WHITE LAKE, S.D. — Dead pheasants were flying from a vehicle cruising down the interstate.
Tossed out the window by a couple of hunters, the birds were over the limit wildlife evidence obtained recently by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.
For 24 hours from Sunday to Monday afternoon, GF&P and a collection of other agencies conducted a game stop on an Interstate 90 rest area, just east of the White Lake exit.
Andy Alban, GF&P law enforcement program administrator, said the attempted disposal of pheasants was just one of the noteworthy events from the game stop, which diverted all traffic from the interstate to the rest area so officers could inspect whether outdoor enthusiasts were lawfully harvested fish and game.
Once the pheasant hunters saw signs notifying them of the game stop, that’s when they started tossing their birds.
“By the time they got to the rest stop, we were able to bring them their lost pheasants,” said Alban, who explained South Dakota had not conducted a game stop of this size since 2003. “We had someone watching at the overpass and saw them throwing pheasants out the window.”
According to preliminary stats from the stop, 3,342 vehicles entered the road check and about 80 percent of those went through with no game or fish. Twenty percent, or 679 vehicles, went through with game or fish, and 1,253 hunters or anglers were checked.
Officers tallied 147 violations, many of which were unlawful transportation of big and small game, illegal possession of big and small game, no license, over the limit and incorrectly transporting wildlife.
“It’s rewarding to apprehend folks who are intentionally violating the law,” Alban said near a small trailer-sized cooler with seized meat. “There’s a number of the deer we’ve seen here that people are no doubt trying to get away without tagging something so they can go back and get another one.”
More than 50 personnel assisted with the game stop, including members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conservation officers from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Wyoming Game and Fish Department. South Dakota Highway Patrol and Aurora County Sheriff’s Office also helped. Officers from other states also assisted to provide information on laws from their respective jurisdictions.
Alban explained the timing of the game stop wasn’t by accident.
West River deer season opened on Saturday and upland game hunters are in the thick of pheasant season. Other states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have big game seasons open as well.
Todd Crownover, a conservation officer based in Bon Homme County, was in attendance Monday morning. He heard a lot of positive comments from people during the stop.
“This is something we need to do off and on,” said Crownover, who has held his job for 23 years. “You don’t want to get routine with it. We don’t want to do this every year on the Monday after West River deer opener. People would figure that out.”
Starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, motorists who were traveling eastbound on I-90 were diverted to the rest area.
Large signs notified people of the game stop at the rest area, and officers guided vehicles into check lanes. Alban explained officers used observational judgement to determine whether people had been hunting or fishing.
Pickups, coolers, orange- and camo-colored clothing were dead giveaways.
When traffic was busy, officers ran up to eight lanes to go through licenses, tagging of wildlife and proper transportation of game.
“We’ve had some people who’ve been upset, and those are the people with violations,” said Bruce Nachtigall, conservation officer specialist, based in Rapid City. “Some of the time we have people who have violations where there was simply an oversight of the rule, but a lot of the time the violations tend to be intentional.”
Of the more than 1,200 people checked, 746 were residents and 507 were nonresidents.
Each year, South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks law enforcement department typically has about 10 to 20 game checks, Alban said. They’re “season-driven” and usually are found alongside highways, rather than the interstate.
The last game stop as large as this one, he said, was in 2003 and located at the Vivian rest area, which is in Lyman County, about 50 miles west of Chamberlain.
Inspections can be as quick as five minutes, or more than a half-hour. Officers had a field interview room set up, if it was needed.
In another instance, Alban said someone hunting deer who was traveling from Wyoming had six of his nine deer untagged. The animals were seized and the hunter was cited.
“We’re glad to make those cases and preserve the opportunities for the folks who are doing it the right way.”
“There are regulations, and I’ve got a daughter who’s 9, and someday she’ll hunt,” he said. “When these people take that stuff, they’re taking opportunity from her and all of us.”