Poachers, trespassing hunters could face higher fines

By Kyle Campbell

Capital News Service

LANSING — Deer poachers might soon be paying big bucks for illegally killing big bucks in the Great Lakes State.

A pair of bills in the Senate aim to deter hunters from trespassing on farmland, as well as increasing penalties for poachers who target large-antlered deer by tacking on additional restitution fees.

Ypsilanti resident Jim Pryce, president of the Tri County Sportsmen’s League in Saline, authored a resolution for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) that inspired the legislation.

“Here in Michigan we have devalued the big bucks,” Pryce said. “Right now it doesn’t matter if you look at a 10-point buck or small buck, the fine is only $1,000 for poaching.”

Sens. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, each introduced one bill. Both bills were reintroduced after dying last year in the Legislature.

Fellow Republicans Darwin Booher, Evart, John Proos, St. Joseph, Howard Walker, Traverse City, and Rick Jones, Grand Ledge, co-sponsored both bills to deter poaching and protect the state’s natural resources, Booher said.

A farm owner as well as a hunter, Booher said penalties need to be increased on large-game poachers to be an effective deterrent because many large trophy heads can be sold for more than $1,000.

“Even so, I don’t know if this bill will stop poaching because the price of these trophy bucks is so high,” he said. “People pay thousands just to shoot at a trophy buck.”

Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division, could not specify how many instances of poaching occur each year, but he said it’s not abnormal for a group of hunters to target big game animals.

That becomes a problem when they kill them out of season or in an unapproved way, Molnar said.

“The fish and game belong to the people, they belong to the state of Michigan,” he said.

Booher said the bill to increase fines against trespassing hunters is important because the likelihood of getting a conservation officer dispatched in a timely manner is slim and the prospect of confronting a trespassing hunter is one he finds dangerous.

“I don’t want to approach an individual who’s out there with a hunting rifle,” he said.

“Most people are concerned with that. In this crazy world, people are shooting other people for no reason.”

Pryce also has encountered hunters using farmland illegally.

Since he was a child, Pryce has hunted on the same farmer’s land in Superior Township. A few years ago, the farmer granted another hunter permission to use his land, but within the first few days of the season, Pryce discovered the outsider running a hunting guide service on the property without the owner’s consent.

“He was charging these guys $75 a day and not paying the farmer a cent,” he said.

The first bill calls for poachers to pay an additional fine based on the buck’s “gross score,” which is calculated by tallying the lengths of all points of the antlers. The final fine would be found using this equation: [(gross score-100) x $1.65].

Drew YoungeDyke, grassroots manager for the MUCC, said the additional fines would be more about paying restitution to the state than assigning a value to a certain sized animal.

“This isn’t about saying trophy bucks are worth more than other deer,” YoungeDyke said. “The point is that the people who would hunt those bucks would think of it that way.”

The trespassing bill would increase fines from $250 for first offenders to $750, with repeat offenders fined up to $1,500 — an increase of $500 — on top of a potential 90-day jail-sentence.

YoungeDyke said MUCC supports the legislation not only to allow all hunters an equal opportunity at getting large-antlered deer, but also to support conservation.

“They all kind of deal with the same intent and that’s to make sure our game species are being treated right,” YoungeDyke said.

“It’s all part of an effort for hunters policing themselves. You want to make sure the fines are enough of a deterrence.”

Jane Finnerty, secretary-treasurer for the Cadillac Sportsman’s Club, said she favors increased penalties because one hunter breaking the law “gives everybody a bad name.

“I can’t see anyone that would disagree with this law,” Finnerty said.

“I can’t see what the reason would be unless you wanted to break the law and don’t want to get pinched.”

Both bills have been referred to the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee.