DOWNERS GROVE – The tricks used by unscrupulous hunters are varied and creative. There's the guys who plug an MP3 player loaded with duck calls into a 100-watt speaker, and sportsmen who bait the fields with rows of wheat or corn to attract water fowl.
The hairiest situations can occur at night, Downers Grove native and Conservation Police Officer Steve Vasicek said, when hunters shoot deer, lit with a spotlight, from the back of a pick up truck.
"It's call spotlighting," he said. "They always have loaded firearms in the truck, and a lot of times there is alcohol involved. That gets a little more dicey sometimes, when it's 3 in the morning and there are three possibly intoxicated subjects with guns."
As a conservation officer, Vasicek has the full powers of a traditional police officer to arrest, detain and investigate, plus the added responsibilities to enforce the hunting rules, similar to positions that other states call game wardens.
"I truly care about the resource," he said. "When somebody shoots a trophy-class deer at night, they're stealing from everyone."
He's also one of the best at his job in the entire country. This year, Vasicek was named the Mississippi Flyway Council Waterfowl Officer of the Year.
The Mississippi Flyway Council is the organization of representatives from all 14 states, starting with Mississippi going north to three Canadian provinces, which manage responsibility for migratory birds that make the annual trek.
Vasicek was presented with the award this summer in Springfield. The Illinois Department of Natural resources also presented him with the Award of Valor for his efforts foiling a residential burglary in progress.
Vasicek was led to the career initially by his love for wildlife and outdoors, he said.
"My mom was a huge wildlife advocate," he said. "And she kind of instilled respect for wildlife, and my father did a lot of fishing when I was young. And then I went to SIU and really started doing everything I could outdoors, kayaking, rock climbing. I decided i loved it down there."
Vasicek now patrols the wooded areas near Carbondale.
Typically, he said the job is non confrontational, and the best way to maintain the soft balance between flourishing wildlife and fair sport for hunters is to get to the know ethical majority.
"The bottom line is having the public on your side," he said. "There's so many outstanding sportsmen out there. Those are the people we rely on. Those are our eyes and ears. You try to tear down this thing like it's 'Us against them.' You try to work with them, and in doing so you'll get info that leads to bigger cases."
About the awards
The Mississippi Flyway Council named him Waterfowl Officer of the Year this spring. The council is the organization of representatives from all 14 states, starting with Mississippi going north to three Canadian provinces, which manage responsibility for migratory birds that make the annual trek.
At the June 20 awards ceremony in Springfield, he was also given the Award of Valor by the Illinois Department of Natural resources for his efforts foiling a residential burglary in progress.