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On the hunt for poachers

November 13, 2011 at 07:42 AM

The State Journal-Register

Deer hunters awaiting the opening of the traditional firearm deer season must be wondering what the heck is going on in the forests and fields of Illinois.

In the space of less than a week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has announced charges against two groups of alleged poachers targeting trophy deer in northern Illinois.

Hunters take to the woods Nov. 18 for the first segment of the firearm season that runs through Nov. 20.

The second weekend will be Dec. 1-4.

Traditionally, the two weekends of firearm deer season are when the most deer are killed during the three-and-a-half months of the deer-hunting season.

The events of last week raised eyebrows and the ire of deer hunters.

On Nov. 2, a group of three hunters were charged with illegally taking deer, including a trophy deer with a non-typical rack worth $35,000.

DNR officials say the deer could be a new state record.

Then on Nov. 7, DNR announced poaching-related charges against five more men for illegally taking trophy deer in Cook County.

One of those deer is valued at $25,000.

Stacey Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the timing of the cases is coincidental, and that there is no special task force or anti-poaching effort at this time.

“These are pretty big non-typical cases that just happened during the same time frame,” she said in perfect deer-hunter parlance.

“It’s not a trend that there is more poaching going on.”

The vast majority of hunters follow the rules.

“We don’t want people to think this is the case with all hunters,” Solano said. “We know that 99 percent go out legally and lawfully.

“We have to protect the sport for those who do hunt legally.”

Hunters might cringe at the bad publicity generated by poaching cases, but failing to address the problem won’t make it go away, said Jeff Davis, communications director of Whitetails Unlimited.

“Anytime you get notorious cases like this, it can damage the image of hunters in the non-hunting population and even among hunters,” said Davis, who edits the Whitetails Unlimited magazine in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

“Anytime you have a group of people doing things illegally or immorally, it hurts everyone.”

But poaching is an issue hunters have to face.

“It isn’t a problem you want to sweep under the rug or ignore just to boost up the sport’s image,” he said.

Solano said calls keep coming in to the Target Illinois Poachers hotline, with 170 tips already checked out or waiting to be investigated this year.

“I think hunters have a responsibility if they see something illegal to report it,” Davis says. “Those illegal hunters are taking from everyone else. If that is a state record buck, someone didn’t get a chance to take it legally.”

Jerry Beverlin, a retired DNR administrator, was taking a break Wednesday from deer hunting on his farm in Brown County.

He said he doesn’t view poachers in the same light as hunters.

“Poachers and thieves have a lot in common,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with hunting at all. It has to do with the money.”

Beverlin said members of the public should be able to see the consequences of a poacher’s illegal actions.

“I think catching them and putting that information out there is the only way we are ever going to handle it,” he said.

Davis said looking the other way is not going to help the hunter’s cause.

“If you try to ignore a problem, it is going to get bigger,” he said.

Beverlin said now is the time when true hunters relish their time in the woods.

“I took a doe early and put it in the freezer,” he said. “Now I get to sit back and see the show.”

The peak of the rut — or deer-breeding season — is the time when deer are most active. Bucks are in competition for does.

“I get to see the bucks chasing each other around,” he said.  “I’m having a pretty good time.”

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