Met CO Jeff Rabbers somewhere in Barry County Saturday afternoon at the end of a cool, bluebird day, and we immediately headed for a house where a violator and convicted felon allegedly had been stashing a gun. Turned out not just one gun, but a shotgun and two rifles. CO Gary Raak took the weapons into custody. Officers from Prairieville Township PD were also on the scene.
COs Rabbers, Raak and I went to the house of the alleged weapon owner and Gary talked to him to let him know the DNR had the weapons. The man, of course denied any knowledge of such things and more or less put it all on his brother. We then bugged out to start working with the flight patrol.
The flight lifted off to look at bait sites prior to dark, and after dark switched attention to shiners and lights on the ground at times and in places where they shouldn’t be. We moved in a rough pattern approximating the flight’s route.
Late in the evening the airplane, with Sgt. Dave Shaw aboard as the spotter, vectored Officers Rabbers and McManus into a field where a vehicle was observed head-lighting. The truck was stopped in the middle of the cornfield, where they were sitting dark. There were four passengers, a .22 in the back seat, where the right-rear passenger was clumsily and hurriedly trying to zip the casee when the officers lit him with their flashlights. Two dog cages were in the bed of the truck. The people claimed to be raccoon hunting, but they were in the middle of the cornfield and had been watched from the air making various headlight maneuvers, obviously scooping the cut corn for deer. They did have dogs, one of which came back. But the driver was ticketed for what amounts to head-lighting with a weapon in possession. CO Mike Mshar arrived on scene to report on history he had with various individuals in the stopped vehicle. CO Ivan Perez was partnered with Mike. Another passenger was on probation and not supposed to be in the presence of firearms or anyone using them. He was taken into custody and later released.
At the time we were making the dark-stop on the vehicle in the field, Sgt Dave Shaw reported from above that the airborne component had a slight issue and would have to land at Hastings.
We didn’t learn the full story until the next night when we met Dave for a group fish patrol.
At the moment Dave was directing ground-trucks to the target, his pilot, a very experienced and talented stick-jockey, switched to his secondary gas tank and the gauges came up zero. The conversation in the cockpit went something like this:
“Uh, X, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Dave, no problems.”
“X, the fuel gauges show zero. We have gas, right?”
“Dave we HAVE gas. Relax. I KNOW there’s gas.” [This last statement was in the form of a “memo-to-me” sort of thing.]
“You’re sure we have gas?”
“Dave, I know we have gas,” the pilot says in a tone that Dave thinks sounds pretty tentative.
“Damn that kid,” the pilot adds, not identifying the kid or the cause of the damning.
Dave doesn’t ask which kid and gets right to the point. “What are we going to do?”
“Gotta land and get gas. You want to go into Hastings or Plainwell?”
“Which is closest?”
“We have enough gas to make it, right?”
“Right, we have gas.”
Just not in the auxillary tank, which was truly, totally empty. Even so, the main tank still had adequate fuel for an hour’s worth of flight, but with auxillary empty, there was no point in pushing the envelope of chance. The pilot approached Hastings and used his microphone to turn on the landing lights. They landed, taxied to a gas pump, filled the tanks, and were back in the air within twenty minutes or so, all the officers in their trucks basically clueless about the air “adventure” that had taken place. Sgt. Shaw told officers the next night that once he got his pants cleaned out, he was just fine. Officer Mike Mshar said, “If that had been me, I would have puked.” Other officers agreed. The thing I’ve noticed over nine years of riding with officers is that many of them are not eager to be the airborne spotter, thought most do it at least once to get a feel for what it takes and what the possibilities and limitations are. The pilots who fly for the DNR are very experienced, very cool and have contributed immeasurably to law enforcement success over decades. But sometimes the gremlins of the air decide to nibble on we humans — as they did Saturday night. For one of the first times since I started going out with the DNR, I felt like I knew something the officers didn’t. Having been in a plane that did run totally out of gas, I was probably the only one in the entire entourage who could really appreciate what Dave Shaw had gone through.
