As my daughter would say, OK, here’s the thing about being a Michigan State University (MSU) football fan: Our teams’ never-ever make it easy, even they have presumably good teams. For example, this year, even if they were to go 13-0 and win the BCS title, you can bet it will be ugly and painful and filled with the dumbest sort of mistakes and inconsistencies from start to finish. I’ve had green blood coursing through me for 50 years, and my brother-in-law for 60 and as we watched the Spartoons’ generally inept play against Northwestern on Saturday, we looked at each other, both thinking, “Here they/we go again.” Don’t get me wrong: I like this coach and this team, but this brain-fart uh-oh-shit-I-didn’t-mean-ta-hold-that-guy-sort of trip-over-yourself play entirely befuddles us who have watched for so long. The only thing we have learned over five decades of suffering is this: Twill be what it shall be: Michigan State 10, Notre Dame 10. Need we say more? Sharing a few pix from here and there, this and that. Over.
This is a loose journal of one day [of four] with DNR officer, Dan “Nighthawk” Bigger. It begins with getting up in my hotel room at 0700 and arriving at the officer’s house at 0830.
Last night we ended patrol with a trash fire in Owosso area. We were refueling the truck at a gas station and talking to a state Troop when county called the event in and Dan asked if they’d like for him to cover it. They did. So we went.
The guy was burning linoleum and what I assumed was the urethane liner to a fridge. The fumes from the smoke were awful and bad news.
Dan asked the guy what he’s burning.
“Ya know, just trash, cardboard and stuff.”
Dan says, “We can SMELL it’s not just cardboard. Let me see your license.”
The man yelps, “Why?”
License finally delivered, the man is instructed to get a hose, which he does. It is a skinny thing, and all kinked and he stands holding the hose with only drops falling and keeps shaking it and Dan says, “You have to un-kink it. Turn it clockwise.”
The man proceeds to turn himself clockwise and looks confused. Dan un-kinks the hose and the water finally flows and Dan instructs him how to thoroughly dowse the fire.
Bottom line, a ticket is issued for burning without a permit and we both reek of fumes afterward.
Today’s first task is to make a telephone call to Officer Kelly Ross in Montmorency County. Kelly [DNRE LED’s elk czar] has a computer program that can be used to determine time of death [TOD] on deer. You enter ambient air temp and the animal’s temp and the computer makes the calculation. Yesterday we found an untagged, gutted doe on a woody edge by a road.
A local had informed us the animal wasn’t there at 0700 so it had to have happened after that time. Probably someone spooked the violator in the act of gutting the animal. We happened upon the site around 1730 hours. Kelly runs the data and tells Dan that the time of death was approximately 8 hours and 21 minutes before we took temperature of the dead animal, that puts the TOD after 0700, which fits the time line we got from the informant. When Dan took the temperature last night he made sure to take it in the leg that was most off the ground [an likely to be warmer] and because this animal is on its back he takes reading from both legs and they are within one degree. At some point perhaps all COs will have such a program to assist in investigations
We eat a quick breakfast of fresh eggs from his chickens and buzz into Corunna to swear a warrant from an earlier deer case and he gets an ORV complaint from someone in the court. He also turns in a ticket and picks up paperwork.
From courthouse we stop at the cleaner to pick up his dry-cleaned Class A uniforms. Next week there will be a day when all 133 COs and their supervision will all be together in one place, the first time in 9 years because of previous budget problems. 133 COs for the 83 counties that comprise the state of Michigan? And you wonder why it takes awhile to sometimes get a callback? This amounts to an average of 1.6024096385542168 officers per county. Original staffing calls for four per. Go figure. By the way, Shiawassie’s magistrates, prosecutors and judges get it when it comes to the DNRE and our natural resources. They don’t coddle lawbreakers. Such unbending support is rare in the state.
Quick swing past a complaint area, back to the Bigger residence and we switch gear over to his Polaris RAZR, put on our brain-buckets and boogie forth. The machine is small. He’s a lanky, angular six-six, I’m over six feet [shrunk by age from 6-4] and we are crammed inside. Only rule: Keep all body parts inside the roll bar if we roll her over. Roger that.
We swing by the doe we found. Body is still there. He could pick it up, but prefers to let it lie and get an estimate to figure out what sort of timeline the violators are operating on. There is poaching of deer all over the county, and BIG deer all over the county. For various reasons this one does not quite fit the profile of other killings.
