February 22, 2011
Conservation wardens usually work alone. It is not unusual for a warden to be out in the field, far from backup, conducting an investigation, encountering armed hunters, sometimes in failing light. It's not a job for the faint of heart.
Fortunately, most hunters are law abiding and most are scrupulous about gun safety. And there are some, more than a few, who will go out of their way to help another person - even a conservation warden.
Among them are David Kobbervig and his son, Dustin, both of Mineral Point, who were honored this past Friday as co-recipients of 14th annual Wisconsin Ethical Hunter Award. Their actions on the final day of the 2010 gun deer hunt left one warden with a warm feeling of gratitude.
On that day conservation warden Jeff King of the state Department of Natural Resources was responding to a report of a tagged, abandoned deer carcass. The report came in through the DNR violation hotline (800-TIP-WDNR.) This was not unusual. Wardens rely heavily on tips from hunters during the gun season.
There were unrelated groups of hunters on the large property, a former game farm turned organic farming operation, who had signed in at the farmhouse for agricultural damage deer kill permits. David Kobbervig, a 61-year-old survivor of quintuple bypass heart surgery, was among them. Having heard a warden was en route, Kobbervig and his son, Dustin, stopped hunting so they could assist King. While Dustin scouted the 880-acre property for additional carcasses, he was to report to his father by two-way radio, who would relay the information to King.
Dustin had recruited another hunting team, a father and daughter, and those two found a second deer, field dressed and tagged and left to lie on the ground for three days. Dustin and the others located a deer stand near each carcass, each positioned over a bait pile. Lafayette County is in the CWD management zone, and baiting is illegal.
It is also illegal, in the CWD zone, to go more than 24 hours without registering a tagged deer.
"By the time I got there, they had found all the deer that were there to be found," King said. "They had found the two deer stands, and they found the bait piles."
King obtained the name of the hunter who'd shot the deer from the numbered and dated tags. David, who works on the property, obtained the sign-in list from the farmhouse, and King determined the suspect had been on the property at the time.
King, faced with two violations - hunting over bait and failing to register deer - had to seize the evidence, a physically demanding piece of work. Dustin got on the phone and six hunters showed up. The first guy, who King pegged as the ringleader, said, "OK boss, we're here. What do you need?"
Within a few minutes, both deer stands had been removed from trees, and the stands, deer carcasses and bait were all loaded into the warden's truck.
"It was an awesome experience," King said. "It could have been a two-hour job for me, and we got it done in 15 minutes."
Then everyone took off. King was still in the area when the suspect's vehicle appeared. He approached and did a standard firearms check. The suspect said he was picking up his deer. They went to the location, the warden described where the deer had been and the man said, "those are my deer." He said he was unaware of the registration rule or that it was illegal to use bait.
When they got back to the truck, King did a records check. Turns out the man was wanted on a criminal warrant for deer poaching in Buffalo County. He'd failed to show up in court. That is unusual. King asked the Lafayette Sheriff's Department to run an FBI check and the man came back as a convicted felon with what police call a lengthy sheet. This meant he was a felon in possession of a firearm, which is another crime. King took him into custody and transported him to the county jail.
King recalls that earlier, when he was in the woods with the suspect his cell phone rang. It was David Kobbervig who'd figured out the warden was still in the field, a quarter mile from the road, with the suspect, working in the dark.
"Are you OK?" he asked the warden. "I'll come down if you want. I mean, you just never know these days."
King was moved.
"That really struck a chord with me," he said. "Not only did this guy care for the resource and care about the rules and the image of hunters in Wisconsin, he cared about me."
Warden supervisor Steve Dewald, who co-founded the Ethical Hunter Award with the La Crosse Tribune and outdoor writers Bob Lamb and Jerry Davis, said the fact that other hunters quickly came to help David and Dustin Kobbervig demonstrates that they too were concerned about the state's natural resources which belong to the public.
Dewald and the outdoor writers founded the award because most news stories about hunters involve violations, creating a false impression about hunters in general, most of whom follow not only the rules but a personal code of ethics.
"Dustin and David recognize that poachers steal wildlife from ethical hunters," Dewald said. "With the low number of wardens in Wisconsin, we rely on these ethical hunters to be our eyes and ears."
David and Dustin Kobbervig told Bob Lamb they were humbled by the award and simply wanted people to follow the rules.
"We've hunted for years and haven't broken any laws," the elder Kobbervig said. "We always try to help people when we're hunting. I always tell Dusty someday it will come back to help us, but I didn't think it would be something like this."
FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Steve Dewald, DNR warden supervisor, La Crosse, (608) 785-9970; Ed Culhane, DNR communications, Eau Claire, (715) 839-3715.