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Illinois hunting and fishing

A buck chases a doe on the opening day of firearm deer season Friday. Photos by Chris Young.

Conservation officers on the front lines as deer season opens

November 19, 2011 at 07:49 AM

The State Journal-Register

Conservation police officer Kevin Bettis sounds as excited as any deer hunter on opening day.

“There’s a buck,” Bettis said. “And a doe standing in that field.”

Bettis stopped his truck and watched the deer through binoculars.

“He’s trying to corral her, get her away from the other more dominant bucks,” he said.

The doe took off running, and the buck gave chase, playing out a November ritual that has been going on for thousands of years.

Bettis is one of 119 Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police field officers statewide.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Friday morning — the first day of firearm deer season in Illinois — he was cruising the back roads and country lanes of Menard County checking tips, running down complaints and verifying the license and permit compliance of hunters.

Mostly, things were quiet.

A tip that probably would have resulted in an arrest didn’t pan out. A complaint that hunters were too close to a residence was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

And an out-of-the way road where people have been known to shoot deer from vehicles was empty of traffic.

“This time of year, you can pop over a hill and you might see a truck at the bottom of the roadway,” Bettis said. “Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s nothing.

“But sometimes they are shooting out the window,” he said. “People do silly things over deer.”

Poacher patrol

The firearm deer-hunting season is Illinois’ most popular, with more than 327,000 permits issued to hunters in the state.

Just over half of all deer taken in all seasons are killed during the two weekends of firearm deer season. Of the 182,270 deer taken in 2010, firearm season accounted for 98,944.

The first segment continues through Sunday. The second weekend is Dec. 1-4.

Friday morning, Bettis wrote one ticket and issued a handful of warnings. Most problems encountered involved to hunters leaving their licenses and permits at home. Permit issues are the No. 1 reason hunters in Illinois get tickets.

Partly in response to two recent high-profile poaching cases, DNR announced that conservation police officers would be out in force this weekend.

“Most hunters are very honest people,” Bettis said. “It’s that very minute percentage that causes problems for everybody.”

People still call conservation officers “game wardens,” but the truth is they go through police training at the Illinois State Police Academy, then receive additional training to enforce game and conservation laws.

Before they go out on their own, they spend time in the field with experienced officers.

People he knows

Bettis, in his 22nd year as a conservation officer, says being the local resident officer has its upside and downside.

“A large percentage of the people I will check today, I know,” Bettis said.

“It’s disappointing when you find somebody you know doing something wrong,” he said. “But shame on them for putting you in that situation. You just have to do what you are hired to do.”

While officers see some of the worst behaviors, they also see some of the most admirable.

Bettis pointed out a hunter set up in a small stand of trees with little wildlife habitat available.

“He’s religious about it.” Bettis said. “He hunts here every year, and I’ve never had any problems with him.

“He must do pretty good. I give him an A for effort, because I don’t know if I could sit there all day on a cold and windy day with only a little timber and railroad right-of-way to hunt.

“That’s the diehard hunter. They just live for this.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

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