What Does A Wildlife Officer Do?

By Kevin Lynch

MIKE REED is the state wildlife officer in Muskingum County, OH since 1996.

“Prior to becoming a wildlife officer, I worked in wildlife management at Wolf Creek Wildlife Area, Salt Fork Wildlife Area, Woodbury Wildlife Area and Waterloo Research Station in Athens, OH” he said.

“I grew up in Deavertown, OH in Morgan County. As a young boy, I was in 4-H, and one of the projects I had taken was fishing. I met a wildlife officer when I was there for a day and I thought it was kind of neat,” Reed said. “When I got out of high school, I signed up for the military. I was in the Army National Guard for seven years. That paid for my college. “

Reed says the duties of wildlife officers vary from county to county.

“It changes county by county what your job duties are,” Reed said. “Some counties have very little if any public hunting, so their job duties are going to be a lot different than mine. In some counties, you have to go out and look for things to do to fill your 40 hours; in Muskingum County, things will find you.

“The people of Muskingum County are fairly lucky because there is so much public hunting here,” he added. “With so much public hunting ground and the Muskingum River, a lot of what I end up doing is law enforcement, because I get a lot of complaints.

“We can be out there looking and driving around and make our presence known, but the majority of our stuff comes from public complaints,” Reed continued. “The chance of something happening right in front of your eyes is pretty slim, with the exception of a routine hunting or fishing license check.

But there have been occasions…”Gee whiz, It never ceases to amaze me the things people do,” Reed said.

“Last year during deer gun season, we had a complaint that hunters were not wearing orange. It turned out there were eight adults and two juveniles; three of the adults were convicted felons; two of them hid on us and finally came out; they hid their firearms. I ended up issuing 25 summonses to that group. No orange, no licenses, no deer permits; after a search of the garage where they were staying, we found they had a marijuana growing operation. They had three pounds of dried marijuana bagged to sell. There was also cocaine.” It was not your typical wildlife encounter, he said.

“It’s sad to say that there is a large number of people that partake in drugs and or alcohol while hunting and fishing,” Reed said.

He recalled another group of hunters from Tennessee who were staying at Dillon State Park. “These guys had a boat that we were on the lookout for, and they were taking mussels,” he said. “The same group was spotlighting and illegally hunting deer.

“Last fall, at Holmes Limestone (formerly Peabody Coal Co.), where they allow limited hunting, there was a group of guys out of Cleveland, who, over the past five years had a hard time accepting the fact that the hunting was limited,” Reed said. “While patrolling the area during deer gun season, I saw those guys from Cleveland patrolling the area as well, cruising through the area. It was a very good area for deer and turkey hunting.

“They were going to hunt that area at whatever cost. They would drop guys off in the morning and pick them up later in the afternoon. I got back there early on the first day of gun season to see if they’re doing what I thought they were doing. Sure enough, 300 yards into the woods, there they were, three guys in camo and two little boys.

“I had records of what they had been doing over a five-year period and they admitted to everything,” Reed said. “They did 30 days in jail, they lost their equipment, and lost their hunting privileges for five years.

“It was one of those deals where we knew what they were doing and they knew we knew, but we just couldn’t catch them,” Reed said. “The odds of me catching them during deer gun season were slim to none, because I’m running around like a wild man from one end of the county to the other; and I didn’t have time to focus on what needed to be done. It just so happened that on that particular day, I was able to sit back and wait for them. It was very sweet.”

Not all of Reed’s duties include tracking bad guys.”I try to do a program going into schools and libraries,” he said. “This summer I just finished up at New Concord Library. For the past seven or eight years now I have been involved with their summer reading program. I do a frog-jumping contest with the kids. We talk about amphibians and reptiles and I give away prizes. We usually have 100+ kids.

“I talk at preschools, colleges, whether it’s Muskingum College or Zane State College at their criminal justice program; I talk about the different side of law enforcement. Normally, when most people think of law enforcement, they think of a deputy sheriff or state highway patrolman. I talk about being a wildlife officer, what we do and things of that nature.”

Reed says he talks at Kiwanis Clubs and other social clubs where he can educate the public.”I usually try and show up for an evening at the Hunter Safety Courses which are big at this time of year,” he added.

“I try and tell kids that we’re here as their friend. When they’re out hunting, fishing or trapping, we want them to enjoy the outdoors and have fun. But there are rules and regulations set up and we’re here to keep those in check.”

Reed reports good rapport with other law enforcement agencies.

“Law enforcement often requires interactment with other agencies, such as local police departments, the sheriff’s department and the highway patrol,” he said. “Law enforcement generates paper work, court appearances. I just finished a deer case in Muskingum County where the guy had 13 charges and he wound up paying over $4,000 in fines and forfeiture of equipment.”

Reed says his job is never dull. “There is a lot going on in Muskingum County simply because it is such a large county with a lot of recreation with a population of close to 100,000,” he said. “We also draw people from other surrounding counties as well as out-of-state people.

“I had a case last fall involving a couple guys from North Carolina that brought in about $6,000 in fines and forfeiture of their equipment. They even did time in jail,” he added.

“I get into a lot of different things here in Muskingum County. Some stuff I find on my own, but a lot of it is complaint driven,” Reed said. “I like the law enforcement part of it because, even though I work for the Division of Wildlife, I work for the public.

“When people buy a hunting or fishing license, a percentage of that money comes back to the Ohio Division of Wildlife. They pay for everything I’m wearing, from my boots to my duty belt to my gun to the truck I drive. It’s always been my belief that I work for the persons out there doing things by the book. Everybody makes little mistakes, and after doing the job for a few years, you get a feel for someone who made an honest mistake and people who are not.”