Saturday, October 26, 2013

Game Warden Files--Tony the Trapper

It was my first opening day of small game season in southern part of Fulton County.  There were several farms that had been stocked with pheasants in the previous days and I figured I'd get a couple over the limit cases pretty easily.  It didn't go that way though.  However, I did meet some interesting folks.  I'd worked the better part of a large farm and had just arrived back at my car.  I'd checked a lot of licenses, had some interesting conversations, and even shot a pheasant for myself (the practice was common in those times); but hadn't made any cases.  One more hunter popped out of the field right in front of me and I waved him over to check his license.  He realized that it was in his jacket which he'd left in his truck and just jumped in the front seat of my car to go with me to get it.  Friendly enough guy.  We probably talked for over an hour that day and I made a friendship that would last until he died.   He introduced himself as Tony the Trapper, and that would be the name I'd know him by.  One afternoon he stopped at the house and asked my young son if I were home.  Jeff came running through the house yelling "DADDY, Tony the Tiger is here!"  We all had a good laugh over that. 

Tony's claim to fame was that he "didn't violate much at all any more."  He'd been an  incredible game hog earlier in his life--just had to be killing something, but over the years had mellowed out and become a very conservation-minded sportsman.  Good thing as we only lived about 1/4 mile apart and it was easy to keep my eye on him. 

I actually learned more about trapping from Tony than I did from anyone in the department.  He let me run his trap line with him a few times and that was an adventure...he was an aggressive trapper, setting traps and checking his lines at all hours of the day and night. 

Not long after I'd met him, he insisted that I stop at a certain farm in Broadalbin and introduce myself to the owners, Bob and Sheila.  The farmers had a trespassing problem and he wanted to be sure they got it dealt with.  I always suspected that the trespassers had given him a bad time where he'd been trapping for coyote and fox, and that was the larger part of his motivation, but a violation is a violation, so I went over and introduced myself.  Just like my meeting with Tony, before I left, I had new friends who are friends to this day. 

In my conversation with the farmer he mentioned a fellow who was trapping beaver in his swamp.  He mentioned that just like clockwork, every other afternoon, the trapper would come down the driveway and head across the pasture to check his traps.  The trouble was that the traps needed to be checked every day, not every other day.  I set the traps up to prove that they were untended for 24 hours, then went back and seized them.  That resulted in writing the president of a well known trapping association a ticket that was very embarrassing to him.  I don't know that Tony had intended that I catch this guy in violation; but that's the way it turned out.

My relationship with Bob and Sheila grew through the years.  My wife and I would sometimes stop over on Sunday evenings and bring coffee to barn as they finished up their evening milking and barn chores.  In the course of conversations about kids I recommended that they explore the AWANA program at a nearby church.  They did and in short order all of their kids had developed personal saving relationships with Christ.  In time, Bob and Sheila also came to the Lord and became active in the local church.

I'd always, however had a burden for Tony.  He'd nearly died as a young man, due to heart problems and dealt with some health issues through the years I'd known him.  One night, Tony didn't come home from deer hunting and the next morning we found him dead where he had come out of tree stand the evening before.  I mourned for the loss of a great friend.

Some time later, when I'd stopped over at Bob and Sheila's farm, Sheila wanted to show me something. She had done a story for some kids at the church, making a scroll with pictures telling the story about a trapper. It was the story of Tony and how he had brought me to them, I had brought them to the Lord, and they had in turn brought Tony to the same saving relationship with Christ that they had found.   My heart was in my throat as she was finishing the story and there tears in my eyes as I realized that I would again see my friend.

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