Warden Magic Tricks

(Carlos Gomez photo)

The story of the back-40 deer with the paper in its ear

Game wardens depend heavily on sportsmen partnerships to protect wildlife. I heard an excellent example of warden-sportsman rapport in action while on a deer hunt with a friend and now-retired Nebraska game warden, Rick Seward.

Rick is a big man with a soft, unassuming demeanor. Kindness, patience and understanding were his hallmarks as a warden, but if a poacher ever mistook Rick’s kindness for weakness, that would have tallied their second mistake, squandering any chance of catching a break.

Rick once received a tip from a local rancher about an illegally-shot buck found hanging in one of his sheds, which was remotely located on his “back 40.” The deer was illegally harvested because it was found the day before rifle season. The old rancher may have never discovered the carcass had it not been for a bowhunter he had granted permission to hunt. That bowhunter discovered the hanging buck and called the rancher saying, "We need to call Warden Seward!"

Rick staked out the shed for two solid days, hiding and waiting for someone to retrieve it, now that it could easily be taken to the local check-in station without suspicion. He had prime suspects because of two young-adult brothers that lived on adjacent acreage in the area. Both of them had a history of legal troubles over the years, including game-law violations.

But, his tedious surveillance was to no avail. Complaint calls began to stack up including several other suspects with “questionable” deer. Exhausted like a treestand hunter after a two-day sit-and-wait marathon, Rick relented. As a last resort, he wrote down his name, the date and the shed location on a small piece of paper, rolled it up and shoved it deep into the deer's ear canal. The thought was he might get the chance for a later discovery. While leaving the area, he notified “check-station Sally,” who ran the local convenience store and deer check-in station, asking her to call if either of the two brothers showed to check a deer.

The busy nine-day gun season kept Rick hopping, but thoughts of the “back-40 buck” nagged at him. He decided to check the shed again to see if the deer was still there. Wouldn't you know it, the deer was gone.

With no clues as to what had happened, he left and tried to re-focus on other pending issues. All through the week, Rick had looked forward to getting a call from Sally at the check-in station. Then on the night of the last day of the season, Sally called Rick to let him know that both brothers were there to check deer.

Choking down the last half of a sandwich, Rick jumped in his truck and hurried to the check-in station. Neither deer were anything to write home about, but a small crowd had gathered at the scales to look over the hunters’ success of the final day of the season.

When Rick arrived and walked up to the deer scales where the two brothers were standing, you could almost hear the spaghetti-western music playing in the background. Rick confronted the brothers as a few more folks drifted over to listen in … soon there was a larger crowd. It was the kind of crowd that usually gathers around to see a really nice buck.

Rick immediately recognized one of the two deer lying in his suspects’ truck. Without a doubt, it was the “back-40 buck.” But did it still have the note rolled up in its ear? Rick was a bit worried about that as he began questioning the two brothers. Things started out friendly but quickly turned serious.

The crowd was listening attentively to every word. Rick knew the stiff deer carcass had become a consolation prize for one of the brothers after a week of hunting for a better buck. Rick wanted to know who claimed which deer and asked to hear all the details about their hunting activities that week. He calmly listened to the story of how the stiff “back-40 buck” had been taken just the day before.

Finally, the two brothers grew noticeably impatient and started to squirm a bit, so Rick knew it was time to pull out his ace in the hole. Sounding like some kind of overly-confident psychic or fortune teller, Rick began telling the one brother the truth about what had really happened before the season even started. Rick had the brothers’ attention now and the gathered crowd was pin-drop quiet.

"And I can prove what I've said because right here, rolled up in this little deer’s ear is a little piece of paper with some writing on it," Rick said. Like a magic trick before a throng of straining eyeballs and gaping mouths hung ajar, Rick pulled off his gloves and dug out what looked like a cigarette from the deer’s ear.

Now directing all of his attention to the deer’s owner, Rick continued, "And I'm the only one who knows what's on this little rolled-up piece of paper. Do YOU know what's on this paper?" Concealing his relief that the note was still there, Rick just grinned as the young hunter stoically swung his head side to side, then lowered his head and muttered, "You got me."

Cooperation and support are always good indications that a hard working warden has earned the respect of his community. “Check-station Sally” had done her part to help, but the biggest contribution came from the bowhunter who initially found the “back-40 buck” hanging in the shed.

So how did the bowhunter know to specifically call Warden Rick Seward? Because there are times when a name will forever be etched into memory; they had met a few years earlier – when Rick wrote the bowhunter a ticket for a game-and-fish violation.

October through December, “Wardens” will air Monday through Friday. Check the schedule for updated air times.

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