Every deer season is different. This year I decided to work below the bridge on the northwest side of the state.
DAY 1: Friday, November 14. My partner is CO Steve Converse. We are working Manistee County with a brief foray into Benzie. It’s always something when I head out to work with COs this time of year. Say snow. No don’t say snow. Say a lot of snow. Seriously. Up to 18 inches coming down in parts of the area. Boy. Skies the color of year-old motor oil, roads white and slicker, it forces you to drive by judging your vehicle’s position relative to well…whatever you can see, or imagine, a sort of free-form aiming which creates a form of free-for-all driving you hope doesn’t end up in a demolition derby. Conservation Officers, of course, go about their business and would never deign to remark on something as pedestrian and irrelevant as weather. Whatever happens outside, COs are in it and working away. Part of this is a sort of studied, test-pilot nonchalance, an inner directive that has officers calling fights with suspects, “wrestling.” Weather is so low in the lexicon that it has no euphemisms. It just is. This is Friday, Nov. 14, the day before the deer season begins and we roll at 1230, intending to work until well after dark. Tomorrow, Saturday, is the official firearms opener, a pure weekend event. With this heavy snow it’s hard to know what sort of turnout we will find. Here’s how our day goes, contact by contact:
- We locate 3 hunters in process of baiting blinds, all over limits. They are warned to clean it up, reduce the bait to legal.
- Next we come upon 2 trucks, three hunters going to blinds on state land. We check. Large trees have been cut for shooting lanes, no names on blinds, overbaited. Too many problems here to simply warn. Ticket and warnings issued.
- Walk in to blind in the snow, find trapper working, check his traps, licenses, etc, all well.
- Two birdhunters in truck. Shotgun cases slightly unzipped, but not easily reachable. Verbal warnings and licenses checked.
- Check two hunters setting up blinds, trash everywhere. Told to remove the trash
- Check two hunters in truck, crossbow in back in a case
- Check hiker
- Complaint from “Lake Italy” which we can’t find. Steve isn’t aware of such a body of water in Manistee County and neither am I. We check map after map and the rolling electronic map and nada. We call complainant back for clarification and move on while awaiting the call back. We learn the complaint comes from a different lake and get the right name.
- We come across two trucks, three older adults in one, two in the other, all with open intox. They claim, “We thought road pops were legal on two-tracks.” Steve smiles, says, nopers. We dump the beverages and warn them.
- Later in the day we come across two illegal does, seize them and issue tickets. We end the patrol watching for a night shooter in an area where there have been complaints. These are the first illegal deer Steve has bagged on the night before deer season. It’s always good to be part of an officer’s firsts.
- Steve has intelligence on an unlicensed hunter, a felon whacking deer in a certain area. We park in the woods, hike a third of a mile downhill and set up surveillance on the domicile and stand there shifting our weight for a couple of hours in the 20 degree temps. The guys doesn’t appear, but a few days later Steve will encounter him and catch him with two illegal does, and get a confession on other kills from this fall.
- We have had 41 events/stops on this day, with 64 people contacted.
DAY 2: Saturday, November 15, CO Steve Converse, Benzie and Manistee Counties: Firearms opening day. We take off at 0800. Here are the day’s events. I should comment here that my notes are nasty and disorganized so I am going to play only the high spots and enough to provide readers with a sense of the tempo of this business.
- Right off the starting line we find a hunter walking across a road with two rifles. We pull in and talk to him. He is totally unaware we area there until we speak and then he seems startled. He claims he has just shot at a buck and is now changing locations. He is dressed in military camo with blaze orange highlights, an unusual fashion statement. We have lots of snow, backtrack him to check out his story. He claims to have shot at a buck and missed. Indeed he has. He has hit a tree and blown it apart. Why two rifles? The shorter one is for when he is in heavy cover, the longer one for the open. The longer one is all sighted in, the shorter one is not. He encounters a nice buck in the open and which rifle does he shoot with? The unsighted-in shorter one. People. Sheesh.
- Talk to three hunters in a truck. They are running late getting into the woods.
- We find a hunter on an ORV, everything okay. Rifle cased and unloaded. We move on.
