GENE MUELLER: Poachers shouldn’t be called hunters

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The stupidity of some people must never be underestimated, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries occasionally provides classic examples of it whenever none-too-bright poachers are caught red-handed.

What irks me, however, are dreadful violations of wildlife laws that eventually involve descriptions such as “hunter” or “hunting,” which is the wrong application of the meaning and intent of the words.

See if you don’t agree.

Shortly after midnight on a recent late-summer day, Virginia senior game officer Dewayne Sprinkle received a call from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office about a possible spotlighting incident. Apparently a county resident saw lights shining across a field, which in rural areas now and then involves the illegal shooting of deer.

Officer Sprinkle responded to the location and - are you ready? - found three individuals, one of them wearing a firefighter helmet with a .357 Magnum revolver strapped to his side. The man also had a homemade explosive device in his hand.

Wow!

Soon county sheriff’s officers arrived at the scene. The subject was taken into custody and the device was confiscated. A state police bomb squad showed up to destroy a 6-inch PVC pipe filled with smokeless gunpowder. It had been attached to a small propane canister with strips of duct tape.

When I first heard about the incident, the person I spoke with said the event involved deer poaching and easily tied it into hunting.

What with all the decent work that has been done over the past century by hunter/conservationists, from President Theodore Roosevelt to Aldo Leopold to the millions of followers of carefully regulated sport hunting, this could hardly be called hunting. It is not known whether the bomb carrier also tried to shoot at deer with his handgun in the middle of the night, which also would incur the wrath of legal hunters.

In another incident, Virginia game officers received a call in reference to spotlighting and killing deer in Wythe County, which is in the southwestern part of the state. An anonymous caller said a local man had been seen spotlighting and shooting at deer early in the morning and that he was still on the property, apparently tracking an wounded whitetail.

When the officers arrived, they found a vehicle and fresh blood within 100 yards of the vehicle. The two game wardens sat and waited and, sure enough, a man eventually emerged from the woods. He was carrying a .270-caliber rifle across his back and a six-pack of beer in one hand, an open can of beer in the other. What’s worse, he was accompanied by a juvenile identified as his son. The suspect told the game officers that he had been checking fences for the landowner and was carrying the rifle only in case he saw some coyotes.

Imagine checking fences in the middle of the night.

When the game cops ran a check, they discovered that the suspect had numerous felony convictions. He was placed under arrest and charged with felony possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance, hunting under the influence, and hunting on Sunday.

Hunting? This thug wasn’t hunting. He was a criminal engaged in criminal activities. Hunting is a far nobler activity. It includes the ethical and humane taking of legally available wild game; it involves proper behavior and strict adherence to all laws; it is practiced by lawful, honest people, not brain-dead idiots who wear firefighter helmets and “Dirty Harry” handguns, or trespassers on private land who take their children on lawbreaking excursions while drinking alcohol.

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