MONDAY, November 15: CO Niemi dropped me at my truck at the Stephenson MSP post around 10 a.m. and I headed to the DNR office in Escanaba, about 50 miles away. Sgt. Darryl Shann picked me up noonish and we head northeast into Delta County. He shared with me Chief Gary Hagler’s phone mail to all officers, informing them of the recent Pennsylvania game warden murder and reminding everyone to be safe and work smart. But word still not official on CWD positive test in Wisconsin within 40 miles of Michigan border. In fact, throughout the week all news that COs have will come from the media. They receive no direction for answering questions from the public. Sgt Shann and I drive an ancient railroad bed to where it intersects and ends a remote spot on the Sturgeon River. Two old gents are camped there and report seeing no deer or hearing shots. The ride in was rough – and whereas almost all DNR rides are nasty, this one was a new definition of bad and predictably we dropped our rear tires through a gap in some logs and were stuck. The sergeant immediately got out the long jack, but that didn’t work, so we called CO John Wenzel, who was not far away and he came to rescue us and pull us out. The always cool-headed Wenzel back his truck up to us from several hundred yards away and I wished I had taken a film, but was mesmerized by the sheer adventure. I did get a movie of him pulling us out, and of our drive out, but I think it is too large for the blog software, so sometime down the road when software capabilities change, I’ll try to post it. Or I’ll find another way. After “extraction” we met Corporal Shannon VanPatton and CO Mike Evenk out in the woods to talk about patrols. Like us, they were finding few hunters and seeing no deer. This is Darryl’s 20th deer season, Shannon’s 15th. Later, after dark, word came of a lost hunter in the Garden Peninsula: man was dropped to walk into his blind and to be picked up at 5:30, but he was not out at the road and his companions walked into blind and there was no sign he had been there so the lost hunter call was raised. Shannon and Mike were nearest and got to the scene early; John Wenzel was not far behind. Darryl and I headed east for home and dinner. “They’ve got enough people on scene,” he said. The Delta County Rescue squad passed us as we headed east. As it turned out the lost hunter was found on US walking east toward Manistique, about 3.5 to 4 miles from his blind. How the hell he got up there from below Bay de Noc High School escaped all of us. The sergeant checks out of service and I have been on duty 14+30 hours. A long, long day, but we are greeted by the dogs Maggie and Trixie and all is well with the world.
TUESDAY, November 16: I meet CO Wenzel at 0800 and we head up toward Rock and Perkins to check some situations. Again, very few hunters or camps where they are traditionally located. We do see a very nice buck, an 11-point with remarkably long tines, the deer having been taken in Hyde, east of Escanaba, but the hunter touring pals’ camps in the county showing it off. We work our way down all kinds of roads all day long and do not hear our first shot until 1732, and precisely one minute later coyotes began to sing. Wenzel, I should explain is much admired by his colleagues for his unflappability. He is an army vet, and was a deputy in Van Buren County for many years before going to the DNR academy. I first rode with him for his first deer season day in Iron County and I was with him when he got his first big fish case in Delta County some years later. He is by all accounts, a flat-line type, even-tempered, thoughtful and attentive in all situations. But he’s also known for his driving ability. He’s basically a gear-head and loves head-banger rock. Go figure. We log eight hours.
