The Everyday Hunter: Poaching and Hunting — Not the Same Thing

“The Poacher,” a 1907 painting by Swiss artist Frédéric Rouge, illustrates the secretive attitude of the poacher. (Public Domain.)
“The Poacher,” a 1907 painting by Swiss artist Frédéric Rouge, illustrates the secretive attitude of the poacher. (Public Domain.)
Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen
Contribiting Writer

“I’m going poaching,” said no hunter, ever. Poachers call their activity hunting, but it’s not hunting. Poaching is a crime, and hunting is not a crime.

Poaching goes far beyond hunting. Poaching is the word used when people steal endangered plants, and no one lumps those criminals in with the boy who picks daisies for his sweetheart. Criminals poach sea turtle eggs, and no one thinks of those offenders as fishermen. Timber is sometimes poached, and trespassers dig ginseng roots from someone else’s private property. Both activities are forms of poaching. In fact, poaching is closely tied throughout history to property rights.

In medieval Europe, poaching was akin to smuggling. Aristocratic landowners owned the game on their land, and it was illegal for peasants to trespass to kill wildlife. In the ballads of Robin Hood, poaching was robbery. The word “poach” is derived from the Middle English word “pocchen,” literally meaning “hidden in a bag.” Poachers must hide their acts.

Clearly, poaching and hunting are in no way synonymous. Hunters try to play by the rules. Poachers intentionally break the rules. Hunters can tell true stories to anyone about what they do. Poachers must hide the truth because telling the truth is self-indicting.

Many people define a hunter as a person who pursues wild animals to kill them, but that definition is inadequate. A farmer will shoot deer for crop damage. A game warden might shoot a deer that is diseased or has been injured by a car or a predator. A sharpshooter may be hired to thin a herd of deer in a park. The farmer, the game warden and the sharpshooter all seek to kill wild animals, but they’re not acting in the role of hunter. Poacher aren’t either.

A common definition of hunter is, “A person who hunts game or other wild animals for food or in sport.” Yet many non-hunters fail to understand that sport hunting, like any other sport, is governed by rules. Although hunters have no regulation playing field comparable to the baseball diamond or the basketball court, hunters do have many rules and those rules impose bag limits, establish seasons, and restrict hunting hours. They govern proper weaponry, hunter training, and much more. Regulations matter to hunters, but not to poachers.

Hunters sign up to hunt by the rules. Just as a football lineman might jump offsides, a hunter may inadvertently break a rule, but his intention is to obey them. An honest mistake does not automatically transform a hunter into a poacher. A poacher seeks to break the rules deliberately in order to kill animals wrongfully. That’s not hunting by any legal or sporting standard.

Some people consider poachers a sub-set of hunters, but that’s wrong too. Yes, poachers might buy a hunting license. In fact, a license helps camouflage their illicit acts. But bank robbers have bank accounts, and no one thinks of bank robbers as a sub-set of bank customers. Poachers, shoplifters, and bank robbers all deliberately attempt to defraud the public. To view them a sub-set of the whole body of hunters or store customers or bank patrons only adds confusion.

Some argue that we see more disrespect for hunting laws today than we’ve seen in the past, but we observe disrespect for law in every segment of society. Even if poaching is on the increase, that’s a reflection on society, not on hunting itself. Lumping the bad guys in with the good guys can do nothing to increase respect for hunting laws, or any other laws.

No hunter should consider poachers as part of his own ranks, and that brings us full circle. The bottom line is the same as the top line. Poaching is not hunting, and hunting is not poaching. Poaching is a crime. Hunting is not. Hunting is a positive benefit to wildlife and society.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.Everyday Hunter Logo