Firearm Deer Season Ends Not with a Bang, But With You Know…

MSP Post in Coldwater, this the only photo in the blog and here strictly to make the point about how much cooperation goes on among law enforcement agencies at least at local levels.
MSP Post in Coldwater, this the only photo in the blog and here strictly to make the point about how much cooperation goes on among law enforcement agencies at least at local levels.

A pizza.  Say again? Seriously, a pizza, sort of.

It is Wednesday, November 3, 2016,  the final day of the two-week Michigan  firearm deer season.CO Jeff Goss and I had just run a little trespass surveillance ferreting drill and went to a farm to talk to some probably suspects. As the interview progressed we heard a shot at 1730 hours and another at 1736. Since legal shooting ends in Calhoun Co on Nov 30 at 1731, that tardy shot was of some interest and it was relatively close and we had a pretty good fix on both direction and proximity (close, not far). Pinpointing shots at night is not an easy skill to master and it is one where more than one set of ears is better than one. Jeff terminated the interview and we rolled toward the sound and found us a POAL spot (Pull Over And Listen) and tucked our nose into a soybean field, where a doe grazed not 20 yards away. She was resolute and un-spooked by us standing near her. To hear shots it is best to be outside the truck when they happen. By 1745 hours, no further shots were heard and we jumped into the truck (Jeff jumps in; I clamber). We do have a solid fix on the 1730 shot, which was dicey light-wise, but legal and we went to look into that and as we circumnavigated the are we spotted headlights in the woods and pulled over and sat dark and watched a vehicle make its way out of the forest and when we saw where it was headed, we drove to the farm and talked to two men, an adult grandson (active military) and grandpa. The older man was distinctly unhappy to see us and immediately launched into an attack on license prices and how they are driving people out of hunting. Never mind that a CO has nothing to do with licensing pricing, he or she is the point person for taking the publics verbal kicks. Jeff let him vent and then asked, “Did one of you take a shot at 5:30?”

Grandson pointed at Grandad, who said something to the effect that “There were eight deer in front of me and one was a crippled or gimpy doe and I took a shot and missed.”

The point of shooting at gimpy doe seems sort of odd, but Jeff asks, “What time was that?”

Grandpa: “I could still see.”

Both Jeff and I think, “Right. So could we at that time but it was pretty dim light and the deer would have to be close. Jeff checks hunting licenses for both men and they are copacetic and we move on.

But before moving on, let’s backup. I met my partner at his home at 12:30 and he checked into service around 1300 and I loaded my gear in his Silverado, gave him a pound of frozen Michigan elk burger to make into elk-cheese sticks and we headed out and immediately made contact with two youngish men with an 8- point buck in the bed of a truck. I was tagged and in the course of hearing the hunting story (you always heart that) we got a tip that there was possible trespass hunting taking place on a property the two men identified for us. One of this pair, I would mention, once did jail time for beating a cop so badly that the police officer was forced to retire for medical reasons. Jeff has never had a problem with the person in questions, but he knows his history. Often when COs contact people in the field they don’t know anything until they run operators licenses and hunting licenses only then to discover an individual has warrants for his arrest (Jeff had one guy with 15 warrants that he arrested during a Belle Isle patrol), or worse an Officer Safety Caution, which may be only that, or may be more specific and instruct officers to never contact the individual in question alone or with fewer than two (sometimes three) law enforcement officers present. Good reminder that every stop, until you analyze and assess what you’re actually dealing with, circumstances can be potentially lethal.  Every contact is a dice game and it ‘s a matter of good officer safety procedure to enter every contact with such a mindset.

Leaving this pair, Jeff said we had a busy agenda for the day with some very good cases developing and he started briefing me on them, one by one, including a man who posted a couple of nice buck photos on Social Media and made the point of remarking his Michigan tags were filled so he would have to travel to another state in order to keep hunting, and he named the state. My partner then came into information that the man subsequently killed a  9-point buck (if memory serves me) and that he was telling friends he shot it in the state he had named previously. Jeff called a CO friend in that state, who checked their version of Michigan’s retail sales system and the subject had not bought a license in the state at issue. After the third buck was shot the subject began sharing photographs and Jeff began reaching to other information sources. Jeff felt like he had enough evidence for a search warrant for the subject’s phone and to be sure he wanted to play what he had off one of the county’s assistant prosecutors, to whom he then placed a call as we proceeded to the Coldwater Michigan State Police Post. Last Friday night Jeff arrested a man who shot a big buck without buying a license and then called his daughter to buy one for him, which he then used to tag the buck and take it to a processor, which is where Jeff found it and looking back in RSS and seeing that the daughter had never bought a license, he was suspicious so he went to the man’s house and he confessed and also gave Jeff permission to search his cell phone. The man then signed a property transfer form (it may have another name) and Jeff took the phone to the Troops on Monday to download for him. Today we headed to the post to fetch the phone, so we could return it to the owner sometime during our shift. (I mean, a modern man NEEDS his cellphone, right?)

En route to the Troop post, Jeff placed a call to an assistant prosecutor (APA)

It took 45 minutes at the Troop post and by the time we rolled on, still no call-back from the APA.

As soon as we are moving again we have calls from confidential informants on several cases and a couple of contacts with other conservation officers. At one point Jeff contacts CO Try Ludwig in Eaton County about a possible case up there (two deer shot without licenses) and he sends photos of the deer via E-mail so Troy can take it from there. Also we contact Station 20 and ask their specialists to help us identify an unknown man in a photo with a very large deer. Still no call from the APA, so Jeff decides to call again and this time gets an APA who tells him, “I’ll call you back in three minutes.” Which she does. Jeff then lays out his case and what he has: photos, various text, hunt in another state, but no license in that state and other evidence. She listens and tells him she wants more. She does not say how much more, or what might be more compelling than what he already has and this response for search warrant for the phone being rejected pretty much puts this case on the shelf until he can think through his evidence tactics and strategies.

All of this done, we headed for our trespass complaint and property, a mile or so from the Kalamazoo County border and did our drill there, with Jeff the dog in the field and me the spotter with glasses to see if he flushed any human birds off the property in questions. He did flush some deer, but no humans and here we began the blog and are now leaving the house where granpa missed the gimpy doe.

We drive to the home of the man whose phone we have and he is not there. Neither is his truck, which is interesting. See, he’s suspended and can’t drive. Jeff calls his daughter (the one who bought a deer license for dad) and she doesn’t know where he is but has an alternate cell phone number which no-one answers. Jeff calls the woman back and asks her to tell her dad to call Jeff. He has dad’s phone but doesn’t’ want to make the long drive to return it until dad’s there. She said she will.

From here we pop in on a processor, but his biz is slow, only three deer in three days, two does and a buck. We check paperwork and look at some buck heads. The one buck which came in has a strange flat antler set with a small paddle on one end the whole thing looking like an elephant or dinosaur sat on the buck’s head.

We leave the processor and head south for a rendezvous with Jeff’s partner CO Jason McCullough and other COs at Pizza Hut in Coldwater – sort of a lower Michigan rendition of a UP officers’ post deer season “feed.” Such get-togethers are good for morale, stories and trading information and coordinating. Jason is acting sergeant for one of District 8’s (D8) areas and has put this together. I get to meet and dine with Jeff and Jason. I knew and worked with Jason before he transferred to Calhoun, Jeff, and Troy Ludwig (Eaton), Chris Reynolds (Hillsdale), Carter Woodwyck (Hillsdale), and Isaac Tyson (Branch).

They are a lively group, all tired from a long strange deer season and looking forward to some pass days (DNR jargon for days off).  The firearm deer season ended at 1731 tonight. On Friday it’s opening day for black powder deer season and after that comes late archery season and late antlerless firearm season and when it’s finally all over around the new year, there will have been some kind of deer hunting in the state since mid-September.

Given my low (mostly no) fat diet since my gall bladder was yanked in late September, I’m still off pizza so I order a chicken Caesar salad, which takes forever to come and when it does, it’s a different salad, but the manager says, “no charge.” I managed to eat about 4 oz of cluck-meat in the salad and some lettuce.

After dinner we said our goodbyes and Jeff and I headed west and north. En route we spied one brief light sweep some tree tops and we stopped but saw no more and continued on our way. (It’s a lot more difficult to pinpoint light sources at night in the woods and fields than one might think).

Part of our dinner was taken up with a conversation among officers concerning dealings with the Amish communities in various counties. The Amish, as I understand it, are divided into local bishoprics, and in each of these organizational units the bishop’s word is final.  Some bishops, it turns out, not just in Michigan, but in states all around the U.S. are saying it is a violation of their religious beliefs to wear hunter (international/blaze) orange. Case law around the country does not agree with this and points out that hunting is voluntary, and not a religious  undertaking, and that wearing orange is a matter of safety concerning that voluntary activity individuals choose to pursue. Case law aside, some prosecutors in the state abide by bishops’ rulings. In one county there was a PA who was not honoring tickets to Amish hunters not wearing orange until shown photographs of the same Amish people wearing hunter orange life vests in fishing boats. The policy then changed. This Amish  dispute is a good reminder of the wide range of social issues that conservation officers and other law enforcement personnel must contend with. It was a good discussion  among thoughtful men who have to handle such  squishy circumstances.

It was going on 2300 when I loaded my gear back into my truck and headed for home in the drizzle, which would turn to snow spits this morning. Home at midnight. Shakspder greeted me like his long lost quill had been found and he could get back to work.

Black powder season starts on Friday. Hunters and COs alike pray for snow to assist tracking. Being able to follow wounded deer reduces the number of wounded animals left to die slowly.

Back to manuscript.  If you’re still hunting, be safe. Over

Weekend In a DNR Truck

EVENT 1: My partner CO Jeff Goss (Calhoun Co))  meets me at our traditional rendezvous spot in a small town south of Battle Creek — about an hour-drive east  of Portage. I chuck my gear in the truck and Jeff reports to Station 20 (The RAP Room in Constitution Hall in Lansing) that he is ” in service” and that he has a ride-along for all day.

Asks Station 20: “What’s  the ride-along wearing?”

Jeff and I look at each other in puzzlement. Neither of us has ever heard this question asked of a ride-along. Jeff radios, “Uh, black boots, black hat, green pants, green coat, green shirt.”   Tomorrow will be even weirder.

Thus the weekend begins. Jeff already has three deer heads in the truck bed from last night. We’ll pick up another pair today and another one tomorrow. I’m going to lay out this s this telling event by event  to give  you a  sense of the rhythm of a CO’s deer season days . I’m not including everything, just the more  notable happenings.

EVENT 2: Two or three years ago, Jeff and I caught a guy butchering 8 deer.  He had no license or tags, had not bought any licenses. He was also clearly living on the edges of life. The courts hammered him with a $6,000 fine and took away his hunting privileges. Eight deer, of course, it seems is  more than seeking to put meat in the larder,  but there’s no doubt the man is hurting. Doesn’t matter  how he got into such a compromising position. So that’s the backstory. Forward to now: a couple of weeks back Jeff bumped into his former client, listened to his tale of woe and told  the man if he wanted venison and we confiscated some, we’d bring it to him. Jeff got some high-speed beef last night, ergo, our first job today  is to take the venison to the man, who is celearlyh glad to have it.  His living circumstances have not changed since last I saw him. the front yard of his trailer cluttered with old boats and parts of boats, all fronted by a TRUMP-SPENCE sign.

The theme for his year with violations seems to be, Shoot your deer, THEN go buy a license, which is, of course, the exact reverse of how  the law says this is supposed to work. A resident deer tag costs us $20 bucks (less if we’re seniors). But if you shoot a deer before you have a license or tag it, you are in possession of an illegal deer. If your deer has 8 points, you are in possession of an animal for which law says you will be fined $6,000 and lose hunting privileges, perhaps lose your weapon and get sentenced to a jail. $20 and jail time vs thousands? How can this be so hard to adhere to? The people we contact on this issue,  hunt with thousand dollar weapons, etc, so $20 bucks does not seem like a deal-breaker for them. There has to be some other logic here other than pure frugality. I can’t figure it out.

EVENT 3: Meat processor. We find a discrepancy in one of the carci. An original tag was purchased, but then a replacement tag wasbought the next day and the initial tag not voided, the result being the man now has two tags in possession.  We’ll visit the gent sometime along the way and when we do we will discover that he bought the license under someone else’s driver’s op and shot a deer before he bought a license. Same old story with small wrinkles. Verbiage in the DNR bi-weekly LED reports say, “Appropriate law enforcement action was taken. ” Hereafter  I’ll say: ALEAWT.

EVENT 4: Yesterday Jeff found a deer at a processor. Validated tag shows deer was killed before RSS (Retail Sales data base) shows license was purchased. This is the big No No. We go looking for the man’s address, and don’t find him, but we do  locate him cutting wood in  a nearby woodlot. woods,  not too far from his rental trailer, which we discover later is parked behind a business a friend of his owns, and which we never would have found. Jeff has already  arrested the business owner for trespassing a few years back and killing a ten-point, in-velvet buck on property he had no permission for. Now the man hates my partner. Our “woodsman” has a blue-healer mix dog with him. After some discussion he confesses tht he bought his license after shooting the buck. He has already served 9 months in jail for a non-violent felony and wants to cooperate lest he have more trouble. He confesses and ALEAWT.

We keep moving on.

EVENT 5: A man  has shot an 8-point buck, then called his daughter and told her he can’t find his tags. He tells her to go buy a license and she does and when she gets home, dad is there with his big 8-point, slaps her tag on it and hauls the deer to the processor. But, as interviews and RSS research shows later, dad  never bought y a license this year. In fact he hasn’t bought one since 2011, but readily admits to hunting every year. Hmm. Shoot first, buy later. A No-No:  ALEAWT.

EVENT 6:  We have had a tip that hunters are trespassing onto Battle Creek Unlimited property which is closed to all hunting. An old barefoot guy tells us where to find a blind and we head into the woods and discover a young man hunting in full camo in a camo blind, with a compound bow. No orange. We ask him to come out of the woods with us.

“You can’t hunt back here,” Jeff tells him.

“Everybody else does,” he said. (at least he doesn’t say “on accident.”) 

Jeff: “It’s closed to hunting and there’s no trespassing allowed.”

The man: “I didn’t know, man. Honestly.”

Jeff says, “Of course you knew it. You’re dressed in full camo and you’re using a bow so no-one will hear you; you’re not wearing orange because you don’t want to be seen.  To this, the suspect reacts by studying  his boots. Jeff then says, “One, get your blind out of there tomorrow or you’ll see me again, and two, tell others that at the request of the owners  the DNR is making this property a priority. If you hunt in there, we WILL get you. Spread the word.”

The guy then tells Jeff of other blinds and hunters in the restricted area. Jeff has already found the blinds the man tells us about. ALEAWT.

EVENT 8: We depart after the ticket is written and drive to a nearby park and ride which some hunters use for access to the property. Here we see a woman alone in a vehicle, motor running and shortly after we pull in, she leaves the area. Jeff has a hunch, watches her with binoculars and sees her turn into a truck stop a quarter mile north of us. Hmm. We follow by circling through a neighborhood and cut into the truck area running dark. Sure enough there she is, engine running and soon she bolts again. We watch her push into the same neighborhood where we issued the earlier ticket and we follow and set up black in a driveway. She makes four laps of the circular road in the neighborhood, but on the fifth lap she is flying and we go after her and can see her lights, but lose her almost immediately. Very, very weird. Most serious violators in this are drop someone, let them do their thin and await a cell phone call for the pickup. We figure she grabbed him near where we wrote the ticket, during her fifth lap. Damn.  You can’t get them all, but losing even one irritates.

