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— The buck deer trotting across a rural highway near Hogeye is the trophy of hunters’ dreams and the reason Arkansas Game & Fish Commission Wildlife Office Kevin Eubanks was on patrol early Saturday morning, the opening day of modern gun deer season.

Eubanks watched the 8-point buck through the windshield of his “office,” what he calls the cab of his pickup truck.

Most every Arkansan who buys a hunting license goes deer hunting on opening day. Game & Fish estimates 250,000 to 300,000 hunters in Arkansas take part in the tradition. Eubanks figures that number is about right.

“Most are good sportsmen. It’s a high percentage. It’s just a very few who are violators,” Eubanks said.

Opening day of deer season can be routine or a frenzy for wildlife officers who enforce hunting and fishing regulations in Arkansas’ 75 counties.

Eubanks’ Saturday was closer to routine.

Fast-Paced Saturday

Opening day got off to a quick start for Eubanks with his first call coming in just before 8 a.m.

A caller reported a man hunting from the road - in a Lincoln Continental.

It’s illegal to hunt from a public road, even in a Continental, but Eubanks elects not to respond. The caller didn’t actually see the driver with a gun. He was just driving slowly down a rural road with his windows down.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Eubanks said while traveling through Hogeye. “Now when you point a gun out the window, there’s something wrong with that.”

A second call comes in at 8:16 a.m. This time there’s aman trespassing near Lincoln and landowner Julie Rhodes has caught the violator red-handed while deer hunting on her property.

The man, driving a four-wheeler, agrees to stay with Rhodes and remain on his ATV until Eubanks arrives.

The 49-year-old wildlife officer whips his pickup around and drives at a peppy pace past the “Hogeye Mall,” nickname for the town’s convenience store, and through the west Washington County countryside.

Twenty minutes and a half-mile hike through the woods later, Eubanks finds Rhodes, the trespasser and the trespasser’s hunting partner. All eyes turn to Eubanks, a formidable figure in his green uniform, black baseball-style cap and sidearm.

The exchange between the three men is cordial, even as Eubanks writes the trespasser a ticket for hunting without permission. His buddy gets a citation for hunting without a license.

The man signs his ticket, then proudly shows Eubanks pictures of bucks he has shot in past seasons. Eubanks admires the photos with a polite smile.

Both violations are misdemeanor offenses. The fine for each is $100 to $1,000. “It’s usually the lower number,” Eubanks said. Violators can pay the fine or appear in district court.

Add court costs of $100 to $120 and a hunting license or getting permission is a lot cheaper.

During the hike back to his “office” Eubanks recalled the most unusual citation he has written in 18 years with Game & Fish.

“It was about 10 years ago and I walked up on this guy. He’d killed a pileated woodpecker and was roasting it on a stick over a campfire,” Eubanks said. Non-game birds like woodpeckers are protected.

The man had a hunting license, “but not for pileated woodpeckers.”

The job of wildlife officer is one Eubanks enjoys. The freedom, irregular hours and being outdoors are perks.

Among the hazards, at least during gun deer season, are that every hunter Eubanks encounters is packing heat in the form of a high-powered deer rifle.

“It’s not something I dwell on. You try to assess each situation that you’re in and rely on your training.”

Eubanks has never had a gun pointed at him or been in a threatening situation.

“I’ve had to take a few to jail and there’s some guys who try to argue. What you do in that situation is try to shut it down.”

Take the trespasser, for example. The violator, in a nice enough tone, pleaded that he was only trespassing to get to an area where he has permission to hunt.

“I’m not here to argue with you,” Eubanks said flatly. End of discussion.

Eubanks is pleasant with law abiders and law breakers alike.

“I’ll be as nice as they’ll let me,” he says. “Ninety-nine times out a hundred there’s no problem. But occasionally there is. You just have to be ready for it.”

Opening day of gun deer season was fairly quiet for Eubanks. As of 2:30 Saturday he hadn’t responded to any other calls. He said he was aware of no hunting accidents on Saturday in Washington County.

Opening day was busier up north. Wildlife Officer David Treat, assigned to Benton County, said he’d responded to “eight or 10” calls including reports of road hunting, trespassing and taking illegal deer.

Treat was not aware of any hunting accidents in Benton County.

Both will be on patrol nearly every day until gun deer season closes in most of Northwest Arkansas on Dec. 6.

Gentry lodge sets chili supper FridayFrom Staff Reports

GENTRY - Gentry Masonic Lodge No. 222 will be having its annual Chili Supper on Friday, Nov. 20, to raise funds for the Lodge Scholarship Fund.

Offered at the supper will be all the chili or potato soup one can eat, plus dessert.

Serving will be from 5 until 8 p.m.

Adults are $5 and children 12-and-under are $3.

For more information, contact the Lodge Secretary at 228-2317.

News, Pages 14 on 11/18/2009

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