A deer was found dead, killed with a crossbow, on a vacant lot in the Claremont area Oct. 3, marking the first known case of urban poaching in Saanich this year.
A person mowing the lawn near the lot on Ironwood Place found the buck with a green arrow lodged in its abdomen. Pound investigators believe the animal had been there for some time, and that it was likely shot elsewhere and fled before collapsing.
According to Saanich Police Sgt. Dean Jantzen, urban poaching has come to be expected at this time of year, and poachers use the hunting season as a legal guise for their activities.
“During hunting season, you may have some justification if you have a deer in your possession. Not the case if it’s outside hunting season,” he explains.
B.C. Conservation Officer Peter Pauwels estimates 90 per cent of deer poaching incidents occur during hunting season. They usually happen at night when visibility is poor, says Jantzen.
While this is the first known case of poaching this hunting season, it’s one of two incidents this month involving a crossbow being used on an animal in the capital region. A housecat in Langford was missing for almost a week before returning to its owners alive, with an arrow pierced through its back.
Anyone can possess a crossbow in Saanich, but using one violates municipal bylaw and may go against various sections of the criminal code. It is illegal to discharge a crossbow anywhere in the municipality.
According to Jantzen, there have been roughly half a dozen cases of poaching in Saanich in the last two years. In 2010, Saanich police arrested two men in possession of crossbows suspecting dangerous use of the weapons, but no charges were laid due to considerations of “private property and asserting native hunting privileges.” Further comment is prevented because the case is a Crown counsel issue. B.C. Aboriginal rights allow B.C. First Nations to legally hunt without a licence in their traditional territory provided they abide by safety rules.
Pauwels says the latest deer-poaching incident in Saanich involving the buck found at Claremont was unusual because the type of arrow that was used — a target arrow — is not effective for killing an animal. Usually, poachers use broad arrow heads, which indicate an intention to kill the animal.
Taiaiake Alfred, professor of Indigenous Governance and Political Science at UVic, says he doesn’t know of anyone exercising native hunting rights in the area this deer was found.
“All the evidence points to it not being a native hunter,” says Alfred. “Given everything that we know about First Nations hunting, it’s likely that it’s not.”
Pauwels says, “It’s either somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing — is not an avid hunter — or doesn’t really care if they kill the animal or not.”
The public risk of crossbow use is low, says Pauwels, but it would depend on who’s firing the arrows, what their competency is and what kind of risk they are willing to take.
“If it’s somebody who doesn’t care at all, then it could be dangerous; somebody could get hit by one of those,” he says.
Jantzen says he conducted test shots with a crossbow where the arrow was able to penetrate through a wooden two-by-four.
“So they’re strong enough to penetrate the outer wall of a house,” warns Jantzen. “These things can travel many metres past an animal if [the shooter misses].”
Both Pauwels and Jantzen say it’s hard to determine how much urban poaching goes undetected and who commits the act, unless a witness speaks up.
“We are asking the public to be vigilant,” says Jantzen. “These incidents have occurred anywhere there are deer in Saanich. We encourage people to contact us when they see people stalking deer, those obviously armed and dressed for hunting, vehicles driving slow through neighbourhoods possibly following deer.”
Anyone wishing to report poaching or human-wildlife conflicts may call 1-800-663-9453.