Although the 43 confirmed cases last year are far below 2008's record of 71, wardens say poaching seems to be on an upswing in recent years.
Rob Buonamici, chief game warden for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said the increase may be connected to the state's high unemployment. More people may simply have more time on their hands because they're out of work, he said.
Poachers aren't typically killing for the meat. Most animals are shot and have their head removed, with the meat left behind to rot.
"You have to wonder what was going through their heads when they pulled the trigger," Buonamici said. "What a shame. What a waste."
There was a rash of poaching in November outside city boundaries of the Reno-Sparks area. A mule deer buck was found dead Nov. 6 near Mustang. Its antlers were taken but nothing else. About a week later, a doe was found dead north of Reno.
Prior to those incidents, two bucks and a male pronghorn were illegally shot and left to rot outside Reno. No arrests have been made in those cases.
Sometimes "they just flat out kill multiple animals and keep the biggest one or the one closest to a vehicle," Buonamici said.
Wildlife officials are pursuing poaching cases whenever possible, including felony charges against two West Wendover men charged with illegally shooting a deer buck in November.
Warden Fred Esparza was closely following the pair when the buck was shot. Neither had a tag to bag a deer with a rifle, he said. It's rare, though, for poaching to happen when a warden is nearby.
The department typically pursues felony charges for about six people a year under a 2003 law that enhanced potential penalties.
"We save those for the real egregious stuff," Buonamici said.
Miles Moretti, president of the 15,000-member Mule Deer Foundation, said there's no excuse for poaching and it's particularly reprehensible to leave an animal behind to rot.
"That's about as low as you can get," he said.