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Hunting deer at night with a spotlight from a vehicle -- does the punishment fit the crime?


Throughout nearly 20 years on the outdoors beat, I have often wondered why wildlife poachers get away with such light punishments after they are caught. These days, however, penalties seem to be stiffer, and appropriately so.

Outposts recently reported on a California man who received a lifetime hunting ban in 31 states for illegally killing a bull elk in Oregon.

This week, an Ohio man is facing six months in prison and a three-year hunting ban for killing deer at night from a vehicle while using a spotlight to illuminate his quarry. Andrew T. Thompson, 22, of Newcomerstown, also was ordered by a judge to compose an apology to legitimate sportsmen in the state.

It read, in part, "I chose to act without thinking and put many people's lives at risk including contributing to putting our very own wildlife in danger."

Thompson, who was with family members and tried to elude game wardens, was found guilty of felony counts of fleeing authorities and improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle. He also was found guilty of spotlighting deer and illegal possession of deer parts. His hunting license and driver's license were revoked for three years, and his rifle and vehicle were forfeited.

Jesse W. Thompson Jr., 31, was found guilty of spotlighting and improper transport of a firearm. He was ordered to pay $500 in court costs and surrender his firearm, and his hunting license was suspended for three years. Ernest W. Thompson, 36, was similarly punished.

Are the punishments too harsh, too light or just right? I tab the latter. Freezing deer in headlights and shooting them, which is the essence of spotlighting, is cowardly and should not be tolerated.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (25)

What about the government introducing mountain lions in non-native areas to controll deer population???? ooohhhh wait!!!...... that's right, they would never do that....

With all due respect to everyone out there, POACHING is generational theft. Poachers are stealing from not just us, but from our children and their children and all future generations. We have regulaations for a reason to protect our resources and to help ensure that they will be there for those coming after us. Poachers should be banned for life from the first offence. They should face increasing fines and jail time from then on. Responsible hunters should be applauded for caring enough about the environment, other hunters and themselves to not go the easy way, but the right way. Thanks.

Those of you saying "life in prison for poaching" are ridiculous radicals. Penalties should be harsh but not that harsh.

Shinnin deer is fine. everybody in south ga does it, it doesnt hurt the deer population. the goverment just uses it to make money

The punishment is too light and people like that are disgusting. Are they that bad of hunters that they cant get one in the light, and it's not even about that but why would you try and ruin the sport that so many people love and do right. You have no morals that you have to kill a defensless animal when your not supposed to. Weak people spotlight and should face years in prison minimum 5 years. Use your head and think of what your doing. People like that make it harder for people like myself who love hunting to be able to hunt. It disgusts me how selfish some people are and how weak the system is against people who violate the rules like that!

Hunting deer at night is good for you. You become much more knowledgeable of lunar phases. You know the dynamics of the speed of sound ex. .22 LR at 1050 fps is subsonic! You are inspired to improve your marksmanship, shooting the vital organs isn't good enough, only shots to the base of the head will do. Oh yeah deer meat is mighty yummy too ;) you liberal wack jobs are too much. You would rather eat recycled (rotten) hamburger laced w/ pesticides than eat 30 minute fresh tenderloin and all the deer jerky you can carry. Now that is sad.

Were any of them trying to feed their family?

ds, you'll be the only dumbass sitting around without one when you need it. Who's the "VAG" then?

Yeah, kill the hunters! Skin them alive! How DARE they go out and hunt for meat that the rest of us cowards won't eat unless it's wrapped in plastic or sitting on a bun! Yeah, go arrest him, fine him, take away his car so he can't get to work and his family goes on welfare! Yeah, that's GREAT for society... creating a HUGE financial burden for 1)his imprisonment 2)having cops sit around catching deer-killers instead of baby killers 3)loss of GDP because of one less worker. Hunting is for LAND OWNERS, right? Just like the old Jim Crow Laws of yore... have to own PROPERTY to have RIGHTS... all land should be owned by pablum-puking vegans who bleed at the very thought of getting off momma's tit and producing their OWN food... these hunters should be ashamed for not being rich enough to own property or well-connected enough to have a buddy that has... oh, that's right... I'm describing pretty much 98% OF AMERICA... congrats... one more lifestyle choice goes to the rich... nice job, fellow citizens...

