- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s game wardens call them 1-percenters or lone wolves.

They are a category of poacher notoriously obsessed with trophy wildlife, driven and talented as hunters but with a disregard for game laws. No trespassing signs mean better hunting. Trophy units requiring special permits are simply where the big bucks and bulls live. It is a seeming addiction to not only pursue the biggest antlers, but also to the thrill of outwitting the law while doing so, the Independent Record reported (https://bit.ly/1SIPxHp).

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional investigator Bryan Golie studies what makes people continually kill big game animals illegally. After years of documenting commonalities in the field, interviews, prosecutions and talking to other wardens, Golie developed a portrait of a 1-percenter that he believes will help wardens catch them and save trophy wildlife.

“I’ve caught a few of these individuals over the years and I began to realize there are certain personal characteristics that mirror each other,” he said while out patrolling the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area for trespassing antler hunters. “By understanding who these individuals are, what makes them unique and the devastation they cause to our wildlife, it makes other poaching look like a joke.”

Golie agreed to talk about his work on the condition that individuals he profiled not be named, citing concerns with confidential criminal justice information. He also declined to speak specifically on investigation techniques and how they differ when dealing with a 1-percent poacher.

People poach for a variety of reasons, including household consumption, trophy poaching, thrill killing, protection of property, disagreement with regulations and gamesmanship.

A 1-percenter’s portrait includes a combination of motivations along with a number of defining personal characteristics. Once understood, the combination can help wardens determine if they are dealing with someone who made a simple mistake, or a 1-percenter who left the house that morning knowing he would break multiple game laws, Golie said.

A 1-percenter’s life revolves around hunting or fishing, but usually hunting, he said.

Jobs come and go until they find a career allowing time to pursue trophy wildlife. They rarely use drugs or alcohol, staying in peak physical condition, owning the finest gear and wanting recognition as the best at what they do.

“They are not lazy. They’ll walk eight or nine miles just to trespass looking for antlers or game. You cannot out hike them because of that drive and focus,” Golie said.

Rather than avoiding game wardens, 1-percenters try to maintain close relationships with authorities in an apparent attempt to manipulate perceptions and garner knowledge on law enforcement activities.

Nearly all 1-percent poachers are male and exhibit nervous, paranoid, suspicious and, at times, volatile personalities. They defy authority in many aspects of life while rationalizing their violation of laws and regulations.

In their personal lives, 1-percenters are selfish, controlling and manipulating. They make friends easily but cannot maintain relationships due to volatile personalities. Romantic relationships fail due to prioritizing hunting and fishing. Often investigators find a history of domestic violence along with a smattering of other crimes, including theft and burglary.

Family relationships also challenge social norms and Golie sees evidence of repeated enabling.

“His wife lies for him. Mom pays the fine. Dad testifies on his behalf in court,” he said. “I see these guys in their 40s and 50s and their mom still paying his fines and his third wife is buying the tags he fills for her because his privileges have been revoked.”

One-percent poachers are typically loaners when poaching but share half-truths about their pursuits. They document their crimes both with photographs and taxidermy. They may attempt to commercialize their endeavors, such as selling a few elk sheds obtained through trespassing, while keeping a portion of the antlers as a trophy.

“Adrenaline is a big part of serial poaching, the pulling it off and then manipulating others into believing they killed the animals or found the elk sheds legally,” Golie said.

To feed their egos, 1-percenters often seek public praise by bragging about the trophy animals they poach, as well as proudly displaying them. That can change over time, however, especially among older poachers that sink deeper into the lifestyle and withdraw from society.

“I’ve walked into the homes of 50-year-olds and they’re hoarding these animals and antlers, filling rooms, and nobody knows about it,” Golie said. “They cannot stop poaching. Jail stops them and revoking privileges slows them down, but there is no cure.”

While 1-percenters are often only children or the only male child, economic status does not appear to play a factor. Golie profiled rich and poor individuals that both displayed defining characteristics.

As Golie developed his 1-percenter portrait, he consulted with Dr. Stephen Eliason, a sociology professor at Montana State University Billings who has published research on both poachers and game wardens. Researching poaching is a challenge because the stigma it carries in the hunting subculture triggers reluctance among convicted poachers to talk, he said.

