Behind the Badge: Follow an Ohio Wildlife Officer on Opening Day of the State's Gun Season

State wildlife officer Mike Miller, a 20-year veteran, is assigned to Ohio's Knox County, one of the ten largest deer-kill counties in the state. Hunters took a total of 7,174 deer in the county last year. On opening day of the Ohio deer-gun hunting season this year, hunters killed 700 deer in Knox County, down slightly from the 761 deer killed during last year's opening day.
Officer Miller approaches a doghouse-style deer blind across a frosty, picked cornfield at dawn, but found this particular blind unoccupied.
A little farther down the road Miller spots a hunter in a treestand who says he just shot at a deer with his muzzleloading rifle, but doesn't know if he hit it.
From his treestand, the hunter in the previous photo directed Officer Miller to the location of the shot and a fresh blood trail is found. The hunter descended the tree to track the wounded deer and Miller checked his hunting license and deer permit before moving on.
Continuing his patrol, Miller spots a hunter not wearing the required amount of blaze orange. The hunter's shotgun was also found not to be plugged, meaning that it could hold more than the legal limit of three shells.
Miller ended up writing the hunter in the previous photo a court summons for his wildlife law violations, similar to a police officer writing a traffic ticket.
About mid-morning, Ohio wildlife officers are called to a "hunter incident," or hunting accident, one of the state agency's top priorities. A 19-year-old man shot himself in the foot with a shotgun slug. Here, officers search the scene.
A second hunter incident call came soon after the first, some 20 miles away. An adult male accidentally shot himself in the thigh with a .44 magnum handgun. In this photo, his hunting partners describe how and where the accident took place at their deer camp.
Officer Bill Bullard records the serial number of the handgun involved in the hunting accident while Miller looks on.
Before leaving the hunting camp where the handgun accident occurred, a wildlife officer places a permanent tag on a buck hanging from a meat pole, saving the hunters a trip to a deer check station.
Deer season oddities occur from time to time: notice the deformed nose on this harvested buck. He may have had a run-in with a vehicle earlier in his life.
Officer Miller continues his patrol in the afternoon and checks the hunting licenses and deer permits of a father-daughter team hunting from a two-person treestand.
Always observant for any sign of possible illegal hunting activity, Miller examines a smudge of blood on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked beside a rural road.
At mid-afternoon, Miller meets with two Knox County Sheriff's deputies who had recovered a 12-gauge slug from an illegal deer and are turning the evidence over to Miller.
As the afternoon slowly fades to evening, Miller checks a deer hunter carrying a scoped handgun.
Ohio is known for its trophy whitetail bucks. This 17-year-old hunter took his 10-pointer with a shotgun on opening morning. Since 1958, 281 deer from Knox County have been entered in the Buckeye Big Buck Club record book. More than 420,000 hunters, including many non-residents, pursue Ohio whitetails annually.
The rolling hills of the east-central and south-east regions of the Buckeye State are Ohio's prime deer range, but trophy bucks can be found statewide. The state's deer population is estimated at 750,000.
Receiving a call from a landowner about possible illegal after-hours shooting, Officer Miller finds a tagged and dressed doe lying along the edge of a field after dark.
Driving farther into the field, Miller discovers three hunters attempting to locate a deer that one of them had shot just before dark. It turned out, the tagged and dressed doe was theirs as well
One of the biggest changes to a wildlife officer's equipment during the past decade has been the addition of computers to patrol vehicles, giving officers instant communication with other law enforcement agencies. Officer Mike Miller finishes his 12-hour work day by checking his email and returning calls on his cell phone from his four-wheel-drive truck.

FieldandStream.com contributor W. H. "Chip" Gross accompanied officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife on opening day of the Ohio deer-gun hunting season, November 29, 2010, with his camera. Once an Ohio wildlife officer himself, Gross is now a professional outdoors writer/photographer who still lives in the Buckeye State.