Dave's Warden Report, Vol 2

"The #330 Deer Trap"

Not everyone who baits is a violator, but all violators bait.

In October of 1987, I (Conservation Warden Dave Sabrowsky) received a complaint concerning late night shooting. The complaint was not very specific but involved an area of the county where I had caught shining outfits in the past and assumed that to be the nature of this complaint too. I did monitor the area throughout the fall but never observed any shining activity or heard any shots fired at night.

In late September, on a Friday night, Deputy Warden Phil Migas called me to explain that he had just been at a gas station in Elcho and had observed a blue pick-up truck with a spotlight on the front seat. The occupants were inside buying rifle shells for a .223 caliber rifle. He also had the vehicle license plate. State Patrol was able to tell us the owner of the vehicle was Dick Greaser of Milwaukee. Once we had that established we checked the Langlade County plat book to see if Dick Greaser had land in the county. The owner of the vehicle did own 20 acres near the same area where I had received the complaint the previous fall and had been working there for possible illegal shining activity. We drove to the suspects 20 acres and as we drove past we did see the blue pick-up parked next to a trailer home. We continued driving to the north and parked in my usual hiding place overlooking an old hayfield. Nothing happened that evening.

Although some pieces of the puzzle seemed to be fitting together I was bothered by the fact that I wasn't seeing any shining activity from my normal hiding spot. The following evening I decided to park on a high ridge closer to the suspect trailer with the hopes I might see or hear something I may have been missing from my usual spot. At 9:10p.m. I heard the sharp crack of a small caliber rifle coming from the vicinity of the suspect's trailer. It was a quiet night and since I had not heard or seen a vehicle moving I had to assume the shots came from the trailer. I grabbed my binoculars and worked my way through the woods (in the dark) towards the suspect's trailer. Just before I got to an open area north of the trailer the night sky was lit up by a powerful beam of light. I still had no idea of its origin. I hadn't heard a vehicle. I didn't think it was a U.F.O. but was starting to get suspicious.

When I finally got into position to see the lights of the suspects trailer I stopped to observe for awhile. It was a good thing I did. To get to the trailer I would have to cross a small fallow field and then a larger elongated field before I was back into the cover of woods. Just before I started my trek the large field was illuminated by the powerful beam from a hand-held spotlight. It was fortunate I had not been crossing the field and relieved it wasn't a U.F.O. I still wasn't sure if the light had originated from the trailer or someone was out on foot. I felt it best to stay where I was and hope for the best. If they shot a deer I could then make my move. It was now 10:00p.m. For the next two and a half hours the hand held spotlight was shined approximately every half hour, twice more over the field but the other times to the south side of the trailer. No shots were fired. At 2:30a.m. I hadn't seen any shining for two hours so I retreated, assuming the trailer occupants had retired for the evening.

On Sunday afternoon I drove past the trailer and the vehicle was gone. I assumed the suspects had returned to Milwaukee. I contacted my supervisor Dick Streng (now retired) and asked him if he could assist me the next day. I wanted to hide my vehicle and explore the property around the trailer so I could figure out just what the suspects were up to and how to catch them.

On Monday, Dick and I drove back to the area, hid our truck, and sneaked to the Greaser property. We did see a trampled area in some open hardwoods along the east end of the long field and assumed that was the spot where the suspects had stood to shine the field. We could not find any spent firearm cartridges. We then walked through the woods south of the trailer where the spotlight had been shined and found a feed trough filled with shelled corn and apples approximately 90 yards from the trailer. A shooting/viewing lane had been cut through the trees from the south side of the trailer to the feed trough. Underneath a screenless/crankout window on the south side of the trailer we found several spent cartridges, including some from a .223. I finally understood the complaint of late night shooting. It also explained my lack of success when working shiners only a mile to the north.

