Law enforcement has a new tool to fight serial poachers in Montana: a profile.
Growing up whitetail hunting on my family farm, I thought a lot about poachers. The first deer I ever shot had been pushed to my tree stand by a group of guys that had no permission to be on our land, hunting or otherwise. Just out of sight, the men whooped and hollered and made a lot of noise until my grandfather, all 6’4 and 250 pounds of him politely suggested that they cross back over the fence before he used his size 13 to assist them. From what I understand, they didn’t waste any time getting back to their truck. Based on this experience and others like it, my early definition of a poacher fell into an easily understandable and stereotypical archetype: the redneck hunter with no respect for the law or peoples property, a lowlife who wasn’t willing to put the work in himself.
I may have not been far off on my assessment of the law breakers I came into contact with, but investigators at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have shed light on a whole different class of poacher, one who doesn’t fit into the existing stereotype and is so good at what they do that they remain invisible to the majority of the public, even 13-year-olds in deer stands.
Game wardens call them 1-percenters or lone wolves, a type of poacher obsessed with trophy quality animals. They are described as highly skilled hunters with a complete disregard for game laws; one whose sole purpose is killing the animal with biggest antlers while outwitting law enforcement. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigator Bryan Golie has taken a scientific approach in studiying what drives these people to kill big game animals illegally and has developed a profile of a “1-percenter” that will aid wardens in stopping the criminals.
“I’ve caught a few of these individuals over the years and I began to realize there are certain personal characteristics that mirror each other,” he said in an interview. “By understanding who these individuals are, what makes them unique and the devastation they cause to our wildlife, it makes other poaching look like a joke.”
Golie has put together a series of motivations and personal characteristics that when apparent in a single individual, suggest that the person is more than just a run-of-the-mill poacher out to shoot a animal if given the opportunity. By recognizing these characteristics, game wardens can help determine if the individual is someone who made a simple mistake, or a habitual offender with a predetermined plan to break the law. The characteristics include:
- A life obsession with hunting and fishing. (I suppose this would qualify many of us, but thankfully this is only a single point amongst multiple indicators that lead investigators to a 1-percenter determination.)
- A professional career that allows them the time to invest in poaching trophy animals.
- Rare use of drugs and alcohol, which allows them to stay in peak physical condition. “They are not lazy. They’ll walk eight or nine miles just to trespass looking for antlers or game. You cannot out hike them because of that drive and focus,” Golie said.
- Maintains close relationships with authorities in an attempt to mask their actions and gain knowledge on law enforcement.
- 1-percenters tend to be male exhibiting a paranoid and suspicious personality with a history of defying authority.
- Selfish, controlling and manipulating in their personal lives.
- Seeking of public praise while hiding their true activities. 1-percenters often brag about the animals they poach, and proudly display them as if they had taken the animal legally. This self-aggrandizing can change over time.“I’ve walked into the homes of 50-year-olds and they’re hoarding these animals and antlers, filling rooms, and nobody knows about it,” Golie said. “They cannot stop poaching. Jail stops them and revoking privileges slows them down, but there is no cure.”
It’s this last point, the seeking of praise as well as the greed that drives serial poachers to kill more frequently that tends to get them apprehended. Eventually the risks they take, no matter how calculated catch up to them and put wardens on their trail.
Goalie hopes that the profile, which he developed over two decades of work as a warden will help younger wardens recognize a 1-percenter and allow for the adjustment of tactics that is often needed to catch these individuals.
With this new tool at the hands of wardens, the poacher becomes the prey.