Today’s special guest hails from Louisiana, where for decades he lurked in the shadows as a game warden. Extremely good at it, he wrote 365 violations one particular year – an average of one per day! Louisiana’s unique cultural history involves hunting for certain migratory birds species other than ducks, too. What are gros becs and bec croches? And did anyone really hunt American robins? Why was he once sent to “guard a bridge” during season opener, and why did he eventually choose to work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service? While secretly observing duck hunters over the years, what encouraging behavioral change did he perceive? For reasons that’ll become plainly evident in listening to these interesting stories, he prefers speaking in strict anonymity. And that’s ok. He’s a great storyteller and we really hope to have him back in the near future.
Stories from a Federal Game Warden
But still, overall, I had almost 360 cases that year.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Have I got a great story for y’all. We’re still down in Louisiana, rapping like the Red River through bayou country. Today’s very special guest is a friend of Dale Bordelon, who y’all have come to know through prior episodes. Today’s guest is anonymous for reasons that will be pretty obvious, coming up. When you did his line of work, and you did what he did, and you made the cases he did; you choose in retirement to be anonymous. So it’s an awkward introduction, not being able to say, “Tell me who you are, and what you are,” but y’all bear with us, because this guy is a really, really good storyteller. I think y’all are going to enjoy it a lot. I will say this: he was decorated Agent of the Year, and I’m going tell you how he earned that title. Or he’s going to tell you. How did you earn that title, Agent of the Year?
Warden: Well, the year that I received that, I had averaged just about one case per day for the year.
Ramsey Russell: One case per day?
Warden: Now, understand that sometimes you’d catch five or six people doing something wrong, and they’d all each have three or four violations. It adds up pretty quick. But still, overall, I had almost 360 cases that year.
Ramsey Russell: Were those all migratory bird violations?
What was it Like Working as a State Game Warden?
“I’m supposed to go out there and do the best job I can.”
Warden: No. I would say the biggest percentage of them were not migratory birds. They were mostly deer hunting, squirrel hunting, boating, and fishing stuff. But we did have doves, ducks, and geese in that. That was when I was working for the state. Then, in ‘89, I left the state and went to work for the federal government. Then, I worked there for some 27 years. Big difference when I worked for the state. Back in those days—we’re talking about back in the early ‘80s—there was a lot of politics in it. There ain’t no more, but there was a lot of politics back then. You were basically appointed the position by the Senate or the representative. Most of the agents then had a second job. They either had a little farm, or they drove a school bus, or they did something else. It wasn’t their priority job.
Ramsey Russell: Thirty some-odd years ago, what led you into law enforcement? How does somebody get into your line of work?
Warden: Purely coincidental. My father and my father-in-law both knew one of the state representatives real good, and they had frequent suppers together. I had worked offshore for some time. Back in the early ‘80s, the oilfield went down, and I ended up getting unemployed. I really didn’t want to look to go back over there, so I was trying to find something else. The state representative told my daddy, “Do you think he’d be interested in being a game warden?” My dad said, “Well, I don’t know. I never thought of that.” He said, “Well, offer it and see. Tell him, if he is interested, to come see me.” I didn’t have nothing else to do, so I said, “I might as well try it.” I took the test, got the job, and that’s where it went from there on.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember, all these years later, what your first ticket was? What the first ticket you issued was?
Warden: No, I can’t. I can’t say I do remember what the first one was. I really can’t.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about what it was like. You’re talking about the politics, the state politicians hiring folks. What was it like working in that system? I’m assuming that they maybe expected favoritism, or expected you to behave a certain way in law enforcement when they hired you?
Warden: It was kind of like an unknown deal. Certain people, depending on their politics and their positions in the community— You kind of avoided that area. You just went to other places. I got the job, and I didn’t know. I wasn’t involved in politics, so I had no idea about it. I thought, when they gave me the job, “I’m supposed to go out there and do the best job I can. Just go out there and, if somebody broke the law, write them up. Catch as many people as I can.” So I started doing that, and it didn’t take long before the other couple of agents in the parish, there, called me on my radio. We had radios. We didn’t have phones back then. Called me on the radio, and asked me if I could meet them. I went to meet them, and they just flat-out asked me what in the hell I was doing. I said, “What do you mean, what am I doing?” He said, “Why are you going out there and writing all these tickets, making us look bad?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. I thought I was supposed to go out there.” “No, don’t do that. Go to a lake somewhere, write up people from out of town on Sunday, write up four or five tickets, and go home and find you something to do.” I said, “Well, I didn’t think that’s what they hired me to do.” So I didn’t do that. Needless to say, it didn’t work out too well. I kept on. I’d get complaints on people, and they’d say, “Bud, I bet you ain’t going to do nothing about it, because nobody else would ever do nothing.” Well, that didn’t sit too good with me, so I thought I had to try to go out there and do my best to catch them if they gave me a complaint. Now, I did. It didn’t take long for me to stir the nest up to where the politics was trying to work against me and trying to get me out of there. It just so happened, about that time, the same senator that gave me my job— I didn’t necessarily target him, because I didn’t know which blind he was in, but I ended up working with four or five guys. We just all took a blind, and, of course, I was the only state guy. The rest were all some federal guys. I had led them into that lake because they didn’t know how to get in it. Ended up, we all took a blind. Well, it broke daylight, and people started hunting. To make a long story short, whenever it got time to shut them down, it just so happened that I was at a blind where a senator was, the same senator that signed off on my job. Whenever I went to approach him, he beat feet. The chase was on. I ended up catching him.
