Saturday, November 30, 2013

Game Warden Files--It Weighs WHAT?

It was opening day of the regular North Zone season and Bob Gosson and I were checking hunters on the west side of the hamlet of Wells. We got to the area called Whitehouse, a trailhead on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail and found a group of guys camped on the flat near the West Branch of the Sacandaga River. As we walked toward them, Bob asked if they'd had any luck and one of them piped up that they'd killed a two hundred and fifty pound bear.
For anyone who has never dragged a bear, you must understand that they don't drag easily. It's like dragging a bag of bowling balls, wrapped in Velco across the opposite surface of the Velcro--and going uphill.  It's really that bad. We often have said that a bear doubles in weight for every couple hundred yards they are dragged to get them out of the woods.
After being told about the bear I looked in the direction the lucky hunter had pointed and saw a bear--but nowhere near a two hundred and fifty pound bear. I made some comment about it being "maybe a hundred and forty pounds," and that started a rumbling to the effect of those "Game Wardens don't know nothing about bears." We checked the bear tag and then the entire party, verifying tags, licenses and all the things we would normally do, all the while hearing comments about our lack of knowledge about bears.
When the time came for us to go we had to again walk right past the bear. Just as we were next to it, there was one more disparaging remark about our knowledge of bears. The timing was perfect. I turned, picked the bear up, turned toward them and shook carcass as though weighing it in my hands. I dropped it back where it had been and just waved them off with "Nahhh, a hundred and forty pounds, tops." There was dead silence as we walked away.
Bob and I got in our car and shut the door before we lost it and broke down into laughter. The hunting party was still standing looking at us. If that bear weighed two hundred fifty pounds, I should have been in a Mr. Universe competition, not checking hunting licenses.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Game Warden Files--Just Keep the Mouth Shut

It seems like some folks don't know when to quit. If you're caught and you're wrong, just apologize and leave--doesn't that make sense? To some it does not, apparently
One nice fall morning, a local landowner was working on his property when he saw three men hunting. He knew two of them, brothers who lived in the area and the third man was a stranger to him. When confronted with being on posted property, two of the men apologized, the third, one of the brothers, had to make a rather unpleasant argument out of it and now the landowner understandably wanted him arrested.
Though the landowner knew the brothers, he didn't know where they lived. The apologetic brother, however worked for a local excavating contractor and had been driving a company truck when they'd been hunting. The owner of the company was a long-time friend, so I called him and got the man's phone number. When I got him on the phone, he quickly agreed to meet me at the Sheriff's Office to talk about the incident and gave me a full statement of the event which agreed with the landowner's story almost exactly. He also told me where to find Brother #2, and revealed that the Brother #2 was on probation and not supposed to have any guns. Even worse, Brother #2 had guns that were really family owned guns, having belonged their deceased father. I thanked him for his statement and told him he needed to talk to his boss about using the company truck to violate the game laws. Then I was off to see Brother #2.
Though I've always been a strong supporter of the right to bear arms, it's never bothered me to take guns away from criminals and this time was no exception. However I'd known the father who had owned these guns and if they'd been seized they may have ended up being destroyed; that bothered me. Brother #1 hadn't done anything to deserve losing his right to them; but I had no right to tell him how to get around the law. However, I didn't have to rush to write Brother #2 his tickets. Since I had all the information I needed, I took the time to write the tickets out before going over to Brother #2's house. As I drove down the road, I saw Brother #1's truck going the other way and was happy to know that he'd figured this out on his own. Brother #2 met me in his front lawn, hands outstretched for the tickets. He told me that he no longer had the guns...that was all I needed to hear; case closed. He plead out and paid his fines.
A few days after this took place I got a call from Brother #2's probation officer. He had reported the incident to her as required and she wanted to know my take on it. She too was a Second Amendment Supporter and was happy that the guns had been removed and not subject to seizure. She also thought that maybe her probationer had learned a valuable lesson about keeping his mouth shut--something she'd identified as a problem he had. If he'd just apologized and left, he'd have never had to meet me that day.

Game Warden Files--Confession Time

Conversations around the table yesterday (Thanksgiving) brought up a name that provoked a set of memories dating back to 1986, our first year in the area. It was the last name of a guy I'll call Joe, a good sportsman who helped me out and could have made a great story out of it...but never told a soul, that I know of.
The game warden is supposed to be the expert on everything relating to fish and wildlife: "Is the ice safe on Grafton Lake in November?"  How should I know. "Do you know what the weather is in Lake Lila? I didn't know where Lake Lila was. "How deep should you fish for salmon in Lake Ontario?" Not a clue but we muddle through, usually coming up with an answer that satisfied the asker. Though we keep up a good facade, we sometimes get our weak spots found out. So it was that early in my first deer season, a major lack in my knowledge was brought to light. I had stopped a car to check what I thought was an improperly tagged deer and found Joe, who was headed for a phone to call me (hard to believe that we had no cell phones only a few years back). The deer was legally tagged and all was in order; but this guy was hot. His hunting party had been putting on a drive when there had been shots fired in an area where they had no watchers. They went over to check out who the interloper was and found a set of tracks that led up to a small button buck--an illegal kill.. The footprints leading away from the deer were a clear message of "feet don't fail me now!" The shooter had run away. Bad enough to make an illegal kill; but to leave it in the woods to be eaten by the coyotes was unforgivable.
This sportsman turned around and took me back to the parking area and then led me up through the woods about a mile to the spot where the deer had been killed. The tracks told the story as described. Not willing to leave the deer to the coyotes, I rolled it over, took out my knife and told my sportsman that he was in for a treat...I'd never field dressed a deer before, and he'd get to watch. Though I had been a fairly successful small game hunter over the ears I had never taken a deer myself, so this would be my first. Confession given, my hunter did the right thing. He sat down on a stump and talked me through it. It went pretty well with his expert coaching...and he never told the story to embarrass me, though several would have gladly paid to hear it.
Though I developed a suspect or two on the illegal kill, there was never enough evidence to make a case against anyone. It was, however, part of my growing up in the job and I appreciated Joe's help. I dressed out many deer in the years since then, some my own takes and many more killed illegally; but that one always comes to mind when I take out my knife.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Game Warden Files--Off to buy a Wolf

There has always been a fascination with exotic pets. Folks go to all kinds of lengths to have things that no one else has--legal or not. For a while the hot item was wolves. New York's regulations prohibited the possession of wolves and hybrid wolf-dogs.

Hamilton County ECO Bob Gosson contacted me one day and asked if I'd be interested in going under cover to buy a wolf puppy. A family had just moved to his area and had started advertising wolf puppies for sale. He came up with a scheme to get me in and buy a puppy. We borrowed a body wire and recording unit from the State Police to record the transaction. We also borrowed a female Trooper to pose as my wife. We made an appointment to view the dogs and put the plan in motion.

On the appointed morning, I picked the Trooper up in my personal car then met Bob to get fitted with the body wire. Bob took his personal pickup down the dead end road by the suspect's house with the recording unit and we headed in for the buy, or to at least document the possession of prohibited animals. The Trooper and I had figured out a pretty good story line by the time we got there and we played the parts pretty well. The purveyors of wolf puppies went out of their way to tell us all about the blood lines of their dogs telling us "wolf, wold, wolf" repeatedly. Over and over the wife, who was obviously the primary actor in this wolf factory, kept apologizing for the condition of the kennel, telling us that they weren't "set up" yet.  She must have said it a half-dozen times. When the Trooper and I had left and were headed back to her station, we both started laughing over the the repeated "set up" comments. We both had thought the same thing--she had no idea how well she was getting set up.

After listening to the tape and writing our statements we figured out all the charges. A couple nights later, Bob and I went back to issue the tickets. The woman kept looking at me strangely and finally asked if we'd met somewhere before. Well, yes...we had met before, right there in her driveway as a matter of fact. When realization dawned, she started to laugh. We issued the tickets and parted amicably.

Game Warden Files--Cat Tracks

One of the big controversies in New York has been the presence of mountain lions. Are they here or not? Interestingly, the state seems to have gone from "there are none here" to "there is no population," believing that there are some individual cats--either released cats or escaped animals--but no breeding population, something that seems to disappoint no one.

Over my years there were plenty of calls about them. Most often they were calls about "black panthers" which were pretty easily dismissed, usually a little conversation proved them out as fishers, a large member of the weasel family that has cat-like moves. Pretty easy mistake to make, except that there are no black panthers in the north country, period. The only black panthers truly identified are not even cougars, from what I can find.  

Some of the sightings were less certain; but most likely bobcats. Most of the "big cat track" calls I handled were those. There were some, however that weren't so clear and might have been cougars. Some young folks out cross country skiing came across a set of tracks that they'd photographed. The track was fresh and alongside a measurable human footprint; it was pretty big, outside the range of bobcat tracks. One report came from a well known sportsman. His visual description was too good to discount, he knew all the likely other suspects and by process of elimination this was a cougar. One lady invited me to her house to discuss what she'd seen and spent more time qualifying herself and her powers of observation than she did telling me what she'd seen...yeah, that was probably a cougar also. 

The funniest was a guy who stopped me on the street in the village of Northville, flagging me down from his car as we crossed paths. "YOU GOT A GUN?" He almost hollered at me. Well, yes, two or three of them actually, and how might I help him. He told me he'd just seen "A BIG CAT" walking along the bank of Northville's "little lake." 

