Telecheck: A multi-tool for hunters, conservation agents

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GREENVILE, Mo. -- While some deer hunters still mourn the days of checking – and showing off - their harvest in person at the local checking station, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) agents are finding the Telecheck system has some advantages when it comes to investigating illegal harvests.

“The system was designed to be more convenient for hunters, so they didn’t have to haul their deer several miles to personally check it in,” said Ken West, a conservation agent and the Protection regional supervisor for southeast Missouri. “However, as agents, we’re now seeing the benefits of being able to compare and contrast the harvest details electronically.”

2011 marks the sixth year since the birth of the Telecheck system, which requires hunters to check deer and turkey electronically—either by phone or Internet. Telecheck eliminated the requirement for hunters to physically present harvested animals at an official check station before processing. It also reduced the hours agents spent on administrative aspects of check stations and it has increased time available for field enforcement. It also gives agents up-to-the-minute harvest information. These first few years have shown the system to be a valuable investigative tool according to West.

Initially, West said some thought the system could make investigations more tedious. But now they see how Telecheck provides some electronic back up. West and the agents he supervises take to the fields throughout the year to investigate wildlife violations in southeast Missouri, but firearms deer season is typically their most busy season as they seek to sort out the ethical deer hunters from the poachers. This was the objective when West deployed Conservation Agent Mic Plunkett and five other agents to Madison and Wayne Counties last week. The six agents met in Greenville to sort and assign files of leads generated by Telecheck.

“Telecheck does a lot of the sorting for us,” Plunkett explained. “For example, we can tell Telecheck to sort out all the landowner permits in a specific county. Or we can sort by county and see how many permits were bought in a day and then compare that list to the deer that were checked.”

If a permit is bought and the deer is then checked within a very short amount of time, the agents follow up with that person to inquire as to how they were able to harvest a deer so quickly. According to Missouri’s Wildlife Code, each hunter must purchase a deer permit before taking to the woods to hunt.

“It’s physically impossible to buy a permit at the store, get all your gear on, go out to your hunting location, harvest a deer and then check it within 20 minutes, which is like one case we’re following up on,” Plunkett said.

Sometimes the investigation results in a citation, other times it’s a warning.

“If the individual really didn’t know what they did was wrong, or they made an honest mistake in the process we try to take those situations into consideration as we investigate,” Plunkett said.

But there are also people who violate wildlife regulations repeatedly, he said.

“For repeat offenders, Telecheck is a big help in communicating to people that the Wildlife Code is more than a suggestion, it’s the law,” Plunkett said.

Telecheck allows the agents to sort out permits, checked deer and other details by individual, by family, by property address and many other categories. The next step is for agents to take to the roads and personally investigate questionable reports.

“What happens when we investigate these cases changes from person to person,” Plunkett said. “Sometimes when we make contact the individual is able to show us how everything was on the up and up. Other times we have to sort through various stories, collect a large amount of evidence and sort our way to the truth.”

When citations are written, the agent must confiscate the meat from any illegally harvested deer and ensure it is donated to Missouri’s Share the Harvest program. Share the Harvest distributes donations of venison to families in need across the state.

“We don’t want the meat to go to waste, especially when people can really use it,” Plunkett said.

Madison County Telecheck generated leads resulted in two citations for improper use of landowner tags where the deer were not killed on the landowner’s property, one citation for a deer tagged and checked by a person other than the shooter, and one over limit harvest of antlered bucks. Agents also gave several warnings in the county.

In Wayne County, five citations resulted from Telecheck leads, including one for possession of an illegally taken deer, one for hunting without a permit, one for taking over the limit, and two for failing to tag deer. Other investigations are ongoing, according to West. He said the high number of citations written from last week’s investigations demonstrate how Telecheck is a valuable investigative tool for Conservation agents.

“Telecheck is kind of like a multi-tool for ethical hunters, landowners and conservation agents,” said West. “The Wildlife Code exists to ensure we’re able to maintain hunting as a safe and ethical tradition in Missouri, and as conservation agents we’re here to enforce that code.”

For further information about Telecheck or to report a suspected wildlife violation, contact your local conservation agent or go online to Anonymous reports of wildlife violations may be made seven days a week, 24 hours a day by calling Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-1111.