With IDNR, Freedoms are not Free

Over the years I have avidly expressed my disdain for the whitetail biologist at Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Often times I loosely used the terms “DNR” or “IDNR” but in reality I was always referring to the states deer biologists. I recognize and appreciate that most IDNR employees are high-character people who care about what they do and do a great job at it. My comments have never been aimed at those folks.

I have been a passionate whitetail fanatic since my teens. I was blessed to grow up at a time that allowed me to see the rise of the Illinois deer herd. As a child we rarely if ever saw deer in my part of central Illinois. Then over a decade or so things changed and deer sightings became common. Illinois soon became the home of the greatest whitetail deer herd on the planet … and then former IDNR Director Brent Manning hired Paul Shelton as Illinois lead deer biologist and an undeniable downward trend started.

Using “computer models” while ignoring sound and proven management practices, Shelton orchestrated the fall of a deer herd that hunters and biologists from around the globe once admired. His disgust for “trophy hunters” is well documented and is apparently the motive for his poor management practices.

My passion drove me to speak out very bluntly as I addressed my concerns publicly. Over the years I have vented my frustrations about the management of the Illinois deer herd through a number of fact filled articles and eventually became known as the most hated person within IDNR according to an inside source within the department. I mistakenly thought that as a free American the first amendment gave me the right to voice my frustrations with a government agency that was mismanaging a natural resource that I held so dear. Apparently some within IDNR had other ideas. I soon learned that sometimes freedoms come at a cost …

The first incident that I can directly tie to IDNR happened in 2004 when I shot a 214” buck that an IDNR conservation officer seized from me. I hired an attorney and soon got my buck back but during that process my attorney made an interesting comment to me. He said “I don’t know who you pissed off in Springfield but they don’t want you to get that buck back.” Luckily the law was on my side and today that buck hangs in my home.

The animosity between me and IDNR quieted down somewhat for several years but then in 2012 a devastating EHD outbreak ravaged the deer herd across much of Illinois. When IDNR refused to acknowledge the magnitude of the issue or address it in any way, I again got vocal and was one of the founders of the Illinois Whitetail Alliance, a group born out of many deer hunters frustrations with IDNR. I also wrote a handful of scathing articles regarding IDNR’s failed deer management policies. Apparently I ruffled a few feathers in Springfield.

The next summer I was speaking at a church event in Galesburg, Illinois when a couple of IDNR employees showed up to chastise/debate me. I was up for the debate but honored the setting and the hosts of the event and took the high road as the IDNR employees were asked to leave the premises. Little did I know the deep-state politics within IDNR were working on taking me down and this incident was just the start of things to come.

In the fall of 2013 guess who was “randomly selected” for an audit by the Illinois Department of Revenue? Being a law-abiding citizen I wasn’t overly concerned at the time and actually believed that I had been “randomly selected” for this audit. However, when all was said and done the state of Illinois was requiring me to pay tens of thousands of dollars in back sales tax on CRP tree seedlings, a item that nobody else in the state was required to pay sales tax on.

When I sought the help of my state representative and senator they both thought it would be an easy matter to clear up. This was right before the 2014 election. When Bruce Rauner won that election they told me to “just be patient and when Rauner gets in office and gets his staff appointed someone with common sense would see how ridiculous your situation is and get it cleared up.” That never happened.

I eventually hired an attorney who once worked for the Department of Revenue. He also thought my case would be very easy to clear up. I told him from the start that I was being paid back for my criticism of IDNR. He looked at me like I was nuts but two years later he admitted that I was right. We are still in court fighting that battle.

Besides the Department of Revenue, at one time I was also dealing with other issues involving DNR, Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Real Estate Commission all at the same time. Here are brief summaries of those issues –

I was contacted by the Department of Agriculture telling me that a company I owned was in violation of some policies dictating claims that could be made about a line of products. Some text on the company website was not to their liking. When I asked the gentleman handling my case if his job was to read peoples websites and look for these things, he said “No, DNR contacted us about you.” That statement left no doubt as to the root of my issues with various state agencies.

