I'm gonna catch what I'm gonna eat,
With my longdog. I am a poacher!"
An inversion of Evil Poacher, some older works, particularly fairy tales and Folk Music, pitch a Loveable Rogue poacher against an evil fat-cat landowner in a Peter Rabbit-vs-Farmer MacGregor kind of relationship.
These are generally from a time when even kids' stories admitted that animals have to be killed for people to eat meat (and this kind of poacher always does hunt for food, usually for his starving family or to share with the community), and the conflict is more about the morality of claiming ownership of natural resources.note
Whereas the Evil Poacher is an Egomaniac Hunter out for endangered charismatic megafauna, the Roguish Poacher hunts prey animals like rabbits, fish, and game birds (the only quarry the two might compete over is deer). Where the Evil Poacher is a Glory Seeker who wants to put trophies on his walls, the Roguish Poacher wants to feed his family and maybe scratch a living selling the meat and skins.
Naturally, in Real Life, it's more complicated than this. For example, how to classify a poor "third-world" hunter poaching endangered animals on a game reserve in order to sell bushmeat, ivory, luxury furs, etc., on the Black Market would be much more open for debate. But fiction is usually more willing to take sides.
Subtrope of Classical Hunter and Karmic Thief. Often a Guile Hero, who may be portrayed as Just Like Robin Hood. Compare Hunter Trapper. Sympathetic portrayals of The Rustler may also fall under this trope, with the Cattle Baron as the bad guy.
- A Spartan In Westeros: In a bit of Adaptation Expansion, this is what Will was before being sent to the Wall - a particularly bad year forced him to poach off the lands of the local lord to find food for his family (especially his younger brother), and he was eventually caught while trying to bag a deer. He took going to the wall over losing a hand.
- The Victors Project: During a harsh District 7 winter several years before The Lunberjack and the Tree-Elf, Mayor Lourdes organized unauthorized hunting parties into the woods to keep the District fed and then presented it to the Capitol as an act of loyalty meant to ensure the loggers were well fed enough to keep working. The public bought it but President Snow didn’t, and punished Lourdes behind closed doors while officially accepting his explanation.
- Le Capitaine Fracasse: The servant of the Baron of Sigognac servant poaches rabbits on lands that don't belong to his (impoverished) lord so his lord can have some good things for dinner at least. And even then, Sigognac ends up happily sharing the poached rabbits at dinner with a traveling Commedia dell'Arte theatre troupe that asked for refuge in his castle for the night.
- "Crocodile" Dundee fits the archetype pretty well, except for the "poor subsistence hunter sticking it to the man" part. He's allegedly a fisherman who runs a safari business in Australia's Northern Territory, but in the first movie a barfly calls him a "bloody croc poacher," and, while Mick punches him out for it, it does seem to be an open secret in Walkabout Creek, where he's generally well-liked.
- The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen hunts illegally to feed her starving family and coincidentally stick it to "The Man".
- Johnson County War: Cattle rustlers Harry Hammett and Timberline Burdette are portrayed as resourceful, fairly friendly guys stealing from the local stuffed shirts. Of course, this causes those ranchers to bring in hired gunmen who kill Timberline and Harry's more honest brothers.
- Ni vu, ni connu (1958) stars Louis de Funès as Léon Blaireau, a sympathetic poacher who's pitted against Parju, a Meddlesome Forest Guard and gamekeeper. Mr. Bluette, the prison director, calls Blaireau a "Rural Bohemian" but the mayor angrily reminds that he is still a poacher. Much to his dismay, Blaireau is incredibly popular in the village since he brings in most of the game and fishes...
- Robin Hood:
- The Adventures of Robin Hood begins when Much, a poor Saxon peasant, poaches "the king's deer" to feed himself. He is captured and about to be executed by Sir Guy, and Robin intervenes to save his life.
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The boy that Robin finds trapped up a tree by some soldiers is accused of shooting a deer. When asked by Robin (after chasing the Sheriff's men away and branding himself an outlaw) the boy confirms it's true (although Robin doesn't seem to care either way).
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights has Robin similarly rescue a boy from the guards. Later, Robin barges into Prince John's castle and plops down a poached boar right on his table.
Robin: No, that's a wild pig. [Points at Prince John] That's a wild bore.
- Will Scarlet in Rogues of Sherwood Forest. When Robin and Little John are Putting the Band Back Together, they find Will locked up in a pillory in a town square with the words 'THIS MAN IS A POACHER' carved into the pillory.
- Scaramouche (1923) begins with a peasant having been executed for poaching on the Marquis' land. We are meant to sympathize with the slain poacher, who was presumably desperate for food, and to see the Marquis as evil. In fact, this is how the Marquis is first established as the bad guy.
- Star Wars has the iconic character of Han Solo. The way he frequently engages in animal trafficking would make him a despicable villain in most environmental messaging jungle operas, but overall, he's an alright guy.