I continued to monitor the cabin on weekends. In October, the suspects did return. I asked Tomahawk Warden Tom Wenninger (now retired) to assist me. Unfortunately the weather was rainy and foggy the whole weekend and our suspects never had an opportunity to violate. Visibility was limited to less than 100 feet each evening due to the fog. It's not always easy, even for cabin shooters.

On November 10th, the suspects were back up to their trailer. I again asked Tom to assist me. Due to another complaint we were unable to get to our parking spot until 9:00p.m. We had just started our hike through the woods when we heard two shots from the vicinity of the cabin. This time the shots sounded as if they had come from a large caliber firearm. We hustled through the woods but we did have another problem this evening. It had snowed 2 inches earlier. We had to take a longer route to get to the Greaser trailer and we could not get as close as we wanted because we did not want to leave tracks where the suspects could stumble onto them. We finally got into position at 10:00p.m. The suspects shined from the cabin, to the south, every half hour, but no shots were fired. All activity ceased at 1:00a.m. We left at 2:00a.m.

Tom couldn't help me on November 11, 1988, so I asked Dick Streng if he would enjoy staying up all night with me in the cold. He readily agreed to assist me. The snow had melted during the day so we could now get close enough to the cabin without fear of our tracks being discover. We also parked in a different area and got into position where we could better observe activity south of the trailer and at the bait site itself. It was a still, crisp, clear moonlight night. From 7:00p.m. to 1:00a.m. we watched our suspects shine from the trailer. We even had decent looks at the suspects faces as they came to the window to shine with rifle in hand. Everything was falling into place except for one minor detail. The deer did not show.

A couple of times when they shined they would swing the light to the west illuminating an old swing set where a very large buck was hanging. I knew in my heart that buck was shot the night before when Tom and I were parking the truck. Also at 12:30a.m., one of the trailer's occupants walked down to a spot approximately 75 feet south of the trailer and spent a minute or two bent over as if handling something on the ground. At 1:00a.m. the suspects retired for the evening. At 1:30a.m. Dick and I agreed that he would go down to investigate the area where the one guy had spent some time and I would sneak over to the buck and feel the wound. Hopefully I could determine if it was a bullet or arrow wound. I will admit that I was a little nervous because the bright moon would also make us vulnerable if someone was still up and watching from the trailer.

I slowly worked my way over to the deer and just as I was feeling the wound behind the shoulder, I saw Dick sprinting through the woods to the east. I dropped to the ground behind the nearest maple. Nothing. After my heart slowed to an acceptable 100 beats/minute I worked my back to Dick. When I asked him what had happened he said he hit some kind of wire and didn't know if it was connected to a set-gun or what. We waited for another 10 minutes. The trailer was quiet. We had to find out what was going on so we sneaked back to the spot where Dick hit the wire. With my back to the trailer I used my penlight to dimly shine the area. The bait had been moved closer to the cabin (apparently the fog had frustrated their efforts the last time and they wanted to be sure to get the deer close enough). A wire cord encircled the corn/apple pile. The cord was suspended approximately 12 inches off the ground and connected by alligator clips to another wire leading into the trailer. Just as we started to whisper to each other the night was lit up by the hand held spotlight. The beam shined over our heads. Carl Lewis could not have caught us. The thought of a loaded rifle swinging on two shadows running through the balsams is an incredible incentive to "RUN LIKE HELL." We didn't stop until we were safely out of harms way.

At the truck we discussed the wire and the buck. We felt the wire was rigged not to a set-gun but to let the trailers occupants know when a deer was at the bait. When the leg of a deer (or warden) hit the wire a the circuit would be broken. Some how, when the circuit was broken the "hunters" would know the deer had come to feed.

I just didn't have enough time to determine how the buck had been killed. Although we both felt the buck was a gun kill we were reluctant to charge in and hope to obtain a confession. We really wanted to catch these guys and knew we'd have only one shot at it.

When I got home at 3:00a.m. I couldn't sleep. At 3:30a.m. the phone rang. It was Dick. He couldn't sleep either. We were both wrapped tight from the nights experience and what we perceived to be a close call. We talked for an hour.

