Minnesotans don't like poachers.

That's evident by the record number of calls -- 2,051 -- to the Turn in Poachers (TIP) hot line last year referred to conservation officers.

Those calls resulted in 359 citations or arrests, mostly for deer hunting, fishing or waterfowl hunting violations.

State officials said Monday they saw both good and bad news in the numbers.

"It's bad news that there are that many violations occurring out there,'' said Capt. Phil Meier, Department of Natural Resources enforcement operations manager. "We work hard to educate and deter that activity.

"But it's good that citizens are willing to take the time and effort to make a call and help protect our natural resources.''

Officials don't know why tips increased 54 percent from 2011.

"I can't give you a smoking gun,'' said the DNR's Maj. Roger Tietz. Better staffing at dispatch centers could be part of the reason, he said. And more calls might be coming in about hunters illegally baiting deer, an issue that has been problematic in recent years.

"Hunters really don't like it if their neighbors are putting out bait,'' Tietz said.

Of the 359 citations issued last year, 140 involved fishing, 104 were deer-related and 49 involved waterfowl. Those three areas accounted for 82 percent of all TIP citations. While that represents a small fraction of the 11,000 citations or arrests issued last year, the TIP calls are important, Tietz said.

"It's huge,'' he said. "It's another tool for us.''

Last May, conservation officer Eric Schettler of Fairmont received four TIP calls within 30 minutes about possible fish over-limits. The calls resulted in enforcement action against three poachers with 198 crappies over limit, three walleyes out of season and two nonresident anglers without licenses. Restitution and fines were $1,550.

The program pays people for successful tips, though most callers turn down the rewards, Tietz said. Last year, TIP paid out about $5,000 to 100 callers.

"Most say they don't want a reward, they just want the violation taken care of,'' Tietz said.

TIP Inc. is a private, non-profit group launched in 1981 that raises money to pay for rewards, which range up to $1,000. The group, currently with about 2,000 members, has paid out almost $358,000 over those 31 years.

The toll-free TIP hotline -- 1-800-652-9093 -- is staffed either by DNR officials or, on weekends, by the State Patrol. People also can report violations on TIP's website, turninpoachers.org.

Callers can be anonymous, but Tietz said many are willing to identify themselves and speak directly with conservation officers about violations they have witnessed or suspect.

Col. Jim Konrad, DNR enforcement director, said eyewitness reports by TIP callers can be crucial in protecting the state's resources.

"A conservation officer has only one set of eyes and covers 650 square miles," he said.

Doug Smith • 612-673-7667