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Highwires, Bowling Pins, and Other Duties as Assigned

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

"So, you're a conservation agent, huh? Great! Now, what do you do, exactly?" This is the kind of question people often ask when I tell them what I do for a living.

My usual reply is that I enforce Missouri's fish and game laws, as well as promote conservation through landowner and media contacts and school programs. I also enforce all state laws on lands owned, leased or managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

That only scratches the surface. The job responsibilities of a conservation agent are too diverse to describe with just a few words. The combination of law enforcement and non-enforcement duties can make this job as challenging as juggling bowling pins while walking across a high wire.

And, like the high-wire juggler at the circus, everybody watches a conservation agent to see how he does it.

Part of the balancing act occurs while checking hunting and fishing activity in the field.

As a state-certified peace officer, my primary duties involve law enforcement. I deal with both wildlife violators and other criminal offenders. Unlike other law enforcement agency contacts, however, the overwhelming majority of the people I check are honest, law-abiding sportsmen and women. The others just try to look that way. While I try to keep most of these contacts positive, I'm always looking for subtleties that separate the two groups.

In the southern Ozarks, summer activity includes checking fishing permits and creels, arresting litterbugs and looking for illegal speargunners. Spearguns may not be possessed on unimpounded waters or adjacent banks. These devices give an unfair advantage to the user in harvesting fish. The deep pools of clear Ozark streams usually hold concentrations of big walleyes and smallmouth bass. Poachers equipped with a speargun can swim within inches of these fish and completely decimate a hole in short order.

The first cold front of late summer usually signals the start of deer poaching season. From then until late winter, I keep busy catching spotlighters, deer doggers and others who don't respect established deer season dates, bag limits and other regulations in place to wisely manage our state's deer herd.

To a few outlaws, these activities are family traditions that have been passed down for generations. Some don't think poaching is wrong, even though it's against the law.

A case in point occurred one October. Two brothers, one a juvenile, were walking their dog home when they spotted a "spike" buck limping through the woods. The younger

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