- Yesterday we found a blind that was over-baited. Today we re-visit. Find a young man in a ghillie suit, the blind still over-baited by a huge amount and he is smoking dope. We take the dope force him to destroy it in front of us, write ticket for the bait and warn on cutting branches, take his psychedelic pipe, and move on.
- Check another hunter who has cut large trees for shooting lanes and is over-baited by a ridiculous amount. So far we’ve not talked to one nimrod who knows the bait limit is 2 gallons and has been for a decade or so. It is quite apparent that most hunters do not bother to read the hunting guide put out at great cost by the state. This has been true for the 14 years I have been doing ride-alongs with COs.
- That afternoon we come across a camp of some people from the Grand Rapids area. They have an undersized deer that does not fit the Antler Point Restrictions in effect for the county, and they have not bothered to validate the tag. Tickets issued, the deer goes with us, we now have three in back, two from last night.
- We continue making contacts all day, find one hunter from southeast part of the state: uncased gun in vehicle, no hunter orange, no name on tree stand, grossly over-baited, hunting in closed area, no idea of APR rules, much less the hunting guide. Tickets issued.
- The radio to Station 20, the REPORT ALL POACHING line is jammed with officers in line to run various records on their contacts, from ops licenses to retail sales records of hunting, fishing licenses, etc, to DNR priors. There are times when we can use the county to do this, but it’s better to go through Lansing. Everyone is busy and in opening day geeked mode, adrenaline on full pump for all involved, hunters and game wardens.
- Well after dark, we stop at a conservation club and find a10-point buck. The hunting license was bought at 0830 this morning. The same hunter bought doe licenses last night — on his way to camp. The picture seems clear. He intended to shoot does, but a nice buck walked up this morning and he shot it, and then went to town to get a license. He initially denies all and spins the story thus: We don’t usually shoot bucks on our property so I only bought doe licenses last night. But my dad told me he’s been seeing a lot of bucks on the property this year, so I went out this morning and got a buck license, just in case, and wouldn’t you know it, a nice buck walked up and I knocked it down. The first rule among a lot of deer hunters seems to disassemble and play ignorant when challenged. The default is to have a bullshit lie in your pocket, even over the most trivial things. Eventually our bearded nimrod admits that he shot the buck and then bought his license later. In addition he hasn’t fully validated the tag and it seems that perhaps he is thinking he might use it again. This is not to be. He is ticked for an illegal deer and this year under the new trophy buck restitution rules, this one could cost him a fat $7500 plus in restitution and court costs. Not only has he cheated but he has entered the animal in a big buck contest. This is what allowed us to uncover the deal. Greed got him twice. We take his rifle as well, just as we took a rifle for the other three illegals in the truck. The buck goes in our Silverado bed and now we have four riding with us. The meat from these animals will be given to needy families either directly or through various county or church agencies. Finally in Michigan we have changed our license and fine structures and now we are more on par with other states, almost all of whom have had much more expensive licenses for years and who deal with the illegal killing of trophy animals with ruthless prosecution.
- Late in the day we get a complaint of an ORV running around on public land during the quiet period and we head over that way and find one man in a tree blind, no orange, unregistered ORV, no case for his rifle, meaning he is carrying an uncased gun on a motor vehicle. He is also hunting on private land without permission and has an over-bait at his blind. He is absolutely clueless and tells us he has a partner across the road We go from Eeny to find the partner Moe, who has even more issues and no hunting license. Both men get several major strokes plus warnings. The scene with this pair is too surreal for words.
- Our day finishes around 2330, a 15-hour day in the vehicle and on the hoof in the snow.
DAY 3, Sunday, November 16, CO Mike Wells, Newaygo County. I drove from Benzonia down to White Cloud to meet Mike around 11 a.m. at the sheriff’s parking lot. I will check into a hotel in Fremont when the patrol day is ended.
- We begin making contacts with hunters. It is snowing heavily and we are hearing the same story over and over, no deer, no shots, no nothing.
