Hell Bent to Write a Ticket

A group of people in a pickup truck running back roads at night with a loaded rifle and a spotlight is usually a good indication of their intent. (Carlos Gomez photo)

I once knew a revered old warden who was described by some as a strict man whose wife must have beat him every morning before sending him off to work. I think wardens take pride in having a stern reputation, some well-deserved and they'll even grin a little when they hear themselves described as "the warden who would write his own mother a ticket!” Sometimes however, I think that may just be another strategy towards prevention, hoping the image of a ticket-happy demeanor deters some from considering a shortcut to hunting or fishing success.

From my days as a young warden, I remember a stern, old-school supervisor who commonly preached: “Every single hunter and fisherman you meet is a violator and at some point, they WILL break the law! If you’re doing your job, you will be there to catch them!” He treated all rookie wardens like that as well, sneaking around trying to catch one of us making a mistake.

There are people like that in all walks of life, I guess. And, like a cynical warden might feel about every hunter, he treated young wardens as if we hired on to take advantage of an opportunity, making it his sole mission in life to bust us. That negative outlook damaged a lot of lives, impacted the success of our agency and messed with more than a few careers. Sportsmen had no chance when dealing with him either, which is a sad commentary if applied to the image of all our men and women behind the badge.

Sometimes, however, someone really gets on a warden’s radar. As if they wanted you to hunt them, they blatantly conduct themselves with reckless abandon. Sportsmen, wardens and our cause cannot afford that kind of damage. Reminds me of a group of guys I once received a tip on who were allegedly spotlighting and shooting deer in mid-summer. They were known to ride around in a pickup truck, one standing in the back with a rifle in hand, while one drove the truck from field to field and a third manned a powerful hand-held spotlight.

Out about dusk, I took up a likely position near their known milk run. This went on for a couple of weeks without even a chance observation. Finally, one night a vehicle's headlights passed my location and a silhouette revealed it was a truck. From ambient light, I could make out people standing up in the back behind the cab. I fell in behind, managing to stay back while keeping their taillights just in sight. This is a nervous challenge when traveling on winding roads without headlights.

Then, as I traveled by a house light, I glanced over to see a man on the porch "crane” his neck as I passed. He had evidently seen the scenario unfolding as he jumped into a truck and sped up behind me flashing his headlights, which illuminated my presence. At this point, the sneaky pursuit was over.

I red-lighted the truck in front of me and ordered the new tailgating friend in the truck behind me to leave. Sure enough, with a loaded gun and spotlight in hand, their intent was obvious. These were my guys, but I hadn’t seen them light up any fields so I had no real evidence. Was I going to have to let them go with no lessons learned? The only thing I could find on them was a freshly shot rattlesnake in the back of the truck. Not a single one of the three suspects possessed a hunting license, but had they actually been hunting? I hadn’t seen them hunt, but knew a hunting license is required of anyone in possession of wildlife. Snakes are wildlife, but should a rattlesnake be considered here and subject to license protection?

This recently-shot rattlesnake was found in the back of the pickup truck. (Carlos Gomez photo)
This recently-shot rattlesnake was found in the back of the pickup truck. (Carlos Gomez photo)

They are if you pop yourself up on a warden’s radar!

As imperfect humans, in statistical theory, I’ve known the cynicism of that twisted old supervisor was true. But as a family of sportsmen, how could we ever survive if wardens were to believe everyone is an impending thief?

I survived that knucklehead supervisor, but it wasn’t easy. Everyone teaches a lesson: some on ”how to be,” others on ”how not to be.” Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes, remembering how imperfect we all are, no better than anyone else, no matter their station in life. Wardens will always try to do the minimum of what is needed to correct the situation, especially when dealing with our own family.

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