EVENT 9: We stop at CO Jason McCullough’s house. He is headed to Belle Isle for a graveyard shift patrol later tonight. We arrive just as U of M loses to Ohio State in two overtimes and he is miffed – to say the least. We show him some of the stuff we’ve picked up, talk about various items ahead, and depart. Jeff and Jason are partners in Calhoun Co. Sometimes they double up but mostly they operate alone,  each keeping his partner informed and backing up each other as needed. Their personalities are different; their professional results are tops.

EVENT 10: We get a call from Station 20. A house in Homer has an ungutted,  untagged buck on a trailer. Neighbors keep calling in. Our partner CO McCullough gives Jeff a telephone bump, says he’ll handle it. “Won’t take long, it’s a slam dunk.”

EVENT 11: We go to a taxidermist to look at his records, pick up one of our illegally  killed antler sets. Jeff finds three  more questionable deals which we will investigate later. By season’s end he may have a dozen or more illegal deer still to investigate — just from comparing tags at meat processors with RSS data. Later he’ll hit taxidermists and pick up more cases. We also check hunting social sites and Internet locations like FACEBOOK to compare RSS and buck photos. It’s surprising how many people make an illegal kill and then put it on social media, or enter it into a big buck contest. Defies logic.

EVENT 12: We hit another “questionable” and get the same result. Shot first, license bought later, ALEAWT. You know, over recent years we notice that more and more people treat traffic stop signs not as required-by-law stops but more as guidelines. Out front of our house 90 percent of people coming through roll through the stop sign or blow through without even a hint of a brake light. Maybe this deer licensing issue is similar. Same phenomenon  with drivers who don’t dim lights at night when they are coming toward you.

EVENT 13: En route to another facility a vehicle passes us at high speed, in a curve area with double yellow lines. We light up the vehicle and pull it over. It stops. We get out. The vehicle begins to inch forward. We both yell for the driver to stop and he does and Jeff goes up to him and explains why he stopped him. We have here an elderly  gentleman who says he lives with his sister in Homer and that she is not feeling well and he is hurrying to get home. Jeff explains to him that if he doesn’t slow down he’s not likely to safely get home to help her, and then where will she be? He issues a verbal warning and cuts the man loose. he slows to 35 mph on a 55 mph strip. Either he is really shaken up or being vindictive. At least he’s not speeding.

EVENT 14: We check out a fur-buyer operations and Jeff drops me back at my Ford. I am home by midnight. Tomorrow we roll at 0800. I’ll head  his way at 0700.

DAY TWO

EVENT 1: Rendevous, same spot. Jeff calls “in service, and informs 20 that he has a ride-along for the day.  This time Station 20 asks, “What’s his name?” Jeff gives them my last name. We have heard maybe four or  five other calls of ride-alongs over last two days. None have been asked what the RA is wearing, and none have asked or a name.  Some sort of interplanetary malfunction harmonic? Minor but odd – and funny.

EVENT 2 Jason never got to the “slam-dunk” yesterday and he is on the way home from Belle Isle about now, so we head for Homer and  locate the deer immediately and also see immediately that it is a road kill. We go to the door and a man answers.   En route we run dirt roads checking various hunting spots, see only two vehicles. It’s prime time and no CO will spoil someone’s hunt by walking in, unless the officer already has evidence of a crime or problem. Same as yesterday, almost no hunters in the field.

Jeff asks him about the deer.

“Not mine, the man says. My son’s.”

“Is he here?”

“He don’t live here.”

From the inner house a female voice sings out, “He don’t live here no more!”

Jeff asks the man, “Where does he live?”

The man  yells at the other voice, “Where  DOES he live?”

She answers. “He don’t live here no more.”

Jeff asks the man at the door. “Do you have a phone number for him?”

“It’s real long,” the man says and again he turns to the voice in the dark behind him, “What’s that real long number?”

The female says, “It don’t work. I just tried it, and it don’t work. He don’t live there no more.”

He don’t live here, he don’t live there, let’s give the DNR the old runaround drill. No idea why. Some people just cop an attitude when the DNR shows up.

Why all this stonewalling we can’t begin to figure out, but while the female voice is yelling,  the man at the door whispers the address in Homer  to Jeff, and we depart and find the house and after knocking loudly and repeatedly for a long time a man steps out onto the porch carrying a toddler with no shoes or socks and the man confirms he picked up the roadkill, not for the meat but for the antlers (7 pt and broken), and he has a possession tag but he took it off because it was raining. He goes in the house and brings out the permit. No slam dunk here, no real violation, just curious human behavior. Jeff asks the man to do something with the carcass so that neighbors don’t keep calling in. Says he will. The horns on the animal are broken and or spackled by road rash from the crash that killed the animal. Will he mount antlers from the roadkill? Anything is possible. Just another strain of buckular dystrophy.

EVENT 3:  Processor in Homer. Jeff introduces me to a fellow who calls himself  Pimp Daddy Blue, great name, great character, garrulous and funny. No carci to check here,  but it is  stenchiforous beyond description and we keep moving, check a couple of deer being brought in, but find no problems,   and we move. 

EVENT 4: Another processor stop, different part of the county.  I’ve met these guys before. They say their count is down from last year. Archery was up from last year, firearm down and in their own hunting they are not seeing any animals. There is of course endless discussion of such matters. Our own thought is that the deer have gone nocturnal, which sometimes happens after the shooting begins. We have talked to people who are getting photos on their game cams, but not seeing animals when it’s light. We figure most of the deer are hunkered in standing corn, or swamps of which there is a  plenty of both in this county.

EVENT 5:  Yet another processor. Guy is fiddling with meat grinder an spitting Skoal on the floor as he works. Yum. No carci, not new leads, we keep moving. Note to self: never bring meat here for processing.

EVENT 6: We head over to Marshall to follow-up on a lead we got at a processor last night. It turns out to be another shoot-first, buy-later case.  The man confesses almost immediately. ALEAWT. Turns out that this guy’s wife HATES his hunting and so he sneaks around, which we suppose is supposed to excuse the fact that last Monday he shot a deer at first light and didn’t buy a license until 5 p.m. He’s a big fisherman and waterfowl hunter and has records for the past five years of fish and duck license purchases, but no deer license since 2012. Yet he claims to hunt deer a couple of times a year. When we point out that he has been hunting illegally, he hangs his head. Worse, on this year’s  first tag  bought after  the kill, he validated the tag for the PREVIOUS day. Geez. We just listen. Jeff explains the ticket procedure, ALEAWT and we head out.

EVENT 7: We see a pickup towing a trailer with a tractor on the trailer and three is something on the back of the trailer, which  seems about to fall off, so we pull the guy over and help him get squared away and continue on.

EVENT 8: En route to the Battle Creek Unlimited property we spy a bait pile behind the house in northeast Battle Creek. We’ll come back later to investigate. The corn pile is pretty big 15-20 gallons and the limit for feed/bait is 2 gallons for hunting or feeding deer.

EVENT 9: We head over to patrol of the BCU parcel. The blind from last night is gone, and there’s nobody in two other blinds, so we clear the BCU parcel and we press on to State Farm property, also along I-94, a well-known poaching spot. Nobody there. Just a dozen turkeys, who don’t care for our presence and ghost into a hedgerow.

EVENT 10: Now we head for the corn pile house. En route we pass the Post plant and drive the truck through a cloying sweet cloud of Fruity Pebbles scent, which is a strange comparison with raunchy overwhelming stench of a processor we visited in the morning. We get to the house, find a  truck in driveway but house is dark and nobody answers.  The bait pile is less than a hundred yards behind the house on a mowed field. A dog up the hill at the neighbor’s house is going “ape”over our  arrival and presence. We check the house then the bait. And suddenly a woman pops out of the darkness,  demands to know what we are doing on her property. Jeff explains the bait.

“We just take photos of the deer,” she says, “you want to see them?”

“No thanks ma’am, how much corn is out there?”

She says, “I don’t know, my grandson put it out there.”

Jeff explains the 2-gallon limit for hunting or viewing.

“I didn’t know that,” she says.

“Does anyone hunt here?” Jeff asks.

“My grandsons do.” So it’s not just for deer pictures.

“How old are they?”

“Thirteen and seventeen —  but  I don’t let them hunt unless an adult is in the house.”

Jeff listens as she explains how the boys hunt from the tree line. Her uphill house is  directly across the field and both houses are within the 450 ft. safety zone, but she is the landowner, so this is all right. Jeff explains the laws governing juvenile hunting, that directly supervising does not mean being in the house but being with the young hunter.

She says, “I hunt with them.”

Hmm.  She says she’ll try to get the bait piles down to 2 gallons tomorrow. We apologize for interrupting her dinner and she heads home. Jeff gets on the computer to see if the boys have licenses and if she does. Both boys are licensed but before we can check granny I see a flash of plaid behind Jeff’s window and the father of the boys shows up.  This is damn good reminder of how easily you can be crept up on and shot if your head is in your computer or inside your vehicle. The man then gives us a long story about how he got served for divorce last Monday, how  his wife of 18 and a half years  wants to move to Florida and he doesn’t, “and my kids don’t neither. “Thanksgiving day my youngest son  says ‘Dad I was looking at mom’s I-Pad and she’s got all sorts of divorce stuff on there. Are you guys getting divorced?’ No the man says. Later, he tell us, the wife attacks him. “So you want to divorce me and they sent the information to the wrong email? He says no. The following Monday, papers are served in her behalf at his workplace and he moves down to his mom’s second house. It is exhausting hearing people’s stories of woe. Jeff warns the man to knock down the bait pile size and explains how it’s supposed to be done. The guy tells us about court dates and work and so forth and maybe he can’t get this done till weds. Jeff says, “I drive by here all the time. It better be fixed next time I come by or I’ll have to take action.

EVENT 11: We call another processor to tell him we’re coming, but Jeff gets a cell phone call from a friend of his, a farmer, who has a sick or injured doe in his cornfield near Burlington. We roll down that way and find the deer. Her head is turned to her left and backward,  looking up over her spine and she can only turn in tight circles. She has been  in this field all afternoon. If she can’t straighten out, she will die of starvation. Jeff calls the district wildlife biologist who says he wants to look at her.  No choice  in this but to euthanize her, first to put her out of agony and secondly, to get her to the biologists for necropsy and tests to figure out wha’s going on. It could be almost anything. Jeff dispatches the animal as it shakes its head and circles.  Her head silhouette  agaisnt the cut corn is creepy.  We load the dead animal in the truck. None of the three of us is comfortable with having to do this, but it’s the right thing to do. Being a CO is not all fun and games.

EVENT 12: On to  our last processor of the day to seek Intel

Jeff drops me at my vehicle at 2030 and I am home by 2130. Two long, productive days. We have another half-dozen cases to investigate. Jeff will be working today as the firearms season draws to a close on Weds. I may join him Wednesday and meet some other district officers for a post-season feed and roundup.

Over. Photos of this weekend follow.

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Doe with a problem. We called it Deer Taco Neck Syndromes after a TV ad of some years back. We have no idea what it is and won’t until the biologist gets a necropsy done.
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Six illegal deer, 2 1/2 days of work, what we think is only a small percent of a percent of how much of this goes on in this county.
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The cell phone, the radio and laptop computer are the tools that aid our investigations as we roll around the county.
Fetching evidence of illegally taken game
Fetching evidence of illegally taken game
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Ill-gotten gains.
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Future cases come off walls such as this one at a taxidermist.
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Sitting fox mount. It looked real!
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More of the taxidermists work. As it turns out, My partner CO Jeff Goss is also a taxidermist and does fine work.
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New way of tricking out European mounts. It’s called dipping.
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Turkey feet for hunting mementos? Different strokes.
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Full turkey fan mount.
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View in the taxidermist’s office.
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Coyote rug.
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Checking taxidermist’s records.
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With this device the taxidermist can stuff it with hides for capes and mounts and have them finely tanned in 8 hours.
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The slam-dunk case. That’s the spine sticking out from car crash. Apparently the neighbors never got close enough to see this.
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D’Art Hunteur, the sort of random stuff you see in hunter’s trucks. Fun for authors, creepy to non-hunters.
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Getting ready to take a walk through area with reported armed trespassers.

A Day In The DNR Law Enforcement Cave

Drove to Lansing, yesterday and spent the day with our dispatchers in the Report All Poaching (RAP) room in Constitution Hall. After 16 years of hearing them from a truck radio, it was educational to spend time in the room. My biggest realizations: These folks block a lot of silly garbage from taking up the time of Conservation Officers (screening function), and they work really hard to get information from callers, many of whom want to remain anonymous and are hinky about the people they complain about finding out who called the DNR on them. The RAP room keeps everything anonymous and this is an inviolate rule for officers int he field and dispatchers in the Cave in Lansing. Each dispatcher is monitoring and using six computer screens and a telephon, plus monitoring colleagues to see if they need help. Supervisor Dominique Clemente (an 18-year vet of the op.) Her colleagues say of her that she has a Rolodex mind, can hear six conversations at once, and simultaneous to handling her own phone call,  has the answers to the other six inquiries . I had the pleasure of meeting: Dominique; Cathie Smith; Autumn Shaffier; Nick Sparks;Rick Bierlien; Jill Behnke; and, Leann House. Thanks to all of you for patience for my questions and for helping me understand how you are a key cog in making cases in the field.  The teamwork among dispatchers was and is impressive. Photos of the folks follow, but first a few “interesting” inquiries/calls they have handled:

— Man calls in and says he has a complaint and he wants to talk to the two female officers who came out to his place last time — the ones wearing pink bikinis and packing .45s;

— Lots of people also call in with bogus claims, for example a call with all sorts of details on a “vampire deer.” Dispatchers and Officers alike are sometimes forced to treat call seriously in case they overlook something that might later cause harm;

— Call and complaint about a Wyoming Lion shot in Wyoming and then  hanging on a guy’s porch in Wyoming, MI. COs checked it out. The cougar was legally shot in the state of Wyoming, not in the Michigan city;

— Man calls in to complain that he was attacked by a coyote and when he shot at it, it attacked him a second time. No other details given;

— Call from a woman who wanted to know how to get rid of a bat, a conversation  during which she she  informed dispatchers she had sat on it,  adding with exasperation. “It’s the second time I’ve sat on a bat.” Twice; You didn’t learn to look before you sit? Call Guinness (the record book, not the ale house);

— Or the person who applied for a job in the RAP room who listed his occupation as “Sandwich artist.” He also neglected to mention he was also a felon;

— A woman calls in to seek information on rabies. Dispatcher tries to direct her to a veterinarian or a physician, at which the caller says, “I AM a doctor,” but we don’t learn much about rabies in Medical School;

— Woman who wants to know if you can catch HIV-AIDS from a cat?;

— Caller insists there is a dead elk on Drummond Island. Dispatcher tries to nail down specifics, but has difficult time. Dead elk, (like dead moose, or dead Wolf) are words that mobilize law enforcement. COs make their way out to the island. The dead elk turns out to be a dead domestic sheep;

— A woman in Pine Rest (use your imagination) called the RAP room repeatedly, talking about doctors melting her insides;

— multiple calls from people reporting a person next door, or in the field has a gun an they are a felon. You know they’re a felon? “Everybody says so.”

