It was 8:01 Monday morning. The voice through the receiver was angry, but polite. "I get your conservation magazine," the caller said, "and I want to know why you're always on the side of the hunters, and against landowners."
It was a wake-up call, in more ways than one. For hunters? Against landowners? I explained to the caller that the Conservation Department supports landowners and has 147 conservation agents around the state to enforce conservation laws. Not only that, an aggressive hunter education program teaches 25,000 student hunters a year about courtesy and ethics while afield.
The landowner wasn't satisfied. It seems a pick-up truck carrying three young hunters had fired from the roadside at two deer in the landowner's field. The roadhunter missed the deer, but the bullet shattered a window in a nearby shed. Frustrated by the miss, the roadhunter continued firing, riddling the shed with bullet holes, frightening the landowner's family and confirming the suspicion that roadhunters aren't too bright.
The landowner's comments ended with, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" That gave me the perfect opportunity to tell him about the "Respect Landowners Initiative," a new program that addresses the problems of roadhunting, deer dogging and free-running dogs.
My wake-up call came from a landowner in central Missouri, but roadhunting occurs in all parts of the state. Likewise problems with free-running dogs. Landowners in north, south, west and central Missouri have contacted the Conservation Department about free-running dogs (usually hounds) turned loose on their property to hunt, ostensibly for coyotes. The landowners complain that the dogs harass their livestock, disrupt wildlife management, and generally disturb landowners' peace. Deer dogging (using dogs to hunt deer) is mostly confined to south Missouri, but there the problem is growing more serious. There have been two attacks on conservation agents by unethical hunters suspected of deer dogging.
Complaints from landowners all over the state are on the upswing. And though agents are armed with an arsenal of enforcement tools - from decoy deer to helicopter patrols - they can't keep up with illegal and just plain bothersome behavior on the part of unethical hunters. The Conservation Department convened a special task force late last summer to add more tools to the arsenal.
The Respect Landowners Initiative is the result. It is a one-two-three punch against road hunting, deer dogging and free-running dogs:
One: get citizens involved in the issues.
Two: provide effective deterrence in the form of laws, regulations and enforcement.
Three: make behavioral changes long-lasting through education.
Punch number one is a Respect Landowners Advisory Council made up of hunters, landowners and farmers, legal and civic groups, and other citizens. It is convening this month to discuss punch number two - what specific tools are needed to make Missouri a more landowner- friendly state. Some tools they will discuss include stricter regulations for shotguns and rifles in motor vehicles, stricter penalties for violations, and restricted seasons for activities associated with road hunting, deer dogging and free-running dogs. Punch number three is ongoing: reaching kids with the message of respect for landowners and the property and rights of others.
If you have constructive ideas for solving the problems of road hunting, deer dogging and free-running dogs, or if you would like to receive a newsletter about the Respect Landowners Initiative, send your comments, name and address to: RLI, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102.
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