|pay attention to your hackles|
My neighboring warden (I'll call him Tim), often calls me up and says, "Are you ready for this one?" I'm almost never ready, but rest assured he always tells me anyway. Sometimes his stories are outrageous- for some reason the people in his territory are twisted. But this time, after asking me if I was "ready", he filled me in on a pretty typical deer baiting case. Tim wanted to know if I'd be able to help him out.
It is kind of a complicated story, but the short version was that he had information that a father and son would be deer hunting that night over bait (a mineral block and scattered corn). Tim has photos of the baited stand and has good information coming straight from a neighbor of the bad guy.
I agreed to help him, and we met later that afternoon at a gas station along with the informant. Tim said, "I was thinking that I would walk in on the dad and you could walk in on the son." He went on to say that the dad is supposedly a mean drunk, and it was quite likely that he will have had a few drinks before climbing into his tree stand. But don't worry- Tim will be looking for him while I will be after the 20 year old son. I asked Tim and the informant (Matt), how far away his son will be hunting from him. Their answer? "We're not sure".
I didn't like that answer, but Tim was convinced that the son would be hunting about 1/4 mile from his dad in a tripod stand out in the middle of a pasture. He assured me that the boy would be easy to find.
"So, what do we do when we find them?" I asked Tim. Tim told me that he planned on just taking his ticketbook into the field with him to reduce the amount of time he would need to spend talking with the mean old bat. I hate taking my ticket book when I'm walking in on a hunter. It tends to make them nervous.
"This is just an idea...since we know that Dave is a mean bastard, and we know where he will be, why don't we walk in on him together. We will seize his cell phone temporarily so he can't call his son. Then we can have him lead us right to him, since we really have no idea where his son will be," I suggested.
Nah, Tim vetoed that plan on the grounds that nobody in their right mind would voluntarily hand over his cell phone. We would be going our separate ways. While Tim took off to go pinch Dave, I jumped into Matt's car and we set off in search of the son. Matt had a general idea where the boy would be located, but he was unsure how to get us there. Eventually we pulled into a driveway that looked like it had access by way of a back field. When we drove up to a barn, an older "gentleman" stepped out and asked us if he could help us. Matt told him that he needed to get to "Dave's" pasture and wondered if it was possible to access it by way of his back field. The old guy leaned over and squinted into the car, then asked, "What for?" We were both dressed in camo, and we preferred not to say who I was because Matt wanted to remain anonymous in this whole mess. But as we scrambled to try to explain why we needed to get to the pasture, another "gentleman" emerged from the barn holding a shotgun in both hands, and asked us who we were. I told him that I was a game warden and was working a case. I needed to go talk to someone who was hunting the pasture. We noticed him take a giant gulp, and his swagger with the shotgun was over. He told us how to get to the pasture.
We slowly pulled through the gate and shut it behind us. As we were creeping up the hill in Matt's car, he pointed out my window and told me that he believed the boy was hunting the pasture to my right. We got out of the car and walked up to the fence. I glassed the field and didn't see anything. "I don't see any tripod stand out there," I told Matt. We got back into the car and drove past the next set of trees and got out of the car again. Hesitantly, I agreed that we would just walk out into the pasture and walk across it to see if we could get a good look at the pasture on the other side of a draw. As Matt and I were on our way to this spot we discussed the possibility that these two idiots might very well be holding shotguns or rifles instead of bows. It made me a little (a lot) nervous to be walking across a field when I had no idea where my bad guy was, and what kind of state he would be in. But stupidly, I went anyway.
I grabbed my M-16 and fumbled my way over a barbed wire fence. Matt followed and soon we were crossing the pasture. You know that feeling that someone is watching you? I had it- big time. And just as my hackles were starting to raise, I heard a loud and distinct (and very angry) voice yell, "What the FUCK are you DOING? Who the fuck are you?"
Matt made a beeline for the trees and I slowly turned around. I had walked right past him. The son was approaching me from an area of the pasture I had just walked past. I quickly identified myself as a game warden and walked up to him. As I was walking up to him, my cell phone rang. It was Tim. He whispered, "Where are you? Are you ok?" I told him that I was fine so far, and that I had just met Dave's son. I tried to describe my location, which was quite difficult since I hadn't the faintest idea where I was. Tim then whispered, "I don't see Dave. He isn't where I thought he would be." Wonderful. I politely told Tim to get his ass over to my location (wherever that might have been).
I began my interrogation of Dave's son, Luke. Luke didn't have a deer license, so I had him with one charge, but as he led me to his treestand (which I had walked right past without seeing), I realized that it wasn't baited. I asked Luke for his phone, which he handed over without a fight.
At this point I was beginning to worry about how Matt would go about getting back across the field to his car without being seen. I also worried that he would blunder right into Dave and end up getting shot by the drunken idiot. I decided to take Matt's bow and arrows, his i.d. and his phone and have him walk over to the farm house where I would meet up with him later. Matt agreed and began walking across the field. My phone rang again. "Where are you?" Tim asked again, "Are you ok?" I explained what was happening and told Tim that he could meet us at the house. "Which house?" he asked. Then he said, "Right now I'm in a field with horses. I don't see a house." I had no clue where Tim was, and just as I was about to describe the house, I heard someone yell, "Hey!". Off to my left I saw a guy dressed completely in camo approaching me.
My first thought was, Whew, Thank God Matt is ok. I pointed towards Luke (who was walking across the field), so that Matt wouldn't let himself be seen. It was at that moment that I realized it wasn't Matt. The guy yelled again, and Luke turned around and started walking towards him. Just peachy. Now I had both Luke and his lovely, mean, drunk father. The guy that, don't worry, Tim was going to take care of.
I quickly called Tim and updated him on the situation. I tried my best to once again describe my location. Tim was clearly confused, and out of breath. He kept saying, "I feel like I've walked two miles! Where the hell are you?" I wanted to shout, "I'm in a pasture in the middle of nowhere right next to the non-existent tripod stand you wanted me to find!" But I didn't.
I'll speed up the ending of the story since it lacks excitement. I managed to keep the two men at ease until a bedraggled Tim found his way to us. Neither treestand had bait, but neither man had a deer license. By the end of the night, the two men were shaking our hands, and pretending to be very ethical hunters. They continually lied, "We would never hunt over bait. Someone must be trying to set us up." I'm not that stupid, but what could I do. We cited them for what we could, and walked the mile back to Tim's truck (which included a nice little field trip through a field with one VERY big bull).
I got into Tim's truck and vowed never again to do something so stupid- especially when I knew it was stupid going into it. It is a bad feeling knowing that Luke was watching me the whole time and I didn't have a clue where he was. If he had wanted to (or if Dave had been drunk and desperate enough) they easily could've put a bullet through my back.
Tim and I were lucky. Next time he calls and says, "Are you ready for this?" maybe I'll hang up. (Kidding of course).