Lighter Side

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March 11th, 2002

Hunting Hunters in the Yoop, Part 2
By Joe Heywood

I rode patrols with conservation officers in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula, November 12-18, 2001. Having already written a novel about a conservation officer, [The Ice Hunter] I learned and saw more than I could imagine. What follows is fact - and the fuel for future fiction.

On the second day I meet Officer Steve Burton at a gas station-convenience store in Sagola at 4:30 a.m. and away we go with coffee and donuts. I tell him everybody was worried about him yesterday. He nods and that's the last we speak of it. Within thirty minutes we are checking five four-wheeler drivers who are just getting ready to head out way before dawn. When Steve asks about helmets, they have to hunt around in their pickups to find them.

Steve is a genuine Yooper from Ishpeming, a former state trooper and now an officer in the Army National Guard. He's also now working on his master's degree in public administration at Northern Michigan University. He grew up hunting deer at the family camp on the Pesheke River, near the McCormack Wilderness Area.

When vehicles we've already checked pass by us in a small convoy, the drivers all have on their helmets and are riding single. Law abiding citizens all.

"Yesterday morning there must have been twenty of them," Steve says. "Word must be out that we're here."

After daylight we check a camp where there is a nice eight-point hanging. Only one man is in camp and he acts hinky about our presence. His campmates are in the woods.

"Something's not right back there," Steve says afterwards. He'll revisit the camp later. I'm tempted to write off his feelings, but I know that good cops develop instincts about situations and master the art of situational awareness. Something has triggered his concern, even if he can't verbalize it.

That afternoon we are at another location where there is an illegal camp with litter all around, including spent condom packs.

"I think I know who these guys are. Couple of yahoos from town. They're gonna clean this mess up."

Further up the road we find a tent with four bucks hanging from a nearby tree, one of them is half-skinned, but all of them are tagged legally. There is no sign of the hunters. It looks like they split in the middle of the skinning job. The meat will spoil in this heat.

A small pickup with a man and woman pass us, moving slowly. Slow-moving vehicles during the last two weeks of November strongly suggest road-hunting.

When we catch up to them later, they are backed into an open spot.

"How's the hunting?" Steve asks.

"Not hunting," the pudgy man driver says.

No guns, no licenses needed, so we move on.

"They're not deer hunters. The woman was scrambling to pull up her jeans," I tell my partner for the day. "They were down to her knees."

Steve grins. "Oh."

At dark we sit on a camp, intercept people coming back in. We earlier found a fourteen-year-old boy hunting alone with a shotgun in an illegal blind his dad took him to. We wait for dad to get back and of course he is last to arrive. Steve takes the man aside, explains about the blind and that he has to hunt with his son. The man was hunting miles away. By law he needs to be supervising his son. I think. There are so many rules I can't keep them straight. When somebody asks me a question, I refer them to the officer.

Pulling out of the camp we get a call from Dickinson County. Can we handle a bear-truck accident? The animal is a traffic hazard and the Troop and county units are on other calls.

"Okay, but we're thirty miles away," Steve tells the dispatcher and away we go, humming along at high speed with our blue lights flashing. It is a surreal ride and a lot of cars ignore the lights and don't pull aside as state law requires. Our siren whirps us through towns and villages. We both try to keep an eye out for deer. I can't help myself. I feel the exhilaration of a six-year-old riding a fire truck. My unabashed glee embarrasses me. The COs are professionals. I am a professional. I am not allowed juvenile feelings like this. But they are there and I have to laugh at myself. Doofus, I chide myself.

At the accident scene the bear is on the side of the right lane. A truck is pulled over further on. We stop behind the truck. An elderly man is driving with a son who looks like Fatty Arbuckle.

"Nope, since we hit it, I been sittin' her' tryin' not to shit my pants," he says. "The bloody thing come outta nowheres."

"Bears," Steve grumbles as he writes.

After the truck hit the bear, two more vehicles struck it, dragging it down the highway. An oncoming eighteen-wheeler was being tailgated by a woman who picked that moment to pass, pulled out, saw the bear and swerved back behind the truck too sharply sending her spinning down onto the grassy shoulder, stopping within feet of a steep drop-off A near disaster, but she is gone by the time we arrive.

I walk back to the point of impact and pace it off. There is a huge splash of blood and about thirty yards of intestine chunks down the right lane, just inside the center line. It is two hundred and eleven yards to where the bear lies. It's a jet-black female yearling, maybe 175-200 pounds. Most female black bears are in hibernation by October 15, regardless of the weather. Too bad this girl was still out and about. The injuries are what a pathologist would call massive trauma and I can't help thinking what damage a truck would do to a human being as I drag the bloody animal down into the ditch to prevent accidents from gawkers.

