Nothing was prevented, so what was gained?
A month has now passed since I walked out to my deer stand opener morning. I am accompanied by both of my sons and two of my nephews. Although the morning is crisp and quiet, I can’t help but buzz with excitement over the start of another deer season.
My boys, now both in their 30’s, remind the group to watch the volume as we depart from camp and head out into the woods. ‘Good lucks’ are exchanged as each hunter splits from the trail and heads off towards their assigned stands.
I consider myself an avid sportsman going back to my early years in southern Minnesota and have raised both of my two boys to be respectful, honest and ethical hunters. Hunters who not only abide by the written law but do their part to give back to the species and hunt in a way that preserves the sport for future generations. It is with great satisfaction that both of my sons continue to enjoy the sport and spend time with me at our hunting land in Becker County.
This story is one that I have debated sharing now for over a month. My intention with sharing the story is not to bash the individuals or agency involved. If after reading this, you have somehow taken my position to be anti-law enforcement you have completely missed my point as that could not be further from the truth.
Around 10 a.m. on Nov. 3, my youngest son and one of my accompanying nephews each shot and killed a deer. To say excitement was in the air is an understatement! For a group of hunters who had not shot a deer the previous season, a 10-point buck and a nice adult doe was an excellent start to the first four hours of the season. The deer were field dressed and taken back to camp where they were hung up. A quick lunch followed and the group was back in the woods.
Shortly after returning to our stands, my nephew was approached on our land by a DNR conservation officer who requested to speak with ‘the hunters who had previously harvested the deer now currently hanging in camp.’ My nephew accompanied the CO to my sons stand and together the three walked back to our camp. Upon returning to camp, my son and nephew were both issued citations for failing to validate their deer at the kill site. Wallets were quickly opened and valid licenses and tags were presented to the CO.
Both my son and nephew stated that they would tag the deer immediately and explained that they hadn’t known that the tag needed to be placed at the kill site. For the next 90 minutes, a back and forth debate occurred between my son and the CO. For the record, my son never disputed the fact that we had not placed our tags on the deer. Two deer were harvested and the tags were not immediately affixed to the animals — guilty.
Here is where I take issue with the DNR’s interaction and the exact points that my son tried debating for over 90 minutes with the CO in the field:
• Valid licensed hunters — check
• No previous contacts with law enforcement — check
• Not baiting — check
• No poaching — check
• Abiding by all safety regulations and all other regulations for that matter — check
• No illegally harvested animals — check
• Not intoxicated or impaired hunters — check
• Not Felons in Possession of Deer Rifles — check
• Check, check, check, check ... check!
At no time has an animal ever been illegally harvested or transported from my property. At no time has a harvested animal not been registered with the DNR upon leaving my property.
I understand why the ‘failure to validate’ law exists, but these deer would have been validated with or without a $190 citation (x2) from the DNR. I am not naïve enough to presume that all encounters with law enforcement are or should be positive. I also understand that at times citations are certainly warranted.
With that said, what has the DNR gained with this encounter? Assuming that the DNR isn’t issuing citations as a form of revenue-based income, I can only conclude that the citations were issued as a deterrent for future behavior. The problem here, is there was never an illegal behavior that needed deterring.
A mistake occurred and a regulation was accidently overlooked. Despite 90 minutes being spent on our property addressing these points, the CO’s decision was already made. He stated things like, “Roughly 25 percent of my encounters get citations,” “Well, because I had to get out of my truck and come find you it’s different,” and “Did you not read the regulation book cover to cover?”
As a lifelong hunter who has always dotted his i’s and crossed the t’s I cannot help but be extremely frustrated with our first encounter with the DNR. For a sport that is seeing a decline in hunters and for an agency that outlines education as a primary goal by building rapport with the public, what is gained by citing law-abiding hunters on a technicality, who are trying to do the right things while out in the woods?
Don’t get me wrong, I commend the proactive police work that took place with locating a regulatory violation and further investigating the hunters involved. But after locating our hunting party and evaluating the totality of the circumstance surrounding the violation, and after further determining that no criminal element was present with this group of hunters, was the next 90 minutes and $380 in citations really justified? We are four hours into opener morning during the most target-rich environment of the year for a conservation officer, and 90 minutes are being spent with valid, law abiding hunters who are not consciously committing a single crime.
Are there not more egregious violators in Becker County to be spending this time on? Unfortunately, one week later approximately 20 miles west of my property a convicted felon illegally hunting in Becker County shot and killed a law-abiding hunter in the woods. I am not pointing blame or suggesting that the 90 minutes spent on our property would have prevented this disaster, but the irony is apparent.
I realize that my views may be somewhat jaded, with members in my hunting party being cited on technicalities, but I’ll leave the DNR with this final thought. As a father with children in the woods, as a lifelong law-abiding hunter and as a tax-paying citizen of Becker County, I truly hope that the DNR refocuses its perspective on violations that actually affect the natural resources and more importantly, violations that affect the safety of the law-abiding hunters in the field. Find something to prevent, so that something is gained.