RAZR away we go to visit a farmer who has been having issues with people trespassing onto his farm and hunting. We watch the largest house cat either of us has ever seen while it hunts a field and we talk about how easy it is for people to mistake such sightings for a cougar. This animal had long hair, but an inordinately long tail, which if you didn’t take a closer look through binoculars, might make you mistake it for a you-know-what.
The farmer talks us through his property and we take off to get all four corners mapped the officers GPS. This way, later if there is a confrontation, there will be no doubt if someone is trespassing. The back end of the property is sort of creek bottom land and touch as hell with deer runways all over the place and littered with a nasty tangle of high swamp grasses and blow-downs. The farmer tells us we can’t possibly get the machine “back there or you’ll get stuck.” Dan says thanks and we make our way over, around and through the debris field to the fence line to take more GPS readings. The farmer looks amazed when we return to where he is waiting. A new survey is to take place next week, so the officer will visit after that to get more paper survey maps to compare with his GPS readings.
Complainant satisfied, we head for the power line on Consumer’s Energy property, where last night we found an 80-year-old man hunting the power line from a small tent placed right at the edge – one of those deals with fabric that enables you shoot the arrow through the fabric.
And we fine a urine bottle/lure in an old fruit tree right in front of the blind. The guy gets out of the blind and says the bait isn’t his, that it’s been “hanging in that tree for years.” Dan takes it down and puts it in the truck.
Dan explains the Consumer’s Energy property rules to the man, how you can’t hunt on it, or across it, etc. and tells him he’ll talk to the company to see what they want to do about this case. He also tells the guy to get his blind out by the next day. From there we continue on and after stumbling across a whole bunch of mowed trails partly on Consumer’s property we followed them and came upon a loaded spin feeder with the timer set for three spins a day. As we are looking at the spin feeder the battery in the urine bait in the truck bed comes on and we hear it buzz as it throws urine around. Been in the tree for years, we tell each other and raise our eyes. People. Of course all baiting is outlawed in the lower peninsula at the moment. So we marked the feeder on the GPS and had a quick dinner and then went on about our business.
But that was last night, and today we take the RAZR back to check the feeder, which is gone!
Obviously the placed had trail cameras on it and we were busted and the guy pulled the feeder. All that remains is a pile of core about 18 inches in diameter. Even without the feeder it’s a bait pile and illegal. Last night we looked at plat books and other resources and guessed who the owner was, so we raced over to the man’s place to talk to him. He tells us he lets a pal and his pals used the site for hunting. And he knew the pal had a spin-feeder there, but his friend told him it is legal to feed deer until hunting season begins. Officer Bigger disabuses him of his friend’s disinformation and also informs him that some deer hunting began in September. The man calls his pal , tells us the pal is there, and gives us directions to the guy’s house and we head over there and as we are en route we see a big truck go by us with the driver giving us the stare-down and Dan says, “That’s our boy.” We get to the house. Nobody there. Back door of garage is open. Big 4-wheeler in there, all sorts of hunting stuff, folded, new-looking tree blind on ground outside. Dan calls the guy on the phone and he comes back.
“Saw you on the way here,” Dan tells him.
Guy says, “Yeah.” His pal the landowner had told him we were coming right over, and he told the landowner he’d be at home, but he jumped in the truck and left. Why? We’ll never know for sure.
Long story short we hear how a “clerk at the Wal-Mart” told him baiting is legal again. “Did you read the hunting guide?”
“No. How much is the fine?”
“$410 first offense in Shiawassee County.”
“How come it’s illegal to bait but stores are still selling bait?” the man demands to know.
Dan responds, “The DNRE doesn’t regulate that. Ag does. But here’s a way of thinking about it: The speedometer in your car goes up to 100 to 120 mph, but you can only drive 70 in the freeway.”
The man grunts and says, “Can’t you cut me a break?” he asks. “I’m laid off and I just like to feed deer.”
“Just feed them out in a remote field in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yah, and the clerk told me it’s legal if you have a permit.”
“Do you HAVE one of those permits?”
His eyes turn down to his shoes. The ticket gets written and away we go.
We head to a taxidermy shop out in the country for a quick inspection and find a deer, recently brought in that doesn’t look right. I can’t go into details in the blog.
