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Highwires, Bowling Pins, and Other Duties as Assigned

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

shooting at the house!" Every available officer converged on the area and established a perimeter around it.

An Alton police officer and I headed down an old logging road and took up a position, using a stacked wood pile for cover. I watched the southwest hillside while the other officer watched the southeast side.

This second shooting occurred just before dark, and I couldn't help but marvel how, despite more than 20 officers searching the area all day, the guy actually returned to the scene and shot someone else. It didn't calm my nerves to know that the guy I was looking for was a methamphetamine user armed with a .30-06 who would soon have the advantage of darkness as cover.

Apparently, my partner was thinking the same thing. As fading sunlight reduced our visibility to 20 yards, we traded a look that telegraphed our concerns about our growing vulnerability.

With no further sightings, we returned to the main road and rejoined the other officers. By that time, my heart rate had returned to normal, and the tension had eased somewhat.

"So, this is what they mean by, 'Other duties as assigned,'" I thought, referring to that infamous, all-inclusive line in the job description of every Conservation Department employee.

A conservation agent's non-enforcement duties are quite diverse, as well. Some, of course, are more pleasant than others. The wildlife surveys, for example, are hard to beat. Where else can you get paid to count bald eagles, rabbits, doves and quail? I also have a monthly radio program and a newspaper column. Both media outlets generously assist in promoting conservation. With their help, I cover everything from controlling vegetative growth in farm ponds to the latest changes in deer season regulations.

Outdoor education programs, hunter education classes, Wildlife Habitat Improvement Programs (WHIP) and Landowners Assisting Wildlife Survival (LAWS) programs also keep me busy.

Most Missourians appreciate different kinds of wildlife, at least, up to a point. That's when animal nuisance complaints become a part of my job. Once, I got a call from a local police department just before midnight. The dispatcher had a lady on the phone who was frantic because snakes were coming out of her ceiling. My first impression as I emerged from my sleepy fog was that the illegal drug situation was really getting out of hand.

As it happened, the caller wasn't hallucinating at all! A pair of adult black rat snakes had entered her home through a hole in the soffit and taken up residence in the attic above the ceiling tiles. The first "guest" stayed within an opening long enough for me to catch it, but the other one eluded me. Finally, at 3:30 a.m., I apologized to the lady and told her I couldn't capture the snake. Fortunately, a local deputy removed it the next day. The dispatcher still gets a kick out of that one.

The least enjoyable part of my job is the paperwork. As with many jobs, paperwork is a necessary evil and with this job, it's also a vicious cycle. The more work we do, the more paperwork we generate.

I've only been an agent for a few years, but during that time, I've learned that my effectiveness depends on staying focused on law enforcement duties while also keeping up with my non-enforcement responsibilities. When the action gets too intense, I know it's time for some quality time on the water with a fishing rod in hand before the next high-wire act.

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