Reporting for Duty

During his first few months as Seneca County’s new wildlife officer, Austin Dickinson said he has been completing training and getting to know people.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” Dickinson said. “It’s something that I think falls in line with what I like to do.

“Seneca County is a very big county, so there’s a lot of area and things to cover. It’s been very busy.”

Since he started in July, he has been working with other area officers to finish his training.

“There’s six months in the training program to start,” he said. “I’ve been doing that with other officers from surrounding counties. Now, I’m in the position where I’m pretty much on my own.

He said he primarily is focused on Seneca County, with a number of fishing enforcement and nuisance calls.

Originally from Iowa, Dickinson has lived in Ohio for 10 years, mainly in Ottawa County. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2011 from Bowling Green State University. After graduation, he worked ful- time for the Ohio Army National Guard in Columbus and was deployed to Qatar.

“After that, I got back and started the hiring process for this job,” he said. “It’s about a yearl-ong process. It starts with a written test and then an interview, followed by a background test and a physical fitness test.”

After a polygraph test, home interviews and an extensive background check, he said he was hired. He then entered the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy for four months. There also was an additional training academy sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

Dickinson said he became interested in being a wildlife officer as a child.

“When I was younger, growing up in Iowa, I had a wildlife officer who lived down the street from me,” he said. “I just always thought it would be kind of neat to do.”

He said that thought faded with time, but while he was deployed overseas, he saw a posting through ODNR’s wildlife unit for an officer job.

“It rejuvenated my interest in it,” he said. “I started the process and everything worked out. It was an opportunity I had not necessarily been counting on, but everything fell into place.”

The Division of Wildlife only recently began accepting a criminal justice degree as proper background for a wildlife officer, he said.

“Usually, they have a biology degree or natural resources degree or something like that,” he said. “I come from a law enforcement background instead of a wildlife management background.”

However, Dickinson said he always has had a passion for hunting and fishing.

Dickinson said he has been visiting local conservation organizations such as Pheasants Forever, Izaak Walton and the Sandusky River Coon Hunters.

“All those organizations have been great to work with,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of great events throughout the summer and fall. We look forward to helping those groups as much as we can.”

He also as has spent time meeting personnel in Seneca Conservation District, other governmental agencies and other law enforcement officers.

“Everybody has been great to work with,” he said. “It’s made my job easier being a new officer in the county.”

He plans to continue becoming more familiar with the county and organizations within the county.

“I want to work to promote as many opportunities for people to hunt and fish as possible, and work with conservation organizations to put on events that people can go out and generate interest in the outdoors,” he said.

“I want to promote awareness of them and awareness of the issues that potentially create safety concerns,” he said.

He said he wants to make safety a priority as Monday begins his first deer-gun season on the job. He plans to be in the field visiting with hunters as the weeklong season begins.

“Being safe during deer-gun week. That’s a big concern of ours,” he said. “Let people know where you’re going to be at and make sure you have your hunter orange on.

“It’s one of the busiest times of the year that we have that week. We make contact with as many people as we can.”

In addition, Dickinson said he wants to make sure everybody understands the changes in regulations this year.

“The biggest change for this year is the addition of the new rifle cartridges,” he said.

Specifically, straight-walled cartridge rifles in the following calibers are legal this year: .357 Magnum, .357 Maximum, .38 Special, .375 Super Magnum, .375 Winchester, .38-55, .41 Long Colt, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Long Colt, .45 Winchester Magnum, .45 Smith & Wesson, .454 Cassull, .460 Smith & Wesson, .45-70, .45-90, .45-110, .475 Linebaugh, .50-70, .50-90, .50-100, .50-110 and .500 Smith & Wesson.

“It’s been in the works for several years,” he said. “People were wanting to see this change made.”

ODNR officials did a lot of research and collaborated with conservation organizations before making the decision to include rifles, he said, and the approved list for this year was taken from a similar list of approved pistol cartridges.

“These cartridges are not very different from sabots and slugs shot through shotguns,” he said. “The distances are comparable.”

They also allow some people to hunt who can’t shoot a shotgun for various reasons, he said.

“The bullets might not go farther,” he said. “But they might go straighter for farther (distances).”

After this first year, he said the Division of Wildlife plans to get feedback from hunters.

“They’ll take that feedback and either expand or shorten that list next year based on their results,” he said.

“Based on ballistics testing, he said it’s not any more dangerous,” he said. “There are still only three rifled cartridges in the gun while hunting.”

Dickinson reminded hunters Seneca County is a three-deer county, but antlerless deer permits cannot be used during deer-gun season. They expire today.

Hunters may fill up to three either-sex permits, but only one antlered deer per year may be harvested.

The former state zoning system is no longer in place, and each county’s limit is set individually.

“Surveys basically determine where the deer population is at numbers-wise, and they’ll make the limits off of that.”

He reminded hunters to get written permission to hunt on private property, and to carry the signed paper with them while hunting. He suggested using the official form that

can be downloaded at www.wildohio.com.

“If a landowner will only give verbal permission, the best thing to do is to have that person’s contact information with you, so either myself or somebody else could contact that person in case verification is needed,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned about liability issues, even though on the written permission forms it says the landowner is not liable. A lot of people are concerned about that anyway.”

Another question Dickinson said he has been answering lately is about chronic wasting disease that was found in one deer in a captive deer facility in Holmes County.

“The biggest thing for people to know about that is, it’s an isolated incident at this point,” he said. “The deer that tested positive was a captive deer. It wasn’t from the wild population.”

The deer has been transferred incorrectly from a facility in Pennsylvania that

had been placed under quarantine.

“It was an instance that shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” he said. “ODNR has increased its monitoring, but there have been no positive tests in wild deer.”

Still, anyone who sees a deer acting unusually or that looks sick should call him at (419) 429-8394 so he can check it out.