We both parked at the town hall and he seemed disappointed that I didn't offer him a shotgun or something. I explained that whatever he'd seen, unless it posed a threat to us or the public--spoiled his fun. It was perfect day for tracking, there'd been about an inch or so of damp snow that made a perfect track, so I took a camera to document whatever we found. I had him take me to the spot he'd seen that big cat. Of course I kept a good watch out in case of a cat attack and broke into laughter when we got to the spot of his sighting. There, perfect as can be was a set of kitty cat tracks...and nothing else. My would-be hero was very silent as we walked back to the parking lot. He mumbled a sort of apology, got in his car and left me to my laughter.

For more on panthers, check out
It's pretty good.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Game Warden Files--Joe the Sniper

The story came to me from a local gun shop I frequent both on and off duty. They asked if I knew a guy who was doing some training for the State Police Mobile Response Team that day. Not recognizing the guy's name, I had the proprietor continue with the story. This guy had come in the store, talking like he was some special operator working for a well-known military contractor in Iraq. He had told stories about "shooting 'objects'" at extended ranges and showed them a highly customized rifle in a fitted case that had all the accouterments--including a silencer. Under NY state law, silencers are illegal for the general public and under federal law they are highly restricted and taxed. He also had what had appeared to be an official looking identification card linking him to that contractor.

My next stop was the State Police Barracks where I asked who this might be, that whole thought of a silencer bothering me still. I talked to a local trooper who was on the MRT and he didn't have a clue--and he should have known. Now I was on the track of guy who might just be a nut-case.

The matter went cold for a couple weeks as the guy had just gone out of view for a while, but I'd made some quiet inquiries and was not liking the stories I'd been getting. This guy was making himself out to be some kind of military war hero, super-sniper and something of a special government hit man. Red flags were going up everywhere, so I kept looking. A couple weeks later, I went into the gun shop on a day off and the owner told me that Sniper Joe had just been in to pick up a case of ammo and was headed off to a local range to do some shooting with the State Police.

Since there was personal business I had to attend to, neighboring officer Larry Johnson picked up the trail for me and went to the range along with a local Trooper. They were about to leave when Sniper Joe showed up and started a conversation. Larry kept the conversation going and ultimately got into the gun case finding not unexpectedly, a silencer, along with an official ID identifying him as an employee of a well-known federal contractor.

By that time, my business had been completed and I busied myself finding out just who the guy was. A friend of mine is in the security business, and had the phone number for the contractor on speed dial, so I called and checked him out. Turns out that he was a heavy equipment operator and had no reason to be in possession of his equipment even when he had been in Iraq, which had been some time before. Interestingly, when I asked if they might be missing a silencer, they didn't really want to continue that line of questions. Hmm.

Interestingly, Sniper Joe had a couple silencers legally registered to him in Texas, where he could lawfully possess them. He also had an application in with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to acquire another one. The one he had here was none of them.

In the end, we charged him under state law, and let the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms follow up on the rest of it. They executed a search warrant on his home the next day, but found nothing--too late, no doubt. We'll always believe that the word had gotten out and his friends got whatever other illegal devices he might have had stashed.

I always suspected that he and one of his buddies with whom I was familiar had other illegal items; but they never came to light on that, and are either well hidden or long gone.

Game Warden Files--All in the Family

Every officer's sector has a problem family or two...well, maybe even three or four. One of mine got some stories told in some previous posts; but there is another that deserves at least one story.

It was only my second or third season as an "upstate game warden" and some folks seemed to think that they were immune from the law. This family owned quite a bit of land and probably did--and may still--get away with a lot of violations. One day I ran into a fellow sitting on watch not far from a logging road. I stopped to check him out and found that he was one of *that* family. He checked out OK, and told me that his grandson was working his way up the hill from the house, trying to push some deer up to him. Now, I knew that the grandson was under 16, the legal age to hunt deer, and was curious just how and where he'd show up. I found him a few minutes later at his grandfather's pickup, trying to distance himself from the gun that I'd already seen in his hands.

He was 14 or 15, and had a small game license and so he could hunt small game, but not deer or bear; if accompanied by an older licensed hunter. Though he'd been a good distance away from his grandfather, I could stretch the accompanied part of the situation and let that slide; but I wanted a better look at the gun he'd been carrying. If he'd been hunting small game, I would have expected to find a .22 rimfire or a shotgun with bird shot.  What he'd been carrying, however had been a .30 rifle. His grandfather argued with me that the boy had been carrying a shotgun, so I showed him the gun...and decided to go right to the judge.

I really wasn't convinced that Grampa knew what the kid was doing--the kid has since had a long history of run-ins with the law--so I opted to do a civil compromise with the kid. I sold Grampa on the idea, and he forked over the money for the civil penalty.

There was a private road that ran through that family's property which I had often used to access a couple camps that were on other private property in the area. The very next time I came out of that road, a family member greeted me with a pretty hefty attitude and told me that I was not welcomed to use their road any more--EVER! Shortly thereafter, a gate went up. I saw the judge from that case a few weeks later. He had seen one of the family members and asked where was some property for sale up his way. He said he'd heard that I was about to close on a piece of land near him and wondered just where it might be....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Game Warden Files--Stacked up Like Cordwood

We all have lots of pictures in our mind but not many real pictures of the events of our careers. There are dozens I wish I had but one stands out. It was my patrol car, a Dodge sedan, with so many deer tied on the truck deck that the bumper was dragging.

It all started with a young guy calling to tell me that a party of other hunters had stolen a nice deer from him. He gave me a pretty good statement about it, identifying who the others were and where they'd gone, but the problem remained about who really killed the deer. Common decency says that the hunter who drew first blood "owns" the deer. If another hunter finishes it off and the first one comes upon it, it's the property of the first hunter. The law, however isn't really specific and I couldn't do much to help him...until he started telling me all he knew about this hunting party.

I got in touch with Larry Johnson, in whose territory the events were occurring and we started in on the case. Before the sun had set we had seized three deer, though we knew there were more to be found. All were antlerless and taken in an area where deer management permits were not allowed, so it was bucks only. At least one was untagged entirely and memory fails me to as to all the violations involved. We wrote all the tickets we could for the moment and had to call it a night. As the night had fallen, the temperature had also dropped.  We had gotten pretty badly chilled so we decided to regroup in the morning. On the way home I figured I'd get rid of the deer. I made a call to the church that did the sportsmen's dinners and made arrangements to drop them off. I also had an acquaintance who was down on his luck and could use a little winter meat. I backed into his driveway and unloaded the deer on top of the pile. Between rigor mortise and the frigid temperature the legs of the deer were locked out straight and it stood up in the driveway. Though tempted to just drive off, I knocked on his back door and told him I needed to see him outside. When he saw the deer standing in his back yard he had a good hard laugh.

The next morning, Larry and I met and attempted to chase down the rest of the deer. By then, we'd figured out where they had been, but were too late. The building was virtually sterile. It had been either pressure washed or steam-cleaned and the floor was still wet. We were able to make one additional arrest out of this, but never got the guys we really wanted.

We never did find the buck that our complainant had lost. We figured that it, and any other deer we'd been looking for had been bulldozed underground during the night. Though we didn't make all the arrests we wanted, we're pretty sure that several guys had a very sleepless night. Sometimes we had to settle for that.

Game Warden Files--The North and the South

For the purposed of big game hunting New York is divided into to main divisions, North Zone and South Zone. The North Zone season opens in October, the South in November. In Fulton County the line is easily distinguished as it runs down State Highway 29 from one end of the county to the other. The Adirondack Park boundary runs just a few miles north of the road through much of the county so the line divides the county into two distinct environments. To the north, the land is more heavily wooded and hilly, to the south it's somewhat flatter and more of it is open farm land. For the real hunters, it tend to mean a difference in the methods of hunting; to the violators, it hardly matters. Road hunters don't really care.

Bob Gosson was coming down from Hamilton County to work a complaint where a nice buck had been shot from a pickup truck on the road. The deer had been in a cornfield in the South Zone and only North was open. The pickup had been driven into the field, two men got out, threw the deer in the back of the truck and took off. We ran all the leads down to dead ends for that night and called it quits. Like many cases, those who saw the most, were not willing to put their names on statements and we were afraid we'd lost this one.

Bob wasn't available the next day when Trooper Rich Bittner called with some information that he'd picked up about the case, so I went with the Trooper to interview another suspect. Though this guy wouldn't involve himself in shooting it, he admitted that he'd been there when the other two had dragged the deer into the woods on a back road in the North Zone. He wouldn't put his name on a statement; but he gave us the names of the two men involved and the fact that they had tagged it as though it had been taken in the North Zone. He also knew that it was already at a local butcher shop. While we were there talking to him, we noticed that he had a pile of guns in the corner of his home--more on that later.

Many hours later I caught up with the man I'd thought to be the passenger of the truck, but not the shooter. He told me that yes, he and the other guy had killed a nice buck, but it was in the North Zone--he'd even take me into the woods and show me the gut pile. After verbally sparring for quite some time, I told him I'd already seen the gut pile and had tissue samples to send out along with the samples from cornfield. It was just a matter of time before the DNA match came back. I also told him that when he was found guilty, he'd have to pay the state for the cost of the tests. This was a time when the DNA evidence was just starting to take hold and though it was doable, it was costly and took a very long time to get results. Fortunately for the good guys, the perception from the TV shows made it look like it was an overnight thing; so he was eager to get it over with.  He admitted that he'd shot the deer and said he'd take full responsibility for it, but wouldn't give me a written statement or mention the other guy in the truck.