The Law Applies to Everyone: The Politics of Being Warden
Ramsey Russell: Oh, he took off running?
Warden: Oh, he took off running. I tackled him and caught him. He was over the limit. He had a bunch of lead shot, and he had some bec-croches with him, too.
Ramsey Russell: Now, they were duck hunting?
Warden: They were duck hunting. Anyway, I ended up writing him, and, of course, he was pretty upset about it. I told him, “Well,”—I used the fact that I was working with the federal guys, and that they were there, and they would know—“I couldn’t not write you a ticket.” So I did. Well, the politics tried to get me to get rid of it, and I wouldn’t do it. Because I always thought that it didn’t matter who you were if you broke the law. The law applies to everybody. For some reason, I had to go and watch the Causeway Bridge for a week, in New Orleans, to make sure that no barges would hit it.
Ramsey Russell: Mm-hmm. Did any hit it?
Warden: Nope. None of them hit it.
Ramsey Russell: Did a good job.
Warden: I did a good job. I stayed there for seven days and seven nights, on the whole. The following year, they were worried about me doing the same thing. The day before duck season opened, they actually called me into Baton Rouge and said they needed my truck and that I was going to have to work with somebody else. Which I did, and we didn’t see any duck water.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I was going to say, how long had you been working for them, and how good a job were you doing that they needed your truck in Baton Rouge the day before duck season? You must have been doing a heck of a good job.
Warden: Well, I think they just knew that I had kind of made up my mind to catch some of the people that nobody else would try to catch. Basically, that was probably the reason. Anyway, I ended up working with them for about five years. I could tell that they were trying to get rid of me. It just so happened, one of the federal guys that I was working with a lot convinced me that I needed to jump ship and go to work with them. I did, and I worked with them for around 27 years.
Federal vs. State Game Wardens
Anyway, I enjoyed my career, I can tell you.
Ramsey Russell: What was the selling point for coming to work for the federal government as compared to the state?
Warden: Three things: benefits, pay increase, and, basically, all the ones that I was working with said, “You never have to worry about the politics again. You’re still going to have people after you, but it’s going to be the public, not the people you’re working for.” I have to say that—with the exception of one little issue, early on, that didn’t last long—I would do it all over again. I was not ready to retire when I retired. But it’s mandatory, at 57; in federal law enforcement, you have to retire. Anyway, I enjoyed my career, I can tell you.
Ramsey Russell: When you got deployed down to Baton Rouge right before you left the state, did you just stay in Baton Rouge that weekend, or?
Warden: Oh, no. They had one of the local guys that I worked with, that wouldn’t work in those places. That’s who they assigned me to work with. Basically, we never went by any lakes that day.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I see. So you went to work for the federal government. Then what happened? You kept doing this job?
Warden: I went out there, and I was basically told by the man that hired me, the one who was my supervisor, “You know your job better than I do. You just get out there, and you go to work. This area that you’re going to have hasn’t been worked in years.” He said, “It’s ripe,” to use his words. It was. Every evening, you could hear somebody shooting bec-croches or gros-becs. Every evening. So you just picked a direction and took off and went.
What are Bec-croche and Gros-bec?
It’s a very traditional delicacy down here, back in the day.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the second time you use that word. I had to get educated by Mr. Dale on bec-croche and gros-bec. I guarantee you that folks listening don’t know what either one of those birds are.
Warden: Bec-croche is ibis, and gros-bec is a night heron.
Ramsey Russell: And folks eat them. It’s a very traditional delicacy down here, back in the day.
Warden: Oh, yeah, back in the day. It’s not so much, no more. I’m sure there are still people that actually do go out there and still kill a few, probably, but it’s not nearly like it used to be.
Ramsey Russell: When you were out there making those cases on bec-croches and gros-becs, were they targeting those birds or were they just shooting them as they came by?
Warden: Well, some of them knew where they were roosting at, and they’d go sit and wait for them to come back, and they’d shoot them when they came back for roosting. Some of them would just sit in that camp yard. They were close to the swamp. They’d just sit in that camp yard in some lawn chairs, with an ice chest, with a beer, and as they’d pass over, they’d shoot them. I’d take my pirogue, and I was in plainclothes. I would just paddle with a flat rod. I’d watch them shoot. When I’d see them shoot, I’d stop. I’d start talking to them, and they didn’t know who I was. I’d introduce myself to them, and they’d look at me and say, “Well, where are you from? We never saw you before.” That went on for about a year or two. Everybody pretty much knew, after that.
Ramsey Russell: Reputation got out there.
Warden: Oh, yeah. It didn’t take long. I had a preacher one time that told me, “I’m doing this to feed the hungry people.” I told him, “Well, I’m not the judge, so I can’t say if you are doing that or you’re not doing that.” I said, “I’m not God, so I don’t know if you’re telling the truth or not.” I said, “So I just have to write you a ticket.” He said, “Well, I’m just going to depend on God to help me out with it.” I said, “Well, you do that.”