Next was DNR’s own turn at their declared biggest enemy. For nearly 20 years I worked as a reforestation contractor planting millions of trees on CRP and other conservation projects. These projects had to be inspected by an IDNR state forester and pass inspection before I would receive payment for the work. In all of those years I only had a couple of minor issues with the hundreds of jobs I completed. Then in 2016 I planted projects within 6 different districts overseen by 6 different IDNR state foresters and every single forester found fault in my work and required me to return to job sites and spend extra time and expense before I could get paid.

In nearly 20 years I had only a couple of minor issues and then magically in one year every state forester employed by IDNR found fault in my work … hmmmm. This experience forced me to sell that business. The headaches being caused to both myself and my customers would soon destroy that business if I took any other approach.

If being hassled by three state agencies wasn’t bad enough, someone decided I needed to deal with a fourth. I was offering a service through my website where I would consult with deer hunters looking to purchase hunting property. When someone found a hunting property that they were considering buying they could hire me to evaluate the potential of the property. Apparently the wording on my website didn’t meet the approval of the Illinois Real Estate commission who told me that I was offering an illegal service. Luckily they were unable to track down any clients who paid for this service but they did require me to remove this service from my website.

These are all very brief summaries of situations with more disturbing details. You are likely wondering why I am bringing all of this to light now. There is a very good reason actually. Through my involvement with SB-2493, the legislation that would make supplemental feeding of deer legal in Illinois on private lands outside of hunting season, (a bill IDNR deer biologist vehemently opposed) I learned something troubling through a legislator. This legislator told me point blank “DNR wants to destroy you”. Later when I tried to pin down the legislator on this comment he denied making it but I know exactly word for word what I heard and I would take a lie-detector test to prove it. His comments reinforced what I already knew.

I have also recently been suggesting that Illinois deer hunters think long and hard before they report a deer they believe may have CWD or allow DNR to take samples of deer they shot for CWD testing. Like many other Illinois deer hunters I am disgusted at how IDNR addresses any deer found to have CWD by bringing in sharp-shooters with high-powered rifles and night vision scopes to shoot every single deer they possibly can over bait piles. I am sure this hasn’t set well with my friends at DNR.

So I must openly wonder what sort of pay-backs I can expect from my state government for continuing to exercise my first amendment right to free speech. I honestly would not be a bit surprised if IDNR doesn’t magically find a CWD positive deer within a mile or so of my property so that they can come and exterminate all the deer in my neighborhood. Who knows, they may have something even more sinister in mind.

Since 2005 I have felt the need to carry a video camera every time I go  hunting to be able to prove my innocence should the need arise. I always felt that sooner or later I would be arrested on some bogus hunting or conservation charge and I wanted to be able to prove my innocence should that happen. While I fully believe the CPOs in my area are good honest people and would not do something like that, I also recognize the reality that IDNR could easily plant a person of low character in my area and order them to do something immoral, illegal or unethical. Such a person just may follow the orders they are given, especially if it comes with some sort of reward.

Over time I have started to consider that the animosity that a few folks within IDNR have towards me is well enough documented that a direct attack such as this is unlikely. Instead it is more plausible that “friends” within other state agencies will do the dirty work and make it much harder to track back to the person responsible for initiating it.

I have had connections within IDNR feed me information over the years that I cannot share here. It has gotten to the point where I literally am concerned for my own safety and the safety of my family. Having a legislator tell me that ”IDNR wants to destroy you” was a very clear message that corroborated other information I had. A couple of years ago I told a couple of close friends that if I ever died a mysterious death or disappeared, they should instruct law enforcement to start their investigation at One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois. I was only half kidding.

Getting this message out is my way of protecting my family. Now the whole world knows and if anything happens to any of us it is very clear where law enforcement should start investigating. They will not shut me up however. Too many soldiers died to give me the freedom of speech. For me to clam-up means they died for nothing.

I admit that I probably take my deer hunting way more serious than I should. I sometimes wonder if I should have just looked out for myself all these years instead of trying to help every deer hunter in the state. A number of hunting celebrities have called Illinois home and yet I don’t remember any of them ever standing up for anything other than themselves. I guess I am from a different mold; I just don’t have it in me to ignore something that I know is wrong.

I will end on this note; If you hear that I was cited for a game law violation, don’t believe it. I was set up or more likely just falsely accused. If you hear a deer with CWD was found in my area, don’t believe it. It was planted there. And if you hear I have disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances, please send the FBI to One Natural Resources way, Springfield, Illinois.

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