— Person calls to report neighbors buring a vehicle in the driveway in order to collect insurance money to buy drugs; Police check it out. There is indeed a fire in a car. The fire happened on the road and the driver pulled into first available driveway and found a garden hose he was using to try to douse the fire. People live on their speculations and perceptions, none of which may coincide with reality. And,

— COs get  their lulus too. CO Sean Kehoe had a contact with a woman who found several baby raccoons and was nursing them, because that is what their dead mother would have wanted. Not with bottles, but with her breasts. ISYN.

Photos follow. (Out this weekend  for ride-alongs with officers):

Dominique
Dominique
Jill (L), Leann (R)
Jill (L), Leann (R)
Nick
Nick
Rick
Rick
Cathie (L) and Autumn (R)
Cathie (L) and Autumn (R)
Electronic spaghetti.
Electronic spaghetti.

 

 

Hunters’ Economic Contributions to the Michigan Economy

There are heaps of people out wearing orange hats and vests and carrying weapons, deer on car tops etc as the Michigan firearms deer season rolls along. It runs from Nov 15 to Nov 30. According to data from a group called Hunting Works For Michigan, Michigan hunters and target shooters spend $2.3 billion annually, including $1.3 billion on hunting equipment, and $271 million on trip related expenses; hunting generates $62 million in license sales and $40 million in Pittman-Robertson funding, which goes into managing the natural resources of our state; hunter spending translates into $1.2 billion in salaries and wages, and hunters pay $289 million in state and federal taxes. Overall the economic impact of Michigan’s 529,000 licensed hunters crates a $3.9 billion ripple effect on Michigan’s economy.  I wonder how this compares to  the economic impact of other natural resource users, eg, campers, hikers, leaf-peepers, berry pickers and mushroom hunters, fishermen, mountain bikers, etc. 

If you’re hunting, be safe out there.

 

2015 Deer Season, Part 5 of 5

Selfie
Selfie

DAY 11: Saturday, November 28I meet CO Jeff Goss in Calhoun Co, dump my gear in his truck and we hit the road. We get a late start (1630 Hours) intending to work late. We both anticipate a lot of weekend activity. Jeff will be headed to the Conservation Officer Academy  in East Lansing next month an instructor, a five-month assignment.  He also has a new partner in Calhoun, Battle Creek native Jason McCullough, who I’ve worked with in group patrols, once under a plane in Iosco Co and another time in a night salmon patrol at Foote Dam on the Au Sable River. Haven’t seen him in years. A widely respected, first class officer, McCullough knows what he’s doing. He and Jeff will have a lot of fun together when Jeff gets back from the Academy in June.

We settle at dark by spotting an SUV in a field and sit on it until after shooting hours. I get in the driver’s seat and Jeff creeps the vehicle on foot, only to find no plate on it and parts all over the inside. He hikes back to me and stops at a farm and they tell him it belongs to someone’s relative and has been there a long time. Oh well. We both laugh.

Jeff relates a recent case from Hillsdale County where a young man shot 10-point, and 14-point bucks with a .30-06 rifle during archery season, and how the investigation has progressed and where it stands. It should get adjudicated soon and I’ll cough up more details after that, but it’s an interesting case and Jeff has done a great job building the case and evidence. It’s a head-shaker when you hear it all.

We check a processor and an informant  in a nearby town and he gives us a get a lead on some na’er-do-wells.

After dark we rendezvous with Jason McCullough and proceed out to a house in the sticks to interview a couple of trappers. Deer hunters saw the trappers’ vehicle and when they came out at dark, found two deer carcasses, one with head removed, the other with just the antlers hacked out. They got a good look at the truck and Jeff Goss recognized it as someone he’d had previous experience with DNR law. We know in fact that one of these individuals has his hunting and trapping privileges revoked, yet he is out mentoring and helping a younger partner. This raises the question of what constitutes trapping? Is it setting traps only? Is scouting for places to locate the placement of traps? Is skinning the take, even if you didn’t take it? As usual, nothing is simple in this business. The two bachelors live in a ranch house out in the country. The officers make contact with them and they come outside and begin talking while I scout the house and find dozens of dead coons and other fur bearers in the back yard and traps in heaps and scattered about. There is a 5-yard (10? I’m guessing here) dumpster there filled with remains and even with heavy frost settling on us it stinks to high hell. Eww and pee-yew! This must be something on a warm noon.

I wait for a break in the interviews and ask one of the boys about the animals out back, and all the traps all over the ground. Jeff and I walk out back, but before I follow them I peek through a hole in the garage and see more carcasses all over the floor. Jeff climbs a small ladder to look into dumpster. The boy told us he didn’t deer hunt, but Jeff finds a couple of deer legs. He says nothing at this point. I ask the boy if anything is in the garage and he says yes and we go in the front garage door. Dozens more animals, none yet skinned and in the freezer  there are two sets of deer antlers. Jeff asks who belongs to them and our subject says he does, that his partner hit a deer in his truck and a state policeman gave them a permit to possess road-killed deer. The driver, his friend, the one out with Jason, “gave him the deer.” The partner didn’t want to be caught with a deer, even one under legal permit, for fear the DNR would go hard on him and think he had been hunting. Sounds paranoid to me but as we continue to question the two men it’s clear that the one with revoked privileges considers himself somewhat of a “jailhouse lawyer type.” He’s glib and well-spoken and forceful in presenting his views, even when they are wrong. The permit tag is supposed to be affixed to the antlers, but instead it is stuck on a nail in the skinning room in the other half of the garage. Jeff points out that the tag says it has to be with the animal and the young man apologizes. At this moment, Jeff focuses on the deer legs in the dumpster. The man says they belonged to one of the two road-killed deer. Two of their friends also hit a deer and got a permit to possess. He tells us that the pair has gone up to Kodiak Island in Alaska to hunt for a week or so. That tag is also on a nail in the skinning room. So we have two permits and two sets of antlers, and packages of meat, but the two dumped animals but it’s not clear what the relationship is between the dumped carcii and these remains.. After a lot of questioning and talking the two admit to being in that area on the night in question, and they admit they saw two carcasses, but they insist it wasn’t them who dumped them. The back and forth goes on for almost two hours, outside in the cold with a heavy frost settling on us. Jeff has had dealings with one of the men, as has a Kalamazoo County officer. The older of the two is mentoring the younger one in trapping ways and the whole set up is strange. At the very least the condition of their take is pretty poor and they seem in no hurry to skin the animals and get on with the process. After two hours we pull out drive to another area, and talk about what we’ve heard. The two men have a pickup filled with traps and a landowner found a colony muskrat trap near where they had been seen, but they first denied it was there, and later reluctantly admitted it might have fallen off the truck and somebody else set it. They swear up and down it wasn’t them on the trap or the carcass dumping.

We don’t have enough evidence at this point  to take this situation anywhere and Jason decides to have a face-to-face talk with the landowner who found the trap, as well as the second landowner who reported the trespass. There is something at work here, but not enough to pin it down. More investigation will be required by both officers. This sort of effort goes into a lot of cases, which show no result but time-eating. Both officers handled the interviews with smooth professional skills and techniques, and we decide to patrol our way back to my vehicle and call it a night. It is midnight when I start my one-hour drive home. Tomorrow we’ll  rendezvous in the same place, but start earlier,  at 0930.

DAY 12: Sunday, November 29 En route to the rendezvous I see two vehicles in a farm field and a man posted by some hardwoods in a camo outfit with no orange visible. This is the far eastern edge of Kalamazoo County. While  Jeff and I refuel the truck,  I tell him about this and he decides to go take a look. We telephone COs Chris Holmes and Paul Higashi in Kazoo. Neither is in service yet. Paul is first to call back and Jeff kids him that we are going to poach in his county and he says he’ll roll over and meet us. I did a poor job of marking the field and we overshoot going west, but flip back and find it. One vehicle is gone and no hunters are in sight. Jeff circles the block and a local resident stops us to report that he and his  two brothers have permission to hunt a certain property near where we are parked, and on opening day he was hunting with his father-in-law south of Kalamazoo, and one of his brothers saw a scoped rifle sticking out of his blind. The brother texted him to see if he was seeing anything and he texted back that it wasn’t him in his blind, that it must be a trespasser.

Jeff Goss, with customers
Jeff Goss, with customers

Naturally nobody thinks to call the DNR while  the situation is happening, and now it is 14-days later and only seeing our truck does the man think to stop and tell us. Jeff tells him if he doesn’t call while an incident is in progress, there’s little we can do unless they have a plate or an ID on the person. Paul Higashi  radios us, pulls up, jumps out,  and joins the conversation and Paul gives the man a card and explains again to call while things are happening – not afterwards. Jeff cautions, “ Don’t you approach the guy: That’s what we get paid to do. Call us immediately and give us the information and we’ll come out and take care of it.”  Two DNR trucks attract attention and other locals stop to chew the fat and talk about the season and complain about this and that, but all thank the COs for being out there.

We continue  over to the Fulton Game Area as we head back toward Calhoun Co and we see a man and his boy walking out toward their parked vehicle. Both are wearing orange and both have shotguns. When the man  spies us, he takes the boy’s shotgun and when he comes out blurts out the standard, “Got a question for you.” He then asks, “Is it legal for a boy under 14 to hunt with a firearm on state land?” Obviously the thinks not, since he took his son’s shotgun when he saw us.

Jeff Goss talking to father and son.
Jeff Goss talking to father and son.

It’s a sort of vague statute, but we dink around with the computer,  find it and confirm that he the exact language with the bottom line, the boy can’t. Ergo the boy has been hunting illegally. Jeff warns dad, checks their shotguns, and we move on because down the road at another pull-off, a man has stepped out to the road, looked our way and quickly ducked back out of sight. We hurry to get down to him and find him unloading his shotgun into a mud puddle. Odd.  Jeff checks his licenses, all in order. No idea why he acted so hinkily. Some people immediately freeze up or turn weird when faced with a badge.

The county dispatcher announces an alleged “cougar sighting over the radio, and I just shake my head. Battle Creek has been a hotbed of such reports for years and there are game cams all over the place and not one photo of a cougar. Ever.  It’s group panic/group misthink at its finest.

McCullough calls us. He’s found a vehicle parked at Battle Creek city property near the Kalamazoo River. There is a rifle case in back and a dog cage in the bed of the truck. It’s illegal to hunt anything on city property, so we race up to BC and join Jason near the river. Last year Jeff and I had an illegal deer case literally within sight of where we are now.

Jeff and Jason take off  on foot into the property to ferret out whoever is in there and I stay with the truck and 15 minutes later the two men appear on the walking trail with their dog on a leash.

I great them cheerfully and tell the COs will want to talk to them and call my partner on the radio and tell him I have two people and a dog at the truck. The younger of the two starts to get huffy. “Tell them to hurry up,” he barks. “We have places to go and things to do!”

My response: “You’re not going anywhere until you talk to the officers.” The younger one backs off and we begin schmoozing on various DNR topics and eventually Jeff shows up and Jason  follows a few minutes later. Jeff knows the pair, has written the older one for a loaded firearm in a vehicle and knows more about the kinds of things he is rumored to be into. A long discussion takes place and Jeff checks hunting licenses. He asks to see the gun in the cab and the man pulls open the door. Jeff can see the open chamber, but he picks it up and holds I vertically and a huge chunk of dry dirt falls from the barrel into the chamber.  Jeff looks at the older man, who says he dropped the bun barrel first into the mud but thought he wedged all the dirt out with a stick. Jeff says, “I just may have saved your life. The dirt clog could have caused the gun barrel to shred if he fired it without cleaning it. The man’s response is to grin.

We’re pretty certain they were running the dog on rabbits just for the dog’s benefit, but we haven’t seen this and in fact they’ve been seen only on property they can be on.

We pull out, rendezvous trucks  down the street and try to make a plan for the afternoon and evening. We work our way over to a processor where a young boy and his dad have just brought in the kids’s nice 8-point and of course we have to  hear the story. The first time Jeff met the processor, the man chewed all over him and the DNR but over time h’s won the man’s  confidence and there  seems even to be a degree of friendship now in place.  We are treated with great respect and great amiability. We congratulate the kid, check a couple of carcasses in the processing facility (tags all all good) and move on.

We stop briefly in the afternoon at Jeff’s house to make a couple of ham sandwiches and head south to Homer to meet McCullough at a processor who is closed.

Close  to Burlington, we check a hunter and then head to another processor in Marshall, but the facility is about to close, the owner has gone home and his wife is frazzled by all the work and also is ready to get home. Jeff says he’ll be back in a couple of days and we refuel again and start looking for vehicles as the shooting hours close approaches. Meanwhile, Jason McCullough has found a vehicle well after shooting hours and he’s in an odd location and without our Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) we can’t see his position, but he describes his spot and we come in dark with Jeff using a night scope to see our way. Neither of us can see him, but we find a handy little pull- in and when we look to our left we can see small green light. Jeff puts the NVD on the area and sees the truck. Jason calls and says he had just done tonight what we did last night: sit on an abandoned vehicle with no license plate. We all laugh and separate, with the intention of joining up later at another processor’s operation. By now we are way up in the north county not far from the Barry County line. As we drive a curvy road south I see headlights far off to the east and Jeff looks and says, they’re on the other side of the lake – and there’s nothing over that way but nothing. We are curious. Maybe we can see them from the lake’s boat launch. But no dice on this option; the launch is located in a cove away from the main water body. We back out and head north and east, and turn south and as we hit an open marsh area where we see the lights and we can’t tell if it’s a vehicle or several spotlights.

We find a short hard service drive into some kind of radio tower with a metal fence around it and tuck ourselves  up to it to shield the silhouette of our vehicle. There is a house with a large, bright yard light 200 yards south of us. We can see lights in the field and they seem to be probing the field.  Because they seem to be hanging in for a long time, we guess it’s probably some hunters looking for a downed deer, but there’s no way to know for certain unless we get up to them and see for ourselves. We call Jason for backup and he starts working his way toward us. Jeff is up on the rail of the truck with his NVDs watching the light show and I can also see them from where I stand on the ground.  They are clearly “shining around” and some of the light beams flash out into the open grass and we can’t tell if they are trying to shine the open area or the lights are just bouncing out that way. At one point while Jeff heads closer to the fence to look past it I see a set of headlights pointed our way but these quickly disappear.  We try to get a signal for the computer to look at an Internet map of the county so we can pinpoint what we’re looking at, but we can’t get a signal. So much for electronics. We use our small red lights to look at hard copy maps and get a fix on our place.  Meanwhile the lights keep moving around and  Jeff  decides to go on foot to investigate closer and leaves me at the truck and we go over where we are and which roads are in which direction in case I have to fetch him and disappears into the darkness alone using his hand-held NVD to find his way. The loss of our electronics is why recruits have to learn to not depend on devices and be able to navigate and fix positions with compasses and good old fashioned map reading.  This was the same strategy we employed in the Air Force, to not depend on any ground support and to use the skies to find our way. Electronics have a way of letting you down when you most need them. That’s a fact, in some cases with lethal consequences.

