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.
I 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.