Appreciating Their Courage Behind The Badge

Thanksgiving is a great time to annually reflect upon the many things in life for which one has to be appreciative.   Good health, decent job, food on the table…all important elements of life many people take for granted during day to day living.

Same goes for our outdoors lifestyle.   Far too often we neglect to show proper appreciation to the corps of deserving individuals who make our outdoors world a better place.   For without them, it would surely be a much more chaotic existence filled with rampant abuse and blatant resource corruption.

Of course, I’m talking about the 190 Minnesota Conservation Officers who patrol our fields, forests and waters to make sure everyone plays by the rules and enjoys an equal opportunity under Minnesota state law.   This Thanksgiving holiday season I feel it only appropriate to tip my hat to the expert service they each provide in all corners of our great state.

SLD_136I honestly believe most sportsmen really don’t have a full understanding for the job these fine men and women do to protect our outdoors.   They work some of the strangest hours, they patrol some of the most backwoods areas to be found, they often are outnumbered by individuals carrying guns, and most often they perform their challenging duties working all alone.

And the typical Minnesota Conservation Officer does much more than write tickets for fish or game law violations.   They also perform duties relating to wetlands use/restoration, recreational vehicle operation, help enforce MN State Park rules, deal with animal complaints, the list goes on and on (more can be read HERE).   In essence, the Minnesota Conservation Officer is the eyes and ears for the DNR and serves as the most visible contact person for the agency.

When I read how Minnesota CO’s have apprehended a wildlife poacher or busted individuals illegally harvesting an overabundance of fish, I rejoice in their accomplishment.   After all, they’re helping to protect a valuable resource that belongs to all of us.

I’d like to share a quick story about an incident that happened back during the firearms deer hunting opener in 1986.   I was doing a ride-along with Conservation Officer Greg Turner who was then stationed out of Red Wing.   It was a typical opening day with lots of contact with deer hunters, when suddenly things got a bit more exciting.

We were traveling on a one-lane “goat path” in the hilly Red Wing area when we encountered a pick-up truck with three individuals.   CO Turner recognized the on-coming truck and motioned them to stop.   Instead, they sped up trying to get past us side-swiping the CO’s truck as they moved by.

Without hesitation CO Turner exited his enforcement vehicle and latched on to their tailgate, eventually climbing into the get-away truck.   As a wide-eyed young outdoors writer, I turned in amazement as I watched the CO go for a ride around a corner and eventually out of sight.

I sat there in the CO’s truck awestruck by the action-packed, Hollywood movie-like drama that just occurred.   Minutes seemed like hours as I wondered just how this extraordinary scene would eventually play out.   After several minutes, I gathered my courage and walked back to the corner where I seen CO Turner go out-of-sight with the soon-to-be-charged felons.   There, about 75 yards further down the road, I saw the Minnesota Conservation Officer holding three suspects on the ground, in a prone position, at gun point.

They were ready to take the Conservation Officer on a joy ride until the fun quickly stopped when the officer’s gun got drawn.

As if my heart wasn’t already beating fast enough, CO Turner upon seeing me motioned me to come over to assist him.   Wearing blaze orange, the suspects had no way of understanding I was just an outdoors writer and not another officer that day.   For all they knew CO Turner had backup and their fun had come to an abrupt end.

Indeed, I’ll never forget that day.   As things turned out, one of the apprehended suspects was on probation from prison and was in possession of several AR-type weapons with suppressors (this in a shotgun only deer hunting zone).   Numerous charges were filed, including fleeing from an officer.

The bottom line is Minnesota’s Conservation Officer corps are a true bunch of unsung heroes protecting our natural resources.   When it comes to law enforcement activities in Minnesota, they are the crème de la crème of all law officers performing an incredibly tough job with great success.

Certainly we don’t often hear about their day to day achievements, yet we know the difficult tasks they are entrusted with carries an awesome individual responsibility.   Indeed, on this weekend when we symbolically eat turkey and give thanks in our lives for many things — I want to pay thanks to our Minnesota Conservation Officers for their part in protecting and preserving an outdoors lifestyle that’s very important to me.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Lessons Learned About Driving; Just Hit The Deer

It happened about 20 years ago.   A nice, bright, early summer day when suddenly the serenity of the moment was abruptly interrupted by brakes squealing and tires rubbing violently on the highway pavement.   I looked outside the window only to see a cloud of post-accident dust slowly drifting away with the prevailing breeze.

I quickly grabbed my keys and drove closer to the accident scene to render whatever aid may have been necessary.   Upon my arrival, I found an older, burly, rough-and-tumble truck driver that certainly fit the prototypical over-the-road truck driver appearance.   What seemed out of character, however, was the fact this seasoned semi-tractor operator was crying uncontrollably.SLD_072

Was he in pain?   Well, not so much physically…but his ego was bruised and he was now dealing with the realization that a small fawn, just several weeks old, had caused this big rig to crash violently straight into the ditch.   Adding further insult to injury, the truck driver then admitted to me he had recently achieved a career milestone of driving a million accident free miles.   Strangely, the sudden presence of a 30 pound fawn on the roadway found a way to tarnish the truck driver’s stellar driving record.

