As a long-time game warden writing a column, I hope I’m able to relate two primary points to you about game wardens. One, while sharing a few cases and stories, I hope to illustrate that wardens are sportsmen too; just regular people with feelings, compassion, families and flaws. Universally, we have a love for the outdoors just like you and possessed by a “life’s mission.” This brings me to the second, and most critical point, that conservation and the enforcement of our rules is a PARTNERSHIP.
I’m a hopeless idealist like that. I suspect a few of you have had an “issue” with a warden in your past and it’s easy for any of us to get caught up in judging a group by the limited exposure and interaction with a few. You might even be able to use frequency of warden contacts as a measuring stick for your own outdoor passion. In dealing with each other, I know wardens make mistakes too and, at times, you might even believe you’ve dealt with a “knuckle-head.” I’d have to say that could be true because I know a few of them but, there are always at least two sides to every story.
You should already know that a hunter is not always a sportsman but, one who takes the time to read (this column) is a solid indication of one who either is a sportsman, or at least pursues knowledge, and that’s a good sign. We are truly in these lifelong pursuits together but for wardens it’s not just a job, it’s who we are. Wardens cannot do their jobs without the active involvement and support of sportsmen. Survival of the outdoor heritage is a big part of a game warden’s life mission and should be a part of every sportsman’s mission.
As I said before, wardens are sportsmen too and as a sportsman, I love the outdoors and the entire experience of immersing myself in it. Every one of us must “buy all-in” for our outdoor pursuits to flourish, we must educate as many co-participants as possible to one solitary fact: Modern day hunting is a privilege, not a right. Unlike our second amendment, it’s a set of activities that if abused, could one day be gone. Our guns have the Constitution, but the future of those priceless hunting memories is solely reliant on conservation. Living by its principles and the huge task of educating everyone, is everyone’s job.
Like most young, and less worldly outdoorsmen, younger wardens entering our profession have a fairly optimistic view on life. Then, we start to see more of the scenes, intertwined with a few political beatings from doing the right thing to the wrong person. Eventually, if one’s outlook survives, he becomes a seasoned and gray-haired veteran, who can look back and admire surviving even those bad experiences as teachable moments.
Occasionally, innocent young wardens are exposed to their older, scarred-up brethren and then sort out their own path for coping. We know sportsmen and women are some of the best folks in the world but, when forced to do our job and confront a suspect or wrongdoer, the whole mess starts out a bit contentious. Proceeding through the prosecution phase is usually softened with the help of a generally forgiving system. Everyone wants an even-handed, courteous dosage of medicine to be considerately administered except in cases of blatant abuse.
I’ve tried to learn from my own mistakes, and those experiences have contributed to the art of forgiveness. Wardens are taught the mantra, “be as kind to them as they’ll let you,” but “if you have to whip’em, one can always buy another ink refill.” We only want to do the minimum necessary to get the lesson across.
Hopefully we learn from our mistakes. My own slips and falls in life have helped me to understand others, their situations and provide unique “game warden insights” to quirky human behavior.