Agents in Aircraft
If the ice is clear, they sometimes use axe handles or gig poles to bang on the ice and herd big catfish to giggers that are waiting at the holes.”
Lindsey remembers one patrol when the temperature was near zero degrees. “We landed the helicopter right next to people standing at their gigging holes with illegal fish,” he said.
Hunters who illegally bait turkeys and deer are especially vulnerable to agents in aircraft.
“The last time we flew, we found 48 bait sites in just five hours,” said Kevin Patterson, a protection district supervisor in the Ozark Region. “All we checked was one county, plus a sliver of another.”
Patterson said agents hovered over each bait site and logged in GPS readings. “After we gave the agents on the ground the readings,” he said, “they were able to walk right to the sites.”
Agents in aircraft also helped tame wanton and abusive ATV use on the Black River, which had, according to Patterson, become a circus.
“We made lots of patrols there in recent years,” Patterson said, “and the violations steadily diminished, although it is still a problem.”
Patterson said agents also are focusing on illegal ATV use on the Current and the Jacks Fork rivers. “It’s a constant deal,” he said. “People don’t seem to understand that they are ruining the rivers and destroying habitat.”
“The aircraft help,” he said. “Even if the plane or helicopter can’t stay with them, we can find where they have parked their vehicles and wait for them.”
Agents in aircraft also look for pickup trucks—sometimes with dog boxes in the bed—parked along the road where game is likely to cross. Agents say that when visibility is good in the fall and winter they can even spot dogs running deer.
Gary Cravens, Ozark region protection supervisor, said his agents often use aircraft to spot illegal hunters in boats parked on the Current River near known deer crossings.
“They turn dogs loose to run deer into the river,” he said. “Swimming deer are helpless, and they just motor up and shoot or club them. We caught one guy who killed a deer with a golf club.”
Aircraft make catching river deer-doggers possible, Cravens said. “There’s so much land here that patrolling it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Cravens said that the agents in the aircraft know the game crossings, too, and direct ground units to any type of activity that’s out of place.
Conservation agents typically schedule the aircraft for patrols when violations are most likely. They often fly patrols, for example, before, during and after deer and turkey seasons. However, they also take advantage of empty seats when aircraft are scheduled to fly over their county.
“It’s like multi-tasking the airplane,” Cheryl Fey said. “We try to tag along with something else that’s going on, like wildlife telemetry or a river survey. It’s a good opportunity for agents to learn more about their areas.”
In fact, nearly every flight of Conservation Department aircraft helps safeguard Missouri’s wildlife from violators. All Department employees who fly, whether biologists, engineers, planners, administrators or foresters, take advantage of the aerial vantage point to look for suspicious activity.
Conservation agents say it is a shame that some people don’t respect conservation laws, but they are committed to stopping illegal acts through vigilant Wildlife Code enforcement.