Monday, October 28, 2013

Game Warden Files--Keeping it in the Family

Early in my upstate career, I met a guy I'll call Vic.  He was a member of a large family--we'll call it a dynasty--that dominated a small area of the county and had a history of heavy hunting...and a reputation for heavy violating. They shot a lot of deer, considered all the land in their area to be open to hunting whether or not it was posted... that kind of thing. Vic was the president of a large sportsmen's group and during one meeting, at the mention of my name, stood up and said "I'm going to kill that SOB."  Of course, he didn't abbreviate his words. He probably was upset because shortly before that I'd caught one of his sons hunting big game before the season.  Needless to say, he was in my sights for many years and, though I never got him directly, I put a cramp in his style and did make life unpleasant for some of his offspring.

The first was the one mentioned above, and that set the pattern for many years of work to get a few cases on his family.  Of course, they won most of the games because it's pretty hard to be out all night, every night and guess the right place to be.  I was happy that my presence and the extra attention I gave them put a cramp in their style and made them work harder for their ill-gotten game.  They tempered their bragging a bit also, because it was usually their own mouths that got them in trouble--as is the case with many violators.

One of my encounters with this bunch best exemplified the attitude this family, and many more like it around the state, had.  It was Thanksgiving morning, and I'd been out all night on another case.  I'd crawled into bed around dawn and around 9:00 AM the phone was ringing.  A fellow with a small horse farm had hunters trespassing, walking within a few feet of his paddock.  He gave me a description of one in particular and I headed out there.  I encountered a bunch of hunters a short distance from the farm and found one of them, one of Vic's sons, dressed exactly as described by my complainant.  As I secured the guns and started to check licenses, the farmer came down the road and excitedly pointed out the man he'd seen.  Rather than deny it, my suspect got right in the landowner's face and said "You people move up here out of the city, buy a piece of property and think you own it!"  Everybody went dead silent and I looked at him and asked if he'd heard what he'd said.  Even the other members of his party distanced themselves from him as I wrote his trespassing ticket.  Unfortunately, he was the only one of the bunch the landowner could specifically point out, so he was the only one ticketed.

Another of Vic's sons, Vic Jr., was a bit more agreeable.  He and I had a pretty good-natured game of cat and mouse for many years.  There were a couple times I could have written him some pretty cheap tagging violations, but chose to let them slide, and he started to mend his ways a bit.  Then he got hooked up with a really good bunch of guys, all professional men, all solid sportsmen and they made him toe the line if he wanted to be part of their hunting camp.  That pretty well ended the violating of Vic Jr.

I had a standing invitation to that hunting camp.  Every Saturday night about a half hour after dark, dinner was on.  I took them up on the offer a few times and that opened up chances to poke a bit of fun at the Vic Jr. and his family history of violating.  One night I brought up a deer I'd checked a couple years back.  It had been hanging in Vic Jr's yard.  He remembered the deer and gave me the story about when, where and how he'd killed it.  That's when I mentioned that the tag on the deer had belonged to a female school teacher who lived down the road.  His friends howled and his face turned very bright red.  I didn't let it go there.  In the course of another investigation I'd discovered that his uncle--we'll call him Ike--had received a deer management unit (DMU) permit to take an antlerless deer (at the time, the tags were not transferable). Ike was an old man and had died before the season had opened.  I gave Vic my condolances on the loss of his uncle, and then asked if he'd filled his DMU tag.  His head fell and his face turned an even deeper shade of red.  Finally, he nodded, and with a slight grin admitted that probably he had.  That pretty well ended his violating--knowing that he'd been had and then been "outed" in front of his friends gave better results than any number of tickets.  Vic and I are friends to this day and I believe him to be a better than average sportsman--now.

Even Vic Sr. and I eventually made our peace.  Like many old violators, they mend their ways and become pretty conservation minded in their later years.

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