It's raining when Steve drops me at my truck in Sagola so I can head for Crystal Falls. Tom and Sherie Courchaine were expecting me for dinner at six and I am late. Tom is District 3's senior officer. We met when he was in a similar position at District 12 in Plainwell, near my home. He served as a CO and sergeant before his latest promotion. He is a veteran of the Indian fishing treaty rights battles of the Garden Peninsula in the seventies that nearly led to bloodshed. Sherie is a former diabetes educator. They met and married when Tom was a CO assigned to Escanaba. Sherie's dad Jack joins us for dinner. He is over from his place in McMillan in the eastern Yoop to hunt the back of Tom and Sherie's place.

I knock on the door and Sherie immediately sees the blood on my hands and arms and laughs pleasantly. "Spent the day as a working warden, eh?" She points me to the bathroom to wash up. After a wonderful dinner and sharing a couple of bottles of a French Bordeaux, I can hardly stay awake and head for Iron River. It is drizzling and there are deer to dodge all the way. My 58-year-old ass is dragging and it is only Day 3 of my eight days of patrol.


I am no longer sure of the day. I have not heard news, read a paper, know nothing except the work we are doing. It is night again and Dave Painter and I have driven down a two-track to a camp. We park and get out. Three hunters have just returned to their tent and are getting a fire going. Dave chats with them when another vehicle comes along the road headed past the camp into the woods. Dave walks over and flags him down and talks to the man who is a retired police officer from Detroit. He says he's staying in a cabin in Wisconsin and he's going down the road to look for an ax he left back in the woods. He also says he was expecting a pal to meet him, but he probably stayed in the cabin instead of hunting. Just then two more vehicles come down the road heading back to where this guy was headed been. Dave talks to them briefly and they head on. The two men in the second truck are sullen and do not want to talk. All answers are monosyllabic.

Dave says to me, "They're all together. He keeps the first guy there and lets the two vehicles pass. Obviously his instincts are aroused. Meanwhile the first three hunters get in their truck and disappear. When the two vehicles come back after ten minutes, Dave intercepts them again. Dave goes back to the second truck to look at it. As I start to follow him, the former non-talkers in the first truck roll down their window and suddenly become effusive and want to play "Twenty Questions." They ask me if there's a DNR in every state, and I say yes, but the function has different names in different states. They start to ask me questions about the US Fish & Wildlife Service and if there are enough conservation officers yada-yada, and I tell them to direct their questions to their state representative or the governor and go to join Dave.

The guys in the first truck were trying to divert me. I've dealt with enough reporters and other folks to recognize the tactic. Besides, to them I am just another CO of some unknown flavor. I am big with a short green parka, a big black flashlight, and a hunter's orange cap, dressed much like Dave. In the dark we look the same.

Dave has found two doe heads in the second truck -- and the missing hatchet. One of the deer is not tagged. He quickly learns that it belongs to the retired police officer, who doesn't have a doe tag. Dave writes him a ticket and keeps the head for evidence. All of this takes place at night over about thirty minutes and it is so dark that I literally can't see my hand when I hold it up. After we get an address for the cabin where they are staying, and the hunters have departed, we drive back to where they were and look around. Dave suspects there is another deer back here and that our sudden appearance has caused them to abandon it. We spend thirty minutes bumping around in the fields and using the spotlights mounted on the sides of the truck to read tracks in the grass to see where they have been and we find a place where a truck was stuck and some branches chopped to help get them out of the mud. Dave decides to come back at first light tomorrow to look around and see what he can find. He's sure there is something more.

I have dinner at 9:30 p.m. It consists of a donut from a gas station in Crystal Falls and a decaf coffee with amaretto creamer. I don't remember having a lunch. In fact, I can't any lunches during the week except for my supply of energy bars and a day-old pasty that Steve Burton and I shared during one of our patrols. My breakfasts have been donuts and orange juice from the same gas station.

I nod. "With holes," I tell her. Donuts with holes are cheaper than those without holes. I never bother to find out why.

Riding back-wrenching roads all day and trying to concentrate on seeing everything we can see is leaving me bushed every night. This is definitely a job for younger people.


Day 8 and Dave Painter and I are wandering roads somewhere between Iron River and Crystal Falls. It's a quiet day. Many hunters have already broken camp and headed for home. The day before yesterday we hoofed into blinds in northern Iron County and had a spell in the morning checking guys carrying handguns without permits. Later we cruised a road past a cabin Dave had been called out to around Halloween.

The resident had beaten another man with a baseball bat in Crystal Falls and the Iron County cops had gone out to his house to find him and discovered a blood splash and deer hair. Dave got the call at 2 a.m. and found an illegal deer. He didn't get home until 4:30 that morning. He says the assailant works on a pipeline out of state and he has been cruising by the house since then in case the man comes back. There is a warrant for his arrest for assault and the illegal deer.

Dave tells me about another incident where an ex-con violated a restraining order by entering his ex-wife's house and beating her. Then took her gun and shot a deer. Dave got called out in the middle of the night for that one too.

"There's a larger fine for killing the deer than beating his ex," Dave says, shaking his head.