The next afternoon Dick and I drove back to the Greaser trailer. The suspects (and deer) were gone so we investigated. The wire was as we had last seen it but what really made our hair stand on end was the discovery of a 330 connibear trap that had been set to catch deer by the head. For those not familiar with a 330 connibear, these traps are large enough to catch and kill large dogs and are illegal as dry land sets. The trap was set over a small hole in the ground. A handful of corn and two apples were in the hole. A large logging chain was attached to the trap and then to a nearby birch tree. If a deer attempted to eat the bait in the hole the trap would snap over the head and the deer would be unable to free itself. We still don't know how we had missed stepping into the trap ourselves when investigating the night before. I guess we were lucky that night. The gut pile from the buck was also laying a few feet away, confirming my suspicions that the deer was killed as Tom and I were parking the truck on Friday. Tom and I probably would have seen them kill the buck if we hadn't been delayed by a different complaint.

The next weekend was the start of the regular deer gun season. I tried to monitor the Greaser's when I could. They didn't shine when I watched so I figured they were done for the year. I put it on my agenda for next fall.

On September 30, 1989, the Greasers were back up to the trailer. I had checked for bait the week before and they hadn't started baiting yet. I was assuming they would start on their first visit so Phil Migas and I parked in one on my hiding places and then walked the 1/2 mile through the woods to get in position. The suspects didn't let us down. The occupants repeated last years performance of shining on the half hour. I wasn't too confident deer would be feeding on the first night they placed corn but I wasn't going to be absent if one did show either. At 10:30a.m. the light was shined over the bait pile but then the occupants exited the trailer and drove off. We waited.

At 2:30a.m. the suspects hadn't returned so I concluded it was time to go. If a deer was actually feeding when they returned it would probably run off and the suspects would go to bed. Phil and I hiked back to our truck. Just before we got to the truck I saw a beam of light bounce off the clouds. We ran to the truck and saw the spotlight shined again to our north (my normal hiding spot when working shiners). The shiners came our way. When they passed our position we slide in behind with our lights out. (wardens have the statutory authority to drive black in the performance of their duties) The driver of the vehicle was shining the spotlight over the cab of the truck. We could see someone standing in the bed of the pick-up. I activated the emergency lights, then turned on the headlights. The guy in the bed was holding an uncased rifle. The driver pulled over immediately. We placed them under arrest for shining while in possession of a firearm (it was loaded when we checked it). The best news was it was the Greasers, Dick and Don. We had finally caught them the old fashioned way.

We seized all the evidence from the violation but never said a word about the activity around the cabin and what we had seen over the last two falls. In the ensuing weeks I thought about what I should do. Wait to try to catch them shooting a deer behind the cabin or end it now. After discussing it with the Langlade County District Attorney we decided to make them appear in court on the shining charges and then if they plead guilty, tell the judge everything that we had observed over the past two falls.

The Greaser brothers did plead guilty to the shining charges but then in an unusual move, the D.A. asked me to stand up and explain to the judge what we had observed over the last three years. I say unusual because the D.A. normally represents the state in these proceedings and does all the talking. For 15 minutes I talked and before I finished I could see the red color working up the judges neck. He really did not like any of the defendants activities but was especially livid about the connibear trap. The judge gave the maximum penalty. But the biggest surprise came later when several other people in the court room for initial appearances came up to me and congratulated us for catching those guys. Apparently the Greaser's had crossed a line that was even unacceptable to other violators.

We were very fortunate these guys were shining from a vehicle or we may have never caught them. At least it would have taken a lot more time. Catching cabin shooters requires an incredible amount of a wardens time and as this story illustrates, it can be dangerous as well as difficult. Baiting/feeding does make it easier for violators to poach and harder for wardens to catch violators. Baiting/feeding has become the number one tool of the violator and it is not only happening behind cabins and houses. Future stories will demonstrate how widespread this problem is.

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