In general waterfowl hunters are ethical hunters and protectors of the resource. Organizations like Ducks Unlimited work tirelessly to procure and improve new habitat to assure that ducks, geese, and other water birds prosper. (In most cases they are wildly successful, as noted by anyone that now has to deal with nuisance Canada geese.) Working with conservation–minded hunters, state and federal laws place limits on how many birds can be harvested and when. This keeps ducks from being over-hunted.
Greed is a powerful sin which can cause a good hunter to cross a line and cause a poacher to decimate a resource. Just like any crime, lack of law enforcement emboldens those that are inclined to poach. That’s where Indiana’s Conservation Officers and Federal Wildlife Officers come in.
The first day or weekend of any season is generally the heaviest hunted and it is those times that officers saturate an area to make their presence known. During those times Federal Wildlife Officer Frank Polyak, along with fellow officers, clandestinely monitor the efforts of duck hunters at the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. Starting before dawn and carefully making their way through the marsh from duck blind to duck blind they make sure the hunters are following the rules. Depending on the situation they may check every hunting blind, or they might just check those that have tell-tale signs of violations. If officers feel the conditions merit it, they may quietly monitor a hunting group all day before they make their presence known and perform a compliance check.
Sometimes the infractions they find are minor, such as not having a plug installed that limits the amount of shotgun shells a shotgun can hold (three’s the limit) to not having their duck stamp with them. (The money from duck stamps helps purchase and maintain habitat for waterfowl.)
At other times the violation can be more egregious. Some hunters feel that when the hunting is good, they need to make up for the times that hunting wasn’t so good. Polyak and his partner were traveling from blind to blind performing compliance checks. As the morning wore on they began monitoring a party of hunters that appeared to be having a good day and were doing a great deal of shooting. Perhaps, too much shooting. Even hunters in nearby blinds became concerned with the amount of shooting that was going on in the one blind.
“As we watched, the three hunters shot over thirty ducks,” Polyak explained. “The limit was six per hunter.” The hunters retrieved their over-limit of ducks and disappeared into the woods, only to reappear and again take their places in the duck blind. Within moments the poachers were knocking more ducks from the sky and Polyak knew they had to act quickly.
In the situation they were in Polyak had little recourse but to approach from the open under the guise of doing a compliance check. As soon as the trio saw the wildlife officers approaching they started bringing in their decoys and packing up their gear, which is a huge red flag to any wildlife officer.
When confronted, the poachers feigned innocence of any wrong doing. While checking their licenses, duck stamps and shotgun plugs, Polyak used his training to interview the men while watching for cracks in their story. After a few minutes of spinning a twisting and turning tale, the poachers admitted that they were a couple of ducks over the limit. More pressure brought out the location of their stash of ducks hidden back in the woods and that in a panic they had flung even more ducks into the weeds around the blind after sighting the wildlife officers. Eventually the men came clean and confessed to the gross over limit.
Man’s best friend became the wildlife officers’ best friend that day. “We used their hunting dogs to go into the woods and retrieve the ducks,” Polyak chuckled.
In addition to the over limit of ducks, the trio had also illegally made their blind from trees and materials that they had cut down in the refuge.
Due to the severity of their transgressions they received citations and were fined a couple thousand dollars each. Perhaps their biggest concern was the fact that their shotguns were taken in as evidence. Duck hunting is often a family sport with multiple generations hunting together, bonding, and sharing past hunting tales. They take great pride in their weapons and pass them down from generation to generation so that they become family heirlooms. In this case Polyak assured the men that their guns would be treated with the best care and could be retrieved after the case was adjudicated and the fines were paid. (Only malicious offenders lose their weapons permanently.)
The lesson to be learned here? Always act with integrity and conservation in mind, even if you think no one is looking, because they just might be.
What is TIP?
Turn in a Poacher, Inc. (TIP) is a non-profit conservation organization that works hand-in-hand with Indiana DNR Law Enforcement to protect our fish and wildlife resources by increasing public support and involvement in bringing violators to justice.
A poacher is a thief who illegally steals wildlife that belongs to each Indiana citizen. Poachers rob licensed, ethical hunters and anglers from recreational opportunities they bought through license fees.
Citizens can help stop poachers in two ways:
- Call 1-800-TIP-IDNR if you see, hear or learn about a poacher or another fish and wildlife violation. If your “TIP” leads to an arrest, you may receive as much as a $200 reward, and you can remain anonymous.
- Become an honorary member of the Turn in a Poacher Advisory Board (tip.wildindiana.com). Annual and lifetime memberships are available, and all proceeds from memberships go directly to assisting Indiana DNR Law Enforcement with catching poachers. (TIP hats and gear also available).
More information is available at www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/2745.htm.