MISSOULA, Mont.--Courts in a growing number of states are using the Boone and Crockett scoring system to slap poachers with more felony charges, stiffer fines and longer revocations of hunting privileges.
Game animals with large antlers and horns aren't just trophies, but valuable conservation resources that warrant harsher penalties for abuse, say Boone and Crockett Club officials.
"I can’t think of a better use for Boone and Crockett’s scoring system than assessing trophy-class fines for poaching trophy-class animals. All wildlife violations are setbacks for conservation, of course, but we’re especially pleased to see stiffer penalties for illegally taking an animal that is larger, has lived longer, is worth more as a benchmark of good management—and would have been a rare and cherished prize for a legal, ethical, license-buying hunter," said Lowell E. Baier, president of the Club.
Idaho, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states now use all or parts of the Boone and Crockett scoring system for wildlife law enforcement.
Ohio, for example, is in the second year of a new penalty structure that is "based on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system to calculate restitution values of illegally taken or possessed deer," said Ken Fitz, law enforcement program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The penalty structure includes a formula that is somewhat complex, but for illegally killed deer with a Boone and Crockett gross score of 125 or greater (without drying time), the result is an exponential increase in restitution charges. In fact, the new regulation increased Ohio’s penalty for poaching a 200-class whitetail buck from $400 to $17,000!
"Last year we had two deer with restitution values ordered in the area of $13,000," said Fitz. "From a deterrent point of view, the law is still too new to evaluate, but I believe it’s having an effect. Under the old law, some people thought $400 in restitution was a gamble worth taking for a trophy buck. Under the new law, the stakes are much higher and not worth it for most folks."
He added that the new law seems very popular with both the hunting and non-hunting public in Ohio.
In Idaho, the Boone and Crockett scoring system helped up the ante after Idaho poacher Frederick R. Schoenick of St. Maries killed a trophy mule deer prior to the season opener. Schoenick took only the head and cape, leaving the meat to waste. A game warden collected a DNA sample from the headless carcass. Later, when Schoenick entered the antlers into a local big buck contest, wardens used DNA to positively match the antlers to the carcass.
Because Schoenick's illegal buck scored over 150 Boone and Crockett points (actual score was 214-3/8), it was considered a trophy animal by Idaho statute and therefore subject to a more severe civil penalty—a $2,000 fine instead of the normal $400.
Jon Heggen, enforcement bureau chief with the Idaho Fish and Game Department, explained, "In 1998, a group of concerned sportsmen believed that stiffer penalties would create a bigger deterrent to poaching. Their work transformed into Senate Bill 1499 which passed into law that same year. One aspect of this new legislation was increasing civil penalties on trophy big game animals."
Idaho law actually cites Boone and Crockett standards as the official definition of "trophy" for several species, and states that the highest of the typical or non-typical scores shall be used to assess penalties.
“The 1998 law also established a felony violation when accumulated civil penalties surpass $1,000 within a 12-month period, so trophy status soon became a mechanism that helped elevate certain fish and game violations from misdemeanors to felonies,” said Heggen.
This felony clause, in turn, increased the ability of Idaho courts to revoke a poacher’s hunting privileges for more than three years and up to a lifetime.
Schoenick pleaded guilty to taking a trophy mule deer during closed season as well as wasteful destruction. He received a $3,158 fine, 5 days in jail or 120 hours of community service, 2-year probation and 2-year loss of hunting privileges.
The Boone and Crockett scoring system originated early in the 20th Century as a means of recording details on big game species that were thought to be disappearing. Conservation efforts led and funded by hunters took those species from vanishing to flourishing. Today the Club’s records book remains a valuable tool for measuring the success of ongoing management programs.
Baier said, “Healthy fish and wildlife represents an investment by state conservation agencies on behalf of all citizens. The Boone and Crockett Club has always stood behind law enforcement professionals and programs, and today we’re especially proud that our trophy concept is adding more teeth to the laws that help protect public fish and wildlife.”