It was a wet first day of opening deer season, and I was soaked by 8:30 a.m. as I stood standing in the rain talking with four conservation officers and three hunters.
One of them was a 17-year-old kid, who an hour and a half earlier had been dodging bullets in a hunting accident that left a four-inch red stripe across his swollen calf from a 9 mm rifle round that scraped past.
Most hunters rise before dawn so they can be in peak position when the light first breaks in the early forest morning. Keeping hunters in line means getting up even earlier for Environmental Conservation Officer Brett Armstrong and myself this past Saturday, on the first day of shotgun and rifle deer season.
Unlike most conservation officers, Brett is fortunate because he doesn’t have to work alone. His partner, Nitro, a 5-year-old black German Shepherd, keeps him company.
I was supposed to meet Brett at 6 a.m. ready to go and my original plan was to get up at 5 a.m. But, in reality, I was hauling at about 5:45. Luckily my employment at The Evening Sun has trained my internal clock to a 6 a.m. regimented wake up. Brett told me he had been out since 4.
The first thing the three of us did was travel around the county on the back roads, noting parked cars and properties. “It’s good to know where people are going to be,” said Brett.
While driving around, Brett gave me a crash course on the responsibilities of a conservation authority. There were many, but Brett was kind enough to break it down: “Basically? To protect the natural resources of New York State and to ensure public safety,” he explained.
In addition to regulating, hunting conservation officers are charged with protecting the environment against abuse from both businesses and individuals. Conservation officers possess all the same powers of regular police and then some. While performing their duties, they have a degree of leeway in crossing private property that regular law enforcement might be restricted from doing, explained Armstrong.