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Recruit School #11: Week 21

Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2022

Author: CO recruit writer

With 20 weeks behind us, we were all anxious to begin week 21. We only have three weeks until graduation, and week 21 was all about big and small game enforcement – one of the primary responsibilities of being a conservation officer. Between the 12 recruits, there is a wide variety of knowledge and experience when it comes to this subject. Some of us have a lot of experience hunting whitetails, and others have more experience hunting small game and waterfowl. Our diverse experience with hunting was very helpful because we not only learned a lot from our instructors, but we also learned from each other.

Necropsy tools laying on a yellow tarp on the ground

Photo caption: Recruits learned how to perform necropsies on big game animals using a variety of tools, including a metal detector to help locate a bullet. Such information is critical in investigating poached animals because bullets can help match the firearm that killed the animal and identify a suspect. 

Monday was all about big game (deer, elk, moose, bear, etc.). Conservation Officer Tim Rosochacki, our guest speaker for the day, taught us about the different laws pertaining to big game hunting, as well how to perform a necropsy on a big game animal. A necropsy is a postmortem examination of an animal with the purpose of finding the cause of death and possible evidence of a crime. There were several deer and a bear for us to practice on. Each animal had been shot, and it was our job to carefully cut open the animal and find the bullet. For an animal that has been poached, finding the bullet is extremely important because the bullet can be used to identify the firearm that killed it, which can link a potential suspect to the crime.

Three recruits performing a necropsy on a black bear

Photo caption: Recruits perform a necropsy on a bear that was donated to the DNR after it was hit by a car. It’s important for recruits to practice necropsies while in the conservation officer recruit school academy so once on their own, they are prepared to be able to recover evidence important to their investigations.

The focus Tuesday and Wednesday was small game (coyotes, fox, rabbit, squirrel, etc.) enforcement. Sgt. Bobbi Lively, who was our guest instructor for these two days, has over 20 years of experience as a conservation officer and is an expert on small game law and species identification. Personally, I didn't have as much knowledge in this area, so I was really excited to learn about the different small game species that Michigan has to offer. At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of different seasons and species that we had to memorize, but by the end of the week I was very comfortable with species identification. Even better, we all passed our practical exam. To wrap it up, we had several basic "small game" scenarios that involved an overlimit of squirrel, hunting ruffed grouse out of season, and a woodcock hunter using an unplugged gun. An 'overlimit' violation means someone has taken more than the set number of fish or game for a given season.

A recruit checks a hunter's shotgun while outside next to a tree

Photo caption: During a scenario, a recruit checks a woodcock hunter using an unplugged gun. In Michigan, you may not hunt with a semi-automatic shotgun or semi-automatic rifle that can hold more than six shells in the barrel and magazine combined, unless it is a .22-caliber or smaller rimfire. All shotguns used for migratory birds (including woodcock) must be plugged so the total capacity of the shotgun does not exceed three shells.

A recruit kneeling on the ground counts squirrels that a hunter shot while hunter stands next to recruit

Photo caption: During a small game scenario, a recruit checks a hunter who has an overlimit of squirrel.

Thursday, we dove back into big game topics, with Sgt. Marc Pomroy. We specifically focused on bear and elk hunting, and hunting with dogs. A lot of bear hunters in Michigan use dogs to track and locate bears. There are specific seasons for using hunting dogs, and there are a lot of rules regarding hunting with dogs. Most of our class has never experienced hunting with dogs (especially for bear), so most of what we talked about was new. I find this type of hunting to be very interesting, mostly because it is so different from the type of hunting that I am used to. I have lived in southern Michigan my entire life and have never seen or had any contact with a bear or elk in the wild. These lessons got me really excited for field training – which will begin after graduation.

A closeup of a person's hand wearing a surgical blue glove, holding a bullet

Photo caption: A recruit locates the bullet that killed a poached deer. Once a bullet is located, it can often be matched to the firearm that killed an animal.

To wrap up the week, we all got a little taste of a day in the life of a conservation officer. All the recruits got the chance to hop in the patrol truck and respond to different fish- and game-related scenarios that we likely will encounter, including a car/bear accident, a littering complaint, and several routine fish, hunting and waterfowl checks. The whole experience was amazing, and it was a great way to bring together all the different subjects that we have learned about over the past 21 weeks. It helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, and with field training quicky approaching it was great to get some more practical experience.

Two weeks remain!

Read Week 22.