Wildlife officers, game wardens, rangers, conservation officers – they go by different names in different states, but their mission is the same – protect wildlife, habitat and enforce game laws. Their presence is crucial as they are an important tool to help stop, or at least curb, poaching and illegal hunting and fishing activity. That’s something that all hunters, and outdoorsmen and women, should rally behind. That kind of law enforcement is a difficult task though, given the extensive amount of land and water across the country. Based on information from 2015, there were less than 7,000 wildlife officers in the U.S. which translates to one officer for about every 250 miles. That’s a huge amount of space to police effectively.
Why don’t state agencies just hire more wildlife officers? In theory, that’s a great idea. However, logistically when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the money. Hiring more officers requires more funding and many states don’t have a budget to support it. Funding for these positions comes largely from hunters and outdoorsmen and women who purchase licenses, permits, guns, ammo, archery equipment and other hunting/shooting gear – all of which are subject to an 11% excise tax. This tax feeds the Pittman-Robertson Act and the money in this fund is then distributed to state governments. The money is divvied up, and the amount each state receives is proportional to the geographic size as well as the number of licensed hunters in the state for that year. In essence, the more licensed hunters your state has, the more funding it will receive which could help staff a larger team of wildlife officers to patrol and protect the natural areas and animals where you live, hunt and recreate.
Reporting suspected and actual game violations is incredibly important. The amount of wildlife related offenses that go unreported is likely very high. Unlike a city where there are constant eyes and security cameras, the rural parts of our country aren’t watched over like a hawk, leaving few if any witnesses to crimes. Thus, game violations can sometimes go completely unnoticed because there wasn’t a third party there to see it happen. So, being vigilant is important. If you see strange activity, find a carcass that has been abandoned, witness someone shooting from the road or their vehicle, see someone chasing wildlife, trespassing or anything else, it should be reported. With the rise of trail camera usage, many people are also catching trespassers and poachers on camera. Reporting it and turning those photos over to wildlife officers can help them identify and hold those individuals accountable. Wildlife officers can’t be everywhere all the time, especially when they are working such large territories, so help from the public through reporting suspected or actual game violations is appreciated. Furthermore, if law enforcement knows there are reports of violations in your area they will be more likely to allocate resources and officers to help, if needed. If violations go unreported, many times they can’t justify spending more money in an area that appears to have no issues.
Most hunters don’t intend on breaking the law, some committing minor infractions entirely by accident. Dates, hunting hours, boundary lines, bag limits, antler restrictions, tagging requirements and more – these are just a few of the regulations that are frequently and often unintentionally violated. Some offenses are minor, and others far more serious. In a QDMA Whitetail Report, they surveyed different state agencies and found that the most common infraction among hunters was the failure to tag, check, register or report a deer that was legally harvested. Other common violations were the hunting or unlawful possession of a deer without a license or permit, hunting over bait, hunting without an adequate amount of blaze orange and shooting from the road. Using the data they collected, they also were able to come to the conclusion that a minimum of 25,000 game violations happen each year, and those are just the instances that are reported. A good way to avoid these kinds of minor infractions is to thoroughly read the rules and regulations for the species you will be hunting, in every state you will be hunting. Laws change from state to state, and year to year, so you need to understand and follow them to a T. Wildlife officers are often made out to look like the bad guys in these situations as they have to enforce the laws and hand out citations for violations. However, the rule and regulation apparatus is in place to not only protect and support wild game and their habitats, but also to ensure fairness among hunters. So, the enforcement of those rules is vital, regardless of severity. The onus is on hunters to be well informed and adhere to the regulations where they hunt.
Beyond the “rules”, a hunter’s ethical code has to guide them. If you can’t tag or bag your animal or quarry legally, then it wasn’t yours to take in the first place. Instant gratification is overrated, hunting and the success that you may get to experience is much more gratifying when you put in time, effort and sacrifice and do it the right way. Hours in a stand or blind, miles and miles of ground covered, sitting in the mud or snow, enduring the elements and pitting yourself against nature – that’s the true challenge of hunting. There is nothing exceptional about chasing an animal down in a vehicle – it’s a cheat. As a hunter, outdoorsman or sportsman, we should have respect for the animals we pursue and hold ourselves to a high ethical standard when it comes to harvesting them. The rules are in place to protect our awesome natural resources, and your conscience exists to, hopefully, keep you honest.
Wildlife officers are vital to the outdoors. They enforce game laws and protect wildlife, both of which impact the quantity and quality of game afield and ensure that there will be hunting opportunities for generations to come. We should all tip our hats and thank those officers tasked with patrolling our wild spaces and enforcing the regulations that are so vital to effective management. They face a lot of challenges and even danger doing so. Help where you can by making sure that you are abiding by hunting rules and regulations and report game violations or suspected violations to your area officer.
Be a good steward,