Conservation officers, also known as game wardens, are employees of state or federal fish and wildlife agencies. They work with hunters, anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts to protect fish, wildlife and their habitats. Bowhunters who encounter a conservation officer for the first time might feel stressed, but they shouldn’t. Here are five questions you probably have about conservation officers, and some tips to boost your confidence when approached by an officer in the field.
1. What do they do?
Conservation officers enforce hunting, fishing and boating regulations, as well as boat and off-road vehicle registration and regulations. As Kansas conservation officer Danial Haneke said: “The diversity of the job is what I enjoy. I can be in the field in the morning checking deer or turkey hunters, and on the water in the afternoon checking fishermen.”
Conservation officers play an important role in bowhunters’ overall hunting experience, ensuring they abide by the relevant rules and regulations. These rules include bag limits (how many animals they’re allowed to harvest), using the appropriate weapon for a given hunting season, hunting only when possessing a valid tag or license, and legally documenting a harvest when required. These basic hunting rules are covered in a hunter-education course. Enrolling in one of these courses is the first step toward getting started bowhunting, and will put your mind at ease about being on the right side of the law.
Conservation officers also protect wildlife when necessary, such as when they get struck by vehicles, become trapped on ice, or get inside buildings, fences or somewhere else that’s potentially dangerous.
2. How can I respect the officer, and the wild?
“Understanding all rules and regulations before a hunt is a must,” Haneke said. “Too often we stop hunters who have no intentions of wrongdoing, but failed to thoroughly read all the rules.”
Check all state and local regulations before you go bowhunting, and carry a copy of your state’s hunting guidebook if you’re uncertain about the rules or processes you must follow while in the field or after a kill. These hunting guides are available at most archery shops, and online at state wildlife agency websites. Additional resources from the International Hunter Education Association are also helpful for understanding hunter ethics and safe hunting practices.
3. What should bowhunters expect when stopped?
Bowhunters who encounter a conservation officer for the first time might feel stressed, but you shouldn’t. “We’re not out to get you, or to prove anyone wrong,” Haneke said. “We simply have a job to do.”
He said bowhunters using public lands should expect to be checked. He urges bowhunters to remain calm and courteous when speaking with conservation officers. That’s easier to do when you’ve done your homework – which includes getting the proper documentation – before going afield.
“We expect you to have all necessary documentation ready and/or easily accessible,” Haneke said. “We don’t want to cut into your hunting time with a lengthy stop. Being prepared helps get you back to the hunt much more quickly.”
He suggests keeping tags and identification (your hunting license) ready. “Some hunters carry a separate wallet with all of their hunting and fishing documentation,” Haneke said. “It’s a good idea. It keeps everything organized, and helps speed up the process.”
4. What are the most common hunting violations committed by novice hunters?
“Beginning hunters often fail to properly tag big game,” Haneke said. “That’s the most frequent violation we see. Hunters get excited about the harvest and start taking pictures and field dressing it. Before they realize it, the animal is loaded into a vehicle without a carcass tag filled out and attached.”
Carcass tags must usually be attached to big game animals before moving them from the kill site. Further, your hunting area could have separate rules for this process, so check all regulations where you hunt.
5. How can I be proactive?
When in doubt, ask questions. Conservation officers are there to help you and the game you hunt. There’s no need to fear an encounter with conservation officers. Be respectful when speaking with them, and be sure you know and follow all rules and regulations.
Finally, if you see something out of place while hunting, or spot another hunter committing a wildlife violation, contact the state’s wildlife agency. A conservation officer will help sort things out.