Unhappy Trails To You

by Jim Sollecito

Having been a Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) member for a number of years, I have a deeper understanding of how nature works, even when I’m not present for personal observation. Reading publications such as Quality Whitetails, and talking to others with a greater depth of experience, has been both educational and fun. Besides, if you stop trying to get better, then you cease being good.

Most of us have discovered the added interest we derive from trail cams. I first started with some cheapies. When they broke (sometimes a blessing after viewing a series of frustratingly fuzzy photos) I decided to upgrade. I called Craig Dougherty at North Country Whitetails, who suggested Reconyx cameras. I also visited his 500-acre parcel called Kindred Spirits and learned how he set them up.

I have since enjoyed not only viewing photos from my fleet of cameras, but also sharing them with friends. Even though I only own 170 acres in Central New York, it’s a way to stay connected to the land, and follow the development of our properties’ inhabitants. My interest in habitat management runs deep. It’s what I studied at Cornell University, and since I run a landscaping business, planting trees and shrubbery for the elevation of the environment is second nature.

I had to be gradually transitioned to activities such as hinge cutting, only after a visit by both Neil and Craig Dougherty to my farms. Once I realized that you need above-average fawning habitat in order to grow above-average bucks, I started my chainsaw and kept it running.

Over the last 3 years I have passed on a quantity of juvenile bucks and was able to harvest three 12-point bucks ranging in net scores of 133 to 142 7/8. That fact has not escaped the watchful eyes of the road hunters, so I am vigilant in making sure my security is out there.

Imagine my surprise on August 8, 2011 as I viewed 158 photos taken on one of my cameras in the middle of my woods. First I saw some good bucks in velvet, and then a flock of turkey poults, a nice red fox, and then a black Chevrolet -ton truck.

Wow, that was a first. The only way to get there was on a deer trail, so I hightailed it to my farm and backtracked the tires. I witnessed substantial destroyed habitat ranging from woodland seedlings to a great patch of red raspberries. I was quite angry. This vehicle had to pass by no fewer than 9 Posted Signs, and the vehicle’s sides must have gotten scratched going through my woods.

I quickly contacted the Onondaga County Sheriff, completed a report, and showed her the damages valued at $1,100. Thanks to the sharpness of the photograph, we could clearly see the New York license plate.

After 3 days, the sheriff tracked down the truck’s owner, who asked that I contact him, before “any arrest was necessary”. At first, he said it was an employee who was driving, yet could not remember that person’s name. Then he said his company had permission to be on my heavily posted property, yet he “could not remember the name of the farmer that gave permission”.

It could have been easy to just let him off with a stern warning from the sheriff, but what kind of message would that send? His behavior, which I was never really able to discern, would be repeated on other properties. If I could curtail this behavior now, it would be good for the entire neighborhood. Who wants a trespasser, possibly a poacher, and without a question a liar and cheat on their land? Nope, for everyone’s sake, I wanted his activity to end.

Finally, when my wife and I met with him, we went round and round as to why his “employee” was even on our heavily posted property. He informed us that one poster (of the nine he passed) had some vine growing over it, and that he really didn’t see the harm in looking around without permission. He finally admitted he was the driver, and he had lied because it was “corporate policy”. At that moment our discussions were over. We contacted the sheriff to press charges. After a series of postponements by his attorney, I did see him in court in late December.

Prior to our court date, I mailed a package of materials for the judge to review. I had carefully prepared a letter including maps, aerial shots taken from the web, and several photos from my Trail Cam. I wanted the evidence to be watertight, because I wanted the case to be watertight.

In the face of adversity, what’s most important is how you react.

The judge called him and instructed him to pay me the $1,100 in a certified check, that very week. She had read what I sent, it made sense, and this guy was clearly in the wrong.

When I received payment 3 days later, I decided to purchase another Reconyx, because you just can’t have too much of a good thing. Plus, without the burst of photos, I would have never known who damaged my property while I was at work.

My trail cameras will never see a time when they aren’t working in the woods for me again.

This article appeared originally in Quality Whitetails, April-May 2012, and is published here with permission of the author.