Behind the Badge is a regular series of perspective stories by Oklahoma game warden Carlos Gomez. In this article, Gomez shares the tense moments during his first nighttime poaching bust.
By Carlos Gomez, Oklahoma Game Warden
In the first part of this story, I told of how a young game warden, fresh out of the police academy, received a hot tip of nighttime deer poaching in the month of April.
The caller was an intoxicated woman of sparse credibility but now, here I was. Standing in the middle of an uncharted section of land, at 11 p.m.
A suspect’s vehicle was covered in deer evidence while an unknown number of men laughed and yelled from inside a remotely located barn. I instinctively knew, my primary advantage would be the element of surprise. It was now “go time” and there was nothing more to ponder.
The moment I peeked around the corner to see inside the brightly lit structure seemed surreal. There seemed to be a small army of men standing about laughing and talking and all holding cans of beer.
Except for the two in the middle, they held knives. My eyes were drawn to the doe deer hanging from its neck with a rope as the two carved and talked about their activity.
The ice chest I’d seen fetched earlier from the shed was poised under the doe’s lifeless legs to catch the entrails and drippings from its exposed body cavity. Several long guns with scopes were also leaning about the vicinity of the group of men.
This truly was “go time” and without even a thought for policy, procedures or tactical considerations, I instinctively drew my weapon and stepped out into the light.
In the loudest voice I could summon, I yelled out.
“STATE GAME WARDEN, EVERYBODY FREEZE!”
I approached a few steps entering the barn and stopping just 15-20 feet away from the stunned group.
“You’re all under arrest, so everyone do as I say and we’ll keep this as little of a deal as possible.”
I had planned out each step of my assault only moments prior to execution but I hadn’t given even a thought as to what I’d say in that moment of truth. They were standing there totally motionless, mouths literally agape, with beers and knives frozen in time. It seemed like a full minute they stared, as if not believing their eyes and ears.
That’s when, finally, someone broke the ice and yelled, “Watch him boys, he looks pretty scared!”
After the moment of shock had worn off for me, too, I must have looked a little like Barney Fife with his only bullet because in my peripheral vision I could see the barrel of my Smith & Wesson trembling ever so slightly.
“He’s right fellas,” I quickly replied, “I am scared but there’s no reason for anyone to get hurt!”
For just a moment I thought all was going to go smooth without incident. Until suddenly, one stocky-built man stepped out from behind the crowd still holding his beer. He stumbled a few steps towards me spewing intoxicated slurs. Among his mix of explicatives he declared this was his property and I was gonna leave or he was gonna … well, you get the picture!
As he approached within my grasp, I lurched with one hand spinning him and depressing him to the ground. Thankfully, he possessed little equilibrium due to his beverage consumption.
Using only one hand, and still holding a .357 revolver in the other, I somehow managed to get both arms behind him and handcuffed. I stood him up facing his scrutinizing crew and declared, “That’s my only handcuffs guys. Anyone else tries anything and I won’t have much other choice. … There’s an army of deputies on their way right now and when they arrive I’d like to tell them you guys were nice and cooperative. There’s no need for anyone to make this into jail or worse when we can handle it with simple traffic tickets.”
I lined the six men up ordering them to lace their fingers on top of their heads and everyone complied. We were going to march in single file down to the county road where the deputies would meet us. I was in back with my cuffed suspect maintained in my grasp.
Again, with everything seemingly under control, I would experience one more curve ball!
We were just starting down the hill when a screaming woman appeared from the darkness. I’ll never forget that furry pink robe, matching house shoes and some kind of fluffy, pink hairnet as she blurted out of breath and in a panic. She was waving her arms wildly in the direction that we were headed.
“There’s a game warden, there’s a game warden truck …” She suddenly got silent with that same stunned look and her mouth hanging open. In mid-sentence she just stopped and stared.
I said, “Ma’am, unless you want to be under arrest, too, I suggest you go back to the house!”
In a flash, she spun and began shuffling at a high rate of speed back down the hill ahead of us cackling to herself the whole way.
Thankfully there was no more real incidents as we arrived across the county road where the sandy drive was well lit under that bright street light near my truck. I lined all six men up kneeling towards my headlights with feet crossed and fingers laced.
Still vivid in my mind is the look several of them made after hearing what I said next. I had immediately fired up my engine, turned my headlights on to shine on my ‘covey-shot’ of prisoners while standing at the door of my truck. As calmly as I could, I keyed up the mic and asked the county, “Any units in the area, please respond to an officer needing assistance!”
One suspect calmly turned to the others and said, “He lied to us!”