The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has a new tool to catch illegal hunters in Southeast Tennessee. TWRA Sgt. Ben Davis, stationed in Bradley County, now spends his days patrolling with a full-time, four-legged partner.
The partner's name is Levee, as in "drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry."
Levee and Davis just graduated from K-9 school earlier this year, so this will be their first hunting season together.
"We're excited. Deer season should offer us lots of opportunities to make use of the K-9," Davis said.
Levee is trained for a wide variety of tasks.
"He can do evidence recovery—find shells or shell casings," Davis said. "He's trained in wildlife detection—he can find deer, turkey, geese, ducks; and he's trained to do short-term man-tracking."
Levee knows when he's wearing a certain collar or harness that he's going to be called upon for a different task.
"He has a harness he wears when he's tracking; he's got a flat collar for different kinds of searches," Davis said. "When he's wearing the large, flat collar ... he knows we're getting ready to do a vehicle search or an area search for a gun somebody may have thrown out, or maybe an animal."
TWRA has 10 K-9s scattered statewide, but Davis can be called to respond anywhere from the Smoky Mountains to the Mississippi River. They were recently called to help follow up on a major bear poaching case in Blount County. Five people face a total of 26 charges after wildlife officers say they caught them red-handed poaching a bear during a stakeout of an illegal bait site last Thursday night.
Earning the right to work with Levee didn't come easy. Davis admits he basically pestered the agency—a lot.
"I had approached the agency several times throughout the years to try and be a member of [the K-9] team," Davis said.
At the time of this interview, Davis and Levee were attending a special TWRA-sponsored youth dove hunt in Bradley County.
"There are a lot of public events that you get to take the dog to and interact with young people and sportsmen's groups," Davis said. "As wildlife officers, that's something we enjoy a lot."
There is little doubt, however, that Davis and Levee are looking forward to the first time they put their skills to work making cases against illegal hunters. It is the time of year that they are likely to be called into action soon.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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