Its just lucky he didn't cause a wreck - another vehicle could have come along while he was stopped in the middle of the road, a deer stopped in the road, and he's firing a gun. Lots of ways for that scenario to go bad. A short jail term is about right, and take away his right to own a gun.

>"They're just animals. Chill out. Besides regular hunting is boring."

We're all animals. So I think we should hunt you.
Of course, I'd do it with a bow, stalking, not in a tree stand, and we'd skin and eat you. Umm, umm, tastes like a chicken.

Yep, "regular hunting is boring", that why folks should only hunt those that can hunt back.

Poachers should be punished with a large fine not a jail sentence. Hits them where it hurts and doesn't burden the tax payer.

Spotlighting is about as sportsman as some legal ways of hunting, like stirring up a herd of deer to run in front of a line of hunters who don't even know what deer they hit. I'm not saying either is wrong given deer over population, but don't kid yourselves and think you really are using hunting skills.

Neeeed to Give KFC life for Keeeelingggg alll de ChickenS. This is so stupid. Might as well imprison KFC Execs for putting fried chicken under the heat lamps.... They are deer... You eat the meat... Whats the problem here.. Im pretty sure the way the deer was killed was more in regulation than the way lots of other meats are obtained and processed... Fine them all! No more meat and everyone becomes a Homo-Vegan!

Put those animals in their place. I rather enjoy running down deer and making jump ropes from their skin

Assembly Bill 708, which currently enjoys a lot of support from both sides of the aisle, as well as both hunting groups and conservation organizations, calls for much stiffer penalties for poaching in California. This is common-sense legislation that needs to happen now. Poachers in California currently get little more than a slap on the wrist, and we don't have nearly enough wardens to patrol the state.

I think it is completely reasonable. Poachers make all of us hunters who abide by the rules and care about maintaining the land and herds look bad.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Poaching is just hunting w/o a license. Once again I see a lot of extremism here. I think these kinds of views stem from people's general insecurity about their place in the world. Ie every body deserves the ultimate penalty for everything. That is a power thing, plain and simple. Something like 3 to 5 years is appropriate, esp. w/ deer which are not particularly rare. In PA they practically look the other way at poaching because there are so many deer.


They're just animals. Chill out. Besides regular hunting is boring. And to DS... you're a VAG for not liking guns. I'd like to see you stop a home invader with your gay little bow.

It should be a felony conviction with a lifetime ban in 50 states (i understand why it's 33, there's some pact, but the rest should get on board.) Poachers ruin it not only for legal hunters, but everyone else as well. Hunting & Fishing licensing fees are virtually the sole source of revenue for wildlife conservation. Every time someone poaches an animal, that reduces the number of licenses for folks who pay their way.

IM always frightened when I read groups of responses like these. Maybe it is just the kind of people who post to boards, but the overarching theme I see is intolerance. Half the people want to ban guns and hunting. The other half want to give people life for killing animals. I think all of these opinions are pretty crazy and radical. Deer are varmints. They are also a source of food. Penalties seem about right. LIghten up people (would our ancestors even recognize "Californey"?). Free your mind,free your soul. Live and let live.

Matt Felix

I'd say the penalties are too light, but it's a good thing if they are getting stiffer of late, as you suggest.

One thing that always bugged me is when some hunter accidentally shoots somebody.

Usually, you get a license or a tag to shoot a male deer or elk, right? Not a female or a fawn. So that means you've got to carefully identify your target to ensure you're only shooting at a qualifying male.

And yet, what folks always seem to say when they accidentally shoot someone is that they thought it was a deer (or elk).

Perhaps there are criminal charges filed for negligence. And maybe the shooter gets sued. But you never hear of them losing their hunting privileges for failing to identify their target.

When a hunter shoots another person or, say, a cow, they have by definition failed to do their duty and should be barred for life.

DS is right, bowhunting is the sportsmans answer, but take it further, no ambush from tree stands, get out, stalk, and actually HUNT! Or grab the side by side and go after birds...kinda hard to drop a pheasant on the wing with a bow, but a bow works on turkey for sure...
In my experience most poachers are worthless trash anyway, a waste of life breathing air we could use for other purposes.

People who kill or abuse animals, ESPECIALLY poachers, should be thrown into prison forever.

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Lock them up and throw away the key. If you use a gun to hunt, youre a LAZY VAG anyway...
Try a bow, its actually sporting. Guns should be outlawed, they have little use in todays society.


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