Ramsey Russell: What would be the average take? If I’m going to go out bec-croche hunting around these parts, am I shooting just one or am I shooting five?
Warden: Well, it just depends on how big of a supper they were making, most of the time. The most I’ve ever caught somebody with was thirteen. It was me and another fellow. It was actually another agent’s complaint, and I just went to help him on it. He had the lead in it, and I was just assisting him on it. It’s probably one of the ones that we both, probably, regret. Not regret catching them—because we both understood what our job was and we treated everybody the same, so it didn’t matter what complaint it was, we were going to go—but it’s just the way it ended up. I’ll give you a little briefing on it. He had this complaint about these guys that were hunting near the swamp by their camp. We went over there, and we stopped and listened. We heard them shooting. By the time we figured out where they were at, they had finished their hunt. We slipped up through the swamp, and we saw the camp. We figured it was probably that camp, so we slipped up to the back porch, got up on the back porch, and looked in the window. We saw them. They were dressing the gros-bec—night herons—and this old man was cutting the onions and cutting some of the night herons up—gros-becs—and the other two were still fooling with them. We knocked on the door and introduced ourselves to them. They ended up telling us that the only reason they were hunting them, really, was because their daddy was dying with cancer, and he just wanted to eat them one more time. Of course, we hear all kinds of stories. We never know what’s true and what’s not true. Like I’ve told you before, I’m not God and I’m not a judge, so it wasn’t our decision. But when it came time for court, three months later, the two sons were there. We asked the U.S. Attorney, “Where’s the old man that was with them?” He said, “We dropped all that on him. He passed away.” He had really died. He really had cancer, and had died.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s a heck of a last supper, gros-becs.
Warden: That was the story, and he, sure enough, passed away before he ever went to court.
Federal Game Warden Jurisdictions
Most of these people are good people. They just take advantage of opportunities, a lot of times.
Ramsey Russell: A mutual friend of ours—we were talking last month—is also a federal agent, from Mississippi. He, one time, told me that he had never met a duck hunter that didn’t lie to him. That was his take on that. It kind of makes sense, because you catch a guy, and it’s, “No, no, no, I didn’t shoot over the limit.” Did you ever feel like that, or?
Warden: I never felt like they all did. I have used the phrase before, whenever they did lie to me, I’d say, “Well, okay. You used up your one lie, and now it’s time to tell the truth.” But I can’t say that. Most of these people are good people. They just take advantage of opportunities, a lot of times. When they have the opportunity, they’ll take advantage of it. That’s why this is all misdemeanor cases, because it’s not as serious as what people want to think it is, sometimes.
Ramsey Russell: You mentioned, earlier, catching deer hunters. I’m sitting here in your beautiful game room, and you apparently deer hunt. I don’t think of Louisiana as being a big deer state. Waterfowl, migratory birds, stuff like that. Was that a big part of your job, the deer hunting?
Warden: When I worked for the state, it was. When I worked for the feds— If it was on any federal property, then it was under the jurisdiction of the federal game wardens. If it was off of it, then it wasn’t under it, so it would have been a state issue. I know I told you about this chief of police one time that, when I first got on with the state, was a big— I didn’t know this, but he was a big deer out-law, and he bragged about it. He also owned a grocery store. I walked in his grocery store, one time. I was on my way to my lieutenant’s house and stopped in this grocery store and picked up a coke and a bag of chips. He looked at me and looked at my name tag, and he said, “You’re the new game warden over here.” I said, “Yes, sir, I am.” He said, “You know who I am?” I said, “No, sir. I sure don’t.” Then he told me his name, and I said, “Well, it’s nice to meet you.” He said, “You really don’t know who I am?” I said, “No, sir.” He said, “Well, I’m the biggest deer outlaw they got in this part of the country. A lot of others have tried to catch me and haven’t, and you won’t neither. You never will.” That were his words. “You never will.” I didn’t know what to think of him. It kind of shocked me. I just told him, “Well, you know, never is a long time,” and I walked off. Well, it took me four years. But, yeah. He pretty much had opened my eyes up to what it was to actually pursue a violator that was out there bragging about it.
Ramsey Russell: Was he spotlighting or baiting or?