He wanted to go to court and settle it right then. Since it was court night in that town anyway, I had the Sheriff's Office call the judge and ask him to come in a bit early to take care of this guy. We were in, settled, payed up and out the door before the normal court activity began. I then went to the butcher who had his deer. Since it had been illegally killed, it was property of the state. I told the butcher that the deer would be donated to a church that held a big sportsmen's dinner and he cut the deer up for me; after all, he'd already been payed.

In the interest of tying up lose ends, I would often run the names of all involved through the Sheriff's Office in-house records.  If I found any old cases on them, I'd see if there had been a conviction that prohibited owning a gun. I found an old case on our witness and Trooper Bittner and I went back to pay him another visit. We charged him with criminal possession of a weapon 4th degree, as we did many, and sent him to court over that.  If memory serves correctly, he got a court release for the old offense and got his guns back.

Game Warden Files--Get the Aluminum Foil!

The caller sounded rational, intelligent and truly concerned about an ongoing problem. I really didn't want to go out that night but it sounded like a complaint too good to pass up. She'd heard gunshots and could see lights in the woods near her house. Since she was only a few minutes from our house, I jumped in the car and headed over.

The house was hard to find, its driveway virtually concealed from the road behind some buildings on a construction company's storage area. The location of the house was atop a hill giving a view that would have been stunning in daylight--but it was dark, raining, very windy, and visibility was poor. By the time I arrived at the door I was already re-thinking my decision to come out. Between the low visibility and the howling winds, everything she had told me was starting to look fanciful at best. When the door opened, I was met by the person who had sounded so rational, intelligent and sincere. The person was nothing like the voice! Disheveled, unkempt, and wacky would be the way to describe this lady and her house was in total disarray. She took me to her windows where I could see nothing close, only distant lights which she tried to tell me were the hunters in the woods nearby.  No, they were some distance away--miles in fact, and quite stationary. Then she started telling me about the helicopters landing around her house all the time--and nobody would do anything about it. Hmm, imagine that.

The more of the house I saw, the more eager I was to get out of there. She had foil on some of the windows and other contraptions about which I was afraid to ask. I managed to extricate myself from our conversation with the promise that I would surely investigate the matter, got back to my car and down the hill before she found a way to come after me.

I stopped at the Sheriff's Office on the way home and asked if they knew her. They had been to her home on numerous occasions for a variety of odd complaints. They were happy she'd decided to call the game warden for once instead of them. So glad to be of service--NOT!

Game Warden Files--Oh, Deer!

One thing ECOs encounter all too frequently is well-meaning but ignorant people who want to help what they deem to be animals in distress. Though sometimes it works out OK, more often than not it causes more problems than it fixes and often there is no problem except the person's ignorance. That's often the case with young deer that are rescued because "it was abandoned by its mother." Many calls of that nature came my way and in all but one, I got the fawn back to the spot of "rescue" and miraculously it was gone shortly; the other time there was a doe found dead on the road nearby. That fawn was taken by a rehabilitator and ultimately released.

The biggest problem is that the cute little fawn, if it survives untrained intervention, becomes a not-so-cute adolescent. When they become problems they're often released and become problems in the neighborhood. One June morning a Trooper and I had to deal with one of these.

The Trooper got the call from his dispatcher and was quite relieved when I called him on the radio a moment or so later to tell him I'd meet him at the complaint. We arrived to find a young doe--the previous year's fawn--making itself at home with a family. She would come right up to one particular family member and suck on his clothing!  It was humorous, but dangerous.  This is the result of imprinting; the deer thinks it's among it is among its own kind. Besides the injury it could unintentionally cause to people, it could also just walk up to the first hunter it saw and be killed--so much for the kindness shown by the rescuers.

The Trooper and I conferred and for lack of a better idea called our friend who owned the animal farm mentioned in other posts. He ran a legit business, kept his animals in good order and was always in good standing with our permit office. He arrived within about an hour towing the trailer. His idea was that the Trooper would hold a bucket grain while I grabbed a front leg and he grabbed a back leg. If we could get it into the trailer, he'd take it and pen it until we figured out what we were doing with it. There was really no plan B for this operation

When he opened the trailer, the doe took all our problems away from us. She walked over to the open door, peered in, then climbed in and helped herself to the grain. We closed the doors and I told the farm owner I'd see him later that day. This was absolutely the most easily solved wildlife problem I ever handled.

When I stopped at the farm, I found the doe in a box stall, contentedly munching hay from the manger, just like she'd done it all her life--she probably had.  Since we had no other viable options, I made a call to our licensing folks the next day and they amended the animal farm's permit to include one new white tail deer. After having been checked by a vet and suitably quarantined she became part of the farm's display.  Like the tiger, she became a lesson in how not to handle wildlife.

Game Warden Files--Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

There were always bears. Sometimes illegally killed, sometimes nuisance, sometimes both; but never a year went by without having some involvement with them. I've been close enough to smell their bad breath and had the slack coming out of the trigger of my shotgun when one defensive momma-bear was charging a State Trooper--fortunately for her, she stopped in time. I've chased them around camprounds, out of dumpsters and made arrests for the illegal taking...yeah, lots of bear stories.

I had two lion dealings, one with a cub in a pen who loved to get his forehead scratched. I obliged him and as I was drawing my hand out he bit me--very gently--and just sort of dragged his teeth off my fingers. He didn't draw blood, but just wanted to remind me who was boss. He belonged to a local animal farm, and may be still there to this day.

The other lion was actually a mountain lion. He belonged to a guy who had a scientific collector's license and so could lawfully possess it and display it for educational purposes. However, he just didn't follow the rules about how he had to keep it and what he could do with it. He'd take it out on a leash in public places--considering that an educational display--and just became a pain in the neck. We'd get complaints every month or so about it and one time got one report in which he was so out of line I finally had something on which to take an action.

I cited him for violating the terms and conditions of his permit and offered him a civil compromise--a cheap one--with the condition that he would abide by the department's understanding of the terms of his permit instead of his own. If I'd had to take it to trial, it would have meant getting a very reluctant witness into court so I was happy that he took the offer and settled up. After a while, the novelty of having the big cat wore off and word got to me that he parted with his cougar. I was not unhappy about that.

And then there was the tiger.  My lieutenant called me to tell me that a local guy had taken a tiger to a local vet to have it de-clawed and to get its shots. The only problem was that he had no permit from the department to have a tiger. We documented the possession and then went to have a chat with the owner of the young tiger cub.

This fellow had built quite an elaborate housing facility for it, was keeping it in a reasonably fit manner; and claimed to have had some training (watching educational TV about keeping big cats) but it was flat out illegal for him to have it. It was easy to see why he'd had the cat de-clawed. On a rack near his door was a pair of Carhart coveralls shredded!  I guess kitty played hard!

We did an in-place seizure, wrote him a ticket and dug in to prepare for trial. After many court appearances he took a plea agreement and forfeited the cat. The day we picked it up I managed to get my arm a bit too close and got some scratches to show for my effort--she used my arm for a teething ring!   The tiger ended up at the same animal farm where I'd met the lion some time before. The owner always told the story and gave a good lesson about the incident when he gave tours of his farm.

Game Warden Files--And Over She Goes

ATV's can be the most wonderful tools, greatest toys, and the biggest thorns in the sides of law enforcement. Over the years, our work with them has gone from ignoring them as much as possible to actively enforcing the laws. In nearly the 25 years spent upstate, I dealt with a lot of them, as a previous post has described. A couple others deserve mention. I was headed down a somewhat remote road one afternoon when I saw an old three-wheeler approaching me. The first thing I saw was that neither the operator nor the passenger was wearing a helmet. I activated all my lights and slowed to block the roadway and keep the machine from getting around me. The closer it got the closer to the shoulder, the closer to the shoulder I drove--and it was not slowing down!  Finally the machine left the road, went down a rather gently sloping embankment, crossed the ditch and hit a tree. In what I saw as slow motion, the passenger went one way and the driver another. I had the driver in cuffs before he could get off the ground and the passenger told me she wasn't going to run, so that ended that.

Calling an ambulance was a natural response along with some help from the State Police to take an accident report. By the time all the help arrived, driver and passenger were sitting in the back seat of my patrol car with the driver telling me the whole story. He was only taking the machine for a test ride since he'd just got it running--of course his home was a couple miles up the road, but I guess he needed a long test. He hadn't been trying to avoid me; he had no brakes, so he didn't want to hit me. The ambulance crew checked both my folks out and found nothing major to be wrong with them and they both declined to be transported to the emergency room. The machine had suffered no damage--not that you'd have been able to tell if it had--and so this was neither a personal injury accident nor a property damage accident; therefor no accident report was necessary. However, I did write some paper. I believe that I wrote the operator a total of seven tickets and his passenger one for not wearing a helmet.  The machine got towed in by a local tow service so he had to pay the tow bill on that also.