- We check a duck hunter, whose truck is parked along a river. Wifey is in the truck playing with her smart phone, kept company by a large liver lab. The hunter is down along the river. Mike tromps down to check him and I ask her why she’s not hunting. “I do sometimes, but today I’d rather be in the truck.” Interesting marriage, I think.
- We apy two trucks and five hunters getting ready to hike onto state land and check IDs and licenses. One of them has left his driver’s license at camp and is getting ready to go into the woods to hunt. Mike instructs him to go back to camp and get the ID. Another hunter in the group of five presents a doe tag for an area around Alpena County and for private land. We are standing on public land far far from Presque Isle County. He lost his license and stopped at a nearby stop-n-rob to get a new one and claims this is the doe tag they gave him. We tell him he can’t hunt with that tag in Newaygo and we drive over to the place where the tag was issued and straighten it out and send the hunter on his way. Had he shot a deer with the tag he had, it would have been an illegal kill. Mike has gone the extra mile to help this guy.
- This evening we sit on a truck parked along a power line in a state game area and we wait, and when the hunter comes out we check and find his gun is unloaded and he tells us he shot a buck that morning. His tag entitles him to another and Mike asks to see the buck and he is reluctant, but his camp is across the street, literally, and when we go over there and he finally gets around to opening his garage, voila, there are three deer, the buck and two does, both illegally tagged. He claims to have shot them on his own land, which is irrelevant: both doe tags are for another DMU (Deer Management Unit). The hunter’s brother takes photos of Mike taking photos of everything. Just one more weird contact among many. We now have two illegals in the bed in back
DAY 4: Monday, November 17, CO Mike Wells. Mike fetches me from the hotel in Fremont at 1100 and we head out,
- Our first stop at a processor where we find 6 questionable animals and a hornless buck killed as a doe, which is legal but odd. The animal was old, and there is no way of knowing how the horns were lost, but the stub is flat on the head. Some animals we ask the processor to set aside until we can contact and talk to the hunters. Others are clearly in violation and we take those with us.
- We drive over to a lake cottage to talk to a hunter about a doe with the wrong DMU tag. He claims it is an honest mistake. The records indicate otherwise. We take the deer and this firearm. He says his wife is gonna kill him. So it goes.
- We drive down to Grant in northern Kent county and talk to a man who has shot a deer with only one antler, which has only two points. He claims there were four on the other side, but the antler came off when he dragged it with his ORV. We end up confiscating the carcass for donation. Man claims the deer was wounded by someone else and he finished it off, but not all points of the story seem to add up.
- We later take an illegally-taken eight point and afterwards drive out to a property where we have a complaint of various shenanigans. We are sitting near the property and hear two shots. We wait for the hunter to come out, but he doesn’t. Instead, a son-in-law shows up. He has been summoned by text message by his wife to help her dad with a deer. We drive out to the tower blind to find an untagged, partially gutted doe, which we take. Tickets are written, warnings given. This guy has a lot of property and multiple doe tags and has shot so many deer he can’t remember which was which. He also has Parkinson’s
- We then deal with a 16 year old who is in a family dispute
- Then we stop to help a woman who has gone nose first into the ditch. She has just moved up here from down south somewhere.
- I’m supposed to work with CO Holly Penoni in Wexford tomorrow, but we are all getting a major snowstorm. I call her and tell her I’ll stay in Newaygo with Mike and ride with her another time. She says weather up there is in a warning and nasty, schools closed. Good decision. I get back to the hotel around 2030, a 12-hour day in the heavy snow.
DAY 5:Tuesday, November 17, CO Mike Wells: We begin again with the processor to let them know which animals they can proceed to butcher. And we take those we have determined are illegal, plus one questionably head in a freezer, shot down in Kent County by a woman from north of here. We hope to talk to her today at some point. CO Jeff Ginn, Mike’s Newaygo partner joins us and the two check tags and divvy up their findings and cases.
- We head to the magistrate to turn in tickets after visiting the processor.