WEDNESDAY, November 17: I drive 50 miles to Manistique to meet CO Jarad Ferguson. We are to meet at a gas station, but a few miles west I see an accident which had just happened. There are three vehicles already stopped and rendering aid, so I continue on and then I see a Troop racing west with his lights going and thirty seconds behind the Troop, Fergie whizzes by. I park at the meeting place and wait, knowing he’ll be along when the accident gets cleared. Once on patrol in Schoolcraft County we are putzing along a back road when a black car approached and veers suddenly to our right on a two-track. The vehicle had been moving slowly and we immediately run him down and find an uncased rifle in the front seat beside the driver. There is no bullet in the chamber but the clip is in. The guy is driving a Lincoln and protests that he thought not having a round in the cooker amounted to unloaded. Close but no cigar. He gets cited. Obviously he knew the rule and turned to avoid us. Not long thereafter a few miles away we spy a slow-rolling pickup truck with windows down, pull up and find an uncased black powder rifle in the front seat between the hunters, a father and son. The old man explains he can’t get the cap out so the only way he can unload is to shoot it. Fergie writes the citation and tells the man to wait until we are around the corner to discharge the weapon to unload it, then keep it unloaded after that. We get around curve and wait. Nothing. Shit. After five minutes we back track, hit the hammer and finally catch up. The guy has miraculously gotten the cap extracted and cased the gun without firing it. “We should have tried to pry it out ourselves,” Fergie laments. The patrol continues. We see a few hunters, but not many until after dark when a group flags us down and tells us they want to show us something. It is 6 o’clock or so and pitch black. Fergie starts to follow the hunters and I notice one of them go the opposite direction. I see he has a slung rifle and ask if the rifle is loaded. He says it is. When Fergie talks to the man, the hunter claims he thought he had 30 minutes after shooting hours to unload. Right. He had a chambered round and clip in. What the hunters wanted Fergie to see was the corpse of coyote or wolf in a small stream. It turned out to be a small coyote. Fergie drops me at my truck at 1915 and I drive 50 miles back to Escanaba to the Shann household, where Karla has her legendary homemade pizzas waiting.
THURSDAY, November 18: Today I drive to Gulliver to Meet CO Mike Evink, who has been in Schoolcraft County since September. This is his first deer season. When we meet he says his truck is making funny sounds and we head to Manistique to get in looked at. As soon as I hear the sound I tell him “Front right bearing.” I lost left and right front this summer so I know the sound. The mechanic verifies it and within an hour we have a new bearing and are back on the road. We get into an area and map multiple blinds, some with over-baits, but no hunters. In the evening, after dark in the middle of nowhere we come upon two ORVs with loaded, uncased guns and both of them get citations. We also hear reports of a crew operating on a two-track drinking beer and shooting indiscriminately into the woods and swamps, but we are unable to locate them. Patrol complete at 1900 Mike drops me at my truck and I head for McMillan and the Bear’s Den Motel, which will be home for the next three days. Up M-117, a few miles south of M-28, the road has black ice and a large buck stumbles and skids onto the road directly in front of me. I stand the truck on it’s nose, pitch all lose items into the windshield and manage to stop the Streamer so that the only contact is a light kiss on the buck’s right rear haunch. I can clearly count 8 large points, which are illuminated by my lights. The next morning a woman will run her truck off the road and die in the same approximate location. Weird. At the Bear Den I check in at the convenience store/petrol station by the highway to get mykey. Quirky: I like that.
FRIDAY, November 19: Snow is falling this morning. “Taller Tower” CO Mike Hamill (6-7) swings into the Bear’s Den at 0800, I load my gear, and away we go. We are driving north from McMillan when words comes of the accident alluded to earlier. Mike calls the Troop on the scene to see if he needs help, but the Troop says he’s got it and we continue north toward the Blind Sucker River Flooding. I ask Mike about a deal he encountered two summers ago when a hit and run driver slammed into people and killed someone in the Gould City area. Mike rendered aid along with CO Nightlinger, and then went in pursuits because the runner drove into an area Mike has hunted, but after some time the man eluded him. He was caught the next day, with brain tissue and blood and other visceral remains on the grill and bumper of his vehicle. COs and cops in all settings see some very nasty things and have to learn how to deal with them emotionally. The snow continues throughout the day, the temp hangs in the 20s and we find a man with a huge over-bait who has used his 4-wheeler to go around a berm to deliver bait