Warden: He actually would go in a bean field, in the evening, with an ice chest with ice. He’d go into this big bean field. He’d shoot a deer, then he’d quarter it up, ice it down, and leave it. Then he’d come out. He’d come back in, late at night, and pick it up. He’d do this right before dark when the deer would come out in the bean field. It took me, like I said, four years. I finally figured out what he was doing. I let him leave, one evening. I was at the gate when he went in. I heard him shoot. I was at the gate when he came out, and I never left. I stayed. My lieutenant had dropped me off. He came back about 9:30 that night, and he opened that gate and went in there. He came back out with that deer in that ice chest. I stopped him. Anyway, I caught him. I wrote him up. He was drinking. He had a fifth of whiskey on the seat, about half-empty. Me and one other state guy had just received our training to do DWIs. We were the first two for the state of Louisiana. My lieutenant was with me. I had called him on the radio; he’d come and all that. I told him, “He’s drinking. He’s probably going to be drunk.” “Yeah, but we don’t want to fool with him. We don’t want to fool with that.” I said, “Okay.” We rode him up. He left. I told the lieutenant, “I want to go and find, if I can, where he cleaned this deer at, and gutted it and all of this, because he’s liable to say he did this yesterday.” So we went in there, and we rode around and followed his tracks until we found where it was. Took photographs, took samples and stuff, and came back out. This whole time we were in there, he kept coming back. He’d ride up and down, and he’d blow the horn and all kinds of stuff. Just aggravating, basically. When we came out, he was at the gate, and he started arguing and fussing again. The lieutenant knew him better than I did, and he told him just to go on, so he did. When we pulled out, he had just gone down the road and hid. He came back out of the woods whenever we went by him. He pulled up on the side of my truck in the wrong lane with his window down, cussing me and all kinds of stuff. I said, “Well, that’s about enough of that.” I stopped him, and I ended up DWI-ing him. He said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “Oh yeah I can,” and I DWI-ed him. I told him, then. I said, “Four years is a long time.”
Ramsey Russell: It sure is. It didn’t take forever, did it? It only took four years. I’m looking around your game room here, and I see some pictures. Tell me about this picture here. It’s a whole bunch of wood ducks on the side of a boat, and a couple of mallards. What’s so special about this picture?
Mallards: Trash Ducks?!
“We didn’t mean to shoot them. That’s some trash ducks. We just wanted the wood ducks.”
Warden: Well, this was two old Frenchmen. Again, it was me and another agent working this. We had worked another blind, that morning, that wasn’t productive. The people didn’t have many ducks. We sat there a while, and we could hear another shoot going on. They sounded like they were really hammering them, so we said, “Well, let’s slip out of here, and let’s get back to town. We’re going to try to find where this other blind is. We’ll get the plane to come and pick us up, and we’ll go flying.” So we did, and we found where this other blind was. The next morning, we sat up on this other blind. It was in the corner of milo field. It was foggy, foggy that morning. We could see the ducks going in, and we could count them coming out, but we couldn’t see the blind and couldn’t see the people. But we’d watch the ducks come in. Every now and then, a whole bunch of teal would go in, and there wouldn’t be no shooting. A whole bunch of mallards would go in; no shooting. Then some wood ducks would go in, and they’d shoot. We’d count what would come out. It just went on for a while. Like I said, we couldn’t see the blind. We didn’t know how many people were in it. We thought three, but they ended up being two old Frenchmen. After a while, we said, “Man, they’ve shot a lot of ducks. We need to get in there.” We weren’t sure how many they for sure had, because some could have flown low with the fog and got out. But we just figured that they had to have over the limit of ducks. We ended up slipping up on them and stopping them. They ended up having 28 wood ducks and 4 mallards. They were two old Frenchmen. They’d speak French to each other. I understood French; my partner didn’t. He knew I did, though, but he didn’t act like it. He just let them talk. He’d ask them a question every now and then. When he got through kind of questioning them, then I asked them, in French, a couple of questions. It really kind of stunned them.
Ramsey Russell: So he’d ask them a question, and they’d start yammering in French.
Warden: Yeah, and then one would answer. They were making up their story, thinking that we couldn’t understand French. Anyway, after a while I answered them in French, so they knew I understood everything. I asked them, “I see all the wood ducks. There were a lot of ducks coming in there. What, are y’all just targeting the wood ducks?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, what happened with these four mallards?” He said, “Well, that was some accidents.” He said, “We didn’t mean to shoot them. That’s some trash ducks. We just wanted the wood ducks.”
Ramsey Russell: Boy, I tell you what, that’s fighting words around some of these parts.
Warden: They were real good old guys. Even when they went to court, the judge took their age and stuff into consideration.
Ramsey Russell: I see another picture up here. Is that a pretty typical case? I see ducks of all kinds, and then I see all kinds of other birds. I see a hawk and an egret.
Warden: Yeah, there were six of us on this here, working. We all were working different blinds.
Ramsey Russell: When you say different blinds, was that on public water? Was that a private club?
Warden: This was on private property. It was a private hunting club.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all would each stake out a blind and just watch it?
