Criminals are using the cover of darkness to prowl through the Tyrone countryside, armed with high-velocity guns which can fire bullets through solid steel from a range of over 200 yards.
Their target is wild deer.
This terrorism which is being visited upon wildlife, is having a dire impact on deer populations and posing untold dangers to public health.
While deer poaching is far from being a new phenomenon, it has increased significantly at numerous locations across Tyrone, particularly since the weapons of paramilitaries fell silent over 20 years ago.
As reports continued to emerge of wild deer suffering long and agonising deaths at the hands of amateur marksmen and the fears that the animals are ending up in the food chain without any health checks, the PSNI stepped forward with their Operation Wild Deer.
And their efforts have already paid off. Just last month two suspected deer poachers were apprehended in the Clogher area, and a firearm seized.
In November last year, a deer carcass and firearm were discovered after a vehicle was stopped near Castlederg.
Last week, the UH went out on patrol with officers from Operation Wild Deer in the Augher area – a known hot-spot for poachers, just miles from the Irish border.
“The poachers are much harder to find, than the deer,” said Sergeant Mervyn Carlisle.
But even the deer are very difficult to spot nowadays such has been the increase in the kill-rate by poachers over recent years.
“Local people have said to us, that you would have to stop the car and wait for the deer to get off the road, there were so many about. But now they hardly ever see a deer and that is because so many of them are being shot by the poachers,” the Neighbourhood police officer continued.
“In Tyrone, it (deer poaching) has always been there. But of late, one comment made to me recently talked of it being on an almost industrial scale, similar to that of the legal industry (deer farming) in the county.”
For the poachers, the fun can be in the chase of the deer, and more importantly remaining one step ahead of the law.
The Sergeant continued, “Sometimes the rifle they use will be under-powered, they are not worried that it is not the right calibre. So that might mean that the animal is wounded and the the deer will make an escape and suffer terribly from the wounds and may not die for up to two days later.
“They have methods of evading police certainly. Sometimes they may use several vehicles so that they can make an escape if they believe that they are being tracked by police.
“Quite often they may shoot a deer and leave its body lying in the forest overnight and then come back for it in the morning. Then if they are stopped by police they can claim that they found the animal, but we do have checks which can carry out on the body.
“If they are stopped with a gun, they may claim that they are out shooting foxes.”
Greed is an increasingly major motivating factor, with individual animal carcasses estimated to fetch as much as £200 on the black market.
“That is what is very worrying about this. When they are out to make money, then they will take more risks.
“We have heard reports of shots being fired from vehicles randomly into the darkness.
“These are some of the most dangerous weapons you can get and some of those who are using them, may not know how to use them properly.”
Posted: 7:45 pm March 7, 2017