“(Poaching) is a complex phenomenon to study because there are so many motivations and it’s not one-size-fits all,” Eliason said. “In general it’s very difficult to get individuals to discuss it that have been engaged in it, which is common with any crime in general that a lot of people don’t like discussing illegal activities.”

The spectrum of poachers ranges from mere opportunists to nearly professional. While many wardens in Eliason’s research disagreed with the word “profile,” which connotes illegal racial profiling, a characteristic portrait proves important for law enforcement techniques and questioning.

“People can be addicted to most anything, just like some individuals are addicted to drugs or some to Internet pornography. If they’re devoting a huge amount of time and becoming obsessed then poaching can meet that definition,” Eliason said.

As Golie talked with Eliason and delved deeper into the minds, backgrounds and characteristics making up the 1-percenters, he laid his character portrait on top of the clinical profile of a sociopath and found some striking similarities. He now believes a 1-percenter starts as a sociopath, manifesting his disorder in poaching.

A sociopath displays antisocial and often criminal behavior while lacking a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. Irresponsibility makes holding jobs difficult and they often fail to honor financial obligations.

Sociopaths need to fulfill personal egos with a disregard for the effects on others. They easily establish relationships but fail to maintain enduring relationships. They lie, manipulate and deceive without a sense of remorse. They are incapable of feeling guilt even when caught, blaming others for their troubles and balking at punishments.

“It’s interesting because I’ve caught these individuals trespassing and picking antlers on game ranges only to find them in line on opening day like it’d never happened,” Golie said. “But what’s underlying makes sense for why they’re addicted to poaching and makes it easier to explain. When you look into their background, you end up finding a lot more - it runs deep and goes in all different directions in a sociopath’s life.”

Eliason believes Golie’s theory could inform the challenging study of poaching.

“It definitely has merit and potential,” Eliason said. “With the difficulty of doing research with people that don’t want to talk with you, the game wardens are the ones out there and are a good source of information.”

In the case of poaching, wardens cited in Eliason’s research responded resoundingly that loners, particularly non-braggers, are the most difficult to catch.

FWP Enforcement Chief Tom Flowers echoed the challenge of apprehending 1-percenters and added that they can take up the bulk of a warden’s time. Spending significant time on a 1-percenter can ultimately end unsuccessfully, making investigating them particularly frustrating at times.

“They may not buy licenses, they don’t care about the law, they are obsessed,” he said. “Clearly their thought process is different and they see it as a challenge to not only take the game but to not get caught.

“They obviously operate outside of any rule, any social norm, and we have to keep the Constitution in mind so it’s not a level playing field.”

Both Flowers and Golie emphasized that simply because someone is a talented and successful hunter does not make him or her a poacher.

“There are a lot of people who are just good at it and love to hunt and fish and are doing everything right,” Flowers said.

Communities play an important role in providing information on suspected poachers, but rumors that trophy animals are poached often run rampant in the hunting world. Determining where to devote resources is critical, Flowers said.

“What people think and what people know are very different things,” he said. “So you have to be careful about where to put in time and effort and that’s where experience comes in.”

Because 1-percenters have exceptional ability in the field, if they applied themselves they could easily find success hunting within the bounds of the law, Golie said.

“It’s much different than the people who work their butts of and do it the right way,” he said. “A 1-percenter is looking for the easy way to get the same satisfaction.

“It’s offensive to the rest of us, the hunters who are working hard to get an elk and he’s killing them illegally and stealing from the rest of you.”

Golie hopes the serial poacher portrait, developed during a two-decade career and with input from other experienced wardens, will help younger wardens recognize a 1-percenter and adjust tactics accordingly.

What ultimately gets 1-percenters caught is greed. They take risks in the insatiable illegal pursuit of trophy wildlife, and while calculating, sometimes that drive pushes them just far enough that they trip up and get caught. A warden must be there when it happens.

“It takes a lot of hard work and psychology - you’re not going to just walk up and catch them red-handed,” he said. “By educating our wardens I’m hoping they can see the big picture and start to see if the person fits this profile and then spending more time investigating. With more attention they have the opportunity to stop one of the worst resource violators we have out there.”

___

Information from: Independent Record, https://www.helenair.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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