Warden: Yeah, we’d watch it. Usually when you see them shooting stuff like hawks and common egrets and stuff like that, it’s because they’re not having a good day with the ducks. They’re kind of bored, and they’ll shoot something just to shoot something. That particular day, we had one of them that had killed a hawk that shouldn’t have. One of them had killed a common egret that shouldn’t have. We had three bec-croches in there—ibis—and the fellow that killed the ibis also had over the limit of ducks, and he had 160 lead shot in his possession. When he saw me coming to his blind, he took off. He had a boardwalk, through the button bushes, that was hidden in the field. He had parked his bike down in the pasture. Anyway, he took off running down that boardwalk. I ended up catching him. It just so happened that it was the senator that had signed off on my job when I went to work for the state. Which I didn’t know, because I didn’t know which blind I was at. That didn’t fly too good, but, like I told him, I said, “Well, you knew not to be doing this, just like anybody else. Just because you’re the senator, that doesn’t make any difference.” He said, “Yeah, but I gave you your job.” I said, “I understand that.” I said, “I think I’m doing a good job with it. I’ll go out and catch anybody. I didn’t know who was in this blind, and it just so happened to be you.” But after that, it didn’t take long before they were really trying to get rid of me with the state. The federal guys that I was working with on occasions—which the state, by the way, back in those days, 35 years ago, discouraged you from working with them—they could tell too. They said, “You know what? Maybe you need to come to work for us.” That’s when I left, and I went to work for them. That’s how I ended up with them. Another time, I had what was probably one of the oddest cases that I did, whenever I worked for the state. I had a good friend of mine, a classmate. We were still very close friends. We’d do things together all the time. He went to work at a plant that a train would come through. The train would go from one point to another point in the evenings and in the daytime, picking up some stuff that they’d load up on the train. He worked the warehouse there. He was dealing firsthand with the train people. One day, they started bragging, and they showed him a deer that they’d killed. He said, “You killed that deer with the train? Y’all hit him with the train?” “No,” they said. “We shot him.” “Well, how y’all doing that?” He said, “Well, we’re going through the state park. They got this deer all over, around the tracks. When we come through there, we shoot. We throw a roll of toilet paper out, and we hold the end of it. When we’re coming back, when we see the toilet paper, we know where to go look for the deer.” Anyway, he told me. He said, “I saw it.” I said, “Where was it at?” He said, “The nose of the train is the bathroom, and they have their lockers in there. That deer is going to be in there.” He said, “They killed one.” So I told my lieutenant, and we went and sat in that park. He’d tell me the whole time, “I can’t believe that. I’ve never heard of that, and I’ve never heard them shoot.” And it went on. Well, about the third time we happened to be sitting there—which, he kept telling me we were wasting our time—we heard them shoot. He looked at me. He said, “Now what are we going to do?” I said, “Well, we’ve got to beat that train.” So we took off out of that park. Of course, we had 39-5 radios back then, we didn’t have cell phones. We were talking to each other. He was going one way to try to cut the train off, and I was going the other way to where we could try to stop the train on two different highways. We were talking to each other, and our captain was in a different parish. Our captain heard us. He said, “What’s going on?” My lieutenant answered him and told him this and that. After a while, I got to where the train crossed the highway, and I could see it coming. I stopped my unit, and I parked it on the middle of the railroad track. I told my lieutenant, “Hey, I made it to the track. I see them coming. I’m parked on the tracks with my lights on.” About that time, my captain got on there, and he started calling for me. Well, I wouldn’t answer. He started calling for my lieutenant. My lieutenant wouldn’t answer. After a while, he kept on, kept on, till my lieutenant said, “I can’t understand you. You’re breaking up bad,” and he just hung up. Anyway, to make a long story short, the train had plenty enough time. He saw my lights, and he stopped. We ended up checking that train, and, sure enough, we made them go back to where they had thrown the toilet paper out. They hadn’t picked the deer up yet because they had just shot it, so we found it.
Ramsey Russell: Was it a big buck or just a doe?
Warden: No, it was a buck, but it wasn’t huge. I think, when it was all said and done, that the railroad company sent Wildlife and Fisheries a letter apologizing for their people. I think a couple of people maybe lost their jobs over that.
Ramsey Russell: I bet they did.
Warden: Well, that was an interesting deal. I had never done, and nobody’s ever heard— I did get a good chewing from my captain.
Ramsey Russell: So he was calling for a reason?
Warden: He wanted that truck off that track. That’s what he was after. He’d give his head to get that truck off that track.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, my goodness. I’m looking at a picture right here on the table, and it’s in your game room with some other memories. I don’t see nothing wrong with this picture. I’m sitting there thinking, “Okay, it’s two wood ducks and a mallard just hanging up.” Was it out of season, or?
Warden: No. What this picture here is, is these two guys were hunting on private property in a hole in the woods. Me and this other agent that was working with me sat up on this blind to watch him. I was about 25 yards from them, hiding in some bushes with a bunch of vines and stuff. I can see all their drops. Both of us could see their drops. They had a limit of ducks, and then they shot these. One of them told the other one to go hide these. Well, one of them left and picked them up; when he went to hide them, I couldn’t see where he was going. The agent that was working with me couldn’t see where they were going either, but we knew they had left with three ducks and went and hid them in the woods. Anyway, when they started to pick up to get out, one of them had left his gun in the blind. I told the agent, “One of them left his gun in the blind. Maybe we ought to go ahead and take them now. We know they’re over the limit. He’s hunting with a nice Browning. He ain’t going to leave it.”
How to Find the Right Hiding Spot as Game Warden
I’d usually try to set up kind of to the side of them, a little bit.
Ramsey Russell: When you set up on these guys, were you like behind them? How do you set up on a blind like that, where they don’t know you’re there?