About an hour ago we were driving along when a woman suddenly popped up on the road, dragging a deer. We stopped. She had shot the six-point, gutted it and dragged it up a steep hill to the road in about twenty minutes. We threw the deer in the back of the truck and drove her to her house, a third of a mile mile away. She was going to drag it and didn't want to bother us, but we take her. Dave tells me she's a Native American and he has busted her father for illegally taking a bear. She is built like a linebacker, with a rosy complexion. Dave congratulates her on her success and earns a big smile.

Last night Steve Burton walked up on a hunter with an illegal bait pile. Steve ticketed the same guy in the same place last season, but the guy says he doesn't remember Steve or the incident. Later we found a truck parked along a remote tote road well after dark and stopped. After awhile we heard voices in the thick woods and got glimpses of flashlights. Maybe they were dragging a deer out. But we quickly determined they were lost in the dense underbrush. The weather was finally getting cold and we slapped out hands against our sides to keep warm while we waited. Three men emerged on the road without a deer. One man was packing a loaded 44. magnum hogleg, which we don't see right away because he had it under his coat. When Steve saw it, he asked the man to make it visible. The man was unhappy about the events, but Steve explained the concealed weapons law and reminded the man he could confiscate the weapon and ask for the court to condemn it. This calmed the man down. Steve took the pistol and unloaded it. The man didn't have a concealed weapons permit. Absent such a permit, you have to keep a pistol visible and in plain sight. He didn't.

One of the hunters told us he shot at a deer, but couldn't find blood. He fetched his pals and they went with him to look for a trail. The law allows for finding and dispatching a wounded deer after shooting hours, which end thirty minutes after sundown, but the guy had a loaded gun and they had three lights. It would be okay to take a weapon, but it would make sense to carry the ammo and load up only when the weapon was needed. Steve senses this story isn't what it's ought to be and issues a citation. The pistol-packer says, he's not going to carry the damn thing any more.

But that was last night and today has been pretty quiet, the sun is out, the air cooling down and we are passing a pasture land when I spy an animal in the field.

"Is that a deer?" I ask.

"Give me the glasses," Dave says, stopping the truck.

He looks, hands them to me. "Wolf."

I take them and look. Sure enough. I grab my camera with the 300 mm lens and get out. This wolf is about one hundred yards away, light-colored and massive and stares at me while I snap photos, praying the animal doesn't spook and bolt, but it stands there majestically alternating looks at us and the other end of the field, which we can't see. I kick myself for not having the 1,000-mm.

A red pickup truck pulls over to the shoulder just past me and the driver jumps out.

"What is it?" he asks excitedly.

"Wolf," Dave says.

I keep snapping away.

Suddenly I see a rifle rising in my peripheral vision and instinctively I reach over and push the barrel down toward the ground. "You can't shoot a wolf!" I growl.

The man says, "I know, I just want to look through the scope, eh!"

Dave says. "There's a second wolf along the hedgerow, guys."

I get a glimpse, but no photo. It is black, smaller.

Two wolves at one time. Way cool, my kids would say.

Back in the truck, I tell Dave I'm sorry I grabbed the guy's rifle.

He says, "I almost did the same thing when he pulled it out of the case from the back of his truck, but I saw him make sure the chamber was clear and I knew it wasn't loaded." He is amused, either at my naiveté or my reaction or both.

Several hundred yards down the road we see cattle herded against a fence in the same field the wolves were in.

"Better tell Jim Hammill about this," I say. "They may have been stalking the cattle."

Dave nods.

Three weeks later at the post-season deer feed at retired Officer Mike Holmes's camp near Iron Mountain we learn that the man with the scoped rifle was one of Steve Burton's National Guard sergeants. He told Steve about the wolves and how Dave Painter was with "some old guy with a camera."

It's good to make an impression, I guess.

I am back in the American Inn in Iron River by nine and fast asleep within thirty minutes. Tomorrow I will begin the drive home to Portage. It will take about twelve hours. It is supposed to snow along the way. So it goes. ~ Joe Heywood

About Joseph:

Joseph Heywood "Born in Rhinebeck New York, grew up in a USAF family, living all over U.S. and in Italy as well. First year of high school in Norman, Oklahoma and final three in Rudyard, Michigan in the eastern Upper Peninsula. I graduated from Michigan State University in 1965 with BA in journalism. There I played lacrosse on the university club team and was one of the tri-captains in my senior year. After five years in the AF where I was a navigator in a KC-135 tanker. Vietnam vet. After the AF I joined The Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo in 1970; I retired in 1999 as Vice President of Worldwide Public Relations. I have fished in Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming, but in none of the hallowed places in those states. Most of my trouting has been confined to Michigan, where there is ample opportunity and plenty of stubborn and wily fish. I wrote and published three novels while working in the corporate world and now write fiction full time. My fifth novel was published earlier this year by Lyons Press and my next novel will also be published by Lyons sometime next spring. I am not a great fisherman, but I continue to learn, which makes it a wonderful passion. My other passion is ice hockey, namely the Detroit Red Wings."

[His latest novel is The Ice Hunter.] He lives in Portage, Michigan, and claims the Pere Marquette as his 'home water.' You may find him in the Chat Room as 'Joe' or 'Joe H'.

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