Jeff traipses back a few minutes later. “Too swampy and wet and I think they’re on the other side of Rice Creek (BTW, a nice little brown trout stream). Jason reports rolling in south of us from the west and says he can see lights too. We back out and head toward him, turn on an east-west road and see the lights and then in the next huge expanse of farmland find Jason’s truck pulled over to a tree line. We have to cross a ditch and Jeff can’t see. We have our windows down so that we can hear. There is some loose gravel on dirt and we can hear the tires on the gravel. I tell my partner to move forward, that we are clear of the ditch, to use the gravel to guide us in and we nose up to Jason’s truck and park and get out. Jason is on the bedrail of his truck glassing the lights, but can’t see well enough to get a good view. Jeff uses his NVDs to spot a small rise between  us and the lights so we move ahead to the lip of the small rim and from there discover not one, but two vehicles and  a bunch of flashlights and several silhouettes of people. Jeff says, “We’re going in now, the ground feels firm enough.”  We race dark toward the assembly. They have no idea we’re there until he turns on the headlights and spotlights.  We dismount and head toward a group of people. We can see a deer on the ground beyond them. The people greet us pleasantly and laugh, “You guys come out of nowhere!” I go check the deer, a nice 8-point buck with a tall, wide rack. It’s been hit twice. I can see  the trail where they dragged it out.

Jeff recognizes the people as folks he’s checked before, law-abiding sportsmen and he congratulates the hunter who got the deer. They have five or six adult males and a small child about knee-high. The little boys’ mother is in one of the trucks.  The deer is tagged legally and all licenses check out. We congratulate them on the deer. It ran toward Rice Creek when it was hit. Wounded deer almost always head for water. It died by the creek and they took a long while to find it in the marsh grass. The hunter shot the buck just before the end of shooting hours and let it lay while he called for help to find it. We arrived as the help pulled in. The other set of lights I saw was the second truck coming through the field and turning around.

The whole incident is a great example of tactical work in the dark, and teamwork between two officers. When we get back to Jason, he says, “Where did you guys go?”

Jeff says, “I told you I was rolling.” McCullough laughs. “I didn’t hear you. I was ‘occupied’ at the time.”

We depart the scene and head toward another processor but he too is closed up tight.
We check some slow rollers moving south and Jeff drops me at my vehicle after a 12-hour shift.

I have spent 126 hours in DNR trucks over 12 patrol days. I drive home, and talk to Lonnie and her sister Mary who has come up for a visit. I am beat, but it has been another great and interesting season filled with strange experiences and start-to-finish learning, not the least of all being all the time I get to pick the brains of the seven officers I’ve worked with: Steve Converse, Becky Hopkins, Pat McManus, Rich Stowe, Sean Kehoe, Josiah Killingbeck, and Jeff Goss. Thanks also to new officer Ethan Gainforth, and old vets Paul Higashi, Jason McCullough and Warren McNeil. Warren’s son will be in the next CO Academy class. It’s a great privilege to work with all of them.

Thanks also to Lt. John Jurcich and Sgt. Bob Torres for helping me arrange the tour.

Our Michigan conservation officers are a highly trained, hard-working team who bust their butts to protect the state’s natural resources, and enforce other laws as well: These are demanding  jobs being handled by hardcore professionals.

Best of luck to the recruits who will start the next CO Academy class in January. You’re joining an elite outfit of highly motivated individuals, but you will have to earn your place among them. It won’t be easy, but real accomplishments never are.

Over.

2015 Deer Season, Part 4

Truck tools
Truck tools

DAY 9: Monday, November 23 – Becky Hopkins and I are partnered again. Our first call comes early, at 0715. It’s nothing urgent but it wakes her up and we will deal with it later in the day.

This morning we start west toward the lake shore and as we approach a pine plantation we see a man in a pumpkin suit walking through trees. We stop, roll down windows, and hear men yelling and barking like dogs and making a lot of noise.  Both of us have heard about drives like this, but neither of us have ever witnessed one, so this is a first for both of us. They are driving deer westward and we parallel on the road and get to the big opening where the shooters are sitting. Three hunters emerge from the trees and Becky traipses through the snow to talk to them and check licenses and do the drill. Then two more hunters show up in the field with  a pick up truck and then a second truck arrives out on the road in front of me. She hustles up to the second trucks, “Announces, good morning boys, where’re the guns. We find a bullet ridden doe in the bed of the second truck. It’s all shot to hell. Becky tells them “Glad I don’t have to gut that thing.”  She punctuates what she says with a sour face. It’s tagged with a crop damage permit from a nearby property, not the property where the group is hunting and once again we see how all sorts of deer are getting slaughtered and it’s hard to account for where they’re operating, etc. Earlier with Rich Stowe he told me about finding shooters killing deer with rifles on the 12th or 13th. The crop damage permits call for a quiet time from Nov 10 to 14 but these guys were violating that. Just one more sign of the problems with such special treatment. Farmers get a helluva lot of breaks common citizens don’t. I hear my conservative friends bemoaning welfare for city folk, etc,  but nary a peep on all the special deals for farmers. No tickets for this gang this morning.

Weird growth
Weird tree growth

We leave the gaggle, swing around a long block and come on a slow-rolling pickup ahead of us. It has its windows down, and it’s moving at walking speed through the same area where the deer drive just took place. We follow at a distance, stopping below the peak of rolling hills and glassing them in, waiting for a stop-and-shoot, but Station 20 calls a trespass in progress and of course it’s a long drive away; we immediately break off the slow-roller and head for the property where the trespass is underway. The property belongs to a doctor in Royal Oak and he and his wife have a game camera on their blind and bait.  The camera is tied into WiFi so they can monitor their property from afar. The woman says she has pictures of two hunters on the property only a few minutes ago. Becky’s cell phone can’t take the photos, but her personal phone can. We arrange for the complainant to send photos to Greg’s Michigan State Police office in T.C., call him, ask him to forward pix  to her personal cell and to make some full size hard copy prints. We  roll up on the property, find fresh truck and foot prints. We can’t tell if we have drop-offs or something else. Becky goes in to the property and I stay with the truck to either go collect her elsewhere, or block and stop any slow-roller coming down the two-track. While she is at the game cam, the property owner in Royal Oak reports she can see Becky who quickly calculates an approximate five-minute delay in the system. By now she figures we are 30 minutes behind the intruders and they are probably gone. She hustles out to the truck and we start following  truck tracks and are able to work out where it came in and where it  went out, but we are too late. We look at the photos on her personal smart phone and both of us recognize a hunter we checked last year when I worked with her. The hunter is wearing a unique pair of pants and has distinct facial hair. He is part of a notorious local  “crew” we worked last season, and whose members she’s busted previously.

We head on to the lakeshore and start working various roads that dead end at Lake Michigan

We use out binoculars to check one man afield, walking through dune grasses. We’ve already run his RSS and verify he is licensed. On another road we talk to a guy who claims to have hunted the same spot for 60 years; he’s now 74. Everything checks out. We found him sitting  in his vehicle and when Becky came up on him he immediately  copped an cranky  attitude, but she quickly calms him down and the contact ends up positive.

Another road holds two vehicles and we see tracks where they have walked into a swampy swale in barrier dunes. Minutes later we see to hunters on the other side of the road coming out and check them. All legal. They complain about not seeing many animals. The land we’re on is federal park property, not state land, but state and federal officers work together to patrol it.

We get a BOL on a green Jeep whose driver is wanted by local police and we make a mental note to keep watch for it as we continue patrolling. We subsequently check two more hunters, than a solo and another solo. We end our lakeshore inland, sitting on the field where we started the morning, hoping our slow-roller will come through again. It’s typical of some crews to run a regular route and make several passes over the day. No dice this time. The temperature is awful, the wind howling and cutting,  but the snow has stopped and we hear a shot behind us and roll over to that area looking for the hunter. No joy. We call my partner for tomorrow, CO Josiah Killingbeck, down in Lake County and work out a rendezvous time and location. Becky and I check out of service and Greg and I run into Benzonia to get pizzas for dinner and take family Lab Bailey with us. Like Shaksper, riding in a vehicle is a special treat for Bailey.

My pal Bailey
My pal Bailey

He stands with his head between us. Greg says his drive to T.C, this morning was awful, just like mine last night.

Sunset off Benzie
Sunset off Benzie
Evidence in hand
Evidence in hand

My original plan was to work with Steve Converse tomorrow, but when I learned Josiah was to have Wednesday off, I didn’t want him to ruing that day with work. So I dropped Converse. We sent a note telling him my chiropractor has banned me from riding with him for awhile.  Bottom line on this switch: I’ll get home a day earlier than originally planned. This is a good thing.

DAY 10: Monday, November 24 – Greg heads his MSP office in T.C for work, Becky heads for T.C for her doctor appointment (it’s her day off) and I load up and head south to Lake County to meet Josiah at the Baldwin DNR field office. Josiah graduated in the 2014 academy class and has been on his own for a year now. He worked with Assistant Chief Molnar during the flight the night before the season and got a loaded gun and two illegal deer. By now he’s had about 10 illegal deer and he is having one of those seasons, where he bumps stuff everywhere he turns.

My pals and I have the Baldwin Bullshido Fishing Club (2016 will be our 40th year). We meet sometime in summer every year to fish the Pere Marquette River and branches. This year when I pulled into camp the owner Al VanDenBerg handed me the latest Lake County Star and told me to take a look. It was folded open to two pages of police reports and both pages were filled with arrests by CO Josiah Killingbeck. My friend said the county was in an uproar. I said “Good, you can bet there are multiple warnings with every citation. People think they can run wild in this county.”

Josiah and I begin by visiting a trapper who called in to report taking an otter in his beaver traps. He’s young guy and mom and dad are there too and it’s clear he didn’t intend to catch an otter and he tells Josiah he can  have it, but Josiah tells him to keep it and to tag it and to take it in to be certified by wildlife. Honest mistake, self-reported, no priors. This guy wants to do the right thing and this alone makes the man standout in a community where a lot of trappers have more of an outlaw mentality. Technically Josiah could take the animal, but instead he uses discretion and gives the family cards with his service cell and tells them to call if they see anything looking funny.

Impressive handling by a young officer. We bat our way through some muddy, snowy roads and find a blind on the edge of a clear-cut. The blind has a huge over-bait,  but nobody hunting. We decide to come back tonight and re-check it.

We then head to an area where he had suspected some shenanigans and trespass yesterday and we find a man and woman from Battle Creek going out to post their property lines which they have just had surveyed. On the way we hear that a vehicle has killed a 250-pound bear up near Luther. This couple said they had a sow and two cubs go through their yard last night and that the trio has been hanging around the neighborhood. He says earlier he found a tree with a big hole and it only dawned on him last night that it’s  probably a den. We get the spot pinpointed and take down information. The landowner says Wildlife can come tag cubs if they want. We give him a card and move on.

Around noon we meet up with new PCO Ethan Gainforth, who is assigned to Osceola County. Josiah talks him through the processor check. The processor is a quarter mile over the Lake Co border, inside Osceola, but lots of Lake Co. folks bring their deer to be processed at the facility. The owner is a good man and very receptive and happy to see young enthusiastic officers at work. Gainforth is built like an NFL linebacker. He grabs three heads and we grab a couple and move on. As dark falls we encounter a vehicle with tail light problems and pull it over. There is a hunter driving, rifle behind him. He is up for the week from somewhere in the Detroit area, living with his parents. His wife is also hunting but went back to Detroit for a couple of days. She’ll be back on Thanksgiving. One of them has already bagged a deer and Josiah asks some questions, but there’s nothing suspicious and we go our separate ways.

We end the day checking the blind we began with in the morning. Still no occupants. We close the day sitting on a field after following a trails into the snow in an isolated area and checking a hunter in a vehicle in the area. He seems to be legal but Josiah will probably revisit him this coming weekend when his wife comes up from downstate for Thanksgiving.

I drive home to Portage and get back at 2200 hours, beat, but had clear roads the whole way.

No more DNR work until Saturday, and we are not going to Lonnie’s relatives for Thanksgiving. It will be just us, which is a first. Three days off  will help me let me catch up on sleep and fuel my tank for the weekend. I can’t wait.

2015 Deer Season, Part 3

Reserved parking spot for CO trucks.
Reserved parking spot for CO trucks.

DAY 6: Thursday, November 19I talked to my partner CO Rich Stowe yesterday and this morning I drove from Benzonia over to Traverse City this morning to bunk several nights with Joe and Nan Harris, old friends from the Kalamazoo, Upjohn, hockey and soccer days.

Rich picks me up at Noon at the Harris hacienda, and off we go. Our first destination is the so called Hoosier Valley area and Rich, who is my 50th solo DNR partner, tells me about the so called “Hoosier Valley Range War,” which concerned dispute over the operation and hours of certain gun ranges in the area. It’s also a popular area for dumping stolen vehicles. I’ve known Rich for some years. CO Bobbi Lively and I once helped with him on a case over in Presque Isle County, and some years after that I saw him at the Atlanta DNR office during the Pigeon River Annual December Elk hunt. Rich was a long-time Grand Traverse Dep and is an ardent hunter and trapper and one of the department’s best ambassadors to the public. He is friendly and laid back in all his contacts with people.  He can also morph into Godzilla with amazing strength when the need arises.

Up in the Hoosier Valley we find a vehicle registered to an individual who has been  convicted on a 4th –degree CSC. There is a rifle case in the vehicle and tracks in the sand show which way he went, so we commence to look for him. RSS shows that he has the necessary deer licenses and there is no reason to try to run him down to make contact, but we do several passes through the two-track maze looking for orange, but find no one and move on. We check if the vehicle is stolen; it’s not. It may in fact be borrowed by someone and the hunter is afield and it’s too early in the day to sit on the situation or to walk in and disturb the hunt.

Not long after this  we encounter a fellow slow-rolling and we stop and he stops and Rich asks him how things are going and he says, “Not great,” says, adding that he’s headed for work and took this route.  The road is a well-known road-hunting route. The man’s rifle case is in the front seat. The man allows Rich to check the weapon, which has a round in the “cooker,” but no clip. Still the man is carrying a loaded weapon in a vehicle and gets a ticket and the contact ends with the man shaking Rich’s hand. All of Rich’s contact end the same way.

Later we come across a tree blown down across the road by the afternoon’s heavy winds and we use a pull strap to yank the thing out of the way to clear the way for traffic. Rich said he fueled his chainsaw in the morning but then forgot to throw it in the bed of the truck so we decide we’ll head for his house at some point to pick it up, that we could have more downed trees and branches before the patrol’s end. It’s beginning to spit snow.

Along the way we check a pair of hunters, and then three more, no problems and license and weapon checks are taken as no big deal and most of the talk is about the hunting season and what Rich is seeing and where, and what they have been seeing.

Here’s a little story to give you a picture of the kind of man Rich is. He and his wife and daughter one night are going out to Northport to see his mom and along the way they see two young boys on bikes. They’re dressed like Batman and Robin. Batman’s cape has gotten caught in the pedals and he can’t free it or ride the bike, so Rich pulls up, frees Batman and he and his caped partner boogey  fly on down the street, free again, free again. You get the picture. Rich Stowe is about fair play and fairness and he believes that public service is truly about helping people. His acts prove his convictions.

