As a landowner or leaseholder, you have the right to the peaceful enjoyment of your property. You have worked hard on your land and you have the right to invite or keep out anyone you wish, within the limits of the law.

But there are some people in this world who think they are owed the right to take game whenever and wherever they choose. They will go to great lengths to encroach upon your land and to steal the game that is on it.

For whatever reason, be it the thrill of the hunt, the obsession with trophy animals, the psychological game of cat and mouse or their misguided belief that they are a modern-day Robin Hood, they will invade your property and use it as their own. Even worse, they will sometimes treat it much worse than they would their own property.

These people have no respect for the rights of others or the law. They are the common, everyday, household poacher, the game thief. A can of Raid will not help get rid of them, but following some of the tips below might.

Posted signs

By law, all land in Mississippi is posted against trespassing, signage or not. Just because you don't have posted or no-trespassing signs on your property doesn't mean it is wide open to the public. 97-17-93 of the Mississippi Code of 1972 states that "any person who knowingly enters the lands of another without the permission of or without being accompanied by the landowner or the lessee of such land, or the agent of such landowner or lessee, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor….".

So you see that the law says that if you knowingly enter the land of another without permission, you are guilty of trespassing.

But key in on the word "knowingly." So it would behoove a landowner to put up signs to further reinforce the fact that his land is posted. This is especially important in areas such as mature timber or tree plantations where it is nearly impossible to tell one property from the next. This gives the landowner and law enforcement more leverage when enforcing the law, including the law (97-17-91) that says you cannot deface, remove, alter or destroy and notice (posted sign) placed on private land, and the law (97-17-85) that says if any person shall go upon the enclosed land of another without his consent, after having been notified by such person or his agent not to do so, either personally or by published or posted notice, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. So you can post it, put a notice in the paper or tell someone your land is posted, but you don't have to do any of that. It just solidifies the case against the trespasser should you go to court.

Gates

Gates are like padlocks; they really only keep honest folks out. However, putting up gates at the entrance points to your property may save you some grief down the road. I can think of one particular instance where a landowner reported a trespassing angler on his property.

When the officer arrived, he found the very polite angler who stated that he had come to fish on this lake bank after being told by a friend that the fish were biting. Whether or not this angler thought he was trespassing is beside the point because he did not have permission from the landowner to access his land.

The access point was gained off of a public road via a ramp that crossed a ditch onto the private land. It was not the first time that this landowner had trespassing issues and a simple gate or barricade across this access ramp would've kept all of the honest folks out, and probably a few of the dishonest ones that could not have driven their vehicles off of the road and hidden them in the bushes on the private property.

Your barriers don't have to be the moat and drawbridge style to be effective. Just something simple like a length of cable between two posts is all it takes to get the message across to some folks. If you do use cable, make sure you mark it well with flagging or by sliding PVC pipe over it so that it is highly visible. This will help others, as well as yourself, see the cable clearly when entering the property.

Access roads

All too often I see private access roads that are as straight as an arrow and provide a perfect opportunity for road hunters to ride the public roads and catch game in these convenient "shooting lanes" on your property. While you can't always avoid straight roads, you can do something to hinder the ability of poachers to see down them from the public road. Making a curving entrance that joins the straight access road a hundred yards or so from the public road is a good idea. You can then allow the vegetation to grow up on the old entrance and block the view from the public road.

Another way to reduce temptation from your less-than-honest neighbors is to block the view on boundary-line shooting lanes. I know one landowner who had problems with his neighbors who were shooting down the lanes along the property edge. The landowner welded sheets of tin to the top edge of old cotton trailers, and he parked the trailers across the lanes.

This prevented the neighbors from being able to see, and therefore shoot, onto his property. It worked great until the neighbors drove onto his property and moved the trailers. With friends like those, who needs enemies?

Vegetative screens

Vegetative screens go hand-in-hand sometimes with solving access-road issues. Other times they may block the public's view of your property along public roads, waterways or along property lines.

