Illinois Department of Natural Resources
August 2020
August 3, 2020
Photo courtesy of IDNR

Target Illinois Poachers

By Eric Bumgarner

Throughout my career as a Conservation Police Officer I felt there were generally three types of hunters. The “Legal” hunter who tries to do everything right and wouldn’t hunt if it wasn’t. The “Mostly Legal” hunter, who usually does everything right, however if they think no one will know, might consider committing a violation. And the “Criminal” hunter, who doesn’t care about anything, anybody, or the natural resources.

A group of white-tailed deer in an agricultural field during winter. One adult male deer with large antlers looks toward a female deer facing the foreground.
Photo courtesy of IDNR.

On patrol during the firearm deer season I noticed a pickup truck ahead pulled partially off the roadway and facing my direction. As I drove closer, I could tell there were two occupants in the vehicle and a shotgun barrel was sticking out of the passenger side window. Both occupants were so focused on what they were doing they didn’t realize I was approaching in my squad car. I then noticed about 75 yards south into the adjacent field, a large buck lying dead. I also noticed a large ground blind containing two hunters approximately 100 yards west of the dead buck. I activated my red lights which immediately attracted the attention of the vehicle’s occupants. Their eyes came wide open and they threw the shotgun into the back seat.

A wooden hunter's ground blind surrounded by green agricultural fields.

During my contact with the vehicle occupants, the two hunters I observed in the ground blind arrived. A father and 12-year-old son approached who were visibly nervous and upset. They were hunting that morning as the large buck appeared and moved slowly toward their ground blind. The father was teaching his son ethics and patience by waiting until a clear and accurate shot could be made. This would have been the son’s first buck. It was then that they observed a pickup truck stop along the road and A passenger shot the big buck right in front of them.  

After investigation, these “Criminal” hunters were arrested for numerous violations including: no hunting licenses, no deer permits, hunting from a roadway, no Firearms Owners Identification card, and hunting without permission. During the interview, the driver of the vehicle said that when he saw my vehicle approaching, he didn’t realize it was a squad car, and told the passenger to hurry up and shoot. Because of the actions of these two individuals, I observed the face of a highly disappointed boy who watched his opportunity of a lifetime taken away. I also heard the emotions in his father’s voice as he answered my questions and re-lived the incident.

A hunter with a shotgun stands on the edge of a grassy field and is silhouetted against a yellow, orange sunset.

In this situation, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. That is not always the case and Conservation Police Officers need your help. The Target Illinois Poacher hotline is a program developed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement to encourage any concerned citizen who witnesses a poaching offense to report the violation. The phone line operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week. When the hotline is called, the dispatcher will connect you with a Conservation Police Officer. Please take the time to help make a difference. Watch for suspicious activity, get a license plate number and vehicle/occupant description. Call as soon as possible and stay safe.

The logo for Target Illinois Poachers. It includes the hotline number 1-877-2DNRLAW (236-7529).

To report a violation, call the TIP hotline at 1-877-2DNRLAW (236-7529).

Retired Lieutenant Eric Bumgarner spent 24 years with the Illinois Conservation Police. Eric is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for protecting the natural resources.