Deer hunting season is in full swing on the South Island. But along with the legal hunters comes a rise in the number of poachers firing weapons close to urban areas.
Saanich police and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service are investigating four recent incidents in the municipality — two in the Prospect Lake area, and two near Mount Douglas Park. In one instance, a resident in the 1500 block of Ash Road discovered two arrows at the rear of his property, including one arrow embedded in a tree.
On all four occasions it appears a crossbow was used.
“The crossbow appears to be the poacher’s weapon of choice,” said conservation officer Peter Pauwels. “It’s quiet, and it’s easily hidden.”
There are a few reasons why someone might risk breaking the law to bag their prize, despite there being plenty of legal hunting areas within a short drive of Saanich.
“There are a lot of large bucks in the urban areas, and they’re easier to find here than in wilderness areas,” Pauwels said.
He added that a “large concentration of healthy deer” that lives in and around the Mount Doug/Blenkinsop Valley area is likely an attraction for would-be hunters.
And now that hunting season is underway it’s easier for poachers to get away with the crime unless they’re caught in the act.
“This type of poaching is done under the guise of legitimate hunting,” said Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen. “If you have an animal when you’re stopped, it’s hunting season. You’ve got a built-in excuse.”
For police, the main issue is one of public safety.
“These are high-velocity weapons,” Jantzen said. “You’re not always going to hit what you’re aiming for.”
Due to the difficulty in catching suspected poachers, police and conservation officers are asking for any help the public can provide. Things to look for include people dressed in camouflage gear or carrying unusual equipment or cases, particularly if they are in urban areas. Anyone with information about possible poachers is encouraged to contact police right away.
According to Jantzen, last year “about six to eight” similar cases were investigated by police. Although a pair of arrests were made, no charges were laid due to insufficient evidence.
The District of Saanich has a bylaw prohibiting bow and arrow use except for recreational purposes such as target shooting.