One afternoon I literally "wrote a whole book of tickets" all to one family group. I'd been been working near Warrensburg and was headed over one of the connecting roads to the area of the Great Sacandaga Lake when I came up behind a line of ATV's on the road. They were all going slowly, many of the operators had no helmets and not one of the machines had a license plate visible. Since they were going slowly, I passed them all, pulled across the road and jumped out. I must have given them too much room to stop, because they got turned around and headed back the way they'd come from, hitting a trail too narrow for my truck to travel on. However, since I recognized a couple of them it wasn't hard to figure exactly where they'd come out and I headed there.  As I pulled to the spot I figured I'd meet them, down a different trail came three more machines--each with its own violations.  I started writing them and while I was doing that the group I'd been waiting for came along. This time, they knew they were busted and didn't try to outrun me again. About the time the last ticket got handed out, down the road came yet another machine, also with a violation or two. A "book" of uniform traffic tickets is a packet of twenty. With this group I had finished one packet and completely exhausted another. That might have been my longest traffic stop. I was there for nearly an hour writing tickets. Needless to say, I left with writer's cramp.

Game Warden Files--Be Careful What You Say

One thing that drives me nuts is inconsistency, particularly in reference to the folks who talk the talk but don't walk the walk.Few will claim perfection,  and my wife, kids, and coworkers would all rat me out if I were to claim perfection in any one area. One thing that's I have worked hard on, though won't claim to have down pat, is my use of language. As a Christian, I believe that my talk is an important part of my walk. It's not something I berate others about; but the standard I hold for myself.

One morning a call came in about two "black panthers" up in a tree.  Of course, by the time I arrived they were gone. The homeowner, who I recognized as the operator of a local Christian ministry, came out of his house and immediately began to describe what he'd seen--in very colorful language. After he described what he'd seen he paused and thoughtfully looked at my name tag. You could see the wheels of the mind turning and he asked me why I looked familiar. When I introduced myself and added that I was a deacon in a local church (that supported his ministry), he restated all he'd told me the first time; but he did it in far less colorful language.

He'd seen two very black, cat-like animals up in a small birch tree. Their weight had bent the tree over to the point where it had almost touched the roof of his home. Now that I had some information to go on, it was easy to identify the animals as fishers, a large member of the weasel family that has very cat-like actions and is very much at home in trees. First of all, at the time the official stance was that there were no cougars, mountain lions or panthers in New York, though that stance has been softened a bit since then.  Second, the blank panther is a southern species and wouldn't be found this far north.  Last, when talking about mountain lions, the operative word is LION.  They're big. If there'd been two of them in that tree, the tree would have broken under their weight.  It was only about 3 inches in diameter, just about right to support the weight of a couple fisher.

After that explanation, he seemed satisfied that he was in no danger of a mountain lion attack and AGAIN repeated the story he'd told me first in the plain-vanilla terms he'd wished he used the first time.

...and if you're interested, by way of our due process, our church's funding of his ministry was eliminated.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Game Warden Files--More on Loaded Guns

The issue of a loaded gun in or on a vehicle is a twofold issue: There's the matter of fair chase--driving down the road with the gun loaded while looking for a quick shot; and there's the matter of safety--carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun in a car or truck is inherently unsafe.

My very first opening day of the North Zone, I stopped a slow moving car on Hope Falls Road. There was an old Winchester 1894 between the driver and the passenger, the action was closed--usually a good indicator of a loaded gun. I had the driver get out of the car and reached in for the rifle. I opened the action and removed a live round from the chamber, then cycled it and removed a couple more rounds before it appeared empty. I placed the rifle on the floor of my back seat and instructed the hunters meet me at the judge's house a bit later in the morning. Much to my surprise, when I got to the judge's house, I found a couple more rounds in the magazine. The gun had been so poorly maintained that the magazine spring hadn't fed the rounds and I'd been unaware they were even in the gun.The bouncing around in my car dislodged them and I was able to fully empty the rifle.

One very cold Thanksgiving morning, I was working with Cathy Maloney checking the hunters who braved the cold that morning before going home to a turkey dinner and a football game. We came up on two guys sitting in a pickup truck drinking a cup of coffee after a cold early morning watch. The first thing we saw was a rifle--another Model 94 Winchester--in the bed of the truck, action closed and pointing directly at the driver's position of the truck. While Cathy started to interview the hunters I removed the rifle from the truck, and opened the action--not surprisingly, it had a round in the chamber. As I recall, the hunter really didn't understand why we were making such a big deal out of it. I'm sure the judge was able to make him understand.

Later that same morning Cathy and I decided to check "one last spot" before heading home for our own Thanksgiving plans. We found a bunch of hunters coming out of a woods road, some walking, some on ATVs. The looks on the faces was pure guilt. On the back of the ATV was a very small deer, either a doe or a button buck--but either way illegal. While Cathy was dealing with that, I was checking other tags and hunters and got to the operator of the ATV. His gun was in a case strapped on the machine...and it was loaded. Some folks just can't get anything right.

Sportsmen who are unable to walk can get permits to have a loaded gun in or on a vehicle. This allows them to drive off road or down a logging road, load up and take a shot at a deer or bear should one come along. It's a good way to allow some of our aging sportsmen to continue their sport, even when their mobility is impaired. Though it allowed hunting from a vehicle, it did not allow having a loaded gun while the vehicle was moving. Most of them get it right; but some do not.

One permittee rode an ATV, but got a bit sloppy and decided to leave his rifle loaded while going to and from his hunting spot. I happened to run across him one afternoon and it was clear he had a loaded magazine still in his gun. I had a rather extended argument with him about it; and in the end wrote him a ticket for it. I met him in court to offer him a civil compromise--if he was civil--and was pleasantly surprised to get a rather nice apology. When he got home after our encounter he was so mad that he decided he was done hunting for the year. He started to clean his rifle and hit an obstruction in the barrel. Somewhere in his travels, he'd hit a mud hole and some mud had made its way down the bore. He realized that if he'd not been stopped and had fired the gun it might have blown up on him. In an odd way, he was thankful to me for provoking him to clean his gun.  It's great to have satisfied customers!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Game Warden Files--Felons With Guns

One of the realities of law is that convicted felons can't own guns unless they meet one of several conditions. Few have met those conditions. Most don't pay attention or just don't care.

The arrests for this came to us by many means. My first one was my first weekend after moving upstate while working a case with Trooper Bruce Gardinier. It was a pretty simple discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling.  While we were talking to the defendant, he asked if the charge was a felony.  I told him that it was not, and he said "Good, I don't need any more felonies." We ran his history and sure enough, he had a felony conviction. That was probably the easiest weapon case I ever made.

Another came from lovers' quarrels. I had a call from a guy whose wife had moved out and been living with another man. The jilted husband called to tell me that the new boyfriend was a convicted felon and a deer hunter. The records proved that he was a felon, and I had seen him afield with a firearm not long before, so with the help of the local PD we did a search warrant and knocked on his door early one morning, making an arrest on the girl for marihuana possession in the process.

Another good source of weapon cases was that when we investigated hunting related shooting incidents we often found that one or more person involved had either a felony or other conviction that made it illegal to own a gun. Sometimes it was the shooter, sometimes a witness and occasionally the victim who would get arrested. One event took me into Gloversville to arrest a guy who had been one of the many people in an event in which someone was injured. A check of criminal histories revealed that he was prohibited from owning a gun.  Along with Bob Johnson from Gloversville PD, I picked him up, processed him and took him back to his home. We got into a discussion about the issues of the law and he mentioned that his neighbor was a convicted rapist who had done prison time and he was hunting regularly. Bob and I went next door for a chat. Since I'd been doing an investigation regarding some illegal activity and his car did resemble a suspect vehicle, we started talking about where he hunted, what he'd seen and finally what he had been hunting with. When I asked him what guns he was using he showed me a couple guns which I took out of his hands and handed off to Bob; then we cuffed him and walked him out of his house. That was easy.

The capstone of my career involved a felon with a gun; but that story will wait until I've exhausted the other stories.

Game Warden Files--and Still More Decoy Stories

A couple other decoy stories deserve telling while stories are being told. There's a little place called Stony Creek tucked away in the southern Adirondacks. A very long dead end road leads out of the hamlet and there was a large number of hunting camps in that country. They would be occupied for most of the North Zone season and generally empty out on the Sunday night before the South Zone season opened so the hunters could get ready for their trips south. Just after dark the parade would begin and go well into the night. There was always a couple hunters that would be road hunting on the way out of camp and Ray VanAnden and I decided to set the decoy up one night to see who we could talk into taking a shot.

There was a long straightaway with a slight turn at the end. Straight off the end of the road was an open field--the perfect spot for a deer to get caught in the headlights. A car coming down the road would have have a straight shot at the decoy. There was a seasonally used house at the end of the field and Ray took up residence on the back porch while I backed up an old logging road out of sight.

It wasn't long before a pickup came down the road and drove right out into the field like it was going to hit the decoy. It stopped short and the hunters jumped out ready for the kill. Ray ran from his hiding place and had them before I could get out of the woods. We signed them up, sent them on their way and got back into our positions to wait for the next customers.

