Increased Penalties for Poaching and Incentivizing the Reporting of Fish and Wildlife Violations


Poaching stands as one of the greatest threats to both the social acceptance of hunting and professional wildlife management. By definition, poaching runs afoul of laws governing the harvesting of wildlife, thus upending the scientifically-developed regulations put in place by state wildlife managers. Further, anti-hunting communities have aimed to equate poaching with hunting in efforts to severely restrict or eliminate hunting opportunities. All state fish and wildlife agencies enforce laws in place to actively combat poaching efforts and punish those found to have engaged in such. Additionally, many states have insituted further punishments for poachers of designated “trophy species” or individual animals considered “trophy animals,” while also establishing incentives, such as cash payment, to encourage the reporting of poaching activity.


Poaching stands as one of the greatest threats to both the social acceptance of hunting and professional wildlife management. Poaching, whether done to illegally harvest and sell animal parts, to procure meat, or purely for amusement, runs afoul of laws governing the harvesting of wildlife. Poaching upends the scientifically developed regulations put in place by state wildlife managers to ensure healthy, robust populations of both game and non-game animals. Further, many in the anti-hunting community have deliberately conflated poaching with hunting in their efforts to severely restrict or eliminate hunting opportunities, even though hunters are among those most ardently opposed to poaching.

All state fish and wildlife agencies enforce regulations to actively combat poaching efforts and punish those found to have engaged in poaching. While each state differs in the exact penalties levied against poachers, penalties for poaching range from temporary or permanent hunting license revocations, forfeiture of property (firearms, vehicles, etc.) used in the course of poaching activities, monetary fines, and even jail time or imprisonment. Many states have also gone a step further and instituted additional fines and punishments for those who have poached designated “trophy species” or individual animals considered “trophy animals.”

While it is the duty of ethical sportsmen and women to actively seek and report acts of poaching, increasing the incentives to do so has the potential to increase participation in the reporting process. Many states have created incentive programs that encourage participants to report acts of poaching. These are generally cash incentives, ranging from payment of a few hundred dollars to $1,000s, depending on the severity of the violation. Not all states have cash incentives in place, however, and instead call upon the good morals of responsible sportsmen and women to report and turn in poachers.

Points of Interest

  • Illegal trade of wildlife is now considered to be an extremely profitable industry, on par with trafficking in drugs, arms, and human beings.
  • Rhino horn is said to go for a higher price than gold and cocaine in some parts of Asia.
  • The antlers of a male bighorn sheep have been known to fetch prices up to $20,000 on the black market.
  • Bear gallbladders can sell anywhere from $800-$10,000 on the black market. From 2015 to 2018, more than 100 black bears were poached in Quebec to sell on the black market. Over three years, Virginia park rangers and game wardens uncovered 300 gallbladders in sting operations. In a survey of traditional Chinese doctors, 92% of claimed that bear bile is an “essential” part of their medical practice, believing it can heal a diverse array of diseases and medical issues.
  • In 1996 after the high-profile poaching of a well-known bull elk the previous year, Colorado became the first state to levy fines and penalties specifically for the poaching of “trophy species” or “trophy animals” with the passage of “Samson’s Law.” Numerous states have followed Colorado’s lead with the institution of their own fines and penalties for the poaching of trophy animals and species.
    • Under the current provisions of Colorado’s “Samson Law,” the fines for the poaching of animals designated as “trophy animals” are as follows:
      • $4,000 of any trophy pronghorn antelope.
      • $10,000 for the poaching of a trophy bull elk, mule deer, or white-tailed deer.
      • $10,000 for the poaching of any bull moose or mountain goat billy (all bull moose and mountain goat billies are designated as trophy animals).
      • $25,000 for the poaching of any ram bighorn sheep.
    • In recent years, many states including MI, TN, MD, NM, and OR have increased fines and penalties for poaching.
    • In 2017, New Mexico signed into law HB 92, targeting poachers looking for a trophy or looking to sell animal parts on the black market and makes animal waste a class four felony. Anyone removing only the head, antlers, or horns or abandoning any of the four quarters of a big game animal could face increased fines and felony charges.
    • In 2017, the Oregon Legislature, with strong urging from the Oregon Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, took a unique approach to this issue by passing HB 3158A that allows the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to award a controlled hunt preference point to any hunter who reports an incidence of unlawful take, possession, or waste of wildlife species which results in a citation or arrest.
    • Also, in 2017, the Oregon Hunters Association’s Turn in Poachers (TIP) reward fund paid $24,200 in rewards to individuals that provided information on poaching incidents.
    • In 2020, Indiana’s legislature passed HB 1385 HB 1385, increasing the length that a hunting or fishing license is to be suspended, for wildlife violators, to a minimum of one year. Previously a license could only be suspended for 30, 60, or 90 days. This bringing Indiana more in line with other states when it comes to punishments for wildlife violators.
    • In October of 2020, bipartisan legislation was introduced under an advancement on the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016. It sought to combat wildlife trafficking and the international organizations that facilitate it with an additional investment of $114 million.
    • Missouri increased poaching penalties with the signing of HB260 in 2019.
    • The Boone & Crockett Club continues to study the issue of poaching violations and their associated fines/penalties at length, including measuring the effectiveness of such penalties. More information on their work can be found here.

Moving Forward

It is in the best interest of sportsmen and women to work with legislators and state fish and wildlife managers to prevent poachers from slandering the hunting community and further complicating scientific wildlife management. While all states have wildlife violation reporting programs, those that lack reporting incentives and/or additional fines for the poaching of trophy animals may want to consider adding them as a means of keeping sportsmen and women actively engaged in the reporting process, and further dissuading potential poachers from engaging in these damaging and illegal activities.

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