During the day he talks about how different it is to be in Grand Traverse County  vs Posen in Presque Isle County,  where he was in his previous assignment. He keeps reminding himself this is NP, Not Posen, or from the other angle.  Its Traverse City, ITC so I come up with NPITC as a new code: Its Traverse City,  No Posen.

At dark we drive down to an area where three is a walking trail, cross-country ski area, etc and find a vehicle with the engine running, lights on, and doors open. What the heck is this? “Rich tells me, “Don’t jump to any conclusions. It could be anything. ITC.” We laugh and moments later see a flashlight and a woman comes hurrying out of the woods all exited and breathless and tells us a friend of hers was running her three dogs in the woods and one of them has somehow run onto a stick and gotten injured and she has called the vet, and she is en route, but she has to drive out to the trailhead to fetch her. The two unhurt dogs are with the woman and wary of us, circling and sniffing and growling. (I think Grady Service would be suicidal!) We follow the trail back a couple of hundred yards and find the woman and her dog. She is trying to sooth him, but we can see a piece of wood (a branch about a half-inch in diameter) protruding from the animal’s thigh. It is an unpleasant sight. The two other dogs are concerned and watching us. The three are Belgian Tervurens, Belgian shepherds, beautiful dogs that resemble German shepherds. Rich and I keep our voices low and relaxed telling them they are good and to be gentle and we try to keep everything as low key as possible and Rich helps the woman and they look at the inside of the thigh and there is some blood but not a lot. The dog actually ran onto a staub protruding from a tree, and got impaled. He didn’t even yelp. The woman found him that way and managed to cut off the branch with her knife and get him to lie down and relax.

The vet and her assistant, and the first woman we met, arrive and they have a wheelbarrow and a large blanket and the vet looks at the dog and says she thinks that pressure of the stick is pressing the femoral and keeping the dog from bleeding out internally, but we have to get him to surgery and do it without causing the internal situation to change for the worse. We discuss how to best do it and Rich and the Vet and the tech lift the injured dog into the barrow and wrapped up. Rich takes the main weight of the barrow and the women all help steady the dog and I use my SUREFIRES to light our way out, noting all the roots and bumps that could cause problems for the patient. We get out to the vehicles, load the animal into one of the vehicles, and lead that vehicle out to the trailhead while the first woman takes the two remaining dogs with her to the owner’s vehicle which is at the trailhead, some distance away. Rich loads the wheelbarrow into the truck parked there. The woman loads the mutts and heads for the surgery to be with her friends.

Rich and I head for his house where we fetch the chainsaw and then have coffee with his wife and daughter. Wife Sandy tells us she found a wallet today near a store. Rich looks at the ID and calls the woman to tell her the wallet has been found, would he like for us to deliver it. She would. We do.

The address is not easy to find. It is in a complex of lakes and curvy roads Rich calls the Rayle Road Triangle (I think). Meanwhile I am getting cell phone calls, but when we got new phones up in Houghton last summer, the installer put a damn password into it for the phone-mail, and the password, which Lonnie has printed on the back of the phone (for my feeble mind) but this doesn’t work. Turns out he put another password into it, which Lonnie only figures out on Nov 30 is actually not the one he told her it was and she somehow figures out the right one. This is of no use to me.

The woman who lost the wallet tries to give Rich money for finding and returning it. He explains patiently that officers can’t and don’t do that. She insists, “Then put it in the office party fund.”

He says, “No ma’am, thank you, but we don’t do that sort of thing.”

Rich drops me at Joe and Nan’s and we spend a few hours yakking and drinking some vino and I don’t crash until 0100 or so and Rich and I are rolling again at noon tomorrow, so I will get a good night’s sleep. Meanwhile, Joe and Nan have had a call from Sheriff Mike Borkovich (one of my former DNR partners) and when I call home, Lonnie tells me Mike also called he too. I quickly surmise that it was him on my cell phone as well. Call me Sherlock.

DAY 7: Friday, November 20 – I don’t call the sheriff until this morning and tell him that once Rich and I get going we’ll give him a bump and arrange a meet-up. He wants me to sign some books for him. Our first task of the day is to figure out a question that comes in from a citizen about the legality of trapping rabbits and moving them. We actually heard this call the previous day but today Rich makes some calls and we get the answer, which goes through my brain to wherever such things end up, i.e., I don’t remember the answer and my notes are indecipherable. Typical. (You try writing legible notes in a patrol truck.)

We stop by the T.C. office to grab some forms we’re out of and the supply there is depleted, so we move on with our rounds. We check a couple of hunters along the way, check in with my partner for tomorrow, CO Sean Kehoe, and called the Sheriff Borkovich, and arrange a rendezvous at the west Bay Boat launch and when we get there, the sheriff slides in a moment behind us and he tells Rich a story about a time when he and I were out on patrol and we all laugh and I sign the books and he gives us a quick catch-up on his family and their doings and how his job is going (he loves it). The air is in the 20s and the wind howling and we are freezing, but we take our leave and press on back into the woods where we continue finding and checking hunters. At one point a four wheeler comes by and stops and we chat with the man. He’s wearing orange, but not hunting and has no weapons on board and he moves on and we go on looking for hunters, but Rich gets to wondering if the man is legally operating on the road we’re on. We are in the afternoon “quiet period” and the road cuts through public land where there are several hunters and Rich makes a call to Sean who said he had a similar situation in the morning and  really didn’t have the answer. Another phone call up the chain and some reading of the regs on line indicates that as long as the road is classified a county road, the ORV and other vehicles can legally operate. The morning and evening quiet hours are meant to keep ORVs off ORV trails and out of the woods while hunters are afield. COs must know a squat load of laws. This alone makes the job demanding.

When dark comes we pull up to a lake and see lights across the way and Rich guesses where the vehicle will come out. In out of the way places it’s not unusual for hunters to keep loaded guns handy in case they light up a deer on the way out, so we calculate an intercept course,  and head that way and after a while we spot headlights coming down a two track and move to make contact. We find a couple of hunters, everything shipshape and legal, but while we are on this contact we see the lights of another vehicle, coming out on the next two-track. This is probably the one we first saw and we head after that one, but he is moving too quickly and gets off onto the concrete and away from us and we break off and continue doing what COs do.

Rich was a tanker in the army, and in Germany; at one point he got the chance to go to Fort Bragg to jump school and the day he graduated with his shiny new jump wings the Army was organizing a new Ranger outfit and they told all the men who were interested to get in line and Rich was interested and fell in and when he got to the front of the line, the sergeant said what’s your MOS (which I think means military occupational specialty, or something like that, which is of course identified by a number rather than language)  and Rich tells the man who looks up at him and says, “You’re a tanker? Get out of my goddamned line.  This here is for infantry, not tankers.” Rich was disappointed, but fate did not intend for him to be a Ranger so he went back to tanks and finished his hitch. He liked being a soldier, liked being in a chain of command, liked knowing rules of engagement and all the other things that go with professional soldiering.

We talk about a wide range of things from styles of public contact to hydrostatic shock (which is a condition caused by trauma, usually a bullet pulverizing blood and mashing tissue into fat cells. It’s a condition COs sometimes use to determine if an animal has been found. Sometimes you can’t find the slug, but if you lift the skin you can always find evidence of hydrostatic shock from a bullet and even gauge the round size by the size of the effected area. Over 15 years I see officers learning more and more about how to evaluate causes and timing of death of animals, using all sorts of scientific and technical methods. It makes it difficult to lie if the forensic evidence points to something other than what the suspect is claiming. The DNR goes to great lengths to train officers in all sorts of skills, and it shows in how they do their jobs. Rich drops me off at Joe and Nan’s. CO Sean Kehoe will fetch me in the morning at 0800 and I don’t get to bed until around 0100 but I live most of my life on five hours of sleep so I’m good to go, sleep-wise.

DAY 8:  Saturday, November 21— CO Sean Kehoe is Irish and widely known for his quick and relentless wit. He greets me with “Two Irishmen go into a bar,” and I say, “Know them both, they’re me relatives.” On this basis we begin our patrol and the banter rarely relents. We first head into a piney area to check an grossly over-baited blind, but no hunter is in the blind,and we move on into the upper Boardman River country, a maze of two-tracks in scrub oak and jack-pine country. We hit an open area and a truck comes up besides us and stops.  The driver announces “I just got a five-point buck,” so we stop, climb out, and take a look, check his license, etc. The man has his 10-year-old son with him and the kid looks like Opie Taylor, great huge smile and, clearly, he is enjoying hunting time with dad. The father tells us the boy actually saw the deer first and pointed it out and he scoped it at about 120 yards and was sure he saw three points on one side, which the Antler Point Restrictions (APR) require. But, the third point on the one antler is not one inch and we try to hang a ring on it and no dice for that approach either. If it could hang a ring, we might stretch weakly to call it a point, but no way this will happen. Now we have a quandary and Sean’s professional judgment and discretion come into play.

There's paperwork in EVERY office.
There’s paperwork in EVERY office.

He runs the man’s RSS and priors and learns that his wife has a Personal Protective Order (PPO)against him. We get into the truck and talk and we agree that the kid is so excited that a ticket could break his happy. It’s so great to see a kid out hunting with dad, whose record is clear. He’s made a mistake, perhaps bowing to his son’s pressure. The deer is sublegal by strict constructionist APR definition, but he has validated the license and tagged the animal properly.  As for the PPP the man tells Sean this was supposed to have been removed, that he and the woman have “made up, and that he even gave him hunting gear back to me.” Sean decides to give him a warning and add that if the kid wasn’t with him he’d be getting a ticket and losing the deer. Instead he gives the man a business card, explains the break, and urges him to call if he sees any crap taking place in the woods. We congratulate them in front of the boy and away they go.  Nothing’s ever easy.

Sean tells me the story of a woman who calls him to her house because there is a sick raccoon on her porch. By the time he gets there, the animal is dead and she tells the officer that she is certain that the animal had been trying to reach her door to scratch on it to attract her attention so she could help it. I think: ITC, It’s Traverse City. But the story isn’t finished. The woman then tells Sean, “I once saved a raccoon from dying by breast feeding it.” Sean, who is rarely without a comeback, has none for that moment and said only a choked, “OK.” (This is standard cop-talk, which means only I hear you. It does not mean I agree with you. It is merely the equivalent of a grunt acknowledgement of active listening.)And this is still not the end of the story. The woman then reports that she took her breast-fed raccoon to a store in town, and was showing it to friends when a woman came up and said, “I’m with the Raccoon Underground, let me have that animal.” The astonished woman handed over the animal. The woman stuffed it coon under her coat, whispered conspiratorially, “I was never here,” and marched off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard of again. Bizarre. Sean swears this is all true and having spent 15 years in trucks and seen a lot of weird stuff, I accept it as true, or at least possibly true. Bizarre is an understatement. Breast-feeding a raccoon? Hoboy.

Sean Kehoe was a troop before becoming a CO. We visit a processor to check the animals there we pull five heads out of the shop to follow up on. We talk about new officers who hit the field with overflowing enthusiasm (“with their hair on fire”) and Sean tells me of advice he got from one of his first sergeants, later a lieutenant: “I’d rather have you go home wishing you had written a ticket than going home wishing you had not written it.” That advice has stuck with him his whole career, which is pushing 20 years.

Life beside death
Life beside death. This scene struck me at a deer processor. A customer just dropped off the deer in the background and the chickens pay no attention to it.

We end up near Fife lake looking for an individual. One person dropped seven deer at the processor. One of the seven tags comes back to a woman, and another to a youth; both deer are sublegal, but it’s possible that they were shot in non-APR counties, in which case they would be legal. We can’t find the individual, but we do locate his girlfriend and his daughter. Sean asks the young teen if she’s been hunting and she says, “Only in  the youth hunt.”(Earlier this fall) Sean asks where her license is and she says her dad has it. She has been to dad’s camp but isn’t sure exactly where it is, you know? We gather that it’s somewhere near Curran on the east side with a vague address. We ask about the adult woman with the license and say only who is X and the girl said, “That’s my grandma.”  Sean asks if grandma hunts, and the girl says, “Not anymore…not in a long time.” Clearly two of the heads are borrow-and-load tag deals and illegally tagged. We call CO Warren McNeil over in Alcona County and he takes the information to do the follow up. The girlfriend says her man won’t be back from camp until Monday afternoon. He’s already brought in seven carcasses. How many more are to be forthcoming?

We move south to Manton (Wexford Co)  to talk to a woman who bought her license at Walmart in Cadillac at noon, and killed a deer at 1245. From Walmart to deer on the ground was roughly 19 miles. The woman is at home and we take her through the time line  several times, and she is insistent that when  she saw how nice the day was, she decided to go hunting, drove  herself down to Caddy, bought  the license, drove back home, got her gear and rifle,  and drove 8-9 miles out to the family hunting ground, walked out to her hubby’s blind (he was hunting a different one ) and up walked an eight point, which she dropped on the spot. It’s a nice buck. We are there because the license was not fully validated and when we question her she said she got so excited that she called her son, who drove out to the hunting land, gutted the gear, tagged it and filled out the tag and took it to the processor for her. We ask to see her phone, which should have the text to her son. Sorry, she says, I automatically erase all that stuff. This all took place on on opening day. There is no evidence that she is lying, but if her story is true, everything had to go absolutely perfectly in terms of timing. Not saying it couldn’t happen, only that it’s unlikely. We call her son and arrange to go meet him at his home. Which is close by in town.

The son admits that he screwed up the tag and if there is a ticket coming, it should go to him, not to his mom.  And oh yeah, his phone has been erased as well. Sean can’t write someone for messing up the tag of another person’s deer and this son seems to be telling the truth as well. He knows the timing is unbelievable, but he insists that’s how it “went down.”

When we asked mom why she called her son instead of her husband, she said she always calls her son for help. After we visit the son, we return to the woman to give her the head and the rack and we meet the husband, who appeared to be not up to snuff and the calling of the son makes some sense to us. Weird circumstances, but sometimes weird is real. In hunting season we sometimes find ourselves asking what is normal? It’s not a clear-cut question and answer.

Three of the five heads are now accounted for in one way or another so we head off to another town to talk to a fellow whose tags seem confusing. Warren is doing follow-up on two of the heads. We stop at the Subway in Manton to grab something to eat and head north. He’s not there, but as we leave, a vehicle comes down the country road and we stop and ask if he’s the man we’re looking for and he says he is so we follow him back to his place to talk. The man seems open and forthcoming and we explain why we’re there.  He gives us a spiel of how his dad had hip surgery last year and didn’t hunt, but this year he is better and buys a license after church on opening day and drives out to the hunting camp and shoots and seven-point buck. The father and son have the same first initial and the deer we have is a seven pointer, but the by the tag we can’t tell if it’s the father or son. Sean questions the man carefully and it comes out that he brought both his own and dad’s bucks in for processing and his eight-point which he shot shortly thereafter. No foul in this. We give him the antlers and head and decide to wrap up the day. We have one more head in the truck, which we will investigate tomorrow. It is snowing like the dickens when Sean drops me at Joe and Nan’s. We’ll go back at it again tomorrow. Been a long day and so much interviewing takes a toll. We are both beat.