to the blind. The limit for bait is 2 gallons in the UP. This guy’s bait pile stretches for 40-50 yards, with a salt block on the end. The day before Mike ticketed the same man’s father. Ticket written, we continue on to look for another hunter in the area, but we also notice that one of our tires is close to pancake mode and our gas nearly depleted, so we duck over to Grand Marais to gas up and put air in our feet and then we head for a complaint which came in yesterday, hunter harassment. This is the rough woods cop equivalent of a domestic – an argument over fish or game or whatever, often of longstanding, often without logic, often molten hot and threatening to explode into something a lot worse. The complainant informs us of the events. Deer shot, some guys quickly showed up to tell them they lease the property, which the complainant insists is CFA (Commercial Forest Act) property, open to all hunters. We are pretty sure there has been some heat in the “discussion,” though this is usually one of those irresolvable, “he said-she-said” deals. Returning to the hills above the Blind Sucker Flooding we look and find a blind with bait, but no sign of the alleged harassers. Yesterday, shots brought the hunters on a 4 wheeler, so Mike figures we might use the same bait, pulls out the rifle pumps two rounds in to a tree, puts the rifle away and we wait. No response, we continue our search and finally located a tiny camp in the middle of nowhere. As expected there is probably some truth to both sides of the tale; this camp has been leased by a family since the 1920s and is WAY off the beaten path. One of the men in camp, the elder, was clearly scared witless by yesterday’s encounter. We find a skull with antlers stuck in a ladder. The campers claim they found it last year, hacked the antlers off for camp. It seems unlikely to both of us that it went down the way the original complainant claimed and when we return to the complainant’s camp to try to reach some sort of conclusion, the camp is gated and the complainant and pals have pulled out, but told us earlier in the day that he would be back to hunt over Thanksgiving. Mike will re-contact the man then. Mike regales me with stories all day, including a sign in a local village advertising “Bare Beat” [Bear Bait, not a joke but a pure misspelling]. Late in the day we run into another violation, which escapes my note. The highlight of the day for both of us was contact with a hunter who was a felon with an expunged record. He told us he had robbed 26 banks when he was 16 and served five years for it, and had turned his life around. The kid said he came from an affluent family and just wanted the adrenaline. Indeed. Don’t think I ever met a multiple bank robber before; he’s lucky neither he nor anyone else got injured or killed. He did not spend the money. Instead he accumulated about $70,000 in cash, all of which was recovered. Out in the woods, you just never know what you’ll run into. We meet one older guy with precise diction who tells us when asked if he uses bait, “Bait’s for fish and traps, not for deer.” Funny. The day’s patrol lasts 10+30. Same story. Very few hunters or tent camps and very few deer dead or alive. Hamill went to high school in Crystal Falls with CO Ryan Aho, who is assigned to Dickinson County.
SATURDAY, November 19: “Smaller Tower” CO Derek Miller (6-5) fetches me at the Bear at 0800 and off we go, first stop a camp in the Engadine area. Derek tells me right off the starting line he ran into nothing on opening day, but a week or so ago he was aloft in an airplane and noted large bait piles at the camp we’re bound for. Naturally the gate is locked. There are tire tracks, with snow on top, no way to tell if the people are still in camp, so we walk a half-mile or so up icy two-track to the camp where three men greet us and immediately ask for a break. They don’t get one and we hoof back to the truck. South of Hulbert Lake Derek finds a hunter in a blind with a large over-bait and tickets him. Meanwhile I locate a gut pile with snow on top and from there a well camouflaged blind near our truck. The hunter Derek talked to said nobody in his group got a deer, but this turns out to be his brother’s gut-pile and we are able to track him to Hulbert. Nobody home when we get there but as we pull out a vehicle races up to us and a guy says “My neighbors said you was snooping around my house.” Derek explains we weren’t snooping, just looking for him, so we follow him back and he shows us the eight-point he shot the day before. He also tells us that his brother called on cell phone to bitch at him because he got an over-bait ticket because he had helped bring in the bait. Derek advises him it might be a good idea to share the cost with his brother and we move on. We are supposed to rendezvous with Mike Hamill and find his truck parked by a river and see where he went into the swamp going south. Derek gets him on the radio and Mike reports he is a mile and a half south and still going on a track and doesn’t know when he’ll get out. [As it turns out he will proceed three miles south and suddenly climb up onto an open plateaut, like an