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March 2011 cover image The Best of Texas, Naturally!

Fun and Game Wardens

TPWD law enforcement officers have seen it all, and then some.

By Ben Rehder

On their mission to enforce hunting, fishing and boating laws, Texas game wardens often encounter the humorous, the strange and the unexpected. Here are a few of their favorite anecdotes.

The buck that wouldn’t die

If you’re driving in the country and you spot a white-tailed buck with its tail twitching and head swiveling, you might want to take a closer look. Game wardens use robotic decoys as an effective tool in the fight against illegal road hunting. The decoys are realistic enough to mesmerize even the most experienced poacher.

Game Warden Chris Davis knows that firsthand. He received complaints about poaching along a quiet county road in a heavily timbered East Texas area.

Davis says: “Supposedly there was a big buck and people were trying to hunt it. So we set the decoy up in a pipeline easement.”

Not long afterward, a truck appeared. As Davis and another warden watched from concealed locations, the passenger stuck a rifle out the window and took a shot.

Davis approached the truck from a safe direction, and the passenger took another shot. Then a third shot. By that time, Davis had sidled up along the bed of the truck, within arm’s reach of the rifle, so he reached out and grabbed the barrel before the poacher could chamber another round.

What’s it like to have the game warden suddenly appear from nowhere?

“The guy just looks up, freaking out,” Davis says. “He’s looking at me, then looking at the decoy, then looking at me, and his mind was just trying to put it all together.

Finally, he said something like, ‘Oh, man, I’m an idiot.’”

Davis didn’t disagree.

Um, the dog did it?

Poachers have been known to say just about anything to get out of a tight spot. Take the case of a late-night deer hunt that Game Warden Ronnie Langford investigated.

A resident in a subdivision heard shots, went outside and witnessed two young men field-dressing a doe. The homeowner shouted at the poachers, who jumped in their vehicle and left.

When Langford arrived, he found the doe with a rifle lying nearby. Moments later, a vehicle drove past slowly and the witness said, “That’s the car!” Langford stopped the vehicle, separated the two occupants and questioned the driver, who denied any involvement. When Langford pointed out the blood on the man’s hands — and mentioned the possibility of DNA testing — the driver changed his story. He said he saw the injured doe and had used a knife to put it out of its misery.

So Langford decided to question the passenger.

“Are you injured?” Langford asked.

“No.”

Langford then asked him how he got blood on his clothes.

“He looks down and sees the blood, and you could just see the look on his face change. And he says, ‘Well, these aren’t even my clothes.’ So I said, ‘Whose clothes are they?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but they’re not mine.’ I couldn’t even keep a straight face.”

The passenger eventually admitted that his friend had shot the doe.

Paddling dummy

Game Warden Mike Bradshaw, who passed away in January 2009, collected enough on-the-job stories to write a book. One such tale involved a call from an angry rancher.

“He and his 8-year-old grandson had driven onto their stock tank dam, and they saw a trespasser who had rowed their aluminum fishing boat out to the middle of the 10-acre tank.”

The rancher yelled for the man to paddle to shore, but the trespasser ignored him.

The rancher finally resorted to cussing and threatening, but the man in the boat refused to comply.

When Bradshaw arrived on the scene, he understood why. The “man” in the boat was a dummy — a practical joke concocted by the rancher’s grown son.

“The rancher’s eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. The son told me later, ‘Dad got madder than an old wet hen. I had to stay away from him for a few days until he cooled down.’”

Scoot over

Game Warden Bill Hellums was staked out along a county road frequented by poachers when a truck stopped and unloaded several passengers, who vanished into the darkness.

Hellums says, “I thought they were hog hunters who routinely hunted [legally] through the creek south to the adjoining FM road.”

But when Hellums realized the truck was owned by a local man, a known poacher, he pulled it over. “The subject turned out to be a young lad from Houston. He admitted that he, two other friends and my local outlaw had killed a deer off the road earlier and decided to return for it after dark.”

Hellums recognized a good opportunity. “I got in the front seat with him and we proceeded to the drop-off spot. Just as soon as we pulled off, the three subjects came running down the road grinning from ear to ear. The outlaw opened the passenger door and told me to scoot over, which I did. He then looked at me, dropped his head and muttered an expletive.

“This was one of three times in my career that I got into the vehicle with the outlaws,” Hellums says.

Who can blame him? Seemed to work pretty well.

Well, duh!

Game Warden Jim Lindeman was inspecting fishing licenses when he stopped a boat hurrying toward shore. The reason for the haste? One of the occupants had a fishing hook planted firmly in his cheek, and they were taking him to the emergency room.

Lindeman was about to let them proceed when he noticed that the line from the hook was still attached to the fishing rod, which another man was holding. The injured man complained that every time the boat hit a wave, the line would jerk on the hook. So Lindeman reached over and simply cut the line. The driver of the boat sheepishly said, “You know, that would’ve helped a lot.”

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