Missouri's conservation agents are as unpredictable as the poachers they seek. (Missouri Department of Conservation file photo)
Conservation agents say deer poaching is usually a fall and winter activity, but there seemed to be an unusual amount of it this spring. The thing about poaching is that it truly can happen at any time and by anyone. It's not always a predictable crime. But our conservation agents aren't predictable either.
Conservation Agent Eric Heuring, of Dunklin County, was surprised by a deer poaching case this spring involving three men who were running coon dogs and then shot a deer off the St. Francis River levee. Of the three men, one was a county dispatcher, one a former city police officer, and one was a college student who was studying, of all things, to be a conservation agent.
Conservation Agent Jeff Scott, of Bollinger County, worked two deer poaching cases this spring. The first involved a report of a deer fetus turning up on the campus of a southeast Missouri high school. A visit with the Superintendent produced three boys and a girl who admitted to killing a doe.
Agent Scott's second deer poaching case this spring involved a truckload of three boys who got stuck in a landowner's field after killing a doe. They flagged down a neighbor to help pull the truck out and he noticed all the deer blood and hair around the truck. It took three agents a day and half to round up the three boys, but they recovered the deer and confessions, and issued tickets to the culprits.
The spring season has also been full of other poaching cases involving ducks and also wild turkeys that were taken before the season opened. Then there were the cases in open season when folks just didn't follow the rules. To catch all these poachers, agents like Heuring and Scott have to be as unpredictable as the poachers and employ tactics like Conservation Agent Eric Long does in Reynolds County.
Agent Long is becoming known in his county for having little tolerance for poachers. In April he wrote four tickets for cases where poachers were hunting wild turkeys before the season opened. But they weren't easy catches.
On one day in particular, Agent Long caught a repeat offender who he'd caught four years ago turkey hunting after the season closed. While sitting near a cemetery on a ridge across from the suspect's house, Agent Long watched the suspect fire up an ATV and go right past him towards a gobbler on the same ridge. As he passed, Agent Long could clearly see a gun on his back. Then, he heard a shot just up the hill and waited three hours for the man to return. The poacher stopped just in sight of our observing conservation agent and buried what was later revealed to be a turkey breast. The man was cited one ticket for taking a wild turkey in closed season and a warning for possession of illegal wildlife.
All of these cases were shown to be premeditated, where the poacher had planned a way to take an animal out of season. But the thing they hadn't planned on was that Conservation agents are, after all, very unpredictable.
If you witness or suspect a wildlife violation, report it to your local conservation agent or call the toll-free number --1-800-392-1111-- which is manned 24 hours a day. You may remain anonymous, and you may ask to be considered for a reward if you wish.