In many hardwood CRP tracts I see pines planted along the road to act as a visual screen, but I've yet to see a stand of pines thick enough to accomplish the desired purpose. What may be a better alternative is thicket-forming shrubs, like eleagnus or plums. These shrubs can serve as an aesthetically pleasing visual barrier as well as provide wildlife with nesting and escape cover and food.

Another alternative is a cane thicket, but non-native canes and bamboos can become invasive pests after a few years. An even better solution is to plant native grasses or forage crops. Sorghum-sudangrass is a cross between grain sorghum and sudangrass. It can grow to be 8-10 feet tall and thrives in droughty conditions. The only downside is that it is an annual and must be replanted every year.

Kenaf is another annual that grows quickly and can provide excellent visual cover. Switchgrass, particularly the Alamo variety, is a native perennial that, once established, will grow 8-10 feet tall and form a tall, dense barrier. While it may take a little longer to get established than kenaf or sorghum-sudangrass, you will not have to replant it every year, and its vigorous root system allows it to withstand dry conditions and fire.

Johnnie St. Clair, manager of Rivers Run near Belzoni, plants switchgrass as a visual screen along the interior roads on his property.

"The thing I like about the switchgrass is that it has such a deep root," he said. "We dug some up and planted it by our main gate last year, and it did just fine even through the drought.

"After it dies in the fall, it is almost impossible to see if you shine a light on it at night. We sometimes ride our property looking for varmints, and you cannot shine a light on the switchgrass without being blinded. It is so tall and thick and has an almost white appearance at night."

Food-plot placement

Visual screens, curving access roads, posted signs and gates are all for naught if you carelessly plant your food plots in areas where they are easy targets for poachers. The most obvious mistake is when a food plot is planted too close to public roads. We've all seen them: The pretty little wheat patches tucked partially behind a nook of trees, where everybody stops on the side of the road to ooh and ahh over the deer that feed in them every morning and evening.

While agricultural fields that attract game in view of the road may be difficult to avoid, planting your food plots within "scopesight" of the road is not a good idea. If you must plant your plot near the road, think seriously about implementing some type of visual screen between the plot and the road.

Another area to avoid when planting plots is near the property line. I can't count the number of deer stands I've seen that are hung on Landowner A's property line trees and they are facing directly toward Landowner B's food plots. While it isn't illegal to look across someone else's property, we all know it takes a strong conscience to pass up a book buck or a big gobbler if they are only a few yards away in a lush food plot on the adjoining property. All too often I see plots planted right down the edge of the property, and in some instances this is unavoidable. Many times these were old pond levees, turn rows or field edges, and are the most convenient locations for plots. But if you don't trust the neighbors or the motorists, move your plots or block them from view.

Trail cameras

One of the most common methods of detecting poachers has evolved around the trail camera. Trail cameras have caught more than one trespasser in the act.

Most everyone knows a feeder or food plot is a good location for a trail camera for taking wildlife photos, but if you want to use them as surveillance, you've got to be a little more discreet. Cameras on gates, interior roads and trails will sometimes catch unauthorized vehicles as well as poachers. Forget flash types. If you want to catch people without alerting them to the camera's location, use something with 100-percent infrared technology. Even the faint red glow of LEDs on most cameras is easily detected by a cautious trespasser, but if that's all you have, then you can make it work.

Cameras placed high in trees, pointing down, or cameras hidden among other objects work well on people.

One option for daytime use is the small Plot Watcher camera. It takes pictures every 5 or 10 seconds, and comes with software that allows you to view these photos in sequence and in a short amount of time on your home computer. This is a good alternative to using motion-detection systems that rely on an object passing within a set distance from them. The Plot Watcher will capture everything as far as the eye can see, all day long.

