When conducting background investigations on an individual there are often a variety of obscure types of public records available that might provide insight into someone’s background in addition to what is available through commercial databases and the county clerk’s office. Providing the most complete picture of an individual can sometimes require digging deeper and in places that are occasionally overlooked as a resource for public records and information. Having recently returned from a successful hunting trip to Wyoming, these little-known pieces of information are fresh on my mind. For example, watercraft and aircraft registrations can help identify assets, corporate filings can uncover possible income streams, and even hunting and fishing licenses can provide insight into an individual’s hobbies.

As a sportsman, I have become intimately familiar with public records related to hunting, fishing and the outdoors. As with court records, each state treats its public records related to sportsmen and sportswomen differently, even down to the name of the agency that handles these records. Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Game and Fish, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — each state operates an agency that is tasked with maintaining licensing and records related to wildlife, sportsmen and sportswomen, and generally employs a law enforcement division as well. Some states allow easy searching of this information online, some require a phone call and some require a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request depending on the type of records you are trying to locate. Depending on the state, you can access hunting and fishing license information, big game tag information, watercraft registrations, data and records on enrollment of private land in subsidy programs like the Conservation Research Program and many other pieces of information that might prove useful in an investigation.

Tag History Provides a Break in the Case

Whether your quarry is wild game or an individual suspected of insurance fraud, public records can be extremely helpful. In one investigation earlier in my career, close examination of a subject’s hunting license and tag history – for each tag issued the hunter could harvest one animal of that particular species – provided evidence that during a multi-year period following a worker’s compensation claim the subject successfully harvested several deer and turkeys, contradicting claims that the subject could not walk, sit or stand for extended periods of time. As that year’s hunting season approached, evidence that a deer tag had been purchased by the individual, combined with social media photographs and property records, helped me identify a farm where the subject hunted and presented an opportunity to perform surveillance, resulting in video evidence of the individual actively deer hunting despite his claimed injuries.

Identifying Firearms Access

In addition to identifying activities related to a fraud investigation, an individual’s history or possession of hunting licenses and tags can provide insight in threat assessment cases, in which it is crucial to determine if someone has access to firearms and other weapons.

More than Investigations

Beyond these types of investigations, the ability to research obscure records and public information can be valuable to sportsmen and sportswomen willing to do a little extra work. Here in Illinois I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the number of deer permits issued for each county and state run park open to hunting as that information was not published by our Department of Natural Resources. Once I obtained that data, I was able to create a spreadsheet to examine permit demand for each area as it related to how many tags were allocated by the state, how many were issued and how many deer were harvested. This allowed me to identify areas with less “popular” tags and increased my chances of drawing those tags in the annual lottery. It gave me a leg up on other hunters who likely were unaware that such information could be obtained.

Knowing that public records extend beyond information that is typically searched is paramount to being able to provide the most comprehensive investigation possible. It’s not every day that hunting and fishing licenses, tags and other data from wildlife agencies proves useful, but having the knowledge and ability to navigate obscure records like these adds another tool to an investigator’s toolbox.