DAY 9: Sunday, November 22 – CO Kehoe and I roll at 0800. We have picked up 5-7 inches of fresh wet snow overnight, but it is tapering off this morning.  We start right off by checking the same over-baited blind we checked  first thing yesterday morning.

Following tracks
Following tracks

Today we approach from a different direction and find we find where a hunter got dropped (snow is the hunter’s friend and the CO’s friend as well). But nobody is in the blind and the drop off  walked by it but did not go near it. We then get a cell phone call from a hunter who has had a snowmobile blow by his blind during quiet hours. He hears the machine but it was snowing so hard he couldn’t give us any sort of ID of driver or machine. We drive over to the area, locate the snowmobile’s tracks and proceed to follow it for 10-12 miles back into Hoosier Valley and just beyond there we catch up to the snowmobile. He could not remember seeing a 

First snowmobile ticket of the season.
First snowmobile ticket of the season.

In another part of the county we drive into an area following fresh vehicle tracks, turn around after we find the truck and run the plates against RSS. The man has his licenses. Just down the road the full-body pumpkin steps out and shows us a nice buck, on the other side of the two track, not five feet from our tires. Neither of us saw the hunter or the dead deer when we drive in and we look at each other and roll our eyes. Sean says “Seasoned professionals.” The hunter has he has tagged the animal with the wrong tag. If he had used the correct one, he could keep hunting, but this one finishes him for the year. Sean helps him fill out the correct tag and works out support documents for the man and on we go. He tells him how to go find out if he can get the other license replaced.

Sean tells me a story about chickens and a ski pole, but my notes are illegible and unreadable, and my mind to full now to recall the details. We subsequently check two hunters and their rifles, then three hunters and their weapons, no violations. Later we check another hunter and his gun. It is snowing like hell again in the evening when Sean drops me off at Joe and Nan’s. Joe helps me load the truck and I head for Benzonia in the snow and darkness. It is an ugly drive and the roads are snow-covered and slippery. Nasty drive, nasty. I loathe snow.

2015 Deer Season, Part 2

Leelanau County scene could serve as a Wyth painting.
Leelanau County scene could serve as a Wyth painting.

DAY 3: MONDAY, November 16 CO Becky Hopkins and I start the day at 0800. Her yesterday was similar to ours; she got one illegal deer after a long foot pursuit during which we heard her huffing on the radio to her partner Justin Vanderlinde and all of us were laughing. CO camaraderie is a lot like that in a flying unit: There’s  no mercy for the brothers and sisters who do the job. The thing is, Becky is in great shape and after I hear a description of the terrain, I understand why she was gassed.

An anonymous caller has informed us of a sublegal buck on a buck pole in nearby Manistee County. Steve is not yet out yet so we head down there. There’s a buck, but it’s an eight point and the tag is validated and accurate. Could another buck have been here? Sure. Could this be a pissing match between camps? Very likely. This is a the time of year when a lot of pettiness emerges

We stopped a slow-roller with open windows. His cased rifle is in the back, and he says he was “just looking,” but he was rolling through an area where there have been previous illegal shenanigans. We send him on, and are soon stopped by a landowner who does his own patrols for trespassers; Becky is invited to sit on his property whenever she wants and she thanks him.  We cut over to a two-track and check a hunter who is a bit late in starting but everything is all right and legal.

A call comes in reporting an illegal tower blind on state land in Manistee County, and to it there is an illegal road through a wetland, but it is bit too far away for us and we pass this to Steve’s phone mail for his  follow up. Back in “olden days” some game wardens were famous (infamous?) for their territorial ways. It’s no longer this way. Closest officer takes the complaint, no matter what county it’s in. When you had four officers in a county and lacked the sort of vehicles officers now use, you could be territorial, I guess. But nowadays we’re lucky to have two officers per county and all have to be shared and a lot of ground covered.

We move on to an aspen habitat and a Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT) Becky located yesterday.  We are in this area looking for a van which was seen road hunting yesterday, and from which some shots were fired. I stay with our patrol truck to stop any van matching the description, while she recon shuffles down the HCMT. She finds a blind and a small bait and no hunter. No van came past me. We move on. An HCMT is a trail that has seen a lot of human foot traffic and is suspicious on that basis alone. Trails exist for a reason, not by chance.

Beck has to meet the Grand Traverse County assistant prosecutor today to prepare for a trial tomorrow. Earlier this year she backed up a Grand Traverse Dep on a situation and must attend the trial as a witness-participant. She says there isn’t much she can testify to, but this assistant prosecutor is a good man and death on fish and game violations and she wants to help any way she can.

We then arrange to meet Converse to transfer the body-bagged deer to deliver to Wildlife personnel at the Traverse City  DNR office. When we meet, Steve tells us he has noodled the severed swan leg all night and thinks he’s figured it out: The trumpeter had a federal endangered species band on it and he thinks someone took the leg to gank the band for his collection. A lot of waterfowl hunters prize bird bands and have necklace displays of them in their camps and man caves. An endangered species band is an unusual one to come upon.

COs Becky Hopkins and Steve Converse.
COs Becky Hopkins and Steve Converse.
Leg severed to obtain the leg band.
Leg severed to obtain the leg band.
Junior Birdmen
Junior Birdmen

No idea yet how this turned out, but Steve had a notion of who might be involved and intended to follow up as he gets his breath later in the deer season.

We check two  hunters on state land, all A-okay. They tell us about their temp camp and we drive back and talk to their dad who is just coming out of the woods because he’s  chilled and wants some  warm lunch.

Not long thereafter we find a two-track blocked by a downed log. It clearly did not fall across the road. This is standard operating for some people who try to claim a piece of public land by blocking entry to others. We remove the log and Becky recon shuffles down the trail looking for a blind or bait or both, but finds nothing and we move on. This kind of check-this, check-that, deal-with-this, deal-with-that, keep-moving  pace pretty much defines our days.

We drop the deer with Wildlife in TC, I meet receptionist, Dawn, who is the main voice of the office to the public. Then we roll down to the T.C. courthouse, where by chance the assistant prosecuting attorney is outside in the parking lot and we have our meeting at Becky’s driver window. Becky introduces me  to the young  prosecutor and he  leans down and looks at me. “The Woods Cop author?”

I cop to it. Turns out that he and his folks have read all the books. Funny. The good news is that the man in question only moments before pleaded guilty, which obviates the need for a. He was on his way to his office to call us. A no-court day is the equivalent of a “found”day for a CO.

Sometime later we get word of a young man alleged to be impersonating a CO in Grand Traverse County.  The man approached a young female hunter, who asked him for ID, which he claimed to have left back in his truck or house, or somewhere. The hunter told him to move on. Being outfitted with a .30-06, he did as suggested. The odd thing in this report is that the woman did not report the incident. Rather, the report came from her boyfriend’s father. CO Rich Stowe has talked to the young woman, but we take a cruise through the area in case the man might be still out and about. We have a fair description, but not much else to go on. He was said to be carrying a handgun.

We don’t find him, but we do come across a homeless couple at a state campground and they tell us of shots being fired at night across the lake from their camp, and they tell us about  various vehicles coming in at all times of  night. Becky knows the man in this couple; she encountered him last year in Benzie County, but then it was just the man and his autistic son. Now the man has a female companion and they report that the young man is now living on his own and being taken care of by the state. Winter is coming on and this fact makes us and some neighbors wonder if they couple is at risk. Becky deals with the situation in a sympathetic but direct way and tells them that by state policy they will have to move to another campground by a certain date. We are in Grand Traverse Co. Other COs will follow up on them later .

We check a couple of hunters in the same area, and find everything legal. And we find a male with no seatbelt and  Becky tells him to put it on. She uses the contact to visually inspect the inside of the truck and to check the hunter’s license and rifle case to make sure his weapon is unloaded. It is, and he moves on. After more hunter checks we head back to Benzie.

Making contact
Making contact

Back in Benzie we find a lone hunter, gun case in truck cab. Becky recognizes the truck, says it belongs to a guy she went to school with.  We run RSS and find out he has a fishing license only. She tracks him into a blind, gives him a lecture, and he marches him out with her and he gets in his truck to go buy a hunting license. She tells me she could have written a ticket, but the guy in her opinion has made an honest mistake. Thought he’d bought a license, but hadn’t. He has no DNR priors so she gives him the warning, sends him to buy a license, and extracts a promise to call her if he sees anything out of order. She is using discretion and good judgment in how she handles this case; this is also how COs slowly build a system of informants and information source among locals.

She gets some information from another source while we are at the T.C. office, makes copies for all officers in the district and gives me a copy to  pass to my partner tomorrow.

At dark we follow a vehicle into a tangled, remote area on a nasty road that is relatively new. Usually people are coming out at this hour, but only this one vehicle is going in. We run dark behind him and eventually find him parked, waiting for another hunter to come out. Two other hunters, a father and so emerge to a second truck at the location and Becky checks them. Turns out that the young man once dated CO Stowe’s daughter and he asks us to pass on regards. I write down his name.

While working our way into this this spot, we passed a parked vehicle back a couple of miles. With everybody accounted for and checked at the turnaround, we turn around and head back to “sit on” the other vehicle. Just as we pull up, we see a flashlight across the two-track We park and Becky slides into the heavy brush to make contact. I can hear her talking to someone, but it is a murmur through dense undergrowth and I can’t make out anything.

Turns out that the hunter she contacted was taking down his stand, and had hiked in the other side of the jungles where we are parked.

Meanwhile the end of shooting hours pass and our occupants, which the other hunter described only as “they” have not emerged. Becky runs the license plate, which come back to a hunter from another part of the state and when she checks RSS and priors she discovers that the man is revoked for transporting an untagged deer. We decide to try and wait him out and she fear he might have heard her talking to the previous hunter, but I try to assure her I couldn’t hear her so it’s unlike that someone in the opposite direction could. The minutes keep ticking by. No sign. She is trying to make a plan and contacts COs Steve Converse and Justin Vanderlinde, but both of them are tied up with other things — and Converse is way south in Manistee County. Becky then makes a quiet creep into the darkness and comes back 20 minutes or so later. She emerged from the jungle in an open area, but no blinds, no lights, no voice, no cigarette smoke, and comes back out. Her sound suppression is excellent. I don’t hear her until she is only ten feet or so away from me, and I knew she was there.  We are now an hour past hunting hours.  Several possibilities now come into play: 1. Someone has had a medical emergency; 2. Or someone is lost. 3.  Or, someone’s trying to drag out a deer; 4.  Or, someone may know we are waiting for him and he is attempting to evade us or wait us out. Becky decides he will not outlast us. At 90 minutes past shooting hours we are both antsy. She tells me to drive the truck out a mile or so and turn around and monitor the radio for her to call me back; I don’t like the plan, don’t like leaving her alone, but this is how all COs, male or female, like to operate. They are used to doing things alone in the dark. For them, it’s normal. For civilians, it’s not.  We have no backup, so whatever happens will be up to her with me doing whatever I can. We discuss the plan some more and finally, reluctantly, I get into the truck and start-up, and at the precise moment two flashlights appear a hundred or yards behind us on the two track. I leave the engine running, and Becky quickly moves toward the lights, puts her flashlight on them and identifies herself. It is a man and woman, sweating profusely. He claims he has gotten lost, trying to find a shortcut. Not very likely since the wife tells me he has hunted this spot for 35 year. When we run the woman through RSS, it comes back that she has not bought a hunting license in 14 years and suddenly – this year!– she has regained the urge to hunt, which conveniently coincides with hubby being revoked until December of this year. Becky’s not buying it. Maybe the woman was hunting. More likely, she was the gun bearer out to their stand and if a deer had come up, he would have taken the shot. But no shot was taken and we send them on their way. Now we know where they hunt and Becky will come back in the light and scour the area for a blind and any other evidence. The couple is staying a long 25 miles away in some productive deer country, which makes their presence here seem all the more odd. But, if he was cheating the system, he’s beaten it this time and “Sunshine” is honked off. You can’t arrest someone on pure suspicion without probable cause. My partner is not a happy camper as we move on and come across a van which may fit the description of the vehicle we were looking for earlier in the day.

This one has no tail-lights and she flips on it, runs it down, blue-lights it, and pulls it over. It’s not the van we want. The driver is not a hunter, but had no idea his taillights were kaput. Even though it’s not our shooter van, it’s a good safety stop.

To end the night we head over to a farmer’s place. He has shot a sublegal deer on some sort of state crop damage permit and per the program, has called the DNR to turn it in. The meat will go to the needy. My partner suspects that the man shot the animal thinking it was legal, and then, seeing it was not, pulled out his ace, his crop damage permit. All of the crop damage programs get gamed in various creative ways by the permit holders. It is sore point with most conservation officers. Last year we got a man who shot a trophy buck under the permit system, and instead of turning it in, as required by law, he tried to keep it and have the head mounted.  It didn’t work and led to us discovering 8-10 more illegal deer. Intelligence sources told us he may have shot up to 27 that fall. The guy has buckular dystrophy..

We arrive back home, both of us famished and devour a pork roast and tateys from the slow-cooker, both of us scarfing down the chow with no conversation and then end up laughing at each other’s antics.

DAY 4: TUESDAY, November 17I drive up to Empire, @ 20 miles north of us, to meet my partner, CO Patrick McManus. Pat and I have partnered up many times, both down in the Allegan area and previously up her in Leelanau. Last year he was out of the county for an extended period, service as co-second in command at the DNR Conservation Academy (Recruit School) in East Lansing. Patrick and wife Rachel were living in rented places last year, but have now bought a home and taken up raising… goats? I can’t explain it. He’s Irish. Nothing else to say.

We start out tour by topping off our fuel and we begin rolling, checking various areas for hunters and finding none, and eventually roll up to Col Fritz Barratt’s (USAF ANG Ret) house below Pyramid Point. Fritz is from Glen Arbor; he was a fraternity brother of mine at MSU, and a year behind me, and following pilot training, was assigned to the same squadron as a copilot. Oddly, our fraternity brother and friend Mike Vairo also landed in the squadron and  Mike and I ended up on the same crew. Fritz and I use to hunt together. Great guy. His lab is having some sort of health problem and he is literally headed to the vet as we arrive, so we shake hands and man-hug and all that baloney and have a few minutes to chat and then let him get on his way as we continue on ours and not too long afterwards encounter a hunter and have chat and check his license, etc, which is all in order. He is not seeing many deer, but we tell him to take heart, lots of deer are being seen and taken, including some beautiful bucks.

CO McManus takes a walk
CO McManus takes a walk

We eventually roll into to Northport,  (which COs often call “The Island” because at the extreme of the peninsula, life is a tad different. We have gotten a report of a shot fired near a school – right in town. The superintendent has called for police support and we are close and jump in to assist a Leelanau deputy. After some discussion and talking to neighbors, we determine that the sound was probably not a shot; rather, it was an electridal transformer exploding near the school. The deputy has already stopped to talk to local residents and some heard the sound, but nobody can pinpoint where. When electrical outages close to the school get reported, we’re pretty sure that  a transformer was the sound source. But, just in case, school officials ask us to remain at the school until the kids get loaded in buses and on their way home. Most citizens don’t think of COs (game wardens) being called into action for all kinds of police tasks, but this is a good example of their wide range of duties, as are several more  events in various counties over my two-week duty tour. One the way to Northport we check a hunter in an orchard and all okay. 