- Then we drive to Grant again to interview a man whose deer appears to be somewhat suspicious. He looks like Grizzly Adams. He claims the buck was found dead at the base of his hunting stand and that he gutted it and called the county for permission to keep it. The deer was shot by someone else, and dead when he found it, a small buck. His father’s girlfriend has loaned a tag to tag the deer so it can be processed. He may not keep an animal shot by another. He may not tag it with another’s tag, etc. The deer stays with us. Mike will later question the girlfriend of the father to see what the story is on that end. A quick check with Retail Sales indicates some other irregularities that will need to be addressed with other interviews. These cases are invariably quagmires.
- We investigate a hunting from snowmobile complaint.
- We have a complaint of carcasses dumped in Newaygo and the witness has a vehicle description and information on two individuals. We find the carcasses dumped down a steep (60 degree) incline. Mike rigs a strap for himself and another to hitch to the two carcasses and a Newaygo dep and I help lower him and I pull up the evidence, and later Mike is retrieved. As this is going on, the man shows up to turn himself in. We deal with this over a period of time, including a chat with the man’s brother, who claims to have never hunted, but last bought a license in 2010. Mike will follow up with this more in the future. We never get down to Kent to talk to the woman with the nice 8-point, but Mike gets there later and calls me to fill me in. The woman killed the buck, then bought her license. She recognizes Mike from last year when he warned her on not enough hunter orange and some overbaiting. He tells me he knew then he should have pushed more, but he had other complaints hanging. The eight point trophy head remains in his truck.
- Our night ends with a BOL for a man who has shot and killed an unknown number of individuals in Kalkaska County (“total body count unknown at this time) and was last seen flying south wearing full body armor and with a car loaded with firearms and perhaps a child hostage. We start heading north ward after we learn the BOL is from an three hour old incident, which means this eight-ball could very easily be in our area now. It will turn out that he is captured in a house later that day, after having murdered his ex-wife in front of his kids, and then his ex father in law. We don’t really talk about it. We just head north to be in position to help if help is needed. This is how top COs are: They fly to the violence and where they are needed by citizens or other law enforcement agencies.. They do not stop to ponder risk-benefit when time could be critical.
DAY 6, Wednesday, November 18, CO Rebecca Hopkins, Benzie County: I have driven up to Becky’s this morning for an 1100 start time. Will be bunking with her and Greg Hubers, her significant other, and their lab Bailey who is a grandpup of retired DNR Sgt. Pete Malette over in East Tawas. Pete’s mutts are everywhere and all wonderful animals. The is wnome snow and snowy roads, but not nearly as bad as the drive down to Newaygo County.
- First item of biz is to check phone messages, including tomes from supervision.
- We drive onto state land and follow vehicle tracks to a parking spot. En route we saw a fresh foot path. Now we figure out the guy parked here and make a large loop. No hunter.
- We check a truck where a fellow is going out into the woods to pick up a blind.
- There is not a lot of hunting activity in the woods in this weather and in most cases deer will be bedded down and holding tight. But you never know unless you are out and moving. We look for hunters along roads, searching for any fresh tracks in the snow that we can follow. Road-hunting from vehicles this time of year is far from uncommon
- We follow several tracks, find where people have parked and walked in, follow the tracks to blinds where snow had covered bait and nobody is home. It looks like “one of those days. Last time Becky and I worked together in Iosco County we ended up in a manhunt for an armed felon and brought in a state police dog to help and arrested the man, got his gun and his dope etc, and exciting, strenuous day in the woods. This does not look like it will turn out to be another cruncher, but the thing in law enforcement is that it can be boring and quiet and then all hell can break lose with no warning.
- We visit a processor to check tags and records.
