November 13, 2019

The Mess from Poaching


Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

December 20, 2011 – Poaching.  A lot of it goes on around here.  It doesn’t have a season.  Not really.  Sure, deer are shot illegally at night during the hunting season and then tagged the next day as ‘legal’ deer.  But think about it.  If you’re going to shoot a deer at night in November, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same the other 11 months.

We have a lot of deer.  There’s nothing like apple trees to bring them in.  The orchard behind the house is one of their favorite spots.  The browse line there is obvious.  Without a deer in sight, that announces their presence as loudly as Louis Vuitton’s trademark initials proclaim his handbags.

You can’t miss it.

Poachers don’t.  It’s a little close to the house for some but it hasn’t stopped all of them.  This past fall a doe was shot less than a hundred feet from our west wall.  The headlights froze the animal in place, but I’m not convinced that made the house any safer.  The concussion of the shotgun, magnified by the interior of vehicle, lifted me from bed faster than anything else in recent memory.

The lights coming on inside scared that poacher away.  The coyotes showed me the body the next day.

Perhaps that’s why the older orchard at the Tay homestead is the preferred poaching locale.  There, nothing but a cellar hole and the apple trees themselves show the spot was once inhabited.  Tulips come up around the old doorstep.  Daffodils carpet the uneven lawn every May.  Lilacs, gradually being shaded out, struggle to bloom.  Violets blossom beside the hand-dug well.  It’s far enough from any occupied dwelling to grant a certain safety to illegal activity.

Perhaps that’s partially my fault.

I try not to over-domesticate the place.  The spot favors the wild, overgrown and wind-swept songs of unfettered nature.  The less interference it has from humanity, the more beautiful it becomes.

I’ve grafted some of the old apple trees but made sure to use only antique varieties.  Wolf River.  Winter Russet.  Golden Fair.  I disinfect my tools carefully and never prune aggressively.  Out here it’s beauty, not production, that’s the point.

The deer love it, too.  They’re part of it, share it and help make it whole.

The spot is living proof that we don’t have to be incompatible with the earth.

That’s why poaching upsets me so much.  The ripped, plastic garbage bag with the body parts spilled across the homestead sets a jarring tone.  There’s no question the animal was killed illegally.  The season ended Dec. 15.  Coyotes don’t use that Glad, 30-gallon size.  In addition, tire ruts, now frozen, show where someone backed over the lawn and dumped the carcass before fleeing.

I stand a moment, surveying the scene, seeking some clue why someone would do this.  Eventually I give up.  Even the deer was wasted.  The two hind quarters and the heart were all that were taken.

I shake my head.  Sure.   I can clean up the mess.  I know the procedures.  I’ve done it before.  In fact, I’ve done it far too often.  As I head back to the house for the truck, a feeling of violation grows with every step.

That sense only deepens as I load the bag with its gruesome contents into the pickup.  It’s furthered as I search the bag for any other evidence.  An envelope with a name and address would be ideal.

No luck.  The contents are strictly gore.

It occurs to me as I tie off the bag and remove my gloves that somebody did this, that somebody else knows who.  Further, that until everybody insists this activity be off limits, that our wildlife be managed responsibly for everyone’s benefit, poaching, a crime against us all, will continue.  Moreover, if you have any doubt about how unacceptable poaching truly is, come out the next time this happens.  You can help clean up.