Making contact in an orchard.
Making contact in an orchard.

School situation concluded, we stop in Northport where I pop into Pamela Grath’s bookstore to sign copies of my book for her. Pamela is close friends with my pal Godfrey Grant’s wife Laurie; they went to school together at Kalamazoo College. It takes Pamela a while to figure out who I am and when the light finally goes on, she starts laughing. There is nothing more difficult than seeing someone out of context, which is what my appearance boils down to. Pamela’s place is called Dogs Ears Books. It’s a small shop but well inventoried, and Pamela knows books. Patrick takes photos of Pamela and I together and Pamela takes photos of me to use for book promotion and we say goodbye and move on. Patrick is a reader, but had not been in the store. I have no doubt he’ll revisit it.

We made our way to a property owned by an elderly woman and Patrick, knowing that violators have been sneaking on, has made it a project to keep watch. We work our way around the property and take a little walk, all with Lake Michigan majestically stretched out below us. We find fairly fresh footprints by a ground blind, near an old Indian burial ground,  but the prints aren’t  clear enough  to make a cast; instead,  Patrick takes some photos and makes a quick sketch in his notebook and we keep patrolling.

 

CO truck in old Indian burial ground
CO truck in old Indian burial ground

It turns out to be more of a scenery day than contact day, but this is not unusual in Leelanau County which almost exclusively private property.

DAY 5: Wednesday, November 18 This morning I drove up to the McManus household to start the day and got introduced to the farm critters, starting with Miss Kona, a small wiggly pit bull mix.  Patrick found her abandoned, starving and frostbitten in the Allegan Forest to a mélange of cats and the four goats, which I found fascinating. The Allegan Forest area also includes an area where Patrick had found multiple pit bull bodies. People bring them there, put a bullet in their heads and leave them.  Probably dog-fighters, who don’t like the prospects of certain animals and murder them rather than waste money on their upkeep. Nothing more to say about this. Is what is is: disgusting. I’ll hear more animal abuse stories before my two weeks are done.

We begin our day’s official duties by checking a deer processor down near the Benzie-Grand Traverse County lines. No irregularities are noted, but Pat, still relatively new to the county, goes through log-in procedures and record keeping to help him detect possible illegal kills and various cheating schemes. It’s not processors’ jobs to make such determinations. They need only keep records and let COs do the investigative and enforcement work.

Back in our truck we get a call from a man who wants to know if Patrick picked up a deer yesterday, because he shot one, a ten point (“My biggest ever, dude!”), tracked it, lost the trail, and heard later through the grapevine that “some COs had picked it up.” Negative, says my partner, but  promises to check on it. After several calls we determine that CO Justin Vanderlinde and his PCO partner Ben Webber were investigating a complaint and were approached by individuals who had found a deer in the ditch and wanted a permit to take the animal to use the meat. After examining the carcass, which had been mauled by coyotes, Justin determined it had been shot, not hit by a vehicle. Shot animals can’t be given away and it seemed clear that what the requestors really wanted was the head and antlers. Their request was denied, the head was put in the patrol truck and they moved on.

We call Ben Webber on his day off and he tells us the story and based on where the animal was found we determine that  this is the surely deer in question, so we drive out to the PCOs rental house and move the deer head to our truck. We then call the original caller and arrange a  location and time to meet him to return the head. This is first time in 15 years that Patrick or I  can recall giving a deer back to someone, but this is two week tour is filled with firsts and odd moments.

Rain begins to pelt us, and the temp is dropping precipitously.  As we roll toward our meeting, we hear a Leelanau deputy call out a chase. He has come upon a vehicle he’s clocked at 95 mph  in a 55 mph zone near Sutton’s Bay. The speeder has tried to run from him and as we listen,  the driver dumps the vehicle and bails out. The officer chasing is the county K-9 officer and has his four-legged partner is with him.

Other officers flow into the manhunt as the first officer pulls in behind the runner, who has a 100-200 yard head start on him. The deputy gets his dog out and onto a short leash and they take off after the man who heads for heavy cover, and as the runner disappears over the top of the hill in the rain, the officer released his dog,  who takes off ahead of him, gets to the top of the hill and stops, and looks left and looks right and the handler realizes that the scent isn’t there for him to pick up and the officer gets the dog back in and they keep going as other officers in vehicles and on foot begin calling out their positions on the radio. After a while, there is no sign of the man and Patrick says to me, “He must’ve gotten picked up.”

As the hunt progresses, reports from unknown sources confirm that the man has been picked up, probably by a friend, and somehow deputies develop a name and then a sergeant starts the process of requesting a ping of the man’s cell phone; this requests goes through fairly quickly and the phone provides GPS coordinates of an address where the cell phone is. He’s now in Grand Traverse County.  Leelanau County calls Grand Traverse, but Grand Traverse doesn’t have a unit free to respond because all their personnel are tied up. It’s around dinner time now, dark and go-home traffic at its heaviest and the decision is made for two Leelanau deps to proceed to the address to investigate. By now Patrick and I are close, so we jump in to assist and arrive at the location right after the two Leelanau deps; Patrick meets with them and goes to the back of the house to block ways out. One of the deps talks to a neighbor who says a shirtless man came to his door a half hour or so ago and said, “You have to hide me from the police,” or something like that. The man refused and the runner went next door, was admitted, and we assume he’s still there, but we have no actual proof by the time we are on the scene. We do have a photo and an ID by this time, having run his plates and worked back from there. The question now gets complicated and delicate: If he’s in there,  and If it’s our man, is he being hosted willingly, or is he holding people hostage. There is simply no way to tell and without probable cause, it’s unlikely a judge will issue a warrant to enter.  About this time a Grand Traverse deputy, having gotten clear of whatever he was doing, shows up to help. If there was evidence of a hostage situation or imminent danger to the occupants of the place, or if someone could positively identify the suspect there might be a way to get an exception to the PC search warrant requirement, but the officers, Patrick included, all confer and decide to withdraw. The Grand Traverse Dep says he will sit on the house and do paperwork and see what develops.

Leelanau scenery
Leelanau scenery

Patrick and I then head for Empire where I drive back to Becky and Greg’s. We hear no more on the runner in the house, but there is an article in the paper the next day and Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich tells the reporter, “We know who it is, we know where he lives, we know who he runs with, it’s only a matter of time.” Beck, Greg and I spend about an hour talking about the law and what options were there and how various courts and judges are viz warrants. Seems like the solution reached on the scene was the only one that makes legal sense, given circumstances. Frustrating, but the law must guide police actions. (To Be Continued)

2015 Firearms Deer Season, Part 1

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MIchigan’s Conservation Officers have the most beautiful mobile offices.

[This is Part 1 of 5]

PORTAGE, Mi, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015– If you lose the juice for what you’re doing, it’s time to stop, meaning when my adrenaline stops pumping in anticipation of DNR patrols, it will be time to pack away the boots and gear, and stake for the glider.

That time is not yet upon us, and this was not the year, my 15th in trucks with officers around the state. I’m in a state of mind I’ll call geeked-up geezerhood and this year I was ready to rock and roll.

Before I share the season’s experience’s with you, let me express my deep appreciation for being hosted in Benzonia by Becky Hopkins and Greg Hubers (their dog Bailey, their five egg-laying machines, and Maddy the Lucky Clucky.) Also same gratitude to my great friends Griz and Nan Harris who hosted me in Traverse City. Thanks, friends

The big deal in long outings like this is that one never knows what’s ahead. From previous years one is familiar with the details of the routines and procedures of patrols, but each year is unique and one cannot anticipate the sorts of folks you will encounter in the great outdoors.

BENZONIA, Friday, Nov. 13 — Greg Hubers and I went to dinner at his friend Walter Hodenko’s hunting camp; Hodenko is a retired Kent County Sheriff’s Department Captain, a fine and welcoming host with great people skills and an inquiring mind. Greg’s family and the other camp alternate years of hosting the pre-hunt dinners and reliving past hunts. Such camaraderie is one of the most enjoyable parts of the hunting tradition and in most camps it is built around generations of family as new blood begins to infuse the old blood at camps. These particular two camps are bolstered by large numbers of cops both active and retired and they have even more great stories than you hear at “normal” hunt camps. And what a feast: blue gill fillets, venison, squirrel puree, goose pate, mashed tateys and plenty of veggies to keep the absent distaff side happy.

We learned of an ISIS bombing in Paris today. Not a lot of details yet, but it’s ugly and bloody. The world needs to get serious about this and not depend solely on the US. We’ve had a long run as the world’s cop. It’s way past time for others to step up and put their own human treasure on the line.

One of Cap’n Hodenko’s campmates, Steve, bagged an eight-point with his bow a couple of hours before dinner. It was a big-bodied animal, a winter’s worth of high-speed beef for the freezer. These are serious hunters who know what they are doing, Dinner, minimal drink and to bed early. I wonder, given PETA nonsense and other knee-jerk Disneyfied- Bambified groups, how long hunting will persist. It’s been part of the human community since time immemorial, but fewer and fewer hunters are afield now and I wonder how long the deer camp tradition will persist.

Last year I drove north in a near-blizzard. This year: clear, dry roads and smooth sailing all the way.

As I contemplated notes for this piece, driving north, the BBC was on the radio with a report on an American Civil War re-enactment and it made me wonder how many countries in the world find ways to celebrate a bloody debacle that took so many lives and lasted so bloody long. Google tells me that 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation’s wars–620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War. Pretty sobering thought. It’s like a neighborhood celebrates a time a division opinion turned to violence and most of the young in the neighborhood perished in the resulting fight. And then they celebrate it. Does that make sense? Do the celebrants expect a different outcome, the dead to come back to life?

This is the time of year when most conservation officers are busiest. Sometimes in years with little budget for overtime it feels like enlarged, complex cases make them feel like they are trying to tread water in  hurricane surge and breast-stroking with the waves to keep afloat instead of power-stroking ahead.

15 deer seasons at this. 10 more and I can retire. Joke. COs generally work 25 years before they hang it up. 25 deer seasons: each unique.

DAY 1: SATURDAY, November 14 — Working today with CO Steve Converse. District 4 (HQ in Cadillac) has a flight scheduled for tonight, and we will work our way south during the day to slide into our assigned position in the formation  at darkfall. The plane will be up for a considerable number of hours.

This morning I began reading Italo Calvino’s The Complete Cosmicomics, originally published in the 1960s, and pulled into a new collection by Houghton Mifflin in 2014. It’s touted as a “new genre of fiction,” science based stories that don’t fit the definition of traditional sci-fi. Not sure I care for it at this point. Some of it seems damn silly, or too ambiguous and vague to follow.

I stepped outside at 0400 to check weather: 34 degrees, heavy still air. I was greeted by a serenade of coyotes, not that far from where I stood, the sort of moment Calvino might have imagined, his trickster character Qfwfq leading a pack of space coyotes into howling the universe into existence.My interest in the sky is obvious: Tonight we will gather our gaggle of DNR units under the guidance of a airplane, watching for lights from Lake County up into Manistee County. Steve and I will be the northwesternmost unit, just inside the Lake County line. Any lights in our area and the pilot will talk us into the target. It’s like getting directions from God.

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We took a shortcut across Tippy Dam to get down to our patrol area for the night flight.

But just before the plane swings over our area, we spot a vehicle throwing a spotlight along a power line two-track,  and Steve jumps on him and we hustle to catch up and follow him black; this moment marks that deer season is under way for us (not for hunters. Last night a hunter dinner, tonight a shiner.

Fortunately (or unfortunately)we see our quarry turn into a camp at the end of a power line and we debate following them in  to check for loaded guns and spotlights, but as we debate, headlights come on a couple of hundred yards up from the camp road, and then 4-5 flashlights  around the headlights. We keep moving and roll on up to the end of the road and there find some guys dragging an untagged doe and they have a million excuses why it’s not tagged and they immediately cop an angry, snarky attitude that runs thin in a hurry. Steve collects drivers’ license and hunting licenses and gets into the truck to run them through Station 20 in Lansing. I remain  outside with the hunters to schmooze. One serves as their primary spokesperson:  ” I been comin’ up here 25 years and now I ain’t gonna bring my grandbabies up here, and I’m gonna sell the place.” (I considered loaning them a Sharpie and a piece of cardboard to make a sign while he continues to curse out the DNR and me — but I bite my lip and kept my own counsel). The ringleader spokesman tells us how he and the others talked their buddy into trying hunting and now WE HAVE RUINED HIS EXPERIENCE. He adds, “I’m a bricklayer, I just put one brick on top of two, and how am I supposed to read all that shit the DNR puts out? There’s no way to respond to people in this frame of mind and we know from the computer that one of the shadowy crew has a record and officer safety caution on him and this individual keeps muttering while the bricklayer and others keep trying to calm him, without calling attention to him, but of course we already know and I am watch watching his movements and body language he whole time the spokesman is yapping at me. I make sure I always have one body between myself and the skulking potential troublemaker. Steve and I have been out a good portion of the day scouting and he has issued some warnings and no tickets until this moment. This the untagged deer earns a ticket for failure to validate and tag immediately.  The hunter who shot it, of course, never says much. This individual the spokesman says has never hunted before and now we have ruined his experience. In reality the spokesman should have been teaching him to do it right so that something like this does not happen. The camp owner insists they were going to bring it back to camp “so they could figure out” which tag to affix,  and do it correctly.  I can understand tag confusion, but bottom line is that you have to tag the animal immediately upon killing it. This is printed right on the tag, although the euphemism “harvest” is used instead of “kill.” Did I mention that the hunter did not have even have his tags with him, that these were “back in camp?” Our take on this is that these guys had themselves what we used to call a “camp deer,” which used to be a legal and a long-time practice, I think back when I was in high school.

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Found insie a pickup truck with four occupants at a Manistee River overlook

We finish the night by running up on a fellow smoking dope in his car at a Manistee River overlook and at that very same location there are  four people (two couples) stuffed into the single cab of a truck, with open beers and an open bottle of cough-medicine-looking brandy (yuck). Drugs and booze the night before the firearms opener. Not what we needed to deal with on the night before the opener. But deal with them Steve does and we move on.

As Steve heads north to drop me at Becky’s we get a call from CO Holly Penoni who tells us about a situation over on the east side in the Shepherd area of Midland County. The suspect,  an ex-con from Indiana, reportedly had a violent  argument with his girlfriend, beat her severely, and stole her car, which then crapped out on a two-lane. He then made his way on foot to a house where he found a 50ish woman, allegedly killed her with a knife, set her house on fire, and stole her vehicle, a 2004 White Ford Escape This is an early report which may or may not be totally accurate. But there is a BOLO on the vehicle and Holly, a former Trooper, called to tell us one of her Trooper colleagues had given her a bump to let her known that in the past this individual made escapes, and once hid out in the Bear Lake area of Manistee County for six months. The man is described as a “survivalist” and his MO when running, has been to try to blend in with hunters, using empty cabins, and deer blinds, etc. Holly is passing the word to other district officers. And Steve and I decide that we are pushing 13 hours in the truck and need to hang it up for the day. Tomorrow is apt to be even longer.