- Went the Day Well? has Bill Purves the local poacher as a genial old man who gets along well with kids and isn't portrayed negatively during a scene where he's trying to outwit the local policeman. Later he's a heroic figure during the conflict.
- Accidental Detectives: The older members of the impoverished Johnson family in Madness at Moonshiners Bay are alligator poachers, but they feel some self-loathing about what they do and are quick to save the main characters from kidnappers.
- Aunts Arent Gentleman: Herbert "Billy" Graham is the local poacher in a particular Somerset village, whom all the gamekeepers of local landowners like Cook and Briscoe can never catch. Bertie Wooster unsuccessfully enlists Graham to return a cat to a horse's stable (It Makes Sense in Context).
- The eponymous character in Catlow, by Louis L'Amour, steals cows from the corrupt Cattle Barons who tried to have him and his fellow drovers murdered just for daring to start their own cattle drive for unbranded cattle rather than let the big ranchers maintain their monopoly.
- A Clash of Kings, the second A Song of Ice and Fire book, has Arya travel with a group of Night's Watch recruits which includes two pleasant-natured poachers named Koss and Kurz. The two men keep the group fed (Koss takes down larger animals with a bow and arrow while Kurz fishes with his bare hands) and never try to desert while out foraging. After being fatally wounded, Kurz passes on his hunting techniques and survival skills to his younger companions.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel The Gatekeeper Trilogy: Ghost Roads, The crew of the Lizzie S sneak out to sea to fish even after the Coast Guard declares the bay off-limits due to monster attacks but are fairly benevolent people who aren't overfishing the area.
- Courage Of The Mountain Man by William Johnstone features the Ax-Crazy Cattle Baron Clint Black as the Big Bad. Malvern, a local cowboy who was blacklisted by Black, talks about how he's been eating fine despite being out of work. Assuming a mock innocent expression, Malvern claims that, every week for six months, one of Black's cows has been wandering onto his property and breaking its leg, forcing Malvern to shoot it. Since Black has forbidden Malvern from setting foot on his land, he can't return the beef from the cows and decides to eat it himself. Malvern's listeners, who can pick up the subtext about what's really going on, are deeply amused and hire the rustler on the spot.
- Danny, the Champion of the World is based on this premise. Danny's father is a kindly but poor rural mechanic who poaches pheasants from the estate of the local rich guy, who happens to be a cruel, pompous Jerkass. It's implied that he does so for the sport and challenge more than the food (considering it to be much more sporting than the canned hunts the pheasants were destined for). The plot of the novel involves Danny hatching a plan to poach all the pheasants on said estate, just before the big annual hunt.
- Lords and Ladies: Carpenter the Poacher is specifically described with quotes from "The Lincolnshire Poacher". Nanny Ogg's Cookbook implies everyone in Lancre has a bit of this, when talking about how fresh food is always available in the countryside: "As we always say, you can boil it, bake it, or fry it, but for preference, you poach it."
- Pyramids: Pteppic spends some time under the wing of a roguish poacher, whom his absent-minded father mistook for his tutor. The main thing he learned was how to operate a "punt-bow",note a device that can turn a flock of ibises into a heap of pâté.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox: The main character is a wily fox who combines this with Carnivore Confusion by stealing chickens from industrial-scale farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.
- Far Cry: Absolution: Will Boyd regularly kills animals out of season to feed himself and the other cultists but doesn’t kill them for the sport of it and feels kinship with some animals.
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: The hunter who finds Trisha is a heavy drinker who is trying to shoot a deer out of season because he would rather spend his limited money on things other than food. However, he does save a malnourished little girl from a dangerous predator and then take her back to civilization.
- The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling: Black George is a gamekeeper on an estate (the guy supposed to stop poachers) but also does some poaching himself — a combination of feeding his family and being a (lovable) scoundrel. At the end of the novel, the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue indicates he was ultimately transported for his crimes.
- The Hunger Games opens with Katniss and Gale hunting outside their District's perimeter in order to feed their families, which is described as a harshly punishable crime by their tyrannical government.
- Joe Pickett: Zigzagged with Ote Keely, a murder victim in the first book. Ote poaches deer, elk, and moose out of season and out of the areas where he has a tag to do so. He claims that this is to feed his large and poor family, which is true to an extent, but Joe notices that Ote also kills trophy animals that he can sell the body parts of. The book begins with Joe writing Ote a ticket, only for Ote to steal Joe's weapon and hold him at gunpoint, before giving it back with a smirk.
- John Buchan's novel John Macnab is about three public figures who become this as a means of alleviating their collective boredom by writing to the owners or tenants of three estates in the Scottish Highlands, declaring their intention to not just poach a deer or salmon from each estate, but also return the carcass undetected. The title of the novel is the collective pseudonym they use, and the main plot of the novel is the story of how the go about it.