We didn't wait long and another pickup came down the road at a pretty good rate of speed. It stopped pretty quickly with the headlights square on the decoy. The passenger got out, stood in the road and fired two shots. Ray called me with "Shots fired!"--as if I hadn't heard them--and I started out of my hiding place in the woods. When the deer didn't fall over, the driver panicked and took off down the road. I went down the road lights and siren going to catch the truck and left Ray to deal with the guy in the road. I caught up with the pickup a couple miles away and escorted it back. Turns out it was a father-son operation. Dad was driving and the son was the shooter. We wrote them up and called it a night. I'm sure that Dad's disappearing act did a lot for family harmony.

One thing we recognized with the decoy was that it really didn't matter what kind of rack it was sporting. We had  multiple racks to put on its head. We had a 6 point set that got shot several times, but the best bait seemed to be a spindly little 3 pointer. One afternoon, as I sat on the front porch of a sweet little old lady who fed me cookies and tea, I had a guy jump out of his truck and put two rounds in it. Ray and Mike Trottier pulled up and snatched him out of there so we cold keep the operation running, and we had another one in a matter of minutes. The first guy we grabbed we knew from a couple weeks before when he'd been the complainant on a case in which we'd arrested a guy with two out of season does. We allowed him to settle out for a pretty low price because of the case he'd given us only a short time before.

A couple weeks later, Mike called me on the phone with a "you aren't going to believe this" story. He and Ray had caught the same guy in a different county and he'd shot the decoy with the same rack set as he had the first time. This time the settlement cost him quite a bit more.  We submitted a revocation request on him and I don't recall any incidents with him for the rest of my career.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Game Warden Files--Trust, but Verify

Over the years each officer develops relationships with groups of sportsmen in his area.  Some are adversarial, some cat and mouse, and some are pretty friendly and trusting.  Sometimes it's a good idea to have another officer take the lead role on encounters in your territory just to keep folks honest.

Mike Trottier and I were checking deer hunters on Tolmantown Road and encountered a long line of guys headed to camp for lunch. Some were afoot and a few were on ATVs.  Interestingly, it was the older guys who were walking. When I recognized one of the men, I realized the camp they were from and told Mike that we probably would have no problems with this group.  How wrong I was!

We saw a couple of the younger guys--who were on the ATVs--start to act a bit nervous so we checked their rifles. Both were loaded and so were in violation of the law. I was quite surprised and the leader of the group who was the camp owner was devastated. He ran a tight ship in his camp--heavy on safety and obeying the law; the thought that anyone hunting from his camp would commit such an offence just cut him deeply. He would have written the tickets himself had he been allowed to.

One of the offenders was the son of a couple I knew pretty well. His dad was a Sportsmen's Education Instructor, teaching the course that's required to get a hunting license. The other was a young guy I didn't know that well. We wrote them up and I told them I'd see them in court. Mike and I agreed that since the violation was more along the line of a safety violation--they hadn't been road hunting--we would settle them by a process known as Civil Compromise. The compromise is an agreement in court between the state and the offender, admitting that the law had been violated, but had no criminal penalty--merely a civil penalty. Often, the compromise would be a higher penalty than a fine would be; but was payed gladly to avoid having a misdemeanor conviction on record.

On court night, the first young man showed up and greeted me like a puppy that knew he'd been bad: head down, tail between his legs...we all know the look. I offered the civil compromise and he agreed gladly.  The other guy showed up a couple minutes later and came strutting across the parking lot.  "I hired ...." and named a well respected local criminal attorney.  I had the first one settled and out the door before the other one's lawyer arrived.

When the lawyer came, he spoke with his client and then asked to see me privately. I offered the same compromise and he asked if I we could go any lower. NOPE! I would be more than happy to set a trial date. The attorney chuckled and said that he'd had to at least ask, and we settled that one up too...of course this guy had to pay the most expensive lawyer in town for a court appearance. We'll call that an attitude adjustment fee.

Recurring Thoughts

There are some themes in which my thoughts often run. One beneficial recurring thought is "excellence is the basics mastered." Though the source of that nugget of wisdom eludes me, it has proven itself true to me in such things as karate, in which the stance and stepping has to be mastered to obtain the maximum power; shooting, in which the fundamentals must be hammered home so that the speed and accuracy can develop and in spiritual matters where the basics of salvation must be understood before maturity can come.

For the last several months, I've spent a lot of time in the book of Romans. I've done many of my own personal studies in it; preached from it; used it for various other teaching times and am now teaching a basic Bible Study for some friends using the concepts out of that book.  The more I dig into it, the more I realized how little I know and how few of the basics I have truly mastered.

Most recently I've been homing in on the words that get tossed around among Christians, but get used so freely that the meaning might have become lost.  So, here's a refresher course.

Grace:  The acrostic of God's Riches At Christ's Expense pretty well sums it up. It's a free gift. We can't earn it. God offer's it to all but must be accepted by each one.  Every time the Greek word we translate as grace appears in the writings of Paul, it means something good.

Justification:  That's really a legal term. It doesn't take away the evil within us; it doesn't change the facts of what we have done--or not done. Justification is that God has now looks at us differently. He sees us in the light of the payment for sin that Christ made on the cross.

Atonement:  If we break down atone into at and one, we get an idea of what this is about.  Christ's sacrifice was the only thing that could make us at one with God.  The relationship had been broken by Adam at the fall, and the only thing that could bring us back was the sacrifice of Jesus.

Propitiation: That's a word that only shows up twice, and only in some translations of the Bible; but's sometimes tossed around in sermons without a good explanation if any explanation at all. It's the offering that changes the disposition of the offended party.The only way I could come to grips with this term is to think of a little boy who has offended his mom. He picks a bouquet of flowers and offers them to her. In spite of the deeds done, Mom's heart is softened. That's propitiation.

Sacrifice:  We've talked about it, we'd better define it.  As used throughout the Bible, a sacrifice always involved offering the life of an animal and were made to cover the sin of men--though they could not pay the price, the sins were covered. It started in Genesis when God himself provided a covering of animal hides for Adam and Eve. That involved the blood of animals. However, in Hebrews we're told that the blood of bulls and goats which we the common sacrificial animals are not enough. It was only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ--the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Redemption:  That's a marketplace term--to buy back. Mankind was God's creation. We chose to stray and God made the provision to buy us back. It's actually a term from the slave market. God is offering to buy us back from the slavery into which we've sold ourselves. He'll buy us back to be a servant of His.  He is certainly the better master. Only thinking in terms of slavery can I begin to understand the mastery and hold that some sins have on some people.

Reconciliation:  This is the last I'll deal with here. It's related to atonement in concept in that it restores a broken relationship. Through Christ's death we can be reconciled--have the relationship restored--with God. It then becomes our job to bring that reconciliation to others.

There is a lot more depth to each of these terms and I urge anyone not familiar with them to research and master the terms.  Be excellent in using the terms with make up a lot of Christian doctrine.

Game Warden Files--ATVs and Kids

Over the years we did a lot of work with ATV enforcement. Most times the problems involved adults who took their tickets and dealt with them.  Occasionally, though there were incidents involving kids and they added another level of problems.  If a person is under 16 years old, he can't be issued a ticket into local court, so you have to find other ways to deal with the problem.

The first time I had to get creative was a young fellow who was the son of a friend. My friend had an ATV that he used to haul firewood around his property, tow his ice shanty onto the lake and that sort of thing. His son, however found different uses for it.  He liked to tear up and down a back road not far from his house and rip up any mud hole he could find. One afternoon as I was going down that back road, all of a sudden an ATV was airborne in front of me! It was coming the other direction on the road and had crested a small hill with enough speed to leave the ground. It was high enough that I could see the belly pan of the machine. I could also see the platter-sized eyeballs of my friend's son's face as he saw that he was headed for the hood of my patrol car.

The driver training I'd had over the years--called EVOC--had taught a maneuver called crash avoidance. Even at the low speed I was travelling, it worked and the ATV landed where my car should have been--but was not. By the time I'd turned around, the ATV was no where in sight; but since the face of the operator was a well known to me, I turned around and went to my friends house. Though we couldn't find his boy, the ATV was in the shed very hot--and covered with fresh mud--obviously just run hard.

I chose to believe that the boy had taken the machine off his dad's land without permission and told my friend to have his boy at Town Court on the next court day. Though I couldn't write the kid a normal ticket and this was not something to make a juvenile delinquent case from, I had a plan. There is a little known and seldom used provision of law that allowed a person under 16 years old to be summoned to Traffic Court. In practical terms, that means that after finishing all other court business the judge adjourns court and convenes traffic court--not something that any of them like to do. The judge that night was and remains a good friend who dispensed good justice from his bench. I gave him the run down on the event and told him that I'd leave the entire matter up to his discretion.