Warden: Well, you’ve just got to pick the right cover. I’d always try to pick something from the side, because they typically look in front if they’re maybe worried about somebody watching them, or just watching the birds. Then they’ll look behind them, every now and then, to see if anybody is coming. I’d usually try to set up kind of to the side of them, a little bit. That’s where I was sat that day. I was close enough that one of them ate an apple and threw the core, and it fell in the same bush I was hiding in. I could hear all that conversation. We contacted him, and, of course, we checked their birds and stuff. We told them that we knew they were over the limit and had some ducks hidden. They said, “Oh, no, we didn’t hide no ducks.” I said, “Well, we’ve been here since four o’clock this morning. We watched every duck y’all shot, and we y’all took three ducks and went and hid them in the woods.” He said, “Oh, no, we didn’t do that. We didn’t do that.” I said, “Well, like I told you, I’ve been here since four o’clock this morning. I heard all your conversations, including the one where y’all were talking about a certain person and his wife and what y’all would like to do with his wife.” I said, “I’d sure hate for that to get out on the street.” One fella told the other one, “Go get those birds.” That’s them in the picture. The agent that was working with me went out and took the picture of that, when it was still in the tree.
How Has Hunting Changed Over the Years?
I could see a change in that most of them weren’t so much for numbers anymore. They were actually for the experience.
Ramsey Russell: Let me ask you this question. You obviously grew up hunting. How did a career in law enforcement, dealing with wildlife violations, affect you as a person, as a hunter? That’s what I’m trying to get at.
Warden: Well, the one thing it did was it pretty much shot me down from being able to do much duck hunting or dove hunting, because I was usually working duck hunters and dove hunters. That’s why, as you see, I took up deer hunting and mostly hunted them. But I was a duck hunter until my senior year. We lost our duck hunting club at that time. It was a pretty good club. It was private land. It had four lakes on it and 4,000 acres of rice fields. My dad was a member, and each member would get a blind in a lake and a blind in the rice fields. I’m not going to sit here and say that we were the most honest duck hunters, because we weren’t. We were like everybody else back in those days. You didn’t worry about anything unless somebody said the feds were in the area. We took advantage of opportunities whenever we could kill ducks, and we did.
Ramsey Russell: It was a whole different time, back then. We’re talking thirty, forty years ago.
Warden: And there were a lot more ducks than there are today. That’s my opinion, anyway. I’m not a biologist, but it’s my opinion. I just personally think that, with the duck situation the way it is, if the public would have continued to do what was happening back in those days, there probably wouldn’t be any ducks left to hunt anymore. I think that in the latter part of my career, I could see a change in the public. I could see a change in that most of them weren’t so much for numbers anymore. They were actually for the experience. We could see that in what they were teaching their kids. My daddy taught me that if a duck is within a certain distance, pull the trigger on them. That meant whether it was the first one or the twentieth one. I’ve watched enough blinds that we didn’t even approach the people, because they didn’t violate the law. You can see what they’re teaching their younger children today.
Ramsey Russell: From almost an anonymous position in a hide, you were watching how the fathers interacted with their children, how they taught them.
Warden: And telling them, “Okay, this is your duck because you’re the only one that has one left to shoot.” Whereas, back in the day, it was ba-ba-ba-boom. I’m not saying that that’s not still going on, but you can see the change. Number one, it’s becoming a high-dollar sport. People want the best opportunity they can get out of it. The best experience, I think. I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be, as far as the violations. I’m sure it’s still going on, but I don’t think it’s as bad as it was. There was a certain amount where people hunted to eat. People say that today there’s no reason for it, that there’s enough programs out there. But I believe that, back in that day, people supplemented their food source with ducks and deer and squirrels and everything else. I don’t think it’s as important, anymore, as the experience is today in hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. I believe that.
Warden: If it wasn’t, then nobody would ever bow hunt. They would all just gun hunt for a deer. It’s an experience.
Ramsey Russell: A couple of times during some of your stories, you mentioned lead shot. I was, I don’t know, twenty years old. Let’s say nineteen, twenty. I duck hunted, as a child, with lead, and, back in ‘90, ‘91, they mandated that steel shot. I can remember it being a big deal. They’d talk about game wardens having scanners that could pick up steel. They could scan your shells, scan the ducks for BBs. Now, it’s been thirty years since steel shot’s been around, and I don’t hear of anybody salting their pockets with lead shot. Do you think that kind of died out over time? Or do you think it’s just the old-timers that still shoot it?
Warden: I think it’s died out. The majority of it, I think, has died out. I think one of the reasons is because they’ve made better shells. Back in the day, when the first steel shots came out, your gun either shot them good or it didn’t. That was basically it. Now, they’ve got enough choices in their ammunition that you can change from one brand to another brand, or one size to another size, and get a good pattern. Then, like I said, people are just teaching their kids. The generation is a lot different, today, than it was.
Ramsey Russell: I think so, too.
Warden: I think that it has to. If it doesn’t, they won’t be around. The ducks won’t be around. They just won’t. I’ve had people tell me in my career, “Well, what difference does it make? If we don’t shoot them, somebody else will shoot them in the next state.” I said, “Well, what you’re not understanding is you have a large wad of ducks that moves from one state to the next state to the next state. When there is none in this state, when they leave this state, they’re all in the other state. It’s not like deer where every state has their own population of it. The ducks migrate, and they move from one place to the next. You’re dealing with one pod of ducks that goes all over the country. If you don’t preserve them, you’re going to run out.”
Would Ending Bag Limits Ever Work?
