I heard the illegal poaching being uttered so many times in a TV show, about animals, that my ear of a non-native speaker, made me questioning the validity of the term.

I have made some Ngram research here and looked up _poaching on Wikipedia, but that results haven't given me a satisfactory answer. As a result, I'm still puzzled.

According to Wikipedia, poaching is defined as:

the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals.

Hence my question: can there be a legal and an illegal poaching?

Please let me know your thoughts on this.

PS: I am familiar with the word poaching since I first watched the movie Robin Hood, starring Kevin Costner, Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Morgan Freeman, etc., almost two decades ago.

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    There are many pleonasms in daily use: temper tantrum, future prospects, foreign imports. It's best not to get too worked up about idioms; like other free gifts from the past, the English language is not absolutely perfect. – choster Mar 5 at 22:08

Poaching is always illegal, so the adjective "illegal" is redundant. There is a (rare) word to describe this kind of redundancy: "Pleonastic". It means using more words than needed.

Many style guides recommend reducing redundancy in your writing: You should say "tuna" not "tuna fish". You should not say "the two twins" (since twins implies two) you do not need to say "new innovations" (since innovations are always new).

But pleonastic expressions are not ungrammatical, and some are very common and natural, especially in speech or less formal writing. Sometimes a writer will use a redundant word to emphasise a point.

There are three types of hunting: Legal trophy hunting, illegal poaching and subsistence hunting for food.

The author wants to emphasise and contrast trophy hunting, which is legal, with poaching, which is illegal.

As pointed out in comments, there may be situations in which there is a legal defence to poaching, such as "necessity". And there are extended or metaphorical uses of "poaching" which do not refer to illegal acts. However in the context of hunting, "poaching" would imply that the act was illegal and so in most contexts saying "illegal poaching" is redundant, but serves the purpose of emphasising a point.

  • Hares are classed as wild animals but still hunted for food not as a trophy... – Solar Mike Mar 5 at 22:24
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    What is your point? Lots of animals are hunted for food. – James K Mar 5 at 22:27
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    Note that while "the two twins" is indeed a pleonasm, "the three triplets" is not. If you say "the triplets", you could be referring to only two of them. – Flater Mar 6 at 6:53
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    Another nitpick, I think "new innovations" is ok in certain circumstances. For example, "last year our innovations amazed the public and brought in a bazilliion dollars in revenue, this year our new innovations are even more amazing". Perhaps it's still redundant, but it sounds valid to me. – Eric Nolan Mar 6 at 9:57
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    For a recent example of @Flater's point, see the two Quagmire triplets from Netflix's version of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" – Sabre Mar 6 at 14:44

I agree with other answers that say this is redundant. Some people said the duplication of "illegal poaching" can be used for emphasis which I also agree with.

I want to add that where someone says "legal poaching" or "legalised poaching" sometimes they are trying to indicate their opinion of how things should be instead of how the are.

So a farmer might complain about a law which allowed people to hunt on his land as "legal(ised) poaching" to indicate that while the practice is legal (and therefore not really poaching) they consider it to be no better than poaching and that is should be illegal.

Another example being those who insist on referring to taxation as "legalized theft".


The word "poaching" can be used metaphorically to mean "hiring someone away from another organization". It usually implies that that person being poached was either important to their former organization, or expected to be important to their new organization, or both.

In countries where individuals are free to choose for whom they will work, this version of poaching is legal. In situations where trade secrets or national security secrets are involved, there may be severe restrictions on what the poached employee is legally permitted to tell their new employer.

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    Poaching can also mean simmering an egg in water, which is obviously legal everywhere (assuming the egg was legally obtained). But the question is clearly asking about the hunting-without-permission type of poaching. Nobody would ever say "legal poaching" to mean "cooking an egg" or "hiring somebody else's employee" to distinguish it from "illegal poaching" meaning hunting without permission. – David Richerby Mar 6 at 13:13
  • @DavidRicherby Simmering an egg is water is a completely different meaning of "to poach". Persuading someone to come and work for you will probably be listed as a separate meaning in a dictionary, but it is clearly derived from a metaphorical use of "to hunt illegally". – Martin Bonner Mar 6 at 13:45
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    @MartinBonner Sure, but it's still a meaning that the question isn't asking about. Read my comment with all reference to eggs removed and it still applies. – David Richerby Mar 6 at 14:00

The very definition of poaching contains the word "illegal", so it is a bit repetitive to say illegal poaching.

the illegal practice of trespassing on another's property to hunt or steal game without the landowner's permission.

Such repetitive constructions are used to add emphasis, but are not technically needed.


The definition of poaching as illegal is correct, but it doesn't take any account of the huge range of activities which are referred to as "poaching".

At one extreme is the extermination of animal species such as elephant and rhino for their ivory and horns (used in traditional medicine). At the other is the widespread practice (for example in the rural parts of the UK) of harvesting a bit of surplus wildlife (for example wild rabbits) for food. Both are technically illegal, but the rabbits are still doing fine after more than 1000 years of low level poaching, and if poachers didn't kill a few of them they would be killed by other means, as agricultural pests, in any case. So long as the rabbit-poachers don't cause any trouble (by damaging crops, noise disturbance at night, setting traps which catch or kill other animals, or whatever) nobody is going to make much effort to criminalize them, though of course organizations like PETA may take a different view of the matter.

Ngrams show that the use of "illegal poaching" is tiny compared with just "poaching", though the use of "illegal poaching" has grown rapidly in recent times.

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