Court ran long that night. Many defendants came before the bench and were dealt with by the judge, along with frequent appearances by attorneys. There were many heavy penalties assessed and payed along with some sentences of jail threatened. The young man and his dad sat quietly in the back taking it all in. Finally, when the last defendant left, the judge adjourned the court, dismissed his clerk and called the young man and his dad forward. After the young man told the story to the judge, the father said  he'd "set matters right" and the judge asked me what I thought. I thought that the point had been made--quite soundly. Traffic Court was not convened that night and the young man and his dad went on home. That young man has gone on to have a successful career within a local business. He just had to learn to play within the rules.
Several years later I had an almost identical event on the same road--within a mile of the same spot.  This time I got turned around and chased the machine, which pulled over and stopped in a log landing. Thought the story was told a couple different ways--he'd either felt guilty or had run out of gas; we'll never know which--I put the kid in the back of my car and called for his mother to come get him and the machine. I didn't know this family, and there was no longer a judge that I could get to play the traffic court gambit; so I opted to just write the mother a ticket for permitting the unlawful operation. She arrived--not very happy--and when she saw him in the back of my Blazer said "He's safer there than in my car!" Then I gave her the ticket...that really made her day. She pleaded not guilty to the charge and I purposely neglected to file the requested supporting deposition, so the case was dismissed after some time elapsed. I'm sure that young man payed his penalty at home; the mom didn't need to pay one to the court.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Game Warden Files--Caught Red Handed

It was about the end of the North Zone deer season; there was snow on the ground and the northwest wind left no doubt that winter was just around the corner. The call came late on a Saturday afternoon with just a couple hours of daylight left. A hunter had come across the remains of a freshly killed doe deep in the woods, and had followed the tracks to a camp. He was very upset about it when he called so there was no waiting for the morning to handle it.

I headed out and met the young man, following him about a mile up a trail and found the spot where a deer had been cut up. The coyotes had already gotten into the gut pile; but we found the head intact and it was certainly a bald one. I knew were that tracks led, so I got in touch with Hamilton County ECO Bob Gosson and we headed for the camp. We alerted one of our K9 handlers, thinking we might need a detector dog and he was on his way from Schoharie County to us when Bob and I knocked at the door of the camp, which was actually a dumpy trailer. The door opened and there stood a man with a fresh back strap in one hand and a butcher knife in the other...and blood up to his elbows. We told him to put the knife down, which he did, and we stepped into the camp. The deer was in pieces all over the kitchen, so we called off the dog.

Though we were sure others had been involved in killing this deer, he was denying that anyone else had been with him. He was so quick to take the responsibility that after we had a verbal admission that he had killed the deer himself we took him right to a local judge while he was in the mood to confess. He settled easily.

Of all the deer carcasses I'd handled, this had to be the biggest doe I'd ever seen. The hindquarters were huge!. I made a financially strapped family very happy the next morning when I gave them what would probably be a many weeks worth of meat.  

I'd had dealings with this violator a year or so before this incident. He and his brother had shot a couple of ducks one day on their way to college. It was early fall and as they drove to college they had seen a few ducks near the shore of East Caroga Lake, so they stopped, stood between two of the camps and killed a couple of what we called "popcorn ducks," ducks that hang around camps and docks all summer getting so fat that they can't fly. Someone had seen them and called me. By the time I sorted out the facts and figured out the players it was later in the day on a rather warm fall afternoon. I found the brothers at the local college with the ducks still in a now very warm car--starting to smell pretty badly. I wrote them up and left the college Public Safety folks to deal with the matter of the guns in their trunks.

Since the deer incident was within five years of his duck violation I put in a request for suspension of his hunting privileges. That didn't make him, or the rest of his family happy.

I had several encounters with the patriarch of that family over the years. He was a miserable man who always spoke to me with a threatening tone in his voice. I suspect from his conversation that he may have been the one who actually had killed that deer, but his son took the rap for it and that bothered him. Of all the threats I ever had, I think his was the most credible. I was always cautious in the woods; but especially when working the area I knew that family might be hunting.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Game Warden Files--Another Favorite Trapper

Trappers are interesting folks. There were the colorful yet pleasant types like Huck and Tony the Trapper, there were the odd balls like my long-running problem Fred, and there were a lot more who were just regular folks who liked to run a trap line. You might never know that they were trappers. One such fellow we'll call Curly was a favorite.  He was a hard working guy who trapped hard and made pretty good money at it.  He was always a really upright and ethical sportsman--almost always anyway.

A local farmer called me one morning very upset.  He'd heard his beagle out in a field and howling. The dog kept up the racket and finally the farmer went out to check on it.  He found his pet in a snare, which is illegal in NY. The farmer released his dog and started looking for more traps, finding about a dozen of them and then he looked around and found the one track that looked like human track. It led through the woods and right to Curly's backyard.

By the time I'd interviewed my complainant, checked out the scene and gotten to Curly's house, he was long gone and at work for the day. His wife didn't think anything of me showing up looking for him and said she'd have him call me that evening.

That night when he called it was clear that he'd already checked the snares, found them gone and knew why I'd stopped by the house. There was no beating around the bush. "What do you know about some snares?" There was a long pause, a deep sigh and then the admission "They're mine; I suppose you've got to give me a ticket, huh?" When I told him that since he'd caught he neighbor's dog there was no way he was not getting a ticket. He acknowledge that he understood and then asked if he could just come to the house and get some fur sealed along with getting the ticket. I agreed, put on a cup of tea and when he arrived we took care of the business and drank our tea. He then explained that he'd been trying to catch a pack of coyotes in that area and had been unable to get them into his traps. After trying all his tricks, he'd resorted to snares. He'd taken the time to fabricate what are called soft-catch snares, designed with a toggle to release the tension so that they would not strangle the animal as a regular snare would do, only restrain them. Good thing for him that they were the soft catch or he'd have killed his neighbor's dog.

Curly took care of his ticket and we never had any other incidents of that type. One winter day he called and asked me for some of the cardboard furbearer tags which had to be filled out and kept with the fur until it was sealed. He caught me just as I was about to leave for the day so I left some where he could find them and went on about my business. By the time he got to the house to pick up the tags, we'd had several inches of snow. Since he was there, he plowed the driveway for me while he was there.

The New Normal

A friend from Costa Rica recently asked me read and review an article for him.  It was an online opinion piece: and I thought it was pretty well written and dead on point.  At my friend's request, I posted a short video of my thoughts for him to use.  Unfortunately, the time for the video was too short for my thoughts to be fully developed.  Here they are in a somewhat more expounded form:

Yes, the author is right, and that is sad.  There was a time in which vulgarity was the province of a minority of people, and outside of that it was used to shock the senses.  Now, sadly, it has crept--or maybe been driven--into the vocabulary and mindset of the majority and no longer has that effect when it is used.  Rarely does a conversation occur into which some level of profanity does not creep,  What was once called polite conversation is rarely that any more. It is punctuated by words that two generations ago just WERE NOT used.

For the most part, foul language among women of any class was nearly unheard of.  Even the men who used it shook their heads at the women who could "cuss like a sailor."  Now, we hear women--of all classes--using the same vulgarities with near-equal regularity.  I guess we've lost a level of civility in the interest of equality.  Once the presence of women had at least a slight effect of keeping the tongues in check.

The article's author brought out the vulgarity of violence as well as language.  Since we've allowed reality TV to invade our lives--often with set-up confrontations between talk-show participants--we have made violence part of that new norm also.  The willingness to fight both verbally and physically has been pushed so that fighting--really down and out fight fighting--has come back to acceptance, making peace seems to be a forgotten virtue.

No doubt, this topic could be developed in far greater depth, but for the moment, that's all I have to offer and wanted to get it into print before I went to work.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Game Warden Files--"One Boy's Pretty Good...

...two boys ain't much good and three boys is no good 'tal!"  That was the saying from my grandfather, passed down to my father and then to me.  I've seen it proven out countless times; but one case really showed it clearly. 

I'd stopped by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office one winter afternoon and was having a chat with one of the deputies when he took a call.  After a few minutes it was apparent that the call was going to come to me, and not be a quick one, so I got ready to take some notes.  Notes turned out to be not enough and I ended up at the home of a very upset mother, taking a statement that would end up being about five pages long. 

Though the statement gave me lots of information, there were few actionable facts carried within it.  We can safely say that there was a bunch of boys--young men really--running amok.  The only thing I had to make a case on was that they had shot a deer, out of season, with a .22 rimfire rifle, only injuring it; then chased it down and stabbed it to death.  This made them so happy that they did it again a couple days later. 

I had two things going for me when I started doing the investigation:  Most of the boys involved were all trying to get into the Marine Corp and I knew the father of one of the boys; he would bring his son to me--dragging him if necessary. 

My interview with the young man didn't go all that well as he lied to me, and gave me an inaccurate written statement.  When I took his father outside and explained what a false written statement meant, he went back inside and had a chat with his son.  He then asked me to go take a better statement.  That one was more like the truth. 

Before I went any further, I called the Marine recruiter and asked him--hypothetically, of course--what would happen to a prospect who was charged with some serious game violations. Of course, no one could enter the Corp with criminal charges hanging over his head, and a criminal conviction would destroy the chance of a career in the Marines.  In the course of our conversation, he told me that he had a small school in which almost every boy in the senior class was planning to enter the Marine Corp.  He was a dismayed sergeant when I called him the next day and asked him to help me clear up the matter with nearly all the boys from that senior class.  He made a couple phone calls and we set up a series of interviews with the boys. They couldn't wait to get their tickets, get them settled and then settle matters with their recruiter.

Before I started meeting with the boys, I had an arrangement set up with my captain who was a colonel in the NY Army National Guard.  She understood the situation the boys were in and agreed to settle them administratively--something rarely done with fish and wildlife cases--so that they could continue with their military plans.  I ended up charging five of the boys, if I recall correctly. We settled the matter quite quickly for penalties ranging from $200 to $500 dollars each, and I lost track of it after that. 