When the ducks were there—yeah, they ate them, but they’d only kill what they could eat.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. You know, there’s some countries in the world— I’m thinking of Europe, for example. It’s the craziest concept I’ve ever heard. I was talking to a Russian hunter, and he’s like, “Oh, we don’t have limits.” I said, “Well, how do you not have limits?” Basically, the translation was that the government gave hunters the responsibility of managing the resource, thinking to themselves, “These guys want to do what they’re doing, and they’re going to protect it. They’re not going to deplete it. They’re not going to shoot it out.” I’ve always wondered if that would really work back in the old days in America, now.
Warden: Well, back in the old days, you didn’t have— Number one, you had a few market hunters that made their living on it, but, other than that, people would go and shoot enough ducks to eat that night. Maybe the next night, again. Or the next day, maybe some squirrels. Or the next day, a rabbit or two. They didn’t have freezers. They didn’t have places to store them. When the ducks were there—yeah, they ate them, but they’d only kill what they could eat. The ducks would move on to something else, somewhere else. Nowadays—or let me not say nowadays, because I think it’s kind of going the other way—at some point, when they came out with the freezer, everybody said, “Well, shoot, we can eat duck year round, now. We can eat squirrel year round. We can eat deer year round.” So they’d actually see how many they could kill and put up. But I think it’s going back the other way, now. I don’t think people will go out there anymore and just see how many they can pile, like they used to.
Observing Duck Behavior….and Human Nature
You got to observe a lot of human behavior. You got to hear a lot of conversations.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a very good thought. I like that. One thing I was wondering— You saw and heard a lot, hiding in the shadows. There’s a man in a duck blind, or a group of men in a duck blind, and they think they’re to themselves. They think they’re completely to themselves because they’re in a duck blind in the middle of nowhere. You got to observe a lot of human behavior. You got to hear a lot of conversations. Going back to the bad old days, why do you think the guy would just shoot ducks till the chickens came home? Because he wasn’t eating them all. The modern sporting, back in that era— Was it just fun? Was it greed?
Warden: I think it was just fun. It was just fun. When I was growing up and we did it, I did it for the fun. It was just fun. I didn’t mind giving them away. It was fun. One time— Like I said, we belonged to that club, and there was a bayou on the backside. Those wood ducks would fly that bayou, going to where they would roost at. We accidentally found them, one time, because we were there roosting some woodcocks when they came in. We’d shoot those woodcocks right at dark, and we started noticing the wood ducks passing in that bayou. So me and my brother told my dad one day. We said, “After school, we’re going to go sit on that point in that bayou.” They had a little island in that bayou. “We’re going to sit on that point and shoot some wood ducks.” So we went in, and we slammed those wood ducks. I ain’t going to even say how many we killed, but we killed a lot of them. We saw some lights, so we thought it was our dad coming. We crossed that little bayou. We had a little pirogue. We crossed off the island, got on the bank, and was coming up. We got up there, and we saw it wasn’t him. It was the game wardens. Oh, holy shit. We said, “What are we going to do?” We were on foot and stuff. We had the ducks in the sack. My brother said, “Throw them against the bank here. They’re going to get caught in a tree top somewhere. We’ll come back and get them.” He said, “Just throw your gun in the bottom of the bayou, right here between the islands.” So we did. We got up, and we started walking in the opposite direction. It was on a T. They came to the T, and we started walking towards the left of that T. They came right there, they stomped, they shined the flashlight, and they saw us. They came and met us, and they said, “What y’all hunting?” We said, “We’re not hunting.” “Oh yeah y’all are hunting. We heard y’all shooting.” Anyway, to make a long story short, we told him we weren’t shooting, that we heard some other people but they left. We’re just walking around and waiting on our daddy to come get us. We were looking for a spot to hunt. Anyway, he says, “Well, where y’all at?” So we told him. He brought us back to our dad. My dad said, “Yeah, I had dropped them off. I was supposed to go, but I started cooking in the camp. I was about to leave to go get them. But they weren’t hunting, they were just spotting a place to hunt.” So they left, the game wardens. Dad says, “Where’s y’all’s guns at?” My brother said, “We threw them in the bayou.” My daddy said, “Y’all threw them in the bayou. Two Browning automatics. Them two shotguns I bought y’all, y’all threw them in the bayou?” I had a Sweet Sixteen. He had a Lightning. My daddy said, “I can tell you one thing. Tomorrow, you better find them, or don’t come back until y’all find them.” We went back the next day, and we found them. But that scared us, and that was it. That was the end of that. We didn’t fool with it no more. We left that alone.
Was Hunting Robins Really a Thing in Old Louisiana?
It was an easy target. They were pretty stupid birds.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve always heard a lot—really just down here in Louisiana, just like the gros-becs and bec-croches—I’ve always heard about people hunting robins down here. Is that a thing?
Warden: Yeah, it is. Again, I think it’s something—kind of like the gros-bec and the bec-croche—I think it’s pretty much died off, but, at one time, it was very, very popular. I grew up hunting them. I wore out two pellet guns shooting them. We just did that. All the kids did that. They make gumbos and jambalayas with them and stuff. It was an easy target. They were pretty stupid birds.
Ramsey Russell: Did you make any cases with them?
Warden: Oh, yeah. I made quite a few.
Ramsey Russell: They weren’t hunting them with pellet guns, were they?
