Dave's Warden Report, Vol 5

"WHY WAIT UNTIL THE OPENER?"

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

On Friday, November 20, 1992, Deputy Warden Phil Migas and I (Conservation Warden Dave Sabrowsky) were in the Schoepke Township of Oneida County for the purpose of investigating a complaint of deer hunting the day before season on the Victor Polka property. The complaint stated that a Jim Wilkenson usually hunted on the Friday before season on Victor Polka's 80 acres and had been doing it for years.

I had not had a chance to explore the Polka property before November 20 (O.K. I had been bow hunting in Iowa and didn't get back until Thursday) so the plan was for Phil to leave me off in the late afternoon. I would just walk from east to west across the property hoping to find some fresh man tracks in the snow and then follow the tracks to the early hunter.

At 4:10 p.m. I began walking and had gone approximately 200 yards when I observed fresh man tracks. The boot tracks went from south to north so I followed. For some reason I had a mindset of someone hunting on the ground and focused my attention at ground level, looking for a hunter. I had followed the boot tracks less than 100 yards when they turned west on a woods road. I followed only a short distance when I looked up and observed an elevated but completely enclosed deer stand approximately 60 yards away. The windows were open but I did not see anyone in or around the stand. The tracks I was following lead to the stand, some tracks lead up the steps. while some boot tracks continued past to the west. A bait pile of corn, apples, and hay was located 30 yards to the north. When at the base of the stand I also could see man tracks going to and from an old pick-up truck parked 50 yards away to the south. Entrance to the deer stand was accomplished by climbing an 8-foot staircase and then opening a trap door located at the bottom of the stand. The stand measure approximately 5'x5' square. There was snow on the bottom two steps and the tracks indicated someone had gone up but not come down. I walked up the steps and tried to push the trap door up but it did not budge. The door was not secured from the outside either. I walked back down the steps and then followed the tracks west on the woods road, always watching the windows of the stand. I saw no one move. The tracks went only a short distance and returned to the stand. I then followed the tracks to the truck. The window was open but I didn't see any rifle or rifle case in the vehicle. I was now certain that the deer stand was occupied and the suspect had seen me coming, compelling him (or her) to duck down out of sight.

This time when I ascended the steps I went one step higher so I could gain some leverage and push the door with my shoulder. This time the trap door moved a couple of inches. I figured the suspect weighed between 220-230 pounds.

After descending the steps I walked about ten feet away so I could watch the west window and said out-loud (it felt odd to talk to a deer stand) that "I am a conservation warden and would like you to come on down". Nothing.

I then said that if he didn't come down he could be charged with obstruction. Finally a reaction. I heard some movement inside the stand and then an individual appeared at the west window and asked what he could do for me. I ignored his question but asked him if his rifle was still loaded. The suspect stated that it was so I asked him to hold it over his head and unload it while I watched. The suspect complied and I watched as he unloaded five rounds. I asked him to come down with the rifle, which he did. The suspect was identified as Jim Wilkenson from Kenosha. The rifle he brought down was a Winchester .243.

I read Mr. Wilkenson his Miranda Rights and asked him if he had a Hunter's Choice permit. Jim replied he did not. When I asked him if he was just going to shoot a buck that night, he just smiled and said, "don't ask me that". When I asked him if he does this every year he stated this was the first time (Yah, right). I finally asked how many others were up here hunting tonight. Jim said that no one else was. (Yah, right).

I escorted Jim down the hill where I turned him over to Phil Migas and then retraced my steps. It was getting very dark but I felt I could find at least one more of Jim's partners.

This time I followed the woods road south of the truck and had gone approximately 150 yards when I observed another elevated deer stand very similar to the one Jim had occupied. Hay, corn, and apples were located 30 yards north of the stand. It was now 4:47p.m. I could just see the shape of a mans head through the north window. I shined my flashlight towards the stand but only got glare back from the window. I switched off the flashlight and hustled up towards the stand. The suspect was leaning out the window so I just stated that I was a conservation warden and asked if his rifle was still loaded. The suspect (later identified as Herman Rickart) stated he had unloaded it when he saw me coming, thinking it was Jim. I told the defendant he was under arrest and to come on down with the rifle. Herman came down but without any rifle. I walked up into the stand and recovered an uncased .30-.06 rifle. Herman Rickart had two loaded clips in his pockets.

After reading Mr. Rickart his Miranda Warning and he replied that he would talk to me. When asked if he had a Hunter's Choice permit, he replied that he did. When asked if he was here tonight to shoot a buck or a doe, he said he was going to shoot a buck. I asked if he had done this before and he said it was his first year up here.

I allowed Mr. Rickart and Mr. Wilkenson to return to Victor Polka's cabin while I walked back to meet Phil at the truck. Once the evidence was tagged we drove to Victor Polka's cabin where five individuals were waiting. Wilkenson and Rickart's friends were all dressed in their deer hunting clothing leading me to believe the whole crew had been in their stands that evening. We had a brief conversation and then we left.

Wilkenson and Rickart were charged with hunting deer during the closed season. I only wish I had had the time that evening to visit all the stands or had help to do it.

The problem of buck hunting Thursday and Friday before season has certainly increased with the popularity of baiting. While I was dealing with Rickart and Wilkenson at dusk I heard 5 single shots from five different directions. That is not target practice. Not at that time of night. I can only speculate but the odds are good those were also buck hunters. It is a real problem associated with baiting. People have a tendency to "claim deer as their own" once they start baiting/feeding them. They also realize that if they don't get that buck opening day the chances are good the neighbor will get it so they open the season a tad early. They feel they are owed a deer due to their baiting efforts. Does it impact the total deer kill? Not really. Is it fair to the honest hunter? Absolutely not!

Not all baiters are violators but all violators bait.



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