Several months later, my wife and I were having dinner at a local pizza shop when a familiar looking lady approached me. I soon recognized that she was the mother of one of my characters and stepmother of another one. She quietly placed two pictures on the table in front of me and said "I thought you'd like to know that they came out all right."  They were graduation pictures from Marine Corps boot camp. They had made it. I'd like to think that all the young men have now grown out of their nonsense and have been equally successful.

Game Warden Files--Environmental Crimes

Fish and wildlife was the fun part of being an EnCon Officer; but the law also includes any number of environmental issues, most of which are not much fun to deal with. It's hard to have fun staking out a landfill, though we made a good case against one by putting dye into garbage bags that had been put at the curb and then following garbage truck by using telemetry.  We found the truck at the landfill, located the dyed garbage, recovered our transmitter and charged the landfill operator with taking unpermitted waste. That was a long day involving about 6 officers to make it work; but a good case and worth the effort

Most environmental cases were not terribly satisfying but I had some success with some water pollution cases which caused some pretty big fish kills. Early one evening I had a call from the Sheriff's Office that a member of the fire department in Gloversville had seen some dead fish in the Cayadutta Creek and had found what he thought to be the source of the problem: a storm sewer outlet right behind the fire house. That was the beginning of the dead fish and they could smell the slight odor of ammonia.

By the time I got there, they had pulled up the maps and we were able to trace the path of the storm sewer, checking every storm drain along the line. We found a slight flow of water coming across a parking lot and followed that to its source, which was a refrigeration unit that cooled a large commercial manufacturing operation. The cooling unit ran on ammonia which froze an ice bank that cooled the process.  A leak had developed which poured the ammonia into the water. To repair the leak, they had drained the system, which was now a highly concentrated ammonia solution. They drained it on the ground and it had made it to the creek in a sufficient quantity to kill every fish for about 3 miles! 

We got the owner to respond and he was mortified at what had happened. He was not only the owner of the problem, he was a past-president of Trout Unlimited and had been involved in restoring the trout population to the Cayadutta Creek. He understood that there would be a penalty, but was there a way to make this a "win-win" situation?  I wrote him an administrative ticket--something we often did with environmental crimes so we had a better control on the outcome of the case. 

By the time his appearance date came we had a pretty good solution worked out.  The company would agree to a substantial fine with most of it suspended if they re-stocked the creek.  I hooked them up with a 4H group that was a fishing club and they ordered the fish.  I believe we stocked about 3000 trout that day and the local newspaper did a nice article about it.  We were able to make it a win-win thanks to a responsible business owner who was willing to address the problem. 

Game Warden Files--A Neighborhood Dilemma

In spite of the fact that it was my day off, I'd been out all morning chasing complaints.  The South Zone deer season was going full swing and the North Zone still had muzzle loading and bow season open.  I'd just pulled into my driveway when a pickup pulled in behind me.  It was one of my neighbors and he had a problem.  Well, he had a problem all right, but not the one he thought he'd had. 

He had his two young sons with him, about 8 and 10 years old, and had shot a small buck.  When he got up to it, he saw that one side of the small 8 point rack had come detached and was on the ground where the deer had fallen.  As he grabbed the deer to field dress it, the other side of the rack came off also.  He dressed the deer, tagged it as the 8 pointer it was and came looking for me. 

There was no question in my mind that the deer had been a lawful kill, in that it was an antlered deer ready to shed, but the tag indicated that he'd killed it in the Northern Zone and there was only a center-fire rifle in the truck--not a muzzle loader.  I asked where he killed it and he gave me a description in enough detail that I probably could have walked right to the tree he'd been sitting was well inside the North Zone.  Then I had to ask what he'd killed it with.  He motioned toward the truck and the 30-06 on the rack--that's when he realized he was probably in trouble.  Sure enough, he'd not paid attention to the game guide and had essentially taken a deer out of season.  It had not been intentional, but here he was with an illegally taken deer and I had to do something about it. The big question was what.

I knew the guy was not a bad guy, certainly not a poacher, so rather than write the misdemeanor of taking a deer out of season, I wrote him a ticket for taking wildlife other that as permitted. That was the difference between a crime and a violation; a possible $2000 fine or a maximum $250 fine. I told him to show up in court prepared to pay the maximum, as I was going to tell the judge the whole story. 

I sent him to court on the night the softer-hearted of the two judges in that town was sitting. My neighbor explained to the judge just what he had done and that he was prepared to pay the maximum fine as we had discussed. The judge accepted his guilty plea but said he didn't have his EnCon Law book with him so he didn't know what the maximum fine was. The good judge set the fine at $20. 

I ran into this fellow and his boys fishing that next spring and he could not thank me enough for "treating him right." He also understood the lesson his boys needed to have about being held accountable for a wrong--and that being honest up front was always going to have a better outcome than lying. 

Game Warden Files--The Guides' Season

It was the final weekend of the North Zone season and was working with Jim Harnish, a true legend of a North Country Game Warden--I wish he'd written his memoirs. We were checking the last car left in a parking area as the tired hunters came out of the woods. They were a pleasant bunch, as were most, and after the requisite checking of licenses and tags the talk turned to our hunting seasons. Jim laughed and told them that we didn't get much time to hunt during the season, so we got to hunt in "The Guides' Season:" that week after the regular season when all the professionals who were tied up during the regular season got to hunt. 

Those guys thought that it was a great idea and started making plans to come up the following weekend and drive (a method of  hunting in which drivers work a patch of woods in an attempt to drive the deer out to the watcher who would harvest the animals) for us. 

We let the gag run for a few minutes; but when they showed no sign of recognizing it for the gag it was we finally broke down and told them the truth.  Even though they were disappointed that they wouldn't get to help us out, they realized they'd been had and laughed along with us. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Game Warden Files--Late Night Losers

There are some spots that just beg for a late night roadblock during deer season.  One such spot is a nearly deserted road in the Town of Ephratah, Fulton County.  There is along and very desolate stretch with no signs of civilization and lot of deer sign.  The department was having guys from less-busy sectors travel to the busier areas on overtime to help with the case load.  One day they sent Keven Riggs from up near the Canadian border all the way down to me--nearly a 4 hour drive--to help me set a road block on that road.

We settled in and sat for the shift with very few cars to check.  The few that came through were either legitimate hunters hunters going home or people taking the shortest distance between two point--in spite of the desolate road.  We had agreed to quit at 11 PM so Kevin could get on the road.  I was just about ready to surrender and call it quits when we saw headlights reflecting in the tree tops.  We got out into the road and stopped a small pickup with two occupants.  The owner was on the passenger side, reclining with an open beer in his hand. When I asked the driver for his license and registration I got the old "it's home on the dresser," as a response.  "Do you have a license?" I asked.  "Yes, I have a license," was the reply. "Do you have a valid license?" "I think it's valid." You can guess how that turned out.

Not only was his license suspended, but there was a warrant out for his arrest in the nearby village of Canajoharie.   It seems he was suspended for failing to answer a DWI ticket.  We wrote the tickets for the violations we had, got transportation for the owner--who'd had a few too many beers, and took our guy to answer his warrant at the issuing court.

A couple weeks later I had a call from the judge before whom the guy was supposed to appear on our tickets.  He had not appeared as scheduled and this judge was waiting to issue a warrant for his arrest.  I suggested that the judge check with the Montgomery County Jail, and there he found him.

A sad footnote to this was that only a couple years after this event our guy was killed in a drug deal gone bad in a nearby city.

Game Warden Files--You Get What You Get

One of the many frustrations of police work, no matter what agency, is only getting half the story or getting an outright lie.  You know there's more, but you hit a dead end and take what you can prove.  I've done it with drug cases, I've done it with deer cases.  You get all you can get, sometimes it's not much, sometimes, it spirals into lots of things

One evening I got a call from Trooper Nancy Poulan.  She'd stopped a van for some lighting violations and found it full of deer--and not a tag on a one of them.  I got right over there and we started tearing things apart.  Seems like there were seven people and five deer.

Even though the Trooper had done everything exactly right, separating the people so they couldn't get their stories together, it was a classic case of "nobody knows nothing."  We took what we had, which was a bunch of untagged deer, wrote every one of them for that, got the deer to a suitable charitable entity, and went on our way.  Not really satisfied, but it was what it was.

Another caper with another Trooper worked out much better.  Trooper John Wagner called me about a complaint he'd had.  A carload of young people had been seen shooting at a sign from the back seat of a car. He had a plate number, not much else as the caller didn't want to give a statement.  When I caught up with John, he was going off his shift and wouldn't be back for a couple days.  He gave me what he had and I chased it down, finding the car in the driveway where the owner lived.

I got a rather fanciful story that denied anything about it from the young man and young woman involved, and it would have ended right there; but both agreed to put their stories on paper.  I took their depositions--well rehearsed and almost word for word--gladly and went on my way, dropping their written lies off at the State Police for John to follow up on when he came back to work.  He took the young woman's statement and went to interview her a second time...and she crumbled. He got a more accurate statement from her and I went to find the young man involved.  I brought him back to the State Police Barracks and he confessed. After writing him his tickets for the EnCon charges of discharging a firearm from a public highway and having a loaded gun in a motor vehicle, as well as the false written statement, we asked him about the gun.  He said it was home so I took him to get it.  When we got there, he started to do the stumble, fumble and fall routine about not being able to find it.  I gave him the look, and he came up with it.  The gun used in the EnCon violation had been a simple single shot .410 shotgun, absolutely unremarkable until they had panicked after giving me the statements.  Then they had cut the barrel and ground the serial number off the receiver; both felonies under state and federal law.  Back in the car he went, back to the State Police Barracks for more charges.