- Becky is telling me about a local na’er-do-well. It is snowing like the dickens and she says this is the sort of weather this yayhoo favors for drives. It is the sort of nasty weather making it likely that only the hardiest hunters, or violators will be out and about. The wind chill puts the air at about 10 degrees or lower. Deer will not move in this of their own volition. Hunters will have to encourage them, either by still-hunting, which is a misnomer because a still hunter is actually a slow-moving hunter, or by group drives where some are “posted” to wait for prey to be driven to them. The “drive” has been around as long as hunting in groups, a cooperative venture, man’s hallmark, though wolves and other species also cooperate in the hunt for meat. A few days before, my partner briefed me on her “regulars,” including a certain one nickname for a predator. The man has means and a lot of property, but a very shady record when it comes to the DNR and his outdoor activities. He travels with a retinue (coterie?) of younger followers, kind of a minor king and his court. The younger souls walk and the older royalty posts and waits to shoot. The group tends to kill anything they see with horns, and if a deer turns out to be illegal, they leave it lay and move on. True pigs by all standards. So, we are bopping along in the snow and Becky says, “This is the kind of weather His Majesty Likes for his group drives. We come to a narrow lane with one set of vehicle tracks and turn in to follow. She says, “I think we can get through here.” Minutes late we see one hunter in a full-body orange punkin suit and a vehicle. My partner is animated and pointing with a stabbing finger at the vehicle. “It’s our boy!” She checks the one hunter, asks if he has permission on the private property where he stands. The man says, “Dunno, I guess. This is my first time hunting with this group. We leave the man and drive on. Less than a hundred yards further on we spot the King, but he turns his back on us and we continue on and see two more posts as we work our way down a steep hill in deep snow and circle the area and decide to set up to wait and listen. We find a spot where tracks suggest one of the drivers got dropped, so we park there, turn off the motor and get out of the truck in the snow to listen and wait. Two trucks pass us. The second one leans on his horn several times as he passes the opening to the lane we had gone down earlier. “Busted,” Becky grumbles. Minutes later we hear voices from the direction of the King’s truck and then it comes down the lane, pulls out onto our road and goes the other direction. The rolling stock is part of the hunting crew, it’s job to recce for game wardens and signal if we are seen. This is a new development for this crew, who Beck has busted before and this suggests she is having an impact on how they operate. See, this is a psychological game. Becky made our presence known to the King and let him know if there was a shot we would come to check it out. He decicded to move on. She has made the point that she is watching them, and will always be. She can say on her daily report that she checked one hunter, but that is superfluous in the bigger picture of cat-and-mouse with a long-time violator, a man of my age and another sad poster boy for buckular dystrophy.
DAY 7, Thursday, November 19, CO Rebecca Hopkins:
- First order of biz is a call to CO Pat McManus in neighboring Lelanau County. He wants us to serve as extra eyes on a case he is investigating in his county. We say sure and arrange the timing, etc.
- We continue on into the woods, get the first true snowmobile check of the season, an older guy on a $13,000 machine he bought yesterday. He is of course operating in the “quiet time” when machines are not supposed to be used, lest they disturb game and hunters, but this fellow is on a county road and a snowmobile is a state-licensed vehicle, like an auto, so Becky tells him to stay off the back roads. By contrast, ORVs or registered with the DNR, not licensed through the secretary of state. It’s unusual to have this much snow this time of year so the issue normally relates to ORV use in the quiet period. This is definootely a “different” deer season.
- Next we find a man putting out bait for a friend. We remind him of the limit, which he doesn’t know.
- Then we foot-track a man to a blind with overbatit, but bait covered with deep snow.
- Then we bump into a couple of guys. We were on a two track and stopped and hear two shots and a small buck came warp-speeding past us and we went looking and found two men, both deaf and dumb. All commo by notes on pads. More surreality. Yes, they shot at the deer. Yes they missed. No they don’t know why. We show them the tree they hit and they nod and Weeble off into the woods.
- Midday we join CO McManus in Lelanau. Pat and I have also partnered before, down in Allegan, his previous assignment. Here we meet a man who intelligence says has whacked an unimaginable number of deer. He is a businessman, a war vet and has a million-dollar house atop a hill with a million-dollar view of Lake Michigan. There is an endless line of informants in this case, all of them beyond their limits in the killing machine’s handling of deer. We are behind Patrick as we head to the address, and see the suspect coming out of the area. Pat turns on him to pull himover and we head to the house. Becky goes to the door and the wife answers. She knows nothing about nothing. We find blood and deer hair everywhere, including deer legs sticking out of a trash bin. It will turn out later that there is a fawn in there with back-straps taken out and remains of other animals. This guy has special tags issued to orchard owners to help them cut down on deer damage. Just this year the wildlife division decided to let hunters take some bucks on these properties, but with bows, not fire arms and any deer taken had to be delivered to the DNR for research. Our suspect shot a ten-point buck and instead of turning it in, he put a tag on it to keep it and took it to a taxidermist. We are at the place most of the afternoon by the time we leave have four illegal deer in Pat’s truck. This is not to be our last visit with Mr. Top of the Hill.