- Night on the Galactic Railroad: Campanella and Giovanni meet a friendly poacher who catches herons and turns them into candy.
- Phoenix and Ashes: Several of the minor characters poach the Fenix woods with the tacit permission of Reggie Fenix — it's a source of protein that isn't affected by rationing.
- Tales Of The Fish Patrol: The San Francisco Bay illegal fishermen and oyster pirates are in a somewhat sporty competition with authorities over fishing resources. London does not shy from portraying them as quick to beat, shoot, or stab people, but, at the same time, they are mostly trying to feed themselves and their families, rules be damned.
- In the episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship in Doctor Who The Doctor travels back the the African planes in 1902 to recruit John Ridell, who is a morally ambiguous big game hunting anti-hero.
- Poldark: Jim Carter is caught poaching pheasants and sentenced to transportation. He is portrayed sympathetically and saved from this fate by main character Ross, who pleads his sentence down to imprisonment.
- Reservation Dogs: Leon takes his family hunting every year on land that his great-grandfather sold in the 1930s. They only poach the occasional deer, and many happy family memories come from the hunting excursions.
- Toast of London: According to Steven Toast, his fellow actor John Nettles has had to become one after falling on hard times.
- Vera: The Victim of the Week in "The Deer Hunters" is suspected of being this. The truth is more complicated, but he certainly wasn't an Evil Poacher.
- Eric Bogle: "Poachers' Moon" is about the traditional Scottish pastime of poaching salmon from the laird's stream.
- Foxes are often depicted as the animal version of this in several older folk songs. One of the most notable is "The Fox", a 15th-century Middle English song about, well, a fox who steals a goose from a local farmer to feed his family.
- Heather Dale: "The Poachers" is sung by Saxon poachers in the time of William the Conqueror, portrayed as Robin Hood-esque types trying to sustain themselves under the overlordship of a new and more tyrannical lord than King Harold.
- Jethro Tull: Defied by "The Whaler's Dues". The whalers see themselves as this, but the song points out they work for an industry that's rendered a number of species of these majestic creatures almost extinct, if not entirely.
- "The Lincolnshire Poacher", a traditional English folk song, is sung from the perspective of a poacher who prides himself on his ability to outwit and, if necessary, fight the gamekeeper. The song ends by wishing "Success to every poacher that wants to catch a hare" and "Bad luck to every gamekeeper that will not sell his deer".
- "Longdog" by Show Of Hands, thus inspiring the band's Fan Community Nickname. A longdog is a variety of sighthound popular with hare and rabbit coursers, and the hero's ownership of one is used as circumstantial evidence to send him to jail.
- "Waltzing Matilda", a Australian folk song, is about a "jolly swagman", i.e. a sheep rustler.
- Greek Mythology: The Homeric Hymn to Hermes has the titular Trickster, not yet part of the pantheon, stealing the herd of cows entrusted to Apollo and managing to charm his way out of trouble when he's caught. He then divides up the meat into sacrifices for all the gods... including a portion for himself, so that their acceptance of the sacrifice implicitly acknowledges him as a fellow god.
- Robin Hood and his Merry Men are often wanted for illegally hunting deer in the king's wood, either alongside his other crimes or as the crime that drives him to brigandry in the first place. Since being outlaws means that they can't exactly go into town to buy groceries, poaching would have been their primary source of food.
- More generally, English folklore tends to feature a lot of sympathetic or heroic poachers as a result of how game and land laws worked under Norman rule. Anglo-Saxon kings do not appear to have made use of dedicated preserves, but the Normans did, and set aside large tracts of land as "royal forests" for the exclusive use of the king, the nobles, and their households. Peasants living in these lands were forbidden from essentially all hunting, as well as from owning hunting weapons, owning dogs, and felling trees. This became a serious issue for the peasantry, who had been used to relying on hunting and foraging to sustain themselves and found themselves prohibited from doing so in large portions of the kingdom — by the 12th century, a full third of southern England, including the entirety of Essex and Huntingdonshire, was designated as royal hunting land. The result is that a widespread and robust poaching culture emerged, which survived tenacious persecution due to widespread support from the peasantry, and established the poacher as a roguish, heroic, and sympathetic figure in English folklore.
- Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Land" is about a line of countrymen named Hobden, who the narrator (who may be Kipling himself) imagines tending the land which the narrator owns since the time of the Romans or before. The narrator knows full well that Hobden is a "flagrantly a poacher", but considers that really the Hobdens have a better claim to the place than its legal owners (and anyway, his advice on the land is beyond price).
- Stanley Baxter's Playhouse: "The Pool" is about a salmon poacher on a Scottish estate being caught by the laird, and eventually revealing that he's the son of the local blacksmith, who many years earlier taught the laird to poach on what was then his father's estate.