappropriately. “If you can afford to fund your program privately, I highly recommend not enrolling your plantings for the most part in CRP without fully understanding the long-term implications of government oversight and ever changing regulations,” he said.


With leased land the planting of trees is usually quite limited and should never be carried out without the landowner’s permission. Despite this, you do have options when it comes to providing deer screens in open areas. Tall forage sorghum grows to 10-feet high, so it works well. With any screen such as this, plant it wide enough so if some is blown down the screen is not destroyed. Sunflowers grow to a height of 5 to 7-feet high and they can be used in some instances. Egyptian wheat provides a tall, thick, natural screen to a height of 7 to 10-feet and it is an excellent screening plant.


Security cameras are outstanding for minimizing trespasser activity, especially when accompanied by signs along the roadway that read, “This property is patrolled with infrared and satellite security cameras. Trespassers will be prosecuted!” Unfortunately, if you use standard surveillance cameras, almost always any trespasser who is aware he just had his picture taken will steal your camera. The good news is there are now cameras that will wirelessly send pictures to your cell phone or email address. Current cameras work on the AT&T and T-Mobile systems. By the time you read this, Reconyx might be out with a surveillance camera using the Verizon System. In addition, one type of surveillance camera will wirelessly send pictures to a black box hidden within 50 feet of the camera. Without doubt, these cameras are going to be responsible for catching and prosecuting many trespassers.


Making friends with conservation officers, sheriff’s deputies, local farmers and other hunters who live near your land can help prevent poaching or catch poachers. We encourage conservation officers to use their deer decoy on our lease during the night since we have an old silo that is perfect for them to hide their vehicle behind. Sheriff’s deputies patrolling in the late hours of the night find watching for poachers helps keep them from getting bored. One hunter near our lease watches over it closely, and he has been responsible for getting some poachers caught and prosecuted for us. In closing, I think if you will take action and put these suggestions into practice, you will find your poaching problems will decrease. W  

Some of the best trophy hunting in the country occurs in states where spotlighting is illegal (Illinois, for example). Without question, more deer, especially trophy bucks, are poached by spotlighting than by any other method. In Indiana, for example, spotlighting can be done 24 hours per day all year, as long as a weapon is not in the vehicle. Because of this all-night spotlighting, many antlered bucks are poached in the state, especially in remote, little-populated regions. Stopping or restricting spotlighting does stop a tremendous amount of whitetail poaching and it’s important to remember that regulations can be changed if enough concerned hunters push for law changes. On Jan. 24, 2012 House Bill 1221 passed on to the next voting stage in Indiana. If it goes all the way through the legislative process, this bill will not allow spotlighting from Oct. 1 to Jan. 15, with a few exceptions. If your state has a liberal spotlighting law, you might investigate getting it changed. Be warned, however, that you will run into opposition in this regard because there are many hunters who enjoy it or use it for scouting. The poacher, by the way, is in favor of all-year spotlighting 24 hours per day. When creating a deer screen with trees and shrubs, another point to think about is that you might be able to enroll some plantings in Classified Wildlife if you meet certain guidelines. The advantage of this option is that wildlife planting enrolled in CW can substantially reduce the amount of real estate taxes one might otherwise have to pay. In Indiana, for example, the assessed value of land drops to a very minimal amount.


  1. Regarding cameras: Put up wanted signs with their pictures at the local gas stations. I used a 50$ reward. His cousin dimed him out in 2 days! Problem solved

    1. I show pictures at a local diner where all the old timers meet for coffee in the mornings. some were relatives of the trespassers , word gets around quickly that I have cameras watching the property.

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