Farmers' lives endangered by illegal deer poaching

Line of fire: deer poaching has become a high-tech and lucrative business in recent years, with groups of organised poachers illegally entering farmland without farmers’ permission, even in broad daylight claims a farmer in east Clare
Line of fire: deer poaching has become a high-tech and lucrative business in recent years, with groups of organised poachers illegally entering farmland without farmers’ permission, even in broad daylight claims a farmer in east Clare

The lives and livelihoods of farmers living close to forestry in East Clare are being put in danger because of widespread illegal deer poaching, writes Andrew Hamilton

According to a member of East Clare IFA, deer poaching has become a high-tech and lucrative business in recent years, with groups of organised poachers illegally entering farmland without farmers' permission, even in broad daylight.

These poachers use powerful rifles which are often fitted with silencers as well as night vision or thermal scopes to better see the deer. They often work in teams, with stalkers marking where deer have been killed on online maps for collection by others in the dead of night.

With many elderly and part-time farmers operating in the area, poachers can often enter a farm in broad daylight without being noticed.

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A member of East Clare IFA, who declined to be identified, said that farm animals have been killed by poachers in the area in recent times and it's only a matter of time before a farmer is injured.

"You could be walking up the field to check livestock and a bullet will fly past you. In the East Clare area there is a lot of hills and valleys, if a bullet misses it's target or ricochets off a rock, God only knows where it will end up," he said.

"Every so often a cow or a horse is shot. It depends where they get shot, sometimes it [the bullet] can go in and out and do no damage. Other times it could go in, hit a bone, and come out like a brick.

"Sometimes animals are shot and neither the farmers nor the vet ever realise that they've been shot. A lot of deaths around the country could be down to this.

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"If you see a 308 rifle fired at 100 metres, it'll open up a hole in the ground the same as a mini digger. It's scary stuff."

The hunting season runs from September 1 to December 31 for male fallow, red and sika deer and from November 1 to February 28 for females.

While prices are down so far this year, a head or neck shot deer can fetch more than €2 per kilo while a shoulder kill will currently make around €1.70 per kilo and €1.30 per kilo for a body kill.

According to the East Clare IFA member, the vast majority of people involved in illegal poaching are licensed hunters and not other criminals.

"There is an idea out there that criminals are the problem, but 99 per cent of the deer poaching is done by fully licensed deer stalkers. How else do they get access to the guns or anything that they need," he said.

"This is all being done by licensed deer stalkers. You physically cannot buy bullets unless you have a license, you cannot buy guns unless you have a license.

"You have guys who are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, shooting deer to make big bucks out of it. They are shooting day and night, they don't care where they go, a lot of it is done with night vision and thermal [scopes].

"They are using small calibre rifles with large silencers to cut down the noise. A lot of them disguise themselves as fox shooters.

"They might even have a few foxes with them in case they get stopped by the Gardaí or the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

"They are dropping a tag [when they shoot a deer] on Whatsapp or things like that, and there is a crew going around after them at night collecting the carcasses."

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