March 10, 2013
“You ain’t no damn game warden, are ya?” the poacher snarled.
I looked him straight in the eye and lied. “Game warden…? I ain’t no game warden!”
The poacher paused, mulling over my answer, and added quietly, “Then why you askin’ so many questions?”
Thus begins the true story of R. T. Stewart’s career as an undercover wildlife law enforcement officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. For nearly two decades, Stewart used his specialized skills to infiltrate poaching rings throughout Ohio, the Midwest, and beyond.
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In his new book, Poachers Were My Prey: Eighteen Years as an Undercover Wildlife Officer, Stewart chronicles his many exciting undercover adventures, detailing the techniques he used in putting poachers behind bars. It also reveals, for the first time, the secrets employed by undercover wildlife officers in catching the bad guys.
Poaching, the illegal taking of wildlife, goes on every day across the United States and other countries throughout the world. Millions of dollars change hands annually from the illegal sale or trade of antlers, hides, horns, meat, feathers, fur, teeth, claws, gall bladders, and other wild-animal parts. As a result, wildlife populations suffer, including some endangered and threatened species, and legitimate, law-abiding sport hunters get a black eye.
R. T. Stewart dedicated his professional career to stopping such slaughter, actually living with poachers for months or even years on end.
“In essence, being an undercover officer involves living a lie,” Stewart said. “You’re always pretending to be someone you’re not.”
Undercover law enforcement work is dangerous and extremely stressful. In addition, there are also psychological dangers. Stewart recalls during one particular case that he nearly went too far “under” and came close to forgetting his real identity. Many undercover officers have crossed the line and become the very person they initially swore to stop.
Stewart’s book provides an up close and personal chance to look over his shoulder as he deals with the many temptations offered an undercover officer — money, sex, drugs, etc. — yet gets the job done and brings the poachers to justice.
But Poachers Were My Prey is not all seriousness. In his open, honest, straight-from-the-shoulder story-telling style, Stewart recounts some of the more humorous sides of undercover wildlife law enforcement work. Such as the time, early in his career, when he was so nervous around a group of poachers that he inadvertently put a lit cigar in his mouth backwards, burning his lip.
The first time R. T. Stewart thought he was going to be shot and killed by poachers was on his first undercover case. He was staying with a group of poachers in a sleazy motel in southern Ohio when the incident happened.
“Driving into the motel parking lot, I pulled up and parked in front of the door to the poachers’ room,” Stewart said. “I had one of the poachers with me — we were sitting in my truck eating sandwiches and talking — when I saw the door to the poachers’ room slowly begin to swing open. I continued watching the door and all of a sudden I saw the muzzle of a 12-gauge shotgun pointed directly at me, not 20 feet away!
“The first thought racing through my mind was that the bad guys had set me up and were going to kill me. I dropped the sandwich I was eating into my lap and started to reach for the handgun concealed under my coat. About that time, however, the guy pointing the shotgun at me broke up laughing — it had all been a joke!
“It may have been a joke to the poachers, but it scared the hell out of me. I jumped out of the truck and started cussing the poachers, who were all laughing their heads off. I tried to hide my real feelings by acting tough, but in reality I was just glad to be alive.”
Truth be told, R. T. Stewart is not the author of his own book. He and I had an agreement for years that when his undercover wildlife law enforcement career was over I would write his story. That said, he approached me four years ago and said in his slow, southern Ohio drawl,
“Well, I’m on my last undercover case, you can start shopping the book idea around now.” I did just that, and we are both grateful to Kent State University Press and their editors for publishing Poachers Were My Prey: Eighteen Years as an Undercover Wildlife Officer.
Copies of the book can be purchased online from Amazon.com, or for more information go to www.kentstateuniversitypress.com and click on Black Squirrel Books. For autographed copies, send a personal check or money order for $27.35 (payable to WORDsmith) to: WORDsmith, 6108 Township Road 88, Fredericktown, OH 43019. And please include a note as to whom you would like your book(s) signed.