You wait all year to deer hunt on your private property or lease. You spend endless hours planning. You fork out hundreds of dollars on food plots, other habitat improvements, maintenance and hunting gear. Excitement and anticipation build at a rapid rate. You are ready to hunt.

Then opening day finally rolls around, and you arrive at camp to find the gate lock is busted. The fence is run over or cut down. Hunting stands are vandalized, knocked over or, worse yet, gone altogether. Big-wheeled ruts are cut all over your planted plots. A deer carcass litters the camp road ditch, missing just the head.

Obviously, it's a buck you didn't get to harvest. Somebody else beat you to it. Trespassers and poachers have wrecked your hunting area and deflated your enthusiasm for a successful hunting season.

So what can be done to prevent these scenarios in the future?


Violation shock

"I had just settled into my deer-hunting condo stand, had all my gear set up on the bench and was ready for a quiet morning of hunting," said Andy Dulaney of Spring Lake Farms in Holmes County. "In a short while, I had several does meandering around at the far end of the food plot right in front of my stand.

"It was a perfect scenario for a buck to come out of the adjacent swamp to check out the ladies. Then I heard the random sound of a four-wheeler coming down the power line right-of-way just 200 yards west of my stand.

"The ATV came all the way down the power line, then stopped at what I figured was a ladder-box stand we had positioned on that open strip of habitat cut between two sections of hardwoods. I got out of my condo, and walked to where I could just see down the power line to the stand. Using my binoculars, I could clearly see the ATV parked at the stand, and a man sitting in it. He had a rifle, but was not wearing hunter orange.

"Long story short, I got back to my ATV, and used a radio to call several other members to come to the scene. When we all appeared in the open at the end of the power line, we watched the trespasser jump from the stand, try but fail to start his ATV, then just run off into the woods back toward town.

"I just wasn't raised to abuse other people's property like this, so it is absolutely mind-blowing to me that complete strangers would do these kinds of things.

"The real eye-opener was calling the local wildlife officer right there in town less than a mile away from our property only to be told that if we did not have the guy in custody, there was nothing he could do or would do. He wouldn't even do us the favor of driving out to our camp to advise us of our options for the future."

The sad part is these kinds of stories are not just isolated events anymore. In fact, they have become quite common across Mississippi. Anywhere landowners, lease managers, outfitters and deer hunters gather, stories about trespassing and poaching are topics of discussion.

In fact, during the 2006-07 deer season, there were 363 citations issued statewide for hunting without wearing the required hunter orange. Another 223 tickets were written for trespassing violations.

So how do you work to avoid it on your property?


The property breech

Ironically, not all trespassing is conducted by people who are intent on hunting lands they do not own or lease, or even have landowner permission to be on.

"One day I drove out to my deceased mom's house in the country," said Dean Knox of Union. "When I pulled into the driveway, another car was parked there. I walked around the far side of the house to find two senior ladies pulling up flowers by the handful putting them in a basket. I inquired of their presence, and was informed that nobody lived there, so it was OK.

"You can imagine the look on their faces when I told them that I owned the property. I escorted them to their car and told them I was copying their license number to report to the sheriff. What if it had been someone caught hunting?"

In Mississippi, property does not have to be "posted" to be posted. However, in practice, it certainly is a good idea to have the whole perimeter covered with posted signs in easy-to-see locations. Then nobody can say they didn't know the place was posted, which is a usual response from someone standing on land where they don't have permission to be. Technically, anybody on somebody else's land is supposed to have a letter in his possession giving that permission.

Preventing simple trespass is not a sure thing. Quite often, rural lands are breeched, and the landowner never knows it. Sometimes evidence can be found, somebody brags about hunting a place they don't own, or the trespasser is seen by a passerby. Then maybe something can be done about future access.

A number of common-sense practices can be used to deter trespassing in addition to adding posted signs to the property. Obviously, entry points should be secured with hardened gates and locks. Fencing or thick hedgerows might be needed to close off entry gaps. Use barbed or razor wire and thorn bushes to deter outsiders.

Nothing beats demonstrating signs of ownership presence. Cruise the property often, or have a reliable neighbor check around on a regular basis. Some landowners have given county sheriff's deputies a bonus for driving property-line roads and spot-checking gates. Some landowners have mercury evening lights installed around property outbuildings. Anything that shows activity will help.

Other landowners have gone to using game-trail cameras or other surveillance technologies at key property entry areas. In many cases, these recording devices have produced sufficient resolutions to identify trespassing vehicles as well as individuals. This is certainly another option at your disposal.


Game thievery

Poaching is theft, plain and simple. For someone to come uninvited onto your property to kill and remove a deer is no different than them walking into your open garage and stealing a box of tools off the workbench.

In either case, the potential of confrontation is an uncomfortable situation, especially with a poacher that is expected to be carrying a firearm.

"Though you may be angered and inclined to approach a poacher caught in the act, it is not the prudent thing to do," says Hinds County Chief Deputy Steve Pickett. "Avoid face-to-face confrontation in favor of collecting information about the poacher that can be used to identify him afterwards."

This would include locating his vehicle to get the license-plate number and a description. If you can observe the person, jot down his appearance and what he was wearing.

A rapid response is necessary if a poacher is caught red-handed on your property. Make the call to proper authorities. This may include the state wildlife department at 800-BE-SMART (800-237-6278), but a better response might come from the county sheriff's office. Some counties like Hinds actually have law-enforcement officers assigned to wildlife work. If a conservation officer refuses to respond, then call his district office or the state office to report it.

Finally, be prepared to prosecute. If you are not willing to file a formal complaint against the poacher, then don't bother making the call. Nothing will cool off law-enforcement personnel quicker than yelling "wolf," then not following through. Some landowners fear retribution, but that is rare. Prosecution, fines and jail time send a strong message to like-minded violators in the community.

Don't let your property fall victim to stolen hunts. You have to stand up for your land ownership rights to privacy and the expectation to use your own hunting land for yourself, family and friends without unlawful infringement by trespassers or poachers.