To most of us, a visit with a game warden in the field is a brief and uneventful encounter. Our licenses get checked. We chat a bit. Then we go our separate ways.
But there are some pretty good tales out there involving wardens and the people they come into contact with during the course of hunting and fishing seasons.
Some are just plain odd. Others involve violators who are just plain dumb. Still others involve some real dyed-in-the-wool violators.
Here's a collection of some of the encounters, put together by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Enforcement Division Chief Jim Kropp and Mike Korn, of FWP's Helena Area Resource Office:
In late August 2004, Chinook Warden Ryan Linder received a call from Region 6 nongame biologist Ryan Rauscher concerning illegal killing of nongame birds. What Linder found was a pair of 20-year-old guys killing nongame birds and then eating them. The two individuals had killed 12 to 15 nongame birds, including horned larks, long-billed curlews, McCowan's longspur and chestnut-backed longspur. In their camp, the two individuals possessed hot dogs, but must have figured that prairie birds were more palatable. Each was cited for hunting without landowner permission in addition to possessing unlawfully killed nongame animals. Makes you wonder what their conversation was. "Whatcha want tonight? Hot dogs or meadowlarks? They kinda taste like chicken …"
Wardens encountered an individual who claimed as his defense that he was addicted to poaching. First convicted in Toole County of poaching a bull elk in the late 1980s, he was again convicted in Lewis and Clark County in 2003 for killing a bull elk on the Sun River Wildlife Management Area. As a result, he was slapped with $9,000 in fines and restitution as well as lost all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for 20 years. One would think that might serve as a hint until wardens encountered him fishing (with his privileges still revoked) in February of 2004 near Cascade. Information was obtained through interviews and a search warrant that led to felony charges that in spite of the limitations placed upon his hunting and fishing activities by the court, he had killed several animals (three deer, one elk and a black bear) in the fall of 2003. The third time was a charm for this fellow, and with witness intimidation convictions added, he lost all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for life and received six years in prison to boot.
Another individual shot an antelope and tagged it with his father's tag, which is not an uncommon violation. Problem was, the shooter was on criminal probation and one of the terms of the probation was he was not allowed to be in possession of a firearm. The gentleman also received a ride back to prison.
In the spring of 2004, a man moved to Montana and purchased resident licenses prior to fulfilling the prerequisite six months in state to become a resident. He was caught and, as a result, lost his hunting and fishing privileges for two years. Instead of complying with his sentence, he proceeded to invite a friend in Vermont to come hunting this fall. In a week's time the duo had trespassed, shot from the road, killed a deer and abandoned the carcass in the field, killed two other deer without licenses, used other people's licenses, and - got caught. The two-year privilege loss from the initial residency problem increased to 15 years loss of privileges, 10 days in jail and $2,500 in fines.
One guy's run to beat the odds failed as he was caught twice in the 2004 hunting season for two separate offenses. He had been charged and convicted with trespassing during the archery season. As if this wasn't enough, he was later charged during the rifle season with accountability for attempting to take an over limit of elk when he encouraged two youngsters to continue shooting into a herd of elk after already hitting two. The result was two dead elk with several crippled elk running off.
Warden Todd Anderson received a call from a turkey hunter who said that he had witnessed a trophy bighorn ram being poached. He was sitting on top of a hill watching three rams walk toward a county road and saw a pickup approach as the sheep were crossing. The sheep ran in front of the pickup and up into the hills. The driver of the truck stopped, jumped out with a rifle in hand and went off in the direction of the sheep in hot pursuit. He disappeared behind a hill and the witness then heard three shots. As the witness came down to the road, he saw the driver walking back to the road without a rifle. Warden Anderson, along with Warden Capt. Mike Moore and Warden Jack Austin, went to the scene and found a half-empty beer can next to three rounds of rifle brass. Not far down the coulee the wardens found a mortally wounded trophy bighorn ram. Thanks to thorough and very complete information from an excellent witness, the wardens obtained a search warrant that produced evidence that resulted in felony wildlife charges being filed. The case is currently pending.
Officer Shane Reno and probationary warden Aaron Berg encountered two deer hunters in the field during the 2004 hunting season. Before parting, one of the hunters off-handedly asked the wardens, "So, where's your decoy today?" Laughing it off, the two groups parted company. Later in the day, the officers set up a "simulated wildlife" situation (better known as a decoy) as a means of deterring illegal activity that had been reported in the area. Soon, a familiar-looking truck approached driven by the same two hunters that the wardens had joked with earlier. The vehicle stopped and two men bailed out, drew their rifles and fired at the decoy. The officers identified themselves and the shooting stopped, but before the wardens could walk up to the offenders, the shooters jumped back into their truck and sped off. After a short pursuit, the driver stopped. Much to the officer's surprise, when they came upon the suspect vehicle, they found the driver feverishly attempting to validate a deer tag. In the back of the truck was an untagged mule deer doe, which had not been there several hours earlier when the hunters were initially contacted. The driver and the passenger were both cited for several violations, including transporting an untagged deer. When asked why they would shoot the decoy less than an hour after joking about it with the wardens, one of the men replied, "We thought you guys went the other way!"
The view from the Billings FWP Headquarters at Lake Elmo is truly spectacular, and staff members consider themselves lucky to have such an environment for their workplace. One day while doing paperwork Warden Capt. Harold Guse noticed two fishermen on the pier doing quite well. In fact, it seemed every time he glanced out the window they were reeling in a trout. After they both reeled in trout at the same time, they started to pack up their fishing gear in a hurried manner. Guse walked out of the headquarters and asked them how the fishing was. They replied, " Good! We caught over our limit." And upon checking, Guse found they had. The appropriate paperwork was forthcoming.
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