Poaching season has begun. According to Senior Trooper Dain Gardner of the Oregon State Police, poachers hit the woods shortly after the first week of July, stretching wildlife enforcement officers thin through the first of the year.

Several calls  reporting poaching activity to the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office and the Hermiston Police last weekend illustrate the point.

“It seems like after the first of July we start getting our poachers,” Gardner said, pointing out the increased activity may be hunters trying to beat the rush.

Bear season opened Aug. 1 across Oregon, and archery season starts for deer and elk  Saturday, Aug.  27.

“From now until about mid-January is when the illegal hunting will take place,” Gardner said.

Greg Rimbach, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, said  poaching is a consistent problem that is hard to track statistically because many are never caught.

“Most of them have a hunting license,” Rimbach said, adding poachers will  often kill more animals than their license allows, or hunt outside of the allotted season.

While Rimbach said  legal hunting has declined in the last 30 years, poaching takes a significant toll, primarily because poachers target prime breeding males.

“A lot of the poaching that occurs is on antlered males,” Rimbach said.

“Those are usually the guys who are after the big horns to show to their buddies, but won't work hard enough to do it the right way,” Gardner said.

Taking the best males out of the population can cause long-term damage to wildlife stocks.

“Those older animals do most of the breeding,” Rimbach said, adding that poachers taking “trophies” reduce the breeding population to less than prime animals.

“If they keep doing it year after year it can have a negative effect,” Rimbach said.

Rimbach noted that 30 years ago people poaching for food may have been more common.

“I think it's extremely uncommon (now),” Rimbach said. 

Gardner agreed.

“I've never come across anyone out hunting because they were starving,” Gardner said, adding that even the recent economic downturn hasn't affected poaching levels measurably.

Gardner said  poachers are often out at night when deer are most vulnerable, and will spotlight, or position their cars so they can shine their headlights onto fields.

 Gardner asked anyone noticing suspicious activity to call him at 541-561-7425, or the OSP office at 541-922-5751.

Anyone reporting poaching can remain completely anonymous, Gardner said. 

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