Apology for spotlighting deer, harming field

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To the Editor:
In January of this year, I was out riding around with some friends in a remote area of Polk County.
I turned my car around in the road to headlight some deer in a large wheat field. My friends told me it was legal to shine the headlights in search of deer, just not a spotlight.
After looking at the deer in the field, and peer pressure to have a “good time,” I pulled out into the field several times and “spun up” the planted wheat field.
Being a teenager, I was unaware of the consequences that could come from my presumably “innocent” actions.
Before I knew what was happening, I saw blue lights and heard a siren behind me from out of nowhere.
The next thing I know I’m sitting in the passenger side of a wildlife officer’s vehicle receiving a ticket for headlighting deer and listening to him speak to the landowner of the field on the phone about my actions in the farmer’s field.
After riding back to the field with the wildlife officer, I had no idea of the damage I could have done in such a short time.  I had to really get on the gas to keep from getting stuck and hadn’t realized that the field was so wet and the ground so soft.
After listening to the wildlife officer explain to me that damage to a farmers crop could be felony charges I began to realize I could be in a world of trouble.
The wildlife officer told me that he would meet with the landowner in the morning and with a magistrate to discuss my punishment.
Finally the wildlife officer contacted me and told me that although the landowner, Mr. Tony Hill of Dana, wanted to “set an example” for people who damaged his crops on a pretty regular basis and were sometimes hard to catch, he thought instead to have me write this letter to the local papers so that everyone could become educated about the consequences and problems of this type of activity.
I now understand that I could have very easily been arrested on the spot and charged with felony charges that could have haunted me for the rest of my life. I am only 17 years old and the officer and landowner agreed that I should have a second chance to make it right.
Felony charges would mean that I couldn’t vote or possess a firearm, even in my own home ever again.
A lot of places of employment could turn me down no matter how qualified I was for the job, just because I was a convicted felon.
The wildlife officer explained to me why it was illegal to shine our headlights in search of deer.   They spend many long, late night hours away from their families working reports of people shooting deer at night.
When a landowner or neighbor sees someone sideways in the road with the headlights in the field, they call the game warden out. Even if it’s 2 a.m. and he’s home in the bed he must respond to the call.
There is no way to distinguish between the poacher out at 2 a.m. with a high powered rifle and someone just looking at the deer unless the game warden pulls them over and searched the vehicle for a weapon.
Most people use the headlights instead of a spotlight to kill deer at night due to the chances of getting caught are a lot lower.
Now I understand why it’s illegal to shine my headlights in fields just looking for deer as well as why it’s illegal for me to pull out in a field and cause damage to the grass or crops in the field.
All this extra expense comes back to the farmer, which in turn causes all of us to pay higher prices for food and grain. The farmer must pay for labor, fuel, seed and fertilizer to fix the damage, all out of his pocket.
I am truly sorry for my actions that night and want to thank the game warden and Mr. Tony Hill for allowing me the opportunity to write this letter instead of facing serious criminal charges and a criminal record for the rest of my life.
I hope that everyone reading this letter will tell your family and especially teenagers about how serious this could have been.
Thank you, Mr. Hill, and I am truly sorry.
–– McKenzie McDowell

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