In Michigan last fall, a guided elk hunter holding a cow tag accidentally shot a bull elk. Upon discovering the mistake, the hunter and his guide immediately notified a state conservation officer. After a thorough investigation, it was concluded that, indeed, it was an “honest mistake.” The hunter did not have his rifle confiscated or go to jail, but he ultimately paid a $1,000 fine and had his hunting license revoked.
The bull elk was confiscated by the state and the meat was donated to a worthy charity.
This incident begs the question: Did the punishment fit the crime?
In Maine, as in other states, not a hunting season goes by without incidents like the Michigan one, where hunters misjudge the sex of an animal in the heat of the hunt, or, worse, kill two animals by mistake. Over the duration of Maine’s moose season there have been many cases of an accidental “double kill.” In some cases, the offending hunters turned themselves in; in many others, the hunter or hunters simply drove off in hopes of not getting caught.
Maine’s book of hunting regulations devotes an entire page to license revocation information. In Maine, if you bag an illegal animal, even if you do it by accident and turn yourself in, you can face a $1,000 fine, license revocation, three days in jail and loss of your firearm. In short, mistaking a doe for a buck, or a bull for a cow, can be a costly proposition.
Is the punishment option too stiff for a hunter who makes a so-called “honest mistake” and notifies law enforcement immediately? Or does the law need to incentivize hapless hunters to do the right thing, and contact authorities?
I am not sure on this one. It is a tough question.
Pennsylvania’s governor signed a new law recently, HB 359, that protects hunters somewhat who mistakenly kill an elk or a bear and report their mistake promptly to conservation officers. Instead of a $1,000 fine and time in the slammer, they get a $100 fine. No license revocation and no loss of firearm.
Back here in Maine, in the realm of hunting license revocation, our fish and wildlife commissioners are all-powerful! Our fish and wildlife commissioners have the statutory authority to revoke, at their discretion, the hunting privileges of anyone convicted of a hunting violation. This is over and above any penalties imposed by a court.
Additionally, a new law just passed this year gives the commissioner even more revocation authority under certain circumstances! If a person alleged to have committed a violation of the Maine Revised Statutes while hunting is not charged with that violation, the commissioner may initiate administrative proceedings, which include notice and an opportunity to be heard, and impose administrative penalties including revocation of a license to hunt for up to three years.