It would probably take a psychiatrist to explore all the varied motivations that lure people into violations of hunting and fishing laws, but I never cease to wonder after reading the "Game Warden Shorts" feature in the North Woods Call every couple of weeks at the number of convicted felons or parolees who are returned to jail after being caught in the act of keeping too many fish or poaching a deer. One would think that being already in deep trouble with the law, they would be going out of their way to avoid further suspicion or trouble.

Maybe we should chalk it up to pure stupidity. However, I think there is probably something more than that. There just seems to be some people in the world who get their kicks out of skirting the law in any way they can. Psychologists call such people "sociopaths". Others may refer to them as "scofflaws". It could be that in their minds they are protesting control of any sort. Or may just be that they believe the world owes them a living. In any case, it seems that their skirting of game laws is just a part of a general attitude towards the world or the rest of society.

However, I doubt if the majority of game law violators fall into that category. Certainly there are some who just don't see, or don't care to, beyond their desire for self-satisfaction or gratification. They want sure-fire results from the time they spend in the field, so they are quite willing to take whatever shortcuts they think they can get away with. The odd part about this behavior is that in doing so, they undercut any claim they might have had to be considered true sportsmen. The more that hunting becomes for them, like shooting fish in a barrel, the more they seem pleased with themselves, even if others shake their heads in wonder.

Still, beyond the types described above, I wonder if the main problem isn't that a lot of people just fail to grasp the underlying reasons or overall purpose of the laws. In many cases it may involve the protection of an endangered species. In other cases, it may involve efforts to control a disease -- like Michigan's restrictions on deer baiting in the effort to eradicate bovine TB or prevent its spread to other species. But on the other hand, some laws are enacted simply to level the playing field, so to speak, giving the general public an equal chance to harvest a publicly-owned resource like wild fish and game, rather than allowing it to become the private preserve of those who would try to keep it all for themselves. In other words, some of these laws may be, more than anything else, a curb on greed or selfishness.

All in all, it seems to me that, in the end, the adherence to hunting and fishing laws, which are sometimes called merely "penal laws" -- as distinguished from "criminal laws" -- are not without their own moral significance. If nothing else, if we can believe what the Good Book says about being trustworthy in small things being a sign of overall character, then it would seem that adherence to these laws would be a good indicator of general uprightness and good citizenship. Maybe some don't care to see themselves that way, but even so, would they in turn want their daughter to marry, much less even date, the local poacher?

R W Kropf 11/17/05