By Steve Sorensen
What is a poacher? Historically, a poacher was from a low socio-economic class in Europe, where wealthy landowners were considered to own the animals that roamed their land. When a hungry peasant would occasionally kill an animal for food, that peasant was called a poacher. Poaching was a serious crime against a landowner.
The word "poach" comes from the Middle English word "pocchen," which literally means to enclose in a pouch, or to "bag" something. The idea is to hide what one has taken.
In this country during the Great Depression when game laws were not yet widely respected, many people poached because they felt the laws were unjust. In those days, a game warden might occasionally look the other way when he knew a family was hungry and had no other alternative.
Many hunters today are sympathetic with that motivation, but with so many government food programs and a variety of agencies that provide food, including venison donation programs, hunger is no excuse for poaching.
But poaching continues because poachers have a variety of other motivations. Some poachers kill for pride. Some poachers kill for certain body parts that have a value on the black market. Some do it because they disagree with hunting regulations. Some make poaching a game of outsmarting game wardens. Some poach purely for the pleasure of killing.
In the late 20th century environmental scientists began applying the word "poach" to the illegal harvest of plant species, so even the innocent picking of wildflowers could in some cases be considered poaching. When the definition is broadened, its application to game animals is weakened.
That may be why few people accept such a broad application of the word, and most still connect poaching primarily with game animals. More....