Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers, commonly called game wardens, interact with thousands of outdoorsmen annually in a variety of settings.
Basic compliance checks for the proper licenses and bag and creel limits account for the majority of interactions with the hunting, angling and boating public. Officers strive to keep these interruptions as brief as possible so that you may return to your activity.
It is common to experience anxiety when approached by a uniformed law enforcement officer. What you may not realize is that the officer may be experiencing some anxiety as well. Conservation Enforcement Officers often work in remote areas and regularly encounter people with firearms, knives and bows. If on water patrol, they come across people who have been boating all day in the hot sun and could be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The goal of any officer you meet is to have a safe and positive experience−for them and for you! With these things in mind, here are a few common courtesy practices to aid in achieving that goal.
- If necessary, acknowledge that you have identified the officer’s location by a low whistle or hand motions. Put your firearm on “safe” and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Wait until the officer asks that you unload your weapon or allow the officer to do so upon request. Maintain control of any youths bearing firearms who may be hunting with you.
- Produce any required licenses and permits, if requested.
- If hunting from an elevated stand, wait for instructions from the officer before descending. Licenses and permits can sometimes be dropped to the ground for inspection then tucked into the tree bark for the hunter to retrieve after the hunt.
- Remember that the officer is there to ensure that landowner rights against unwanted poachers are protected and that the resource is being used legally.
When Fishing or Boating Inland
- Maintain your current speed and direction until the officer signals or motions for you to stop.
- When signaled to stop, maintain your position and allow the officer to navigate to you.
- If stationary or anchored, clear obstructions (fishing lines, rods, fingers, etc.) along the side so the officer’s vessel may approach. Deploy boat fenders if necessary.
- More than likely, the officer will request fishing or boating licenses first. Assist the officer in inspecting your catch by pointing out the location of all live wells and containers that hold fish.
- Wait for further instructions before producing additional boating safety equipment.
When Fishing/Boating Offshore or in Coastal Areas
- In coastal or offshore areas, it is often safer and easier for an officer to board your vessel than to conduct an alongside inspection. Do not attempt to maneuver to the patrol boat; allow it to approach you.
- Reduce to the minimum speed necessary to allow for steering, maintain a direct course and follow the officer’s directions. If trolling, the officer will advise if you need to retrieve your lines.
- Clear obstructions such as fishing poles, gaffs and brushes from upright gunnel-mounted holders on the side the officer is boarding.
- If the officers are not in a self-fendering vessel with a padded collar and have not deployed fenders, you may ask them to do so to protect your vessel.
- Do not attempt to hold the boats together or fend them off with your hands or feet. This could lead to severe injuries. Allow the fenders and the boat operator to ensure a safe encounter.
- Place all sharp objects such as de-hooking devices, knives, gaffs, pliers or other similar objects on the deck or console.
- Everyone on board should prepare to provide proper licenses, permits and identification, as necessary.
- If the officer is likely to come across a weapon during the inspection, without reaching for it, advise the officer of the type and location ahead of time.
- If an inspection is performed by a K-9, do not attempt to pet or distract the dog. The officer will provide instructions.
Just remember, Conservation Enforcement Officers are public servants working to ensure that state wildlife and fisheries resources are utilized in a fair and equitable manner and safeguarded for future generations. Your cooperation is appreciated!