By Kale O’Leary
As we approached a house on the north side of the road, I watched as the brake lights came on the pickup truck and it came to a stop on the paved road. I slowed down and waited to see what was about to unfold.
When it comes to investigating wildlife crimes and prosecuting those who commit the crimes, it is rare that a Game Warden actually views the violation happen directly in front of them. Often times, we rely heavily on our investigative abilities or eyewitnesses to follow the puzzle pieces of evidence until we can determine what happened and ultimately, who did it. Think about it, most Wardens cover large geographic areas, teeming with wildlife and to be in the “right place at the right time” rarely happens despite our best efforts. When I train new Wardens in the Advanced Warden School, I often tell them to view this problem in terms of a triangle. At the top of the triangle, you as the Warden need to be out in the right area at the right time. The other corners of the triangle are the wildlife being there at the right time, along with the sportsman. Below are two stories of when the stars aligned and I was in fact in the right place at the right time.
One afternoon during November, I was driving home after a long days work and came up behind a pickup truck driving slow on the Wrightville Road in Ashland. I slowed down as I came up behind the truck and noticed that there was a man and woman, both dressed in orange, driving at approximately 5 miles per hour as we passed the houses and fields along the Wrightville Road. As we came to a long, straight stretch on the road, the though of passing the truck so I could just get home crossed my mind, but something told me to be patient. This was obviously someone hunting from the truck, which is a common complaint we get on this road during November. I slowed down and backed off a short distance to see exactly what would happen if something crossed the road in front of us.
As we approached a house on the north side of the road, I watched as the brake lights came on the pickup truck and it came to a stop on the paved road. I slowed down and waited to see what was about to unfold. Sure enough, the male driver stepped out of the truck and looked back at me as he pulled a 12 gauge shotgun out from behind the seat. Thinking that he was going to recognize my vehicle as a Game Warden, I continued watching as he walked over to the mailbox of the house at that location and proceeded to shoulder his shotgun at a grouse standing on the lawn of the residence. To my shock, the silence of the peaceful November afternoon was broken as he fired the 12 gauge, hitting the grouse.
I quickly pulled up behind his truck and just as I opened the door, the homeowner, a middle-aged woman and mother of 3, was screaming that she was going to call the Wardens as her kids had just been outside playing before this man made the very poor decision I had just witnessed. As I walked up the driveway, the homeowner’s fury diminished some to see that a Game Warden had just witnessed everything, saving her the phone call. The shooter was embarrassed to say the least as the homeowner continued to lambast him for shooting within 28 feet from her house and in the direction of a swing-set her kids had just been using. The shooter lost his shotgun, the grouse that he so desperately needed to shoot, and his hunting privileges the following year for this particular incident.
Two years later, almost to the day, I found myself with an afternoon off to enjoy some deer hunting of my own. I had just settled into my spot for the afternoon, only a short walk from my house when the unmistakable sound of a high-powered rifle jumped me up from my seat. I ran back towards my house, when my wife pointed from the living room window towards the main road and the end of our driveway. I looked up to see a blue Ford pickup pulled over near my mailbox with it’s four-way flashers on. I remember thinking to myself this must be how that woman felt when someone shot near her mailbox a few years before.
I soon found myself speaking with the driver of the blue Ford who explained that his son and daughter-in-law had “just taken a crack” at a doe under the apple tree at the edge of my driveway. The shooter soon arrived back on scene and stated that they must have missed the deer and would be leaving now. In the heat of the moment, I had forgotten that I was not in uniform and instead in my regular hunting clothes. Their faces turned an off color of white when I told them they would not be leaving as I was a Game Warden and they had just shot too close to at least three different houses.
It should go without saying that it is important to not get “tunnel vision” and loose sight of the surroundings and public safety aspect of hunting. No deer or bird is worth the penalty, fines and potential of injuring or killing others in pursuit of wild game.
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