Saturday, November 2, 2013
Game Warden Files--Bears Everywhere
Game populations are largely dependent on food sources and since that can vary from place to place it's not unusual to have an unusually high number of bears in a small area. I'd swear that the bear population had an information network that effectively broadcast that information because one year we had such an incredible bear population in and around Northville it gave us no end of headaches.
What stated surge I'll never know, but people thought it was "cute" and started feeding bears in their back yards. The bears started become a major nuisance. They were getting into dumpsters, bird feeders, dog food dishes--they were everywhere. We probably had a dozen or more calls about bears in dumpsters at one restaurant alone. We generally found them in the dumpster, lit them up with the spotlight, shot a couple rounds of rubber buckshot at them and went on our way.
In the middle of all this a few days before the season opened, we located a place where someone had a baited feeder with a tree stand. The couple times we checked it, it had been well tended with fresh corn, and well used by at least one bear. Though some states allow hunting over bait, NY does not, so Lt. Scott Florence and I were nearby the place early on opening morning. A few minutes after sunrise we heard a single shot coming from the right spot and headed into the woods. In a few minutes we encountered a hunter headed out of the woods. He was very surprised to see us and denied having seen anything. The fresh blood on his hand was a dead giveaway that he was lying so we asked if he'd mind following us back down the trail. Under the feeder was a dead bear, an empty shell casing was on the ground near the stand and it was the right cartridge for his rifle.
He had all kinds of stories to tell us, none of which fit the facts, and finally when I took his rifle out of his hand--a very expensive single shot with an equally costly scope on it--he started to ask the LT hypothetical questions about "what would happen if someone admitted he'd shot a bear over bait?" He just could NOT stand the thought of an evidence technician making his mark on the receiver of that rifle with an engraving tool. We came to an agreement right there in the woods, took him to the local judge and settled him up with a rather costly civil compromise.
As Scott and I were dealing with that guy, two other ECOs had been called over to deal with another incident only a couple miles away. We'll call the three folks in this story the wife, the husband and the buddy. Two bears had been reportedly taken in the same place at the time and were hanging in the buddy's garage. Someone thought that to be suspicious and called in a complaint. When Scot and I got there, ECOs Vic Wehnau and Jeff Dempster were in the woods at the scene of the kill with the wife--who was sitting on the ground in tears--and yet a third dead bear. The buddy came back to the scene after someone told him that the game wardens were all over. He jumped out of his truck and started explaining to me that he "didn't know anything about the corn." That put an entirely new wrinkle in it. All the while this was happening, the husband was puttering in his garage, ignoring us and not wanting to be a part of the entire thing, leaving his wife to fend for herself.
The story unfolded like this. Opening day was the wife's birthday, it was also her very first time hunting big game and she was using a gun just inherited from her grandfather. It was her dream to shoot a bear on her birthday with that gun. As the three of them walked into the woods from the house, there was a bear in the middle of the snowmobile trail they were on. The buddy fired one round and killed the bear. As they walked up to it, a second bear crossed in front of them from left to right; the wife emptied her rifle at it with no effect. A few seconds later, what they thought was the same bear came back at them. The wife again fired several times and the bear dropped. These were the two bears hanging at the buddy's house. Now there's a third dead bear. It was apparent that the wife's shots had struck home on the first bear she shot at, though the bear had taken a few minutes to die. The third bear had the misfortune of coming into her field of fire and she was unlucky enough to have killed it also...but what about that corn?
We never did get anyone to admit to the corn; but we suspected that the husband--who is not a bad guy--wanted to give his wife a birthday present of fulfilling her dream, so he set out some bait to help her out. The buddy happened to get the first bear, which dropped on top of a pile of corn. After the wife had tagged her bear they found the corn and another pile not far away. They removed the bears and buried the corn under the leaves. All was fine until those nosy game wardens showed up.
By the time the day was over, we were never truly satisfied with any of the stories, but settled it out with the buddy and the wife charged with taking over bait and the husband charged with hunting over bait. The judge had a pretty good idea of what had happened and set the penalties accordingly.