Bad Warden, Three Feet Away

(Carlos Gomez photo)

Unfortunately, it's a common part of a game warden's job to be liked by some and hated by others. Like most police officers, we're often appreciated when “needed” but detested whenever our duty inconveniences the wrong person. After many years in this career, one learns to grow thick skin.

A few seasons ago, I found myself working a late evening during deer season with two other wardens in their adjoining county. I was riding in the front passenger seat of another officer’s truck, while the other was sitting in the back seat.

A report came across the radio that someone had seen a spotlight working in a nearby pecan grove, so off we went. Upon arrival, we immediately knew it was just the farmer using his tractor to move hay bales around his pecan orchard. As we drove up to the farmer, the resident warden (the driver) knew the landowner by his first name, Steve. The warden in the back seat and I had never met the man before.

Keep in mind that no introductions were made.

It was late so in the blackness of night, Steve could tell it was a warden truck but faces were difficult to see due to the lack of light in the truck cab. The friendly pecan grower approached the passenger window where I sat with my nameplate concealed by darkness.

As Steve stood there, just three feet away in the dark, he leaned into the truck, spoke his warden friend’s name, and thanked us for investigating the call. As we chatted away about the poaching problems that concerned him, it soon dawned on me that I had heard this man’s name before, but it was associated with a pecan grower in my own county, 40 miles away. Thinking this couldn't be a coincidence I asked, "Are you any relation to the Rocking-R-Ranch that lays 40 miles east of here?"

"Yep", he replied, "that's our headquarters".

I'd met some of the staff at the Rocking-R-Ranch but never Steve. Over the years, I had issued a few citations to some of their guests who hunted there and even had a couple of run-ins with one of the ranch’s employees. Curious, I lightly probed him about possible poaching problems I suspected went on (in my area), and that's when things headed south.

To the shock and dismay of all three of us in the truck, the farmer named ME, stating that the warden for that area was of no help at all.

He went on to complain, "That Tulsa warden helps the poachers to sneak around onto my property, and then picks them up after dark to help them escape (after poaching).”

I could feel the blood racing to my head as the darkness concealed my beet-red face. I think all three of our mouths had to be gaping wide open as we listened to the farmer’s complaints.

I immediately spoke up, "That's terrible! Have you caught him doing that?"

Thankfully, Steve spoke with honesty saying, "No, but I'm convinced that he does it."

Along with my two colleagues, I knew Steve had been given bad information about me. But what was I going to do?

I asked, "Have you tried talking to him or have you called his supervisor?"

The farmer replied that he hadn't and with a tone of discouragement said, "All that would be a waste of time.”

I wanted to help this nervous situation but without creating an awkward confrontation.

"We know him and think he's not such a bad guy,” I stated. “Would you talk to him if he called you? I think he would want to visit and help you resolve those problems."

Steve gave me his cell phone number and said with a reluctant tone, "Tell Gomez to call me".

As we were concluding our visit that night in the pecan grove, I just had to be absolutely certain of the farmer’s correct identity before we parted ways. I extended my hand for a farewell handshake and asked, "What was your name again?"

I thanked him but never told him my name. As we drove away, my fellow wardens gasped out loud. The officer in the backseat immediately declared how he was stunned by the whole thing.

The warden that was driving asked, "What were you going to do if he had asked your name?"

Told him I had no idea. He replied with a nervous laugh, "I know if you had given him your name, I would have had to hit the gas and drive off."

I let the dust settle for a few days and then gave Steve, the pecan farmer, a call. We began a productive relationship without him ever learning that it was me that he was complaining to, about me, just three feet away.

Thick skin or not, game wardens will make every reasonable effort to help landowners and improve relationships with their sportsmen.

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