Wichita Game wardens in Kansas are using Labrador retrievers to help catch hunters who they say are shooting more than their limits of game birds and illegally killing deer.
The same natural hunting instincts that make the dogs so reliable to legal hunters are being used to crack down on poachers.
"It's amazing what these dogs can do for us," said Jason Sawyers, a Topeka-based game warden for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "They can do in seconds or minutes what could take us hours or days, if we could do it at all."
The Labrador retrievers are taught to find game that's been stashed - such as ducks buried in marsh mud or deer antlers hidden in a vehicle. The dogs also are trained to search for evidence related to hunting and fishing - for example, empty shell casings that could hold fingerprints or a speck of blood that could be matched to a freezer containing deer meat.
The dogs aren't allowed to fetch their findings, but instead are trained to scratch and bark near the evidence so it isn't damaged.
Much of the money for the dog program has been donated.
Mark Rankin, who heads the program, said the dogs were all donated. So was the food, which was given by Topeka-based Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc.
The wardens say the Labrador retrievers are the best breed for hunting poachers. The dogs have acute senses of smell and they're physically built to endure a lot of exercise and the tough weather.
The Labrador retrievers have helped the wardens develop a better working relationship with other law enforcement agencies. In addition to tracking illegal hunters, the dogs can be used to sniff out evidence for murders, robberies and other crimes.
"I help (other law enforcement) when we can because they don't have dogs and they're getting better about calling me if they do something and find evidence of wildlife violations," said Dan Melson, a Eureka game warden. "It's a win-win situation for both of us."