DAY 2: D’OPENER, SUNDAY, November 15 – Steve Converse and I are partnered again.  The discussion first off is the fugitive report from last night,  and we are hearing from senior command some interest in making a social media announcement to let hunters know the fugitive may be in their midst. Steve and I think this is potentially poor move, that it risks panicking so many folks afield with firearms, which could lead to  some innocent people being shot and killed. We get a photo from Holly’s source and the fugitive looks pretty ordinary, but appearances mean nothing. One thing is clear: this guy is a stone killer and should be handled as such.

On a more whinging note, my back has not yet recovered from last night’s circus rides on power lines, while running absolutely dark. We begin today at 0730, not wishing to bust in on hunters in the early hours of the firearms season. The weather is unseasonably warm and mild and if people have their patience under control, they should be able to sit tight in their blinds all day. Most won’t. Yesterday we found and checked five or six illegal blinds and excessive-baits and this morning our first task is to revisit those sites to see if they are occupied and, if so, deal with whomever and whatever we find. All sites in question  have any or all of several conditions extant, including:  over-baits, or they have cut live trees on public land, or there is no name on blinds, or they have installed screw steps permanently into trees, or  potentially and most seriously, no hunter orange, this latter condition not to be ascertained until we approach the blinds and see for ourselves. The regs call for hunters to wear hunter orange in their blinds as well as afield. At one point yesterday we found an old fashioned stick-made ground blind set up on a long series of buck scrapes along a pine plantation, and this as we pull up the two-track and the hunters recognize us, they slide off their camo hats and replace them with orange. Pretty hard to argue against intent in a situation like this and the older of the two tells us with a silly grin, “Never thought we’d see you guys.” Obviously.

Over the morning, Steve issues more warnings that tickets but he does write the big illegal baits, which have implications  for deer herd health, and for the hunters orange,  which is a human safety issue.

Midday we pull into an oil well pad and spot a deer laying on its side back in the woods. Steve whispers, “you see it?” I do; the white belly is like a beacon. We check a group of six or seven people and find no problems. The young man who shot the buck has tagged it, etc. We even get offered lunch, but gracefully decline and keep moving. When we do eat we will still be moving. We stop only to make contacts or investigate situations. As we come out of this area we are about to cross over a berm, which is supposed to tell people to stay off the two-track behind it, at that moment we see a pickup truck coming out from behind the bermed road,  and Steve cuts him off and we talk to him. The guy announces, “My rifle’s in back and unloaded.” Steve says. “Good, what about that pistol on your leg?”

The pistol, it turns out, is loaded, with one in the chamber, and Steve gets the guy out, cuffs him for safety, tells him he is not under arrest yet, that this is solely precautionary, and we check the truck and the guy keeps lamenting that he forgot about the pistol because he wasn’t hunting with it, and he thought it was legal to “open-carry,”  which it is, but you can’t open-carry a loaded weapon in a vehicle. When asked why he carries a pistol, his answer is:  “I don’t know. You know, because I can? And out here in the woods you never know?” Steve says, “You’re carrying a .308. rifle Isn’t THAT enough for… ‘you never know?’” The guy hangs his head. In my opinion a lot of people buy pistols “just because” and there are a hundred reasons you can list behind that phrase, which range from real to silly and childish. I bought a .44 magnum revolver this past summer. I walked into the gun store and just over an hour later came out with a pistol and ammo. For all the howling about Democrats and Obama taking away our guns, it seemed like a pretty simple and fast process and the sense of any sort of real background checking seemed distant and almost fictional. The dealer called the County sheriff’s office and they run my name through a police data base and I had to check yes or no to whether I had ever suffered from mental illness. Had a bought a pistol from a private citizen there would be no background check or paperwork. Or if someone simply gave me one. The truth is that at least in our state, acquiring a weapon is a simply and fast process.

Our loaded gun guy is driving in a closed area and carrying a loaded firearm. Steve deals with it.

It will turn out to be one of those steady days or patrolling known areas, responding to complaints and the whole deal and the tickets and warnings mount, far more warnings that tickets. It is almost always this way with every officer I have ever ridden with, which after this deer season will amount to 53 different partners in solo patrols over 15 years. I’ve worked with way more than a hundred in groups patrols and doubling up on various cases.

Next we get in behind a pickup with a window open, slow-rolling a two-track with  bed-full of bait and when we stop the truck to talk, we find a loaded .30-30 in the cab. “I was a member of the military rifle team,” the middle aged man announces, as if this explains or excuses a loaded, uncased rifle in his front seat. Which military? Ours, the Russians? People! He gets a ticket for the weapon safety infraction and some questioning about his baiting intentions with some reminders that the limit is two gallons spread out. If you ask this question to hunters every day, you will perhaps five  times out of a hundred get the correct answer. The most common response is “about five gallons?” It was five gallons for one year, back 10 or 15 years ago, but otherwise it’s been two gallons all the while I’ve been out with officers in the field. There were some years in some places where no baiting was allowed and there still may be. 

Manistee County
Manistee County

A call from county dispatch sends us to a property where a man has found a suspicious acting small button buck.

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Retrieving a button-buck with no obvious visible cause of death.

We talk to the man on the phone and he says he and his wife saw the animal acting strangely the day before and this morning he found it dead. We drive over there to investigate and the guy says it’s a quarter mile along that trail.  “You guys start walking and I’ll bring the tractor.” Steve and I take off on foot, and a quarter miles turns out to be more like three-quarters of a mile,  and we could have driven our truck right to it. Instead, the complainant brings his toy tractor down. We all look at the deer. There’s no visible sign of trauma, no bleeding anywhere, e.g., mouth, anus, etc. The condition of the animal’s eyes indicate a very recent death. We can’t ID the cause of death from anything we can see. This could very well be Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD, which is also called bluetongue out West, and in southern Michigan. The disease is  an acute, often fatal viral disease of some wild ruminants. EHD was first identified in North America back in 1890. Some deer die slowly, but others who are seemingly healthy can die within 24 hours.

Deer hauler outer
Deer hauler outer

Only a necropsy can determine cause of death. “There’s no sense taking chances,” Steve tells the man. “We’ll bag it and send it to the lab (which is at Michigan State). The whole walk feels like a miniature Bataan to me. Back at the truck we load the deer into a yellow body bag, dutifully go into the man’s house to see all his hunting trophies, etc. including a mountain lion he shot out west.

Cougar taken out West
Cougar taken out West

 The creek near where the small button buck died, the man tells us, gets salmon runs from the Manistee and that bears feed on the carcasses in the fall. This is the first time I have heard of this in Michigan. Even biologists I’ve asked were not certain it was happening.  While kneeling to look at the deer, my partner spots a Great Horned Owl watching us from a tree. I try to get a photo, which I’m sure will be blurry because of the loke and branches between the camera and the object. (And it is). The property owner says, “Send me one.” We report to the county and Lansing, “Clear of the last,” and move on.

Great Horned Owl over creek in Manistee County, midday.
Great Horned Owl over creek in Manistee County, midday.

Just after noon, a call came in through Station 20 (RAP-Line) in Lansing. A hunter was reporting accidentally shooting a sublegal buck. We made our way to the location in Manistee County and found a father and his 15-year-old son. The son was sitting a hundred yards away from dad, and swears he didn’t see the spike horns (@7 in.) and shot the animal thinking it was a doe. The shot was made at about 90-120 yards. The dad keeps insisting rather officiously how he is teaching his son to “do everything right.” Had he been closer to his son to help check and verify the target, even in the same blind with him, there might now be venison in the freezer and no ticket for “failure to supervise.” We have no choice and must take the deer. The youth license the boy has is solely for a doe, so he is not legally entitled to keep the animal with spike horns. We then haul the deer up to Copemish where we visit an elderly Navy vet and his wife, who are extremely pleased to have the meat. Here’s the think about the youth hunt: Dad, Mom, or whomever the adult in charge, needs to focus on the kid’s hunt, not their own. In fact, why even carry a rifle. Just sit beside the kid and help him or her from start to finish. You can hunt for yourself later. So our guy who insisted he was teaching the kid right, was also trying to cut corners so he could hunt too.

Steve’s truck exterior is a mess of mud and crud. At times he has actually had citizens brashly announce, “We own that truck and you need to take better care of it.” Seriously? The reality of vehicle-washing for this officer is that there is no carwash in Manistee which accept state credit cards. If he wants to run through an auto-wash he has to drive to Cadillac or to Traverse City both of which are a long haul away. There’s no time for handwashing trucks, especially in season: Priorities.  Citizens? Sheesh.

We steadily make contacts with hunters all day long. Mid-afternoon in an astonishingly isolated township near the Wexford County border, we happen upon a 14- year-old-boy hunting alone. His stepdad is “up on the hill” which comes down to a telephone call away and when the boy calls dad, mom shows up too, with a two year old as well. Atop dad’s Jeep is a BIG 8-Point he shot at first light and he is still nervous and excited. He is not aware of the requirement for close supervision of a minor, and the stepson, who told us he has some learning disabilities, did not tell stepdad or mom what he had learned in his hunter safety training. There is always a peculiar and often unique angle to every situation.  This is why officers are paid for their judgement and discretion. Dad gets a ticket for failure  to supervise. With the exception of the lads with the untagged doe last night, nearly every ticket-getter shakes Steve’s hand when the contact is done. There is some minor controversy somewhere in police circles about allowing this to happen, but from a PR standpoint it makes a lot of sense, and the DNR needs all the positive strokes it can get in some circles.

There’s also the matter of firearms in civilian hands. Some (many?) cops get hinky (or worse) when they encounter firearms in the hands of civilians and their caution makes sense. But COs expect to be among armed folks and they do not get amped up, only extremely focused in evaluating the whole situation they encounter.

Steve is a former basketball and soccer player at Olivet College, a giant of a man who can come across as gruff and direct, or soft and laid back, depending on circumstances. We spend a lot of time talking about law and investigations and how to evaluate situations and so forth, all of which helps me to make my characters seem more authentic. At one point earlier this morning he said, “It’s about learning to see what’s not there that often provides the critical piece in the puzzle.” My partner is a beast and extremely thoughtful. Every officer teaches me something new..;every patrol.

As we check another hunter’s license, we both see that his hand is shaking badly and he’s sweating heavily;  we wonder if he is nervous about something or impaired by something like Parkinson’s. All is in order, but we keep wondering as we keep moving. Not seeing a lot of deer, though we stop somewhere for gas and there are some nice bucks being raised onto the buck pole.

As the afternoon proceeds we find an elderly gentleman in a high tree stand with no orange. He is a nice old gent and tells Steve, “Honestly, I didn’t want people seeing where my stand, so I didn’t want to wear the orange. We all laugh but Steve points out the safety reason and the guy takes his ticket with a smile. “You won’t ever catch me without it again,” he tells us, and it seems sincere. Just on from there we find an unregistered ORV operating in an area closed to ORV. Steve immediately recognizes the ORV. “Last time I checked this guy he had loaded rifles on board. Improvement in small increments is better than none. There are some problems with the man’s box blind and Steve writes a ticket on the ORV op in closed area and warns on all the rest.

Not long thereafter we find a fellow in a blind with a massive overbait situation. “Two gallons?” he asks with gobsmacked look on his face.

The bait limit is 2 gallons. This one is WAY OVER. You can see the tower blind on private land on the other side of the fence. The bait is on public land.
The bait limit is 2 gallons. This one is WAY OVER. You can see the tower blind on private land on the other side of the fence. The bait is on public land.

Late in the day we see a huge bait pile on state land and a tower blind on the private land on the other side of the fence. Private land hunters put bait on public land and shoot over the fence from the private side. (Public land hunters dare not try to reverse the situation.) The man in the tower has his young son with him. I talk to the boy and keep his attention while Steve writes a ticket for excessive bait. The son tells us his uncle baited all the blinds on the property. The man tells that to Steve too, who tells him, “you sit over the bait, you own it.”

We eventually pull out of the isolated area where we’ve spent most of the afternoon and see a flashlight coming through the woods, close to 30 minutes after shooting hours. We pull over, hop out and greet the hunter whose rifle is loaded. “I’m going back to unload it at the truck.” Steve explains he is in an area with game with a loaded weapon and light. The issue here is either an attempt at opportunistic cheating, or safety, or both. He tells us he intends to go help his friends “who may have a deer down.” At almost that precise moment a vehicle pulls up and parks with its nose to us and we check it: three souls on board, an uncased rifle in front and a gutted, untagged deer in the back. Boy. Steve and I have a long discussion about the untagged, gutted deer. The stated reason for not tagging it, was they did not have enough time. The guy with the uncased rifle was not the shooter. In questioning, Steve learns that they are headed for a camp where he has had some tagging irregularities in the past. It is not but a couple of miles away and it seems to me that the lads are trying to carry the untagged gutted animal back to camp so that the deerslayer, who has a one-buck license can keep hunting. His tag is on the deer with a wire, not glued to an antler and there are not notches in the data. Nothing adds up, but Steve makes the guy tag the deer and let him keep it and gives him  a ticket for failure to tag and transporting untagged. The guy, prolyl my age, is not happy and mutters, you might as well take the deer too.”

We write three tickets at that location, loaded gun, uncased gun, untagged deer, and move on to a meat processor who does deer all in one night an only one night a season and tonight, the opener, is the night.

Here we look at deer tags on deer brought in for processing a find what appears to be a classic. See, some people don’t want to buy a license unless they kill a deer, so they don’t buy one until AFTER the kill is made. We find a tag and paperwork for a female who bought her license at 1430 today and brought the deer to the processor at 1515. 45 minutes seems a little quick to buy a license get into the woods, shoot something and get to the processor, and indeed, it is just that. When she arrives to pick up her meat she is excited about having shot her first buck and makes a big smiley thing of it and

Processor check
Processor check

Steve pulls her aside and she immediately admits she shot the deer at 0830, six hours before she bought the license. She gets an illegal deer ticket and we confiscate the meat, which will go to a church for its needy congregants. It’s our 16th ticket of the day, versus 30 or so warnings. Earlier in the afternoon someone called Steve and told him of a dead Trumpeter swan in a field where migrating geese had been landing. Long after dark we get to the area and find the body. One of the legs has been surgically removed, which immediately makes Steve curious.

Illegal deer, dead swan and mystery dead deer in body bag.
Illegal deer, dead swan and mystery dead deer in body bag.

I check my watch when we pull into Becky and Greg’s: It’s 2330. Steve picked me up at 0730 this morning. Your regular old  16-hour day. Tomorrow I’m with Becky Hopkins. No idea what time we’ll start and it doesn’t matter. I am in the flow now and will keep at it until I get home some ten days from now.

Rest of the Story….

OK, mystery solved. The “Story”  I posted earlier today was from  a box on the paper’s editorial page. To “get it,” you had to read the last paragraph of a nearby column,  which explained, “In searching our back issues for another story, I came across the article below, from the March 29, 1950, L’Anse Sentinel. I was just assumed one would kill any wolf he stumbled across…and it was ‘thrilling’ front page news.”

The thing is, I could see this happening in this day and time up here, especially around this particular area. History could repeat itself. Once the wolves were Federally re-listed as Endangered, the locals started grousing in full volume again. While they had the possibility of participating in a hunt,  folks mostly behaved themselves. Now? All bets are off. Make no mistake: Folks up this way like to “take care of their own problems” — real and perceived.

Over.