Game wardens earn great respect

Woods, Waters and Wildlife

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An account of some kids on the Texas Game Warden’s field report this week reminded me how ignorant some lawbreakers are.

They might have not been caught except for bragging about their exploits on social media. Other lawbreakers have been nailed by posting videos of their follies, too.

Game wardens have been called “Possum’ Cops”, among other disrespectful things. Some seem to think wardens are the Keystone Cops of county backroads, riding around oblivious of the things delinquents do for fun.

Actually, Texas wardens are probably the best trained and best equipped lawmen-off-the-pavement in America. Warden applicants nowadays are college educated in criminal justice or other related fields like wildlife and fisheries science. Their training academy lasts seven grueling months. Having observed it as a member of their Academy Advisory Committee, I had flashbacks to some of my least favorable memories of military basic training. The high physical and educational standards could almost be compared to training for the Olympics and passing the bar exam at the same time.

It’s difficult to be accepted into the Academy. All aspects of one’s qualifications from school records to criminal background checks, psychological profiles and personality evaluations are considered. Matched with active game wardens on patrols, cadets get a good look at what it’s like in the brush when the sun goes down – stuff that’s hard to teach in a classroom.

I recently met warden Ryan Johnson. Patrolling in South Texas in late December, he noticed buzzards circling over the brush. He stopped to investigate and found a white-tailed deer carcass with no head. A nearby oil rig was his next stop. He told a company supervisor what he was looking for and began searching. In the brush, he found a rifle with a suppressor attached wrapped in a trash bag and a bloody trash bag with deer hair on it hidden in the brush. The supervisor told him to address the employees at a safety meeting starting shortly. He did, telling the employees what he was looking for and what he had found. Another warden, Thomas Rinn, was called to assist.

After the meeting, an employee came up to Warden Johnson and admitted it was his rifle. When the warden gave him a copy of the evidence tag receipt, the suspect realized it was not his rifle! That led to another man telling the wardens that it was his. The first man then led the wardens to his real rifle.

Later, at the jail, after questioning, one of them confessed to shooting three deer from the roadway and said the heads were hidden on the oil rig property.

Both men were fired for having weapons on the property. One was also charged with having a suppressed rifle with no permit, trespassing and hunting from a public roadway among other charges. Both lost good jobs – and nice rifles. Game crime, like any other crime, doesn’t pay – it costs.

An important lesson from this: Don’t underestimate the efficiency of today’s game wardens.

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