What do you do if you catch a poacher or a vehicle on camera? You can take the image to local law-enforcement authorities and pass along the information, such as license plate numbers. This will build your case and may even help establish a pattern that will help catch the criminals in the future. I know of one landowner who captured an image of a vehicle and its license plate on a trail camera. He found out who owned the vehicle, pressed charges, and the trespasser confessed and pled guilty in court.

Landowner associations

Possibly the most effective method for curtailing poaching activity is to establish a network of landowners, leaseholders and hunters in your area, and hold an annual meeting. Discuss what you are doing on your property and how you can all work together as a group to protect your individual interests.

Most leaseholders and some landowners do not live on site and rely on neighbors and other hunters to help them detect and deter poaching activity. Most local poachers know that absentee landowners will arrive on Friday afternoon and leave sometime on Sunday. Monday through Thursday is prime time for poachers to enjoy the fruits of your land-management labor. If you can establish a working relationship with local landowners or your neighbors, who may be present during times when you are not, you can have 24/7 surveillance of your property.

When you spot a road hunter or something unusual, report the findings to your neighbors so that they can also be on the lookout. There is strength in numbers, and the odds are that if you have someone poaching on you, they are poaching on your neighbors also.

"I took what I learned from my time at Reed Deer Camp near Fitler," said Jerry McBride of McBride Outfitters near Belzoni. "Reed Deer Camp, Arcadia Hunting Club, the School Section Club, Tri-County Hunting Club and a few other clubs got together and through the help of the state biologists in trying to grow better deer, created the Fitler Conservation League.

"We formed an association with people sharing common goals to watch each others' backs. If you were down there and didn't have a button or a sticker, you got asked who you were. Using that idea, I came up with the Sky Lake Conservation League near Belzoni. The fact that all of the landowners got together, put up gates, called each other when we saw someone we didn't know or knew was out of place, worked closely with law enforcement and
prosecuted trespassers when we caught them has made a
tremendous difference."

Law enforcement

Wildlife-enforcement officers can be one of your greatest assets when it comes to putting and end to poaching in your area. However, if you are leaving it solely up to them to rid your property of human pests, you have overestimated their ability to do something they cannot do alone. You should make every effort to curtail poaching by using visual screens, food-plot placement, gates, trail cameras, signs and the neighborhood watch before you enlist the help of the game warden or sheriff's deputy.

You may not realize it, but in most cases, where there are dozens if not hundreds of police officers and 10 or 20 deputies patrolling a city like Jackson or a county such as Hinds, there are only two or three game wardens, if that many, patrolling a 500-square-mile area.

I once heard an irate landowner say that he was disappointed with his local game warden's ability to adequately monitor his property when his local police department checked the front door of his business every night. I tried to explain to him the logistics of a police department with dozens of officers on multiple shifts patrolling an area only a fraction of the size that his lone conservation officer was working. Factor in that your game warden may spend several days or nights in the same area, such as your roadside wheat field, trying to catch a poacher. While he is tending to the problem in your area, the same problems are happening in other areas, at the same time sometimes, all across the county.

However, there are things you can do to make it easier for your local game warden to catch your poachers. Take pictures, write down vehicle descriptions, record the dates and times of violations, call 1-800-BE-SMART. A timely phone call as the act is happening has caught more poachers than you can imagine. A phone call three days later rarely does.

And for heaven's sakes, if the officer does catch someone on your property and asks you to sign an affidavit, by all means do it. There is nothing more disheartening to a wildlife officer than to go to all the trouble to catch someone and then the landowner or leaseholder decides not to press charges or show up for court. Most judges will dismiss a trespassing charge every time if a landowner fails to sign an affidavit or show up on court day.

By implementing these tips, you can make your property a better place to hunt fish and enjoy. It may not always be smart to confront an armed, outraged poacher if you are alone. In that situation, record the evidence, take pictures if you can and call the law. Be prepared to follow through to the end, and once the word gets out that poachers will be prosecuted on your property, most of them will find an easier place to poach.