As I’ve previously shared in my blogging, I also once worked for over a decade in the emergency services field for an ambulance.   During that career, several calls come to mind involving accidents directly caused by deer.   Perhaps no other single incident left a more vivid and heartbreaking image in my mind than an accident in late November of 2004.

It was about 10 p.m. and we were dispatched to the scene of a car accident about ten miles from town.   Upon our arrival, the responding rescue squad had already pulled a young girl from the car as it became fully engulfed with fire.   Sadly, a grandmother and another young grandchild did not have the same lucky fate—they perished despite the rescuer’s best efforts otherwise.

As deputies traced the cause of the incident a young buck laid paralyzed, but still alive not far from where this tragedy first developed.

On another bright mid-day afternoon our response took us to a motorcycle accident involving a deer.   Apparently out of a cornfield popped a deer which collided with an unsuspecting victim who had just purchased her first bike.   In this case there wasn’t much the victim could have done to prevent the accident, but there’s certainly no disputing the head trauma she sustained would have been significantly reduced had a helmet been worn on that day’s ride.

The point I’m trying to underscore is deer accidents can occur virtually any time of the year no matter what mode of transportation is being used.   Obviously during the fall rut and again during the late spring birthing period these incidents will peak.   As a defensive motorist, it is wise to mentally prepare in advance how to react when split-second actions must be made if encountering a deer or any roadway obstruction.

Many defensive driving classes will teach that quick, evasive steering to avoid a situation must be handled with utmost care (and training) if a positive outcome is to occur.   Where drivers typically go wrong is when they snap the wheel one way (to avoid an object) then immediately snap it back the other way to correct the action in an attempt to regain control.   Guess what…the laws of physics dictate there’s going to be problems with such abrupt vehicle maneuvering.

Without proper training and lots of practice (in controlled evasive maneuvering) the best plan of action is simply to hit the deer and steer through the event.   Of course, you want to avoid on-coming traffic at all costs, but in most instances you also want to avoid taking the ditch, as well.

Sure, hitting a deer or any animal at highway speeds will likely result in substantial repair costs typically covered by insurance.   Yet, the human and property damage toll is greatly increased when a driver attempts to avoid what often is the inevitable situation.

Ironically, both the experienced truck driver and the grandmother ended up killing the deer in their respective driving situations.   In the case of the motorcyclist, the deer ran off probably no worse for wear.

Bottom line is property damage caused by colliding with a deer can often be easily fixed.   On the other hand, damage caused by losing vehicle control or failing to take proper safety precautions can have devastating human consequences.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

The Spirit Lives On Long After The Deer Hunter

When Kevin Rokenbrodt went deer hunting last weekend he finally got to hunt with his Uncle Gary.   Since around the age of 10, Kevin’s uncle talked about deer hunting and the dreams he had of Kevin someday joining him for the annual hunt.

As a youth, Kevin took the Minnesota Firearms Safety class and did everything a youngster should do to prepare for his first firearms deer hunt.   Kevin’s uncle even gave him one of his favored shotguns which he ended up using during last weekend’s Minnesota deer hunting opener.

The only thing physically missing from the experience was Uncle Gary.

You see, several years back Gary Urness passed away after a long and difficult struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as ALS).   As Kevin found out, his uncle might not have been with him “in body,” but he was definitely along for the deer hunt “in spirit.”

Kevin patiently sat in the same deer stand his uncle painstakingly built many years ago.   He experienced the same sights and sounds his uncle had enjoyed each fall during his healthy years.   He hiked the same path to the stand his uncle would have walked oh so many times before him.   In fact, as Kevin discovered, there were moments just sitting quietly in the deer stand when he could sense his uncle sitting right next to him—encouraging him, coaching him, and probably explaining the virtues of being patient as a deer hunter.

It was 25 years ago when Kevin started hearing about these deer hunting dreams shared by a respected elder.   Today, however, Kevin is 36 years old and lives with his family in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   After all these years the unfulfilled promise of getting to go deer hunting with his uncle had never been forgotten.   Even though the young kid had now turned into a man, the desire to live out the dream always lingered in Kevin’s mind until this fall when he finally chose to go deer hunting with his uncle.

I can certainly relate.   In fact, deer hunting to me is much more than lining up the sights on a deer and then pulling the trigger.   Much like Kevin experienced, deer hunting is also about spending solitary time in the deer stand and contemplating what’s important in life.   Thinking about things past, present and future.   Inevitably, as you grow older as a hunter, there will be those partners who have moved on to higher hunting grounds.   Their memories remain important and there’s no better way to honor their spirit than to do so in the deer woods.

My father passed away when I was 10 years old.   We never got the opportunity to hunt together and share that sort of bonding experience.   Yet, each season when I step into the deer woods my dad is right by my side.   My actions in the woods are guided by doing the sort of things I feel would continue to make him proud of his son.   In so many ways I can still feel his presence when I hunt deer…and the deer woods feels much more real than visiting a grave site and paying any such proper respects at that venue.

Fall 2010 will be the next big step.   It’s when Kevin Rokenbrodt plans to bring his young son deer hunting with him for the very first time.   In the deer woods Kevin will teach his boy the proper and safe ways to hunt the whitetail.   But that’s not all.   It will also be done in Uncle Gary’s beloved deer stand where Kevin finally introduces his son to an important life influence that continues to live on and thrive—even, if only in the deer hunter’s mind.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.