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.
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.