- As evening approaches, we get a call from and MSP detective trooper asking us to assist in the arrest of fugitive from new Mexico. We meet at a small state police office, three troops, Becky and me and we go through the entry plan, what to do if the fugitive tries to flee, if someone gets injured, every eventuality from good to bad, everything expected and some unexpected. We are awaiting the fax of a signed arrest warrant from a judge; when that comes through we put together our four-vehicle convoy and head for the house where the fugitive has been holed up for three months. A mile from the target we see someone in dark clothes walking precariously along the dark road and we of course curse him for his stupidity, etc, but the arrest is foremost on our minds and we move on. I stay with the truck. The detective says “We may have you come in and sit with this guy while we do our search. We’ll come get you.” So I sit. The entry is made, there is no ruckus. But a car pulls up and I go over to it and find two very elderly women who say they are coming to a dinner party with their very dear friends and one of the women says “I demand to know what’s going on. I have a constitutional right,” and I say, “No ma’am, you don’t. You’ll have to wait here until the officers come down to talk to you. Moments later my partner shows up and the driver says, “Is he okay? And then, “You look just like a movie star I can’t remember her name. Becky tells the women they can go back down the hill to the house of the fugitive’s father and wait there. Then we get a missing person/ walk-away report and Beck calls Central and gets the complaint. Young man 19 or 20 has walked away from home angry. Has “some mental issues.” Becky and I look at each other. The description of the clothing on the walkaway seems to match that of the person we saw walking down below on the road as we rolled into this place. What’re the chances? She takes the information and gets cleared by the state police to move on and we head for the walkaway’s house, where we find a very nervous mom and dad. The young man has depression signs but has never been diagnosed. Possibly suicidal. They have been out looking for him and can’t find him. We carefully question them on how the boy is dressed and it matches very closely the person we saw. We tell dad this and he heads toward where we were six miles away and we stay to calm and talk to mom. By the time we get back into our truck, the fugitive is on his way to jail, two of the Troops are freed from the arrest case, and tell us on the radio they’ll hunt for the walkaway. A dep also reports in and says he will help. Since that area is now flooded we head another direction and shortly Central Dispatch calls to say Dad has found the boy and has taken him home. Beck is recommending they take the boy to the hospital for a mental evaluation and deputy heads over to help the family, understanding that the boy may be resistant to this, which is often the case.
- Now we get a call from a man who wants a keep permit for a deer struck by a vehicle. We drive to his house and check it out. It had broken leg, no bullet wounds and the story fits and he is given the deer.
- An aside here, Becky was born with a condition which gave her more rods and cones than normal people. Bright sun bothers her eyes, but she has a bat’s night capabilities and moves around in the blackness like its damn near daylight.
- Fugitive arrest, lost persona and a deer permit all in the last 90 minutes. This is how it goes. We are back home at Beck’s around 2115. Greg, her significant other, arrives with two metg-lover’s pizzas and I open a bottle of red wine. It is his birthday. Originally we were going to take him out to dinner to celebrate, but reality got in our way. This is how life is for our police officer couples. The movie star and I toast his birthday and relax to gird ourselves for whatever the next day will bring. Fine company, people of heart with huge hearts and courage to match. I am honored to be in their presence
DAY 8, Friday, November 20, CO Pat McManus: I meet Pat in Empire at the Sleeping Bear Dunes park HQ at 1100.
- We visit a taxidermist to collect the antlers that Top-of-theHill left there. We also pick up a mounted owl that belong to a Tribal who never showed up to get it and Pat will take it to give it to a school for its science classes. The owl case was formerly Sgt. Mike Borkovich’s case, another of my former partners, but Mike is now retired from the DNR and has been elected sheriff of Lelanau County.
