CROOKED RIVER RANCH — Jay Snavely considers it a cruel irony.
Every other fall, when he prepares to depart on the long drive to northeast Oregon for his traditional deer-hunting trip, Snavely usually sees a buck standing just a few feet away in the front yard of his Crooked River Ranch home.
“I’m here putting a rifle in my rig to go six hours away to the Desolation Unit,” says Snavely, “and there’s a buck in my front yard.”
But Snavely is a hunter — not a poacher.
Unfortunately for Snavely and others who live in Crooked River Ranch, poachers in the area appear to have no problem shooting a buck in residents’ yards.
A poacher actually did just that one night in late September, when Snavely found a dead 5-point buck in his yard. An arrow had gone entirely through the animal, Snavely says.
Evidence indicates that poachers have run rampant in Crooked River Ranch this fall, but Snavely and a group of local residents are committed to stopping the problem. Eight of them have formed a loosely organized poacher-watch group.
Discharge of firearms and arrows was banned in Crooked River Ranch per Jefferson County ordinance about 10 years ago, according to Charles Lindberg, a senior trooper for the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division based in Madras.
The ranch — a planned unit development encompassing some 12,000 acres about 12 miles northwest of Redmond — is a natural habitat for deer, which bed down in the portion of the Crooked River Canyon that runs through the ranch.
Six deer have been poached in Crooked River Ranch this fall, five of them with arrows, according to Lindberg.
Some deer have been seen walking around the ranch with arrows lodged in their bodies.
“We’ve had lots of trouble,” says Jim Parrish, a neighbor of Snavely’s. “Lots of poachers, and some of them live close to the ranch, is the unfortunate thing. We’ve had several bucks hit with bows and arrows. Two of them died below my place this summer. These are deer that come in every day and go through my property.”
The somewhat tame deer that live in Crooked River Ranch are part of the charm of the community, according to residents. But poachers are taking advantage of those deer.
“When I go hunting, it’s not that easy,” Parrish says. “These deer will march right up to people.”
Says Lindberg: “(The deer) are not used to being hunted at all, so they’re really easy to shoot. And they’re being shot at close range — some (arrows) have gone straight through the deer. It’s just a terrible waste. The meat can’t be salvaged.”
According to Lindberg, there is no law against shooting tame deer or even baiting deer with food, but discharge of any sort of weapon is illegal at Crooked River Ranch, and poachers could be charged with a slew of other wildlife violations (See information box).
“They’re driving through a neighborhood, see a deer in somebody’s yard, and they’ll shoot it with an arrow,” Lindberg says of the poachers. “On most deer, they haven’t tried to remove the meat. It’s basically target practice for them.
“If I can find who’s been shooting these arrows, they’ll be charged with a crime.”
The ranch is bordered by both land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and by the Crooked River National Grasslands, lands on which hunting deer in season is legal. But hunters should take responsibility to know when they are within the boundary of Crooked River Ranch, Lindberg says.
Mary Jo Crossley, a longtime Crooked River Ranch resident, notes that deer tend to travel along two paths that come up near the poacher watchers’ houses from the bottom of the canyon. At the bottom of the canyon is a community baseball field, at which residents say they have seen poachers waiting for deer at night.
“They’ve gotten more brazen the last couple years,” Crossley says of the poachers. “They used to just be at the ballpark; now they’re in our yards.”
And they might be engaging in other criminal activity related to poaching. Signs that note the ban on hunting and shooting in Crooked River Ranch have been illegally torn down recently, and residents believe poachers are to blame.
Jack Whisman, a ranch resident and a hunter, says he has no doubt that poachers are responsible for tearing down the signs.
“It disgusts me,” Whisman says. “They (poachers) give us (hunters) all a bad name.”
The poacher watchers rise early on some mornings and make their way to the ball field below their houses in the predawn darkness. They take walkie-talkies to communicate with another neighbor stationed above who watches for headlights.
“We’ve chased people twice now,” Snavely says. “Our job is to get the license plate number.”
Parrish says the watchers are not looking for confrontation with poachers. They just want to report those who are poaching and make the community aware of the problem so more residents will report suspicious activity.
“It’s becoming very dangerous,” Parrish says. “Several people have found arrows in their yards. Sooner or later, somebody could get hit.”
Penny Kellogg, another poacher watcher, says her main concern is safety. There have been some close calls, she says. Last year her husband, Al, pulled an arrow out of a buck on their property. Two years ago they found an arrow in their dog’s pen.
“We should feel safe because there’s no hunting and no shooting (allowed in Crooked River Ranch),” Penny says. “But we haven’t felt safe.”
If more residents know about the problem and are willing to take action, perhaps the poacher-watch group and others can put a stop to the illegal activities. But unfortunately, Snavely says, many locals turn a blind eye.
“A lot of people,” he says, “just don’t care enough to do something about it.”
Poaching is breaking the law
Poachers at Crooked River Ranch could be charged with:
• Hunting in violation of criminal trespass
• Waste of a big-game animal
• Discharge of firearm or arrow in violation of Jefferson County ordinance
• Shooting from a roadway
• Hunting closed season
• Hunting prohibited method
• Hunting without a valid tag
• Hunting after dark
• Casting a light while armed
• Reckless endangerment
The Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division encourages anyone to call 911 immediately if they witness any suspicious activity that could involve poachers, and to obtain a vehicle description and license plate number. If a dead animal or an arrow is found, call ODFW violations at 1-800-452-7888.