If they'd only admitted to the original EnCon charges in the beginning, the rest would not have happened.  I don't know what ever happened the to young lady in that event as I never heard her name again. The guy however, didn't learn from this event. His name made the local news every so often.  Most recently, he was arrested for allegedly murdering his mother. I suspect that will be his last arrest as he's in jail with no bail as I write this and will likely never get out.

Game Warden Files--Long Range Violations

Often, violations occur in close proximity to the violator's homes; in fact, they are often the most difficult to prove.  Sometimes however, the violation spans several counties.  Every time the violator travels, and every time another person gets involved along the way, the chance of getting found out increases.

One afternoon before the opening of the deer season I got a call from John Graves, an officer in a different region.  He knew about an illegal deer that had been taken in Schenectady county and the only information was a plate number for a vehicle in Fulton County.  I knew the family and some of those connections so the information went back and forth for a while until we knew we had to start interviewing people.  We started at the home in Fulton County.  When we knocked on the door John just asked right out to see the venison.  We were taken to a freezer in the basement where we found about 250 packages of meat--that's more than one deer.  Our soon-to-be suspect said it was all venison, none of it was labeled as the law then required and he could not account for any lawfully taken deer--after all the season was not yet open. He did admit though that it was venison and it was his.

In the course of the questioning, some other names came up and John went back to explore that part of the case.  I took my guy right to the local judge.  I cited him with one count of illegal possession of venison for each package of meat (which was donated to a sportsmen's dinner).  He sat smugly in the chair as the judge read him the charges and I could see that the judge was not impressed by his attitude.  When the judge asked how he would plea he snottily answered that he was guilty; but the judge would have to wait until payday to get the money--that really impressed the judge!

The judge asked me the opening day for deer season, turned to the calendar and started counting. He put the young man in jail for 10 weekends--which wiped out his entire hunting for the season.

Meanwhile, John had gone back to his region and started interviewing. He came up with a couple counts of taking deer out of season and made one arrest for criminal possession of a weapon. Seems that the shooter in this case was a convicted felon.

We'll never know all the facts, or the source of all the meat we seized, but we made cases in Fulton, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties out of that one complaint.

Game Warden Files--To Outsmart the Fox

There are some violators who seem to lived charmed lives.  They not only blatantly violate the game laws; they brag about it also...and get away with it. One such man I'll call Shorty.  He was a miserable little man with an awful history. He had been a convicted felon after shooting at a police officer. Felons cannot possess firearms. He had served some time and then been granted a new trial eliminating his conviction. In the time awaiting the new trial his legal status was up in the air and he'd hunted deer with impunity.  He was rumored to have killed dozens of bucks each year, often shooting them when they were in velvet, cutting off the antlers and selling them into the Asian market in which they are used for some supposed medicinal purposes.

Though he lived out of my sector, his name was pretty well known. After getting a rash of complaints about him.  I ran his criminal history and found that he had plead out to the felony taking time served as his penalty. Now he was again a convicted felon and could not lawfully possess a firearm; all we had to do was catch him. I started making the rounds of gun shops, checking their records to see if they might have sold him a gun. It was a tedious process and many hours of labor yielded nothing.

One rainy Sunday morning, I was catching up on paperwork, delivering court paperwork to some judges I knew I'd catch home--just puttering away a rainy day--and saw that my friend Frank was at his gun shop, which is normally closed on Sunday.  He smiled when I came in and said "Guess who was just in?"  Never being a great one for riddles, I just shrugged my shoulders.  He smiled, went into a storage area and came out with an old pump shotgun.  He handed it to me and said "your buddy Shorty, and look what I bought from him!"  Shorty had come in trying to sell a few guns and Frank, a good sportsman himself and knowing my interest in bagging Shorty, bought the gun he could get for the least money.  (He figured he might get it back after court; but might he might not. We worked it our so that he did.)  He had also documented the other guns in Shorty's possession so we had lots of information upon which to get a search warrant. My lazy Sunday had become pretty busy all of a sudden.

We knocked on Shorty's door about dawn a few mornings later.  When all was said and done we had a few more guns and Shorty in cuffs.  We managed to get him in jail for the entire fall, so our work surely saved some bucks from an untimely demise.

...and he thought he was outsmarting us.

Game Warden Files--The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Not everyone can be legendary, and I'm not claiming to be, but the mythology of the ever-present, all-knowing, nearly omnipotent Game Warden lives on...and we do nothing to discourage it.  Some folks think that we have more power than any other police agency--and to a slight degree they're right, at least in New York. Others will lie straight out to other police officers, yet when confronted by a man or woman in a green uniform will crumple and be writing their confession in no time.

Late one night I had a call from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. They had a car stopped and there might be evidence of an illegally killed deer in it...or, it might have been something far worse. They had an investigator out there, and he was requesting my assistance.

By the time I got there, the investigator had established that the blood and tissue they'd seen in the back of that old SUV had come from a deer.  However, even though the man had originally been cuffed up and put in the patrol car as a suspect in a homicide and now was only a suspect in a deer jacking he wasn't talking to them.  

While the investigator went about his business, I took my clipboard and went back to the investigator's car. I introduced myself, told him why I was there, and he confessed.  I took a written statement from him on the spot and within a few minutes was writing a couple tickets. The investigator shook his head and asked me to stop by his office and interview a couple dozen other suspects he had for other crimes. Since his caseload was dominantly sex crimes, I declined--the green suit probably wouldn't have any effect on those suspects.

Game Warden Files--Not Always About Enforcement

EnCon Officers get their share of complaints that involve injured, diseased or distressed wildlife. Sometimes, as in the case of rabies, mange or most road-injured animals, the only humane and/or practical thing to do is quickly euthanize the animal to spare it any more pain.  Other times however, there are other options.  I've had my hands on all manner of animals from small to large; birds and mammals, sick and injured. Many were saved and released to the wild after care by wildlife rehabilitators.

Only a year or so after moving upstate we had an incident involving some illegally shot bears with one wounded cub running off into the woods.  Some friends of mine--Jeff and Anne Morgan who were friends from church--came along and Anne insisted that if we found it, she'd take it and nurse it back to health.  We never did find the bear cub, but a day or so later Anne was on the phone with me wondering what she would have to do to become a wildlife rehabilitator.

Until that time, there had been no set system for taking care of wildlife.  There was an informal network of caring and trusted people who did it; but there were no standards. The state had just come out with new regulation on wildlife rehabilitation. and Anne would take the first test for it and become one of the first licensed rehabbers in the state.  I took her and Jeff a lot of critters in the years she was doing it and had a lot of fun watching them bring the animals back to health and release them back to the wild.  They made a few errors--not getting a couple of young raccoons back to the wild before winter and having them take up winter residence in Jeff's parents' porch was one--but they were good at it and successfully released a number of animals.

Some didn't want to leave.  A crow named Pete would greet Jeff every morning, land on the hood of his truck and ride it like a hood ornament for about a quarter mile before spreading his wings and taking off like a airplane from an aircraft carrier.  One released deer would come up on the porch and eat the shrubbery...but for the most part, they did a very good job of it.  After years of rebuilding animals, they're both now involved with a ministry that rebuilds broken people.  I suspect the animals were easier.

Another rehabber wasn't so diligent.  Though certainly filled with good intentions, Marge (again, the name changed to protect the guilty), just couldn't release the animals she took in.  She was popular, got some good press for the work she did; but had everyone around her totally in the dark about the nature of her activities. She just could not bring herself to release those animals placed in her care.  Her home became a hovel of animals that should have been released long ago, but had not.  It was truly not fit for for the animals, let alone human habitation, yet she lived there, and carried on day to day activities with no one knowing.  She fit the profile of one known as an animal hoarder, which is a specific pathology.
When Marge's activities came to our attention, we gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant based upon possessing certain animals without specific permits, entered her house and found a mess that was beyond belief:  A bedroom full of squirrels; rat droppings on the bathroom counters, a rabbit in a cage that was glued to the table by its droppings...yeah, it was that bad and worse. When we were done for the day, we had found over two hundred small animals and birds in deplorable conditions. It was so bad that the Town Health Officer and Code Enforcement Officer declared her house uninhabitable until it was cleaned up, which took several months.

We took truckloads of animals from there that day.  Some were released immediately on a parcel of state land not far away.  Others, that needed medical care, were handed off to a network of rehabilitators that worked tirelessly through the evening to transport them to facilities for care. Sadly, some were beyond help and had to be euthanized. I still chuckle to myself over the memory of one squirrel that got away from us; he sat on the railing of the front porch watching the activities like a spectator. Poor little guy was enjoying his first day of freedom and didn't know what to do with it. He was still sitting on the railing of the porch as we drove away that afternoon.

We charged Marge with with about a half dozen EnCon Law violations and over two hundred counts of animal cruelty. She would ultimately come up with a plea that gave her three years of probation. For those years, she could possess no animals unless specifically authorized by the judge. Sadly, there was no way we could exert any control beyond that.  I suspect that her home is now filled with other creatures; but that's a problem for someone else now.