GALENA – It’s 11 p.m. Tuesday, and Officer Bob Bakeoven wishes it was raining. Or at least a little bit windy.
Anything to stir up the still air and block out a little bit of the moonlight. Bad guys don’t generally come out on nights like this, and Bakeoven says he loves catching bad guys.
He grabs his binoculars and trains them on a pickup truck that has slowed to a crawl. It looks like one that he has had his eye out for.
“Come on . . . do something,” he says, but the truck speeds up and drives off.
About 20 yards away, several white-tailed deer munch lazily on the grass, blissfully unaware that Bakeoven and another Maryland Natural Resources Police officer are out to catch poachers who would prey on the deer by illegally “spotlighting” them.
Spotlighthing makes devious use of the classic “deer in the headlights” effect — the deer freezes in the light, and the poacher shoots it. In addition to being illegal — and unsportsmanlike — Natural Resources Police get involved because the practice threatens innocent people.
“These guys get out here and shoot, and they don’t know what’s behind them (the deer),” Bakeoven said. He recalled one instance in which a poacher missed his target and his bullet lodged in the side of a home — in Delaware.
Sgt. Nick Powell also said that, the obvious dangers of shooting a gun at night aside, poachers are usually trespassing.
“People are anxious,” said Powell, who was also out looking for poachers Tuesday night. “They want to get their horns for the wall.”
Powell supervises three inland officers who cover Kent County, as well as four marine officers who patrol the Sassafras River, Rock Hall and the Chester River. He said his officers spend about 15 to 20 hours a week hunting for poachers.
Statewide, the 146 Natural Resources Police officers have responded to 2,241 hunting calls so far in 2004, said Cpl. Ken Turner, a spokesman for the force. Of those, 246 have resulted in citations, 11 for poaching.
The state will issue about 25 poaching citations in a typical year, he said, with most of those issued around deer season. The firearms deer season that starts Saturday is the biggest season and the busiest time for Natural Resources Police officers.
The relatively small size of the Natural Resources Police force means it is an “eight-hour agency doing 24-hour work,” Powell said.
In practical terms, it means his cell phone rings constantly. As a lifelong resident of Galena, Powell, 43, is well-known in the area and people often call him directly with their concerns, he said.
“They come to your house after they find out where you live,” he said.
But in conservation law enforcement, Powell said, his ties to the area are an advantage because he knows the back woods of Kent County inside and out.
That knowledge brought him to an empty field Tuesday near the Delaware line, where poachers have been spotted before. Neither he nor Bakeoven caught any poachers that night, but Powell doesn’t seem to mind.
“Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you,” he said. “But you dress for him every day.”
-30- CNS 11-24-04