- We head for the Lelanau County court to visit the prosecuror and magistrate to lay out the case on the hill killer and to explain how the investigation will continue. We meet the prosecutor Joe Hubbard, a pal of my coach Ed Jarvie, the assistant prosecutor and the magistrate, Noreen Kastys and talk to them
- And we get a phone call. Mr Top of the Hill is trying to reach Patrick to “talk.” We drive out there again and find the road covered with blood and continue to the house and go inside and the talk resumes and the guy says he can’t help himself and he wants to come clean, but he continues to play word games. The house has a spotlight on back, overlooking a killing zone of narrow defiles, bait below and a rifle in a case on the porch under the light. We get confession for another deer and as we get ready to back out, my partner points. “Red?” Another deer. So we go over and get photos and return to the house once again. He now admits to this deer as well, a doe. We take only the head with us. And we leave again and driven by curiosity of the blood on the road, do some looking around and find a kill site on a bait pile and a spent 30-06 cartridge in a popup blind. Back to the house again and now he is confused, but eventually says yes, there are these two more deer, after trying to convince us it was just the one he previously told us about. Patrick adds two more charges to the list and we pull out, knowing this is not yet over. The man is incapable of telling the truth, a true victim of what some COs call buckular dystrophy, the need to kill bucks for antlers.
DAY 9, Friday, November 21, CO Pat McManus: We meet again in Empire, this time at 1000
- We start the day by visiting some park law enforcement personnel.
- We get a call from CO John Huspen who is over in Roscommon County and has a case he wants help with. A man over there had bear tag for the Gwinn unit but may have in fact shot the bear in Red Oak (BTB) and tagged it with the Gwinn tag. Can we go visit the taxidermist and take a look at the tag? You bet. John is also a former partner of mine.
- We visit the taxidermist. The tag is indeed for Gwinn, so we take the head and skin. The animal weighted 300 pounds, has beautiful huge head. Pat will meet John tomorrow halfway and pass the evidence to him. While we are in this place, my partner checks various antlers there for mounting and finds one with a questionable tag on it, a huge ten point trophy buck.
- We take a complaint of a black dog harassing a hunter and later we collect two more illegal deer and call it a day.
DAY 10, Sunday , November 22, CO Rebecca Hopkins: This was not to be a patrol day, but Greg and I are sitting on the porch at 0700 when an early shot rings out. Close to the house. He awakens Becky, who come out growling and we scoot down the road ahead of her and find what we think is the vehicle attached to the shot and it is and she walks in and find the hunter with an untagged doe and deals with it, a quarter of a mile from their house. Later in the day I sign books at Horizon Books in Traverse City, and then boogie south through fog and heavy rain to Kazoo, arriving around 1830 hours. More awful driving conditions. I will take a break now to write until the last two days of the season.
DAY 11, Saturday, November 29, CO Jeff Goss, Calhoun County: I meet Jeff at the Athens fire department and move my gear into his truck.
- Jeff is looking for an errant trapper and we stop and check for traps at a couple of streams and then we visit an informant and learn the guy lives somewhere in a small town nearby and we go there but can’t find him. We will keep visiting. The guy has warrants, may be in possession of a stolen moped and our informant tells us he is packing without a CPL and likes to fight. We decide to take him at night if we get the opportunity, use surprise to our advantage. His driver’s license is suspended but he is driving anyway and we have a vehicle description to help us.
- A complaint comes in on two swans shot in a cornfield. We find them and question neighbors. Not probably this one will get solved. People kill shit just to kill sometimes.
- Now we get a call. A police officer in Battle Creek has found a deer and wonders if it can be given away. Hit by a vehicle? No, shot. Stay right there, we’re coming. We arrive and find ourselves with a case of hunting inside the city limits, in a very dense housing area. We get some information about a possible suspect and go there and a dog comes to the door but no person. We find a bear skin on a wood pile and a skull. Jeff takes the seal number of the bear to check with Wildlife on Monday. We go down into he woods and track the deer but cannot figure out exactly from where it was shot. It is I nice big eight- point. We will be at this house and in this area off and on for the next two days, trying to develop leads and doing interviews and run into a whole bevy of lockjawed “Creekers.”
