In our new series, Ask a Warden, we’ll be interviewing officers from across the country to learn about their role in protecting our game, fish, and other resources. In this edition, we asked officers from California, Ohio, Montana, and Alabama about the lengths they’ve gone to catch poachers.
Conservation officers deal with a lot of unique characters in a lot of unique environments. As one warden put it during an interview for this series, “There’s no such thing as a routine patrol.” Here are some of their stories about when things went down that weren’t exactly in their job description.
Captain Patrick Foy | California Department of Fish & Wildlife
“One of our officers patrolling Hensley Lake knew that conditions were favorable for crappie anglers. There was one boat trailer at the launch that sat empty well into the night, and the officer suspected it belonged to a group that was taking more than they were allowed. To stake out the ramp, he hid in the only cover available: a porta-potty. It smelled awful.
“The boat finally arrived at the ramp at 2 a.m. The group of three fishermen claimed that the 67 crappies in their livewell were the only fish they had, but the officer knew better. He conducted an inspection of the boat and identified that miscellaneous boating equipment was concealing a hidden storage compartment in the boat. Within it, he found a sopping wet bag that gave him the familiar prick of a crappie’s dorsal fin when he grabbed it. Three other bags like it contained 404 crappies, which is 329 more than what they were allowed. The men were charged with multiple citations, and the officer’s peers recognize his determination as going above and beyond the call of… doody.”
Officer Tony Zerkle | Ohio Department of Natural Resources
“While we were investigating a poached deer, the suspect showed up on the property. To avoid tipping him off of our presence, we hid in a creek bank and watched him. Once we had our evidence, we had to leave undetected, which meant crawling several hundred yards through the creek to get out of sight.
“We later contacted the suspect when we had enough information to cite him for poaching several deer. He was surprised to learn that we were on the property that day.”
Warden Kerry Wahl | Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
“After receiving a report after midnight of a suspicious dead deer lying by a state highway, I went out to investigate. The gutted-out deer was positioned next to a pasture gate and still steaming. I could see a bullet hole through both sides of the chest cavity and figured someone was coming to pick it up soon.
“I left the deer where it was and drove down the road to a Hutterite hay yard. I hid my truck and climbed up the two-bale high haystack and waited. It wasn’t very long later when a vehicle coming down the road shut its headlights off and coasted up to the deer. A guy got out, looked up and down the highway, and then quickly threw the deer in his truck and drove off. I jumped out of the haystack and chased after him. An investigation showed that the driver was given the deer by someone who poached it with a spotlight that night. Both lost their hunting privileges for a couple years.”
Captain Heath Walls | Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
“I’ve heard stories of some of our wardens hiding for days with their sleeping bag and a thermos of coffee to catch a poacher. I’ve personally lain in wait all night, waiting for a hunter to come to a stand he was reportedly hunting out of after shooting hours. I think for us, what may seem a little crazy is often routine. We set out deer decoys to be shot by road hunters or night hunters. We’ve all had to dive in the bushes to hide from an approaching hunter while scouting a location for violations. We get our partner to drop us off, sometimes miles from the location we want to check, just so we can go undetected. I’ve waded through freezing cold water without waders to get to a group of duck hunters because I was there to check deer hunters. It’s just another day on the job.
“I guess the craziest thing I’ve done was chase a night hunter that ran after our initial attempt to stop him. When we first turned on our blue lights he took off and we were in pursuit at approximately 40 miles per hour. He finally turned onto a dead-end drive and abandoned his vehicle. After a tense few seconds of shouting commands for him to put his hands up, he ran into the woods. It was a little over 20 degrees and the suspect was wearing a tank top. We pursued him through the woods for about three hours. He’d run into pine trees so hard that he knocked the bark off, and went through briar patches, knee deep mud, and barbed wire fence. We found out later that our suspect had likely just used meth, but we were eventually able to arrest him.”
Feature image via Captured Creative.