By Judy Keen
Hunters stalking deer and pheasant also are finding methamphetamine labs or their remnants in remote areas this fall.
Three Michigan hunters have discovered separate dumps of equipment and chemicals used to make the illegal drug, says State Police Lt. Chet Wilson. Hunters in Arkansas, Indiana and Tennessee have made similar finds.
The encounters can be risky, especially if someone is using the lab when a hunter discovers it. Approaching meth users while wearing "camouflage clothing and carrying a firearm can be a recipe for disaster," warns a hunting handbook published by South Dakota's Department of Game, Fish and Parks. It advises hunters to keep their distance and avoid contact with the solvents and acids used to "cook" the drug.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked or swallowed. It is made in home labs using cold pills and other easily purchased ingredients. The process creates a distinctive odor that's often compared to cat urine.
Federal and state laws restricting sales of cold tablets containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, key components of meth, have reduced the number of labs, law enforcement officials say.
"Due to a new law that bans sales of pseudoephedrine off the shelf, we have seen an extreme reduction in meth labs," says Rod Slings of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' law enforcement bureau.
Those who still make meth are moving to isolated areas to escape detection.
"Wildlife areas are a place cookers can go and not risk having the neighbors next door turn them in," Slings says. Hunters there find labs or meth dumps several times each season, he says.
Hunters occasionally spot "tweakers" making meth in rural areas, but it's more common to find leftover equipment. Officials tell hunters to look for ordinary plastic coolers with hoses, gas cylinders and stained coffee filters. South Dakota's hunting handbook recommends hunters look for lye, iodine, brake cleaner and stained cookware (Read P-1 special report on meth lab indicators).
"Hunters come across a cooler or some other type of containers, and they're curious, and they want to open them," says Wes Baxter, a sheriff's deputy in Craighead County, Ark. A hunter there recently found a cylinder with copper tubing, batteries and rubber gloves.
"We strongly encourage people not to touch these items," Baxter says. Hazardous-waste removal teams often are called in to dispose of the toxic equipment.
Natural resources and law enforcement officials use public-relations campaigns to warn about the dangers of meth gear. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association sponsors public-service announcements on radio stations each fall to warn hunters to be on the lookout for meth labs. "How can people abuse our natural resources like this?" asks Mark Johnson, the group's executive director.
Lt. Carl Lamb of the Seymour, Ind., police department has conducted seminars for hundreds of area hunters and farmers. After the training sessions, he says, "They recognize what to look for and know not to mess with it."
Larry Dale, a hunter and hunting safety instructor in Petersburg, Ill., says hunters can be "useful eyes and ears" for law enforcement when they know how to identify meth-related equipment. The drug and its makers, he says, are "a general menace to society."
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P-1 Expert Tip: 12 Meth DONT's:
If you encounter a meth lab or meth-making materials, DO NOT:
Jiggle, swirl or mix
Throw light switches
Unplug or plug in
Rub your eyes, nose or mouth
Forget about guard dogs, booby traps or look-outs
Stick around longer than you have to
Hesitate to call the haz mat crew
Meth labs abundant this hunting season; makers of drug move into woods