old homstead or something and 500 yards away a tall tree, which when he gets closer he sees holds a hunter with no orange on and it makes him very unhappy to have been in the man’s sight line all that time. He cites him for no orange but conceeds the man is the real deal, so far back in and alone. When asked why he had no orange the man said he’d never seen another hunter in the twenty years he hunted the spot.] We left Mike to his work and went to meet Acting Sergeant Gerald Thayer, who delivers batteries (or a flashlight lens, or something) to Derek. From there we go to a trespass report over in the South Curtis area. Here the complainant meets us on the road and leads us to the alleged offender’s camp. Derek walks into the complainant’s property, finds a gut-pile and all sorts of tracks and follows the 4 wheeler track back to the camp where I am waiting. Two eight-points are hanging, one with a haze on it’s eyes indicating it was shot yesterday, and the second and larger with clear eyes showing it was shot this morning. After a lot of painful questioning the trespasser admits he shot the deer on private property and he gets a ticket for ORV trespass. The complainant also gets a citation for his own visible transgressions. From this goat rodeo we follow an illegal four-wheeler trail into the middle of nowhere until in narrows down too much for us to continue through a swamp. Derek runs the rest of the road on foot and comes back sweating. It took him 3 miles one direction. We look at computer and plat books and guess the transgressions are coming off some private land. Derek makes a note to block the road and to visit the camp and find out what they have been doing. Derek wonders out loud why so many hunters leave their brains at the bridge and I laugh (and write it down for future use). As evening comes on we meet Mike Hamill. We are going to enter a camp where there is information alleging they hunters there are mis-tagging deer and undertaking other shenanigans. It has been our intent to hit the camp at first light, but that didn’t work out. Reviewers sometimes carp how my plots don’t go from A to B and this is true, because CO’s life don’t go A to B and I try to make my books reflect the sometimes chaotic nature of the job. Today is a classic example of plans going out the window, but now that dark is here we have met and proceed into the open gate to the camp. We knock on doors. Nobody home. In back we see an ORV garage door open with a deer hanging inside. We check the deer, spike horn tagged with a tag that is supposed to go on a 3 point or 4 point on a side deer. As hunters come back they arrive with loaded weapons and uncased weapons. We guess that previous illegally tagged deer went home with hunters earlier in the day, but this night citations get written and we take the deer with us. The snow is falling, it’s 22 degrees, there is a full moon and both officers are sure the night hunters will be out, but they have no overtime for today and we call it quits, much to their frustration. For most officers there is a balance between remembering this is a job and a calling. Over time officers have to face that they can’t stop everything and live their lives within the constraint of hours the state allows them to do the work. Derek has written nine citations today. BTW, there are no ticket quotas. Some people are in areas with huge populations and lots of violations. Other officers are in locations were there area few people and few violations. It is what it is. At tracking school this summer, Gus Gustafson was asked why UP officers are such good man-trackers and he replied, “Because if you want to see ANYBODY when you’re out, you have to be able to track them down.” Sort of a joke. But just sort of.
SUNDAY, November 20: I depart McMillan at 0715 and head east on M-28, then south on M-123 to meet Bob Bernhardt at BJ’s in Trout Lake. Jambe Longue and I buy all our tumbling supplies from Bob and Judy and I told him I’d be there at 0800 to pick up 12 pounds of 80 grit. Five miles north of Trout Lake the road is ice and snow-covered and slippery. Bob is waiting. I pay for the grit, chuck it in the truck and boogey south to St. Ignace. Once on I75 the snow disappear and it’s clear from there south to Gaylord. Yesterday we called CO Nick Torsky on the radio re our meeting today and he told me to come to his residence, so that’s where I head. He, wife Kristy, daughter Anna and I chat and then we suit up and go into service at noon or so. We work south of Gaylord for a while and eventually end up in the Pigeon River Country, which is one of the state’s greatest area. Nick says deer season here is about a three-day event, year in and year out, start day or weather pretty much irrelevant. I’ve heard this same report in many counties around the state over the past few years. Nick is one of the state’s most thoughtful COs and we talk a lot about the interface between prosecutors and game wardens. We make the patrol without incident and arrive home for dinner, a six-hour outing. Nick falls asleep in the chair, me sitting on the couch and Kristy wakes both of us and tells us it’s time to turn in.