From taxidermist, our route takes us over to Owosso where we run the river trail and find a suspicious adult male sitting alone by a culvert. “What’re you doing?” Dan inquires.
“Waiting for my friend.”
“What’s his name?”
Uh, like, he’s, ya know, not certain, know what I’m sayin?
“Why are you waiting for him?”
“He’s gonna buy couple fishing rods at Wal-Mart and we’re gonna fish.”
Dan calls central dispatch at the County and asks if they have any reports regarding lone male by the river. “No,” county tells us and we continue on to check out the ORV complaint he’s gotten. “We’ll look for the guy on the way back,” he tells me, see if they’re actually fishing and if they have licenses.”
We continue down the River Trail and Dan says there used to be assaults and problems there at one time, but since he’s started patrolling it on the RAZR the problems seem to have dissipated. We head on and check the site of the complaint and Dan formulates a plan for dealing with it and then we pull off and he calls his wife Michelle and they coordinate activities of their two kids Catherine and Ian.
All the while we are out Dan is hacking and coughing. He is just coming off a bout of pneumonia and has finished the antibiotics and now is on a few-day steroid regiment. In his years in the navy he was a nuclear weapons technician and working around all sorts of asbestos and nasty chemicals, which cost him 20 percent of his lung capacity. It’s amazing he can work outdoors, but he is a big stubborn, dedicated officer, who believes in the job and protects resources with passion.
Having had two eggs and toast, we have not looked at food all day and decide we had better get some chow. We park the RAZR in the Kentucky Fried Chicken lot, go inside, each have a bowl of mashed potatoes with cheese and chicken mixed in with gravy, and a soft drink and honk back to his house to switch back to the truck and head out to meet Officer Brad “Bee-RAD” Brewer who is coming up from Hillsdale County to participate in a shining patrol. The plan is to work two vehicles on well-known shining area. We will be the spotter and Officer Brewer the chase vehicle. After a quick meeting to coordinate, we let dark settle in, then head dark to our stations.
Unfortunately, we try to hide our truck too deep in a wood lot and get hung on a berm and Bee-Rad has to drive over and pull us out, which is done while are totally dark. Free again, Officer Brewer scoots back to his place, we find a better site and settle in. Over the course of the night we will get six or seven shiners, one with a spotlight. Brad ran that vehicle down, but there are no weapons and it is legal to shine until Nov 1, as long as you shine before 2300 hours.
Over the course of the surveillance we are visited by a skunk and a couple of baby possums. There are deer (bait) in fields around us, five shooting starts, clear sky, all sorts of air traffic and the sound of an owl whooshing it’s wings over top of us. While sitting there we get on computer and try to check information on hunter whose deer seemed odd to Dan. And we talk to Station 20 and the personnel in the RAP room in Lansing. We decide to wait until 2 AM after the bars close and at 0205 we hear a shot northwest of us, but we can’t pinpoint it and decide not to chase around. Dan calls off the patrol, Brad heads for home and so do we, arriving at the house around 0300. I then drive to the hotel, call home, and fall asleep at 0400. At 0610 the county calls Dan. A deer has been shot in a field up in the north county and off he goes to check it out and to extract slugs from the carcass.
This is neither a typical nor atypical day for a conservation officer this time of year. A lot of work before deer season usually results in a good deer season – that is in terms of stopping a lot of violating. I have been with Dan since Wednesday and everywhere we have gone people have come up to him and given him tips and intelligence, most of which we go and check out and which he marks on his AVL computer for future attention.
I’ve been here since Weds noon and we have patrolled on foot, in the ATV, on a boat on the Shiawassee River and were scheduled to do a bait flight in an aircraft, but had to call it off when local weather went south, otherwise is three days our patrols would have been air, ground and sea, so to speak, which is pretty radical by all standards.
I’m really pleased all our officers will get to be together soon. They will be there in two groups, each group to go through some specialized firearms training, but there will be one common day for all 133 to be together. Many of them have never met so this will be a good thing. This is the time of year when all sorts of things begin to magnify in the forests and swamps.
I’ll be out with several officers around the state over the next month or so and will report when I get back to my own barn. Meanwhile, be safe and have fun in Michigan’s beautiful woods. And be legal too. Remember your conservation officers are watching and they can pop up anywhere at any time. CO’s have the most beautiful “offices” in the world, when they have the rare moment and enjoy it.
way to tell how it got there, or when, but it’s empty.