Sunday morning I filled thermoses with New Orleans soup and coffee and made up some trapper sandwiches: Jif eanut butter and Mary’s Berries, Quaker oatmeal, and honey, the ingredients mushed together and spread on wholewheat sandwich thins. I met CO’s Rabbers and McManus and we drove to Officer Mshar’s home and the four of us headed for Lake Michigan to conduct patrols on whitefish snaggers. Last year the patrols had taken place in sideways-blowing snow, with accumulations on the ground. This night there were just some rain squalls and a little spitting snow and reports indicated the previous night the various Lake Michigan sites had been heavily populated with night-snaggers.
Whitefish spawn in November-December along the Lake Michigan shore. Depending on weather the spawning period might stretch almost to Christmas. Typically whitefish feed by day and spawn by night. (Sort of like most people, yes?) In any event you can catch them legitimately in the daylight hours on wax worms and salmon eggs. But at night there is little to no bite and all the jigging fishermen are basically seeking to snag fish. It is illegal to attempt to take by illegal methods, or illegal equipment, or to keep foul-hooked fish. The limit on whitefish is 12, and it is also against the law to exceed that number.
Officers rolled into a central site for a briefing from Sgt. Shaw and then headed out in teams to begin the night’s patrol.
CO Dave Rodgers was en route to the group patrol when he got a call of a feral pig in a family’s back yard. He was close, moved in and dispatched the gigantic swine. CO Rodgers, is known among his colleagues as “Straight Meat.” Dave was certain the swine was a Russian wild boar and he told a story of it charging him and him shooting and the corpus sliding snout first up to his boots. The other officers listening to this tale countered with a critter idea of a Vietnamese potbellied pig of gargantuan proportions and they pointed out the bullet holes seemed to be in the aft end of the charging creature. I’m not going to referee this debate. The officers will eventually sort it out. Rodgers will no doubt consume the swine, and the evidence will be gone forever. I took photos. These are all that will persist for future discussions.
Jeff Rabbers and I managed to walk up on a snagging crew within ten minutes of arriving, but they were the last one we could verify for the night. The wind came and went. The rain came and went. The snow came and went. I wandered around, listening to the murmur of voices, muted coughing, people telling tales of DNR officers, people telling tales of all sorts of things, but steadily bouncing 1-ounce spoons and illegal rigs on the bottom and reefing with only the slightest modification of the extremely obvious “Newyago Twitch” used by some rats to take salmon and steelies.
The thing that stands out is that when weather is bad, most hunters can’t sit. They get up from their blinds and stands and come out of the woods. Fishermen sit and fish, in just about any weather.
The group patrols this night included: Sgts. Dave Shaw and John Jurcich. Conservation officers: Jeff Rabbers, Mike Mshar, Patrick McManus, Ivan Perez, Greg Patton, Brian Lebel, Chuck Towns, Gary Rodgers, Steve Orange, Chris Simpson, Ken Lowell, and the legendary Mike Bomay. And one slightly aged imbed: me. With 1300 grams of Thinsulate in my boots my feet remained toasty all night.
A dozen or so tickets were issued and a couple dozen fish confiscated and donated to charitable organizations. Last year there were more arrests and fish taken, but word is getting out that the DNR won’t condone the snagging and that’s the whole point of this effort in behalf of the resource.
This has been a terrific deer season , I logged a dozen patrols totaling more than 142 hours, which doesn’t include travel time to meet officers. But now it’s time for this writer to retire back to doing something with all the information and experience I’ve gathered. Page proofs for Shadow of the Wolf Tree are here and awaiting my electronic attention, which I will give, just as soon as I figure out what the various glyphs on the program stand for in English. I also understand that Glen Young has a feature on yours truly in the latest issue of Michigan Out of Doors. Will put up a link when I can.
Hope all of you who hunted had a safe and productive season.
Snow is coming. Count on it. Curse it or bless it. But it is coming.
P.S. All you folks traveling to Tierra del Fuego and various merit badge ports looking for humongo brown trout, take a look at the 41.7 pound brown taken September 9 by Rockford Mi angler Tom Healy. The fish has been certified as the new state brown trout record. The world record ruling is pending.