MONDAY, November 21: My final day of patrol, 15 in a row. We depart the residence at 0930 and head out. We stop to visit bear houndsman and his Great Pyrenees dog to get a bead on the season. Nick tells me the story of how he, Gerald Thayer and Glenn Guiterrez got called into a situation where a man killed one persona and wounded another, who managed to get out and call for help. They ended up going in and fetching the body of the murdered man and then going back to surround the house and eventually the man surrendered without further bloodshed. Nick also tells me that there have been two incidents of people impersonating game wardens, both occurrences in the Johannesburg –Lewiston area. In the first instance it was one man alone and in the second and most recent it was a pair. The COs would like to catch these bozos and eventually they will. We meet COs Kelly Ross (Montmorency Co) and Mark DePew ( Nick’s parrtner in Otsego Co) for a Mexican lunch. From there it’s to the district office where I meet Sgts Jim Gorno, and Greg Drogowski and CO Carl Vanderwall. Ross and Vanderwall are both acting sergeants at the moment and acting el-tee Gorno has scheduled a sergeants conference. We leave the gathering to head north into the PRC again, this time to search for a camp of a known violator, which we locate and also find bait, which is banned below the bridge. Later Nick shows me an area where it looked like there had been a grave. The guy who piled the rocks had lost his daughter to a murder in Flint sometime ago and he had built this as a sort of memorial. He also assembled walls of sticks and had his own camp. Despite sympathy for his loss, COs and PRC personnel had to ask him to move on, which he did reluctantly. It is an eerie sight to see. Kelly Ross comes up with the quote of the trip: Why does a divorce cost so much? Because It’s WORTH it!” We’re out of Service around 1800. Kristy is at some sort of meeting of an art club. Anna and Murphy (the lab) are glad we’re home. The next morning I head for the Meijers gas station and blast off for home. It’s been a great trip and as usual another great learning experienced. This makes ten years riding with COs, a real privilege. I titled the first segment of this report the Dying Deer season. I saw only two hunters under age 17 this trip, no females in the field and very few hunters period. There was no excitement in UP towns before the event and the whole deer thing seems to be fading as the vagaries of herd management and constant beating by the economy takes the fight out of so many people. I just happen to be re-reading the Studs Terkel book, Hard Times. The late Terkel wrote, “Our country, the richest country in the world, may be the poorest in memory.” He points out that in the 80s, as a prelude to his interviews on the Great Depression, modern folks “… found boxcars, with hardly room to move. The new nomads have come from the rust belt, abandoned farms, small failed businesses: Many of them voted for Reagan because he ‘made us feel good.’ Now they don’t feel so good, but few blame the President. They resent being called losers, though that is what they are called these days. In the Thirties (at least in retrospect) they were called victims. If there is a core difference between Then and Now, it is in language. Then the words of the winners reflected discomfort in the presence of losers. Now, they reflect mild contempt.” No, Studs it’s more than mild contempt, it’s out and out total contempt with little attempt to mask the venom The Haves deeply resent Have-nots. The whole thing is like a toxic spill that finds its way into every fiber of life and this past two weeks I could smell death in the air, not of deer, but of a way of life. Sad but real. As usual I had virtually no contact with the media for two weeks and when I got home the same whining was underway as when I departed. ANIMAL COUNT FOR TRIP: 183 sandhill cranes, 91 deer, 28 turkeys, 13 pats, 12 redtail hawks, 10 porcupines, 6 skunks, 5 bald eagles, 5 cooper’s hawks, 2 coyotes, 2 pheasants, and 1 each, golden eagle, snowshoe hare, woodchuck, pileated woodpecker, and Great Horned Owl. Over.”]