Agents in Aircraft
Hunters in tree stands believe deer won’t look up for danger. Conservation agents in airplanes know game law violators rarely think to scan the sky. They have the arrest records to prove it.
Conservation agents in uniforms and driving trucks with the Conservation Department logo are easy to spot on land. In the air, however, those agents operate in stealth mode. You don’t know they’ve been working until you get caught.
Terry Roberson, who recently retired from the Conservation Department, has flown many patrols during his years as a conservation agent. He said aircraft are among an agent’s most valuable tools.
“You’d be surprised at how much you can see from the air,” he said. “You can familiarize yourself with an area’s roads and terrain. You can see isolated camps, hidden boats, tree stands, lumps in trees that are hunters, baited areas, concentrations of boats, even trails that lead away from roads and rivers.”
Roberson estimates that one hour of air-time for an agent equals up to a hundred hours of ground patrol time. The airplanes allow agents to monitor wetlands, large wooded tracts and other property that would be impossible to patrol without alerting potential Wildlife Code violators.
“Most landowners and law-abiding hunters love that we are using aircraft, because they want us to catch the guys who are doing it wrong,” Roberson said.
The Conservation Department has been protecting Missouri’s forest, fish and wildlife resources from the air since 1946, when the “Flight Department” was established. The Department has owned and flown aircraft continuously since that time.
The Department currently operates two fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft—a six-seat, single-engine Cessna 210 and an eight-seat, twin-engine Cessna 402. It also owns a five-seat Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
“Someone is flying somewhere every day,” said Chief Pilot John Reed. “One day we might fly across a large wetland area counting waterfowl, and the next night we’ll be crisscrossing one of Missouri’s counties looking for spotlighters.”
“When leaves are gone, visibility is especially good,” Reed said. “People think they are hidden—or that they’ve hidden their cars or boats—but all those things are visible when you have the luxury of looking down from above.”
Reed said that from 3,000 feet it’s fairly easy to see spotlighters.
“We can cover a lot of area, and we have agents on the ground ready to respond,” he said. “If we see a light being shined, we’ll take GPS coordinates and keep the vehicle in sight until the agents arrive.”