What do you do if you see poachers on your permission?

After sheltering under a fur for a while, I got the Lightning XL on to a fluffy tale

After sheltering under a fur for a while, I got the Lightning XL on to a fluffy tale - Credit: Archant

What would you do if you stumbled upon some poachers while out hunting on your permission? Jamie Chandler explains his plan of action

If approached by coursers, try to conceal your air rifle

If approached by coursers, try to conceal your air rifle - Credit: Archant

Did anyone else out there read, ‘Danny, Champion of the World’, by Roald Dahl, as a child, or indeed, as an adult? It’s one of my favourite and most read childhood books. For those among you who have missed out, the book was set in the 1950s, and is about a boy who lived in a caravan with his widowed father, a mechanic and garage owner. Danny and his father ate outside under the stars and when cold, lit the tiny caravan stove to keep warm. One night, Danny learns that his father is a renowned poacher, like his father before him. Father and son team up together to humiliate a beastly local landowner on his shoot, by poaching as many birds in one night as possible.

As said, I love this book, but it really does romanticise poaching to the nth degree, even for the time in when it was set, and certainly for the time when it was written, in the mid-1970s. In it, Roald Dahl paints the age-old scene of an underdog versus a ‘toff’ landowner and attempts to justify criminal behaviour to the reader as being dubiously morally courageous, but the real world of poaching in 2019 is very much a darker and more violent place than its romantic depiction above.

Poachers seem to be scourging our countryside, almost with impunity. In 2017, poachers were keen to get out and start coursing and thieving after harvest, and instances have increased further since, according to the farmers and gamekeepers I know. A farming friend had his truck stolen twice, in two months, and each time it was spotted on CCTV, with balaclava-wearing people in the back – the second time it was stolen, it was burnt out.

Another friend and gamekeeper helped local officers arrest six people with four dogs, in the process of coursing a field, blatantly, 200 yards away from, and in clear sight of the owner’s farmhouse. He refused to give a statement, partly because the police had witnessed enough, but also to avoid reprisals.

I found three dead deer with what looked like coursing injuries, left in the open on another permission where I take clients deer stalking, and hare numbers are down at the same site. The poachers and coursers are so confident that there is no effective legal action in their way to encumber them, that they’ve even torn down fencing between three farms to make their lives easier.

No day is a bad day in the open, even one ruined by poachers

No day is a bad day in the open, even one ruined by poachers - Credit: Archant

Plan of action

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As responsible airgun hunters with permission to be hunting on the land we shoot, we are possibly among the most likely to come across coursers or poachers. We tend to move quietly; our choice of hunting tool is possibly the quietest shooting tool in the UK, and we are adept at blending in with our environment, plus we can be out until dark and well beyond. So bearing in mind all the above, what would be the best course of action if you do spot something that raises your suspicions?

My advice, based on personal experience, a chat with a sergeant from Hampshire Constabulary, and with those who work on and around shoots is as follows:

1. Ideally, you have been made aware of the landowner’s action plan for such a situation in advance and can implement it, but if not, stay unnoticed, try not to be spotted because this could lead to confrontation.

2. Call or message the landowner. They can advise on whether your suspicions are correct or not. Leave them to decide when to phone the police. Clearly explain where the potential poachers are in relation to your position.

3. Follow any instructions given to you, unless it puts you in danger of confrontation.

4. Make sure you empty your gun as soon as you can.

5. If approached, simply walk away. Don’t try to be a hero by confronting them alone and escalating the situation.

6. Under no circumstances threaten them with a loaded or empty air rifle. If confronted, try to conceal the airgun before it’s spotted. In many cases, these guys will use any legal argument to avoid prosecution, including reporting you for assault or threat with a deadly weapon.

Had they wanted the contents, the thieves would have smashed the glass

Had they wanted the contents, the thieves would have smashed the glass - Credit: Archant

7. Try to remember as much detail as you can, and if possible, film them.

8. Don’t give any personal details.

9. Your safety is paramount and trumps the need for you to confront poachers. Never intentionally expose yourself to harm.

Be vigilant

I was out checking my ignored feeders down in a wood on New Year’s Day. I had spotted a few squirrels running through the trees, but none were interested in my Cordon Bleu feeder peanuts, so I settled down in front of a fir tree to see if any would come my way.

After an hour, I finally got a chance as a fluffy tail made a dash through some high branches, so with a quick squeak, I halted the grey menace long enough to get my £50.00 BSA Lightning XL up and on aim through the Hawke Vantage 2-7 X 32 scope, sending a 5.52 Air Arms diablo straight to target and dropping it like a stone.

Whilst reloading I could hear a terrier barking. I had heard it for some time, and thought it was on a footpath about 300 yards away on the other side of the valley, but this was a lot closer and coming toward me. I watched through the trees as the dog worked up and down the other side of the valley, and to about 75 yards from me. A pheasant got up and I heard something clatter through the trees going forward, and then laughter.

I discreetly dropped a message to the keeper as I caught sight of where the clattering was coming from – two guys with catapults were taking potshots at pheasants, using the terrier to work through the cover. The keeper messaged back to say, ‘Don’t do anything. Let them leave the wood’. He said he’d try to meet them, with the police, further up the path, and catch them red-handed.

Incidents linked?

As instructed, I waited until the chaps had passed on their way, emptied the Lighting XL and started the 10-minute walk to my car. Lo and behold, to make a frustrating afternoon more so, someone had tried to break into it via the lock and underneath the door handle. Clearly, they were interested in the car not its contents, otherwise they would have just smashed a window, and as it’s an old 4x4, the cost of repair through insurance meant it would be written off.

Annoyed by a £500 repair bill, at least, I reported it to the very helpful, but not hopeful 101 operator, and then went to find the keeper. He wasn’t by the path so I headed to the yard and found him. He had seen two guys exit the wood and walk up the road with a terrier, but there were no birds on show and he couldn’t get the police there in time to have any chance of catching them.

We chatted through our equal frustration, and whether or not the two incidents were linked, and as the afternoon moved on we watched as rats started to appear around seed sacks in the shed. With the keeper’s blessing I spent the rest of the afternoon light, splatting a few rats and venting my annoyance before starting the new year by finding a body repair shop or scrap merchant with a bargain car door for sale. It could have been far worse – the new year can only get better!


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