- We have a case in Olivet of a stolen deer and are intending to get up there, but complaints keep intervening.
- We visit a processor and then check some deer hanging in garages. We knock off after 9 or ten hours, to resume tomorrow. We have three illegal deer cases to follow up on, the heads are in the back of the truck, and the two dead swans and the illegal 8 point. Our truck bed looks like a rolling abattoir.
At dark we see a truck parked on a two track, go down the road and sit and wait to check hunters coming out of the field. We hear two shots and when we approach the hunters, a man and a young boy, the adult says he shot at a coyote and then at a deer. They are going to pick up the boy’s father who is hunting elsewhere. So we follow them to the pickup where the other man denies he was hunting and claims he was scouting for his friend that he had killed a buck yesterday. Jeff suspect he got a phone call and stashed his weapon. We take them all back to the original site, walk into the blind which is grossly over-baited and the hunter has a black powder gun and a rifle, which he can’t have afield in this season. Jeff tickets him for the gun and warns on the bait. The guy tells us he thinks the bait limit is 75 gallons. He has never read the guide. His record shows an illegal bear bait ticket from up north some years back.
- The vehicle follows us for a while, which is odd. We pull off, it turns around, we wait and follow dark and come upon the truck parked dark by the side of the road. We slow down and it flips on lights and moves out. Odd behavior. Jeff is pretty sure they are trying to figure out if we are headed back to the spot where we picked up the dad. We are. They go one way and we head there and park and hide the truck and start trying to track in the mud, but lose tracks when they get into the woods. We could have used snow. I stay with the truck, can see Jeff flip on his light from time to time and then after a long while another flahligh to my right and a couple hundred yards I assume Jeff has crossed back over in the dark, but when he get back to the truck it turns out it wasn’t him. Shit. That’s prolly where the weapon was and they slipped back in from another location to grab it. I get home around 10 p.m.
DAY 12, Sunday, November 30, CO Jeff Goss, Calhoun County: Athens again, 0830
- We search again for our wayward trapper, with no luck. We talk to another informant who confirms the vehicle our boy is driving.
- We then get a call from the county. A woman has a skunk in a trap in her trailer park and she is concerned the animal has not eaten in two days. She has no idea who owns the live trap. She is from Georgia and drives and expensive fancy car. Jeff has a sheet in the tool box. We locate Pepe Le Pew and cover the cage quietly and carry him it to the truck and drive to another complaint near a swampy stretch and release out captive there to go on with his life. Our lady at the park’s last words were, “Y’all aren’t gonna shoot it, are you? No Ma’am, we’ve not.”
- We check a hunter on a power line, a place known for illegal ORV activity. He is fine but we hear some shots and track those down to a house where they are target shooting. The old guy there missed a buck with his black powder gun and wants to sight in his shotgun. It is always something. Target practice in the middle of the day in deer season. Really?
We have information on a 10 point. The people who have it did not buy hunting licenses this year. There are two suspects and we arrange for new CO Matt Page to come from Branch County to handle one interview while we simultaneously talk to another suspect. We find both suspect at our address and the talking begins. Long story short, they spin a long story of a car accident and how they found the deer and took it and didn’t know how to get a permit, but they also told us it appeared to have been shot, which means they couldn’t take it at all.
Eventually two Troops showed up and since the deer had already been consumed, we confiscated the monster antlers. The boys had been bragging they killed it while hunting and entered a photo in a big buck contest. Lying through their teeth on all sort so of counts. They lost the antlers, another form of buckular dystrophy in action.
- We roll back into Battle Creek and interview various persons connected to the illegal deer. We are pretty sure the suspect is hiding in his house and ignoring knocks, but there’s not a lot we can do about if for the moment.
- The day ends checking garage deer in Burlington. Two of four have no tags and phone calls get made for tags to be brought back and all checks out.
So endeth the 2014 deer season for yours truly. I have logged 120 ½ hours in trucks in 12 days. There are still illegal deer cases pending, but the count while I was with officers is in the neighborhood of 25-30 for what amounts to less than 250 hunters. Buckular dystrophy still reigns. Sadly. Inexplicably.