RUTHLESS poachers shooting at deer from darkened roadside vehicles and hanging head-height cable snares in woods are putting people’s lives at risk.

Authorities combating an alarming resurgence in poaching across Perth and Kinross say the disturbing practice of night-time, drive-by shooting, where criminals dazzle deer with spotlights before firing rifles, could result in tragedy.

Doug McAdam, priority lead on the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime policing, poaching and hare coursing group, said the “ruthless” perpetrators could easily injure or kill someone.

“Criminals shooting from vehicles at roadsides in darkness is a major danger issue,” Mr McAdam said.

“It’s quite common for people to be out walking their dogs or cycling mountain bikes on country paths at night, so there’s a very real risk that someone could be shot.”

Referring to an incident last summer where head-height cable snares were discovered in woods by an Errol gamekeeper, he said: “Just imagine if kids had been running though the woods and one got caught in a snare – these (poachers) are ruthless and they don’t give a hang for the consequences.”

Tayside Police’s chief wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart said shooting hotspots included back roads from Cally Woods at Dunkeld to Blairgowrie, and around Muthill, providing elusive poachers easy access and getaway routes.

“They’ve got all the advantages in Perthshire with a myriad of small country roads where deer are often seen and there’s less people about, so the chances of being witnessed are fairly low,” he said.

“We believe some of these criminals are local but many are from the west, places like Greenock and the Port Glasgow area, right up to West Perthshire.”

Another issue was that many poachers use inappropriate ammunition calibre and often fail to shoot deer in the optimal killing area – the chest – meaning victims often escaped to endure a long and agonising death.

“We had one case where a roe deer was shot in the jaw, which shattered completely,” he said.

“The poor animal managed to escape and probably survived for around 24 hours in terrible pain. We believe the suspect is still at large.”

Mr Stewart said another cruel and increasingly common technique has been setting lurchers on deer out of woodland, causing horrific mutilation or death.

“In the Muthill area last June a farmer saw what he thought was two dogs fighting in a field,” he went on.

“But when he got closer he realised it was a Lurcher taking down a roe deer. If this had been an adult female, it would have had two fawns that would have been left to die of starvation.

“The poachers saw the farmer and took off without their dog but came back for it later.”

He said the hike in poaching incidents could be attributed to an increase in tip-offs.

“It’s not relenting, so we’re looking for the public to tell us who these poachers are and who they’re selling the venison to,” the cop added.