Ramsey Russell: No, most of them would hunt them with .22’s. Well, every now and then I run across some kids. I’d usually pick up the kid, and say, “Your mom and dad know where you’re at?” “Well, yeah,” this and that. “Well, look, I’m going to bring you home,” and I’d just go tell their mom or dad. I’d say, “Look, they can’t be doing that.” Most of them, I’d be just driving through town and see them standing underneath a tree. Anyway, one day I picked up a little fellow. He’s twelve years old, same age as my son. Played baseball with my son. I knew the family. So I called him by name, and he was standing underneath a little cedar tree. He had one of them army fatigue shirts on, and you could see all the tails of those robins sticking out. I told the boy, “You doing any good?” “Yes, sir,” he said. “I’ve got a few.” I said, “Is your mama or daddy home, buddy?” He said, “Yeah, I think my dad’s home.” I said, “Well, get in the truck. I’ll bring you home.” So I brought him home. We pulled up in the driveway. He walks up underneath the carport. He opens the door. He hollers for his daddy. Nobody answers. So he said, “He must be in the outdoor kitchen.” We walked around the sidewalk, straight to the outdoor kitchen. Kind of like this here, walking into here. Walked into there. When he opened the door, I was standing behind the boy. He opened the door. His daddy was sitting at a picnic table in the outdoor kitchen with a beer flat full of clean ones and a beer flat that was still waiting to be cleaned. He looked at his son and he shook his head, and that was it.
Ramsey Russell: Did you write a ticket to his daddy?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You know, you don’t have a choice. In fact, the other two boys were out doing the same thing. That’s why he was cleaning them. Anyway, we still remain friends. He knew he was wrong for that. One of the funniest ones— We had a big freeze, one time, for about three or four days. There were robins everywhere. I think I had made eleven cases in three days, so they were all coming to court about three months later. One guy had like six or something. He went up there, and the judge fined him $500, I think it was. Something like that. Another one gets up there, and I had caught him with 28 or something like that. When he gets up there, the judge is looking at the report. Of course, he asked me to give my statement, so I gave my statement. I said what he had killed. He looked at that fellow, and he said, “You have anything to say for yourself?” “Well, not really.” He said, “I’m just appalled at how many you killed. Why did you kill so many of them like that?” You’ve got to realize that most of these judges are maybe not big hunters, and he’s from South Louisiana, you know? He said, “Well, Your Honor, it don’t pay to heat the grease unless you’ve got 25.” That judge pulled his glasses down on his nose and said, “Sir, I’m going to send you back to your community with a message.” Bam! “I find you guilty. $4,500.” That guy liked to fell down. It slowed things down around there, I can tell you.
Ramsey Russell: I know, federal agents get involved across state boundaries, international things like that. Did you ever work on anything other than Louisiana that you can talk about?
Warden: I had a complaint, one time, and I turned it over to one of the agents, because that’s their specialty to deal with out-of-state, out-of-the-country cases. We worked on one together where it involved a person that went to Africa hunting and had taken some wildlife over there illegally. It was a pretty good case. It ended up being pretty high-profile. High fine. No jail time, but a lot of probation. No hunting, and other stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: The US federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction in another country, but when you take something illegally and bring it back into this country—
Warden: It’s a lot of Lacey violations.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right.
Warden: You’d be surprised from what I learned throughout this case that we had worked on. Africa values their wildlife. I mean to tell you, they really do. Without the guide, we wouldn’t have been able to make this case. When they approached him—and I don’t know how they’re questioning, how that works over there in another country—he spilled the beans on everything and admitted that he did bring the guy, and he did do this, and he helped him do this. They are very strict over there. Very strict.
Reflecting on the Job & Retirement
It was just a pleasure to work for them. I would do it all over again.
Ramsey Russell: I sure do appreciate your time. I know you’re busy in retirement. Like I never could have gotten down here mid-week, because I know y’all are having a lot of fun, but I really do appreciate your time of day. Do you have any parting words or parting thoughts?
Warden: Well, the only thing I will say is that if I had to pick a career, I would pick the same one again. Especially when I went to work for the feds. I had a great job. Like I said, the politics there was— You went out there, and you did your job. They helped you to do your job. I had to park my truck when I worked for the state, one time, because they didn’t have any money to change an oil seal in the rear end of my truck. $18. They were just that broke. When I went to work for the feds, the first thing my boss told me— I think it was $4,000. This was back almost thirty years ago. He said, “You’ve got $4,500 in your account, right now, for you to spend on camouflage, clothes, hip boots, anything you think you need for your job. Cameras. Anything. If you need anything that’s like a high-dollar item, a new four-wheeler—” Of course, that’s the first four-wheeler I ever had, was when I went to work for them. They’d just get it for you. A truck every four years. They’d just automatically put in for a new truck.
Ramsey Russell: You probably put some miles on them, didn’t you?
Warden: I put some miles on them, but some ones. Hard miles. It was just a pleasure to work for them. I would do it all over again.
Ramsey Russell: Do you look back in retirement, now, and feel like you made a good difference for the resource, for the people, for society?
Warden: I think I did. If not for the people, for the resource. Because I did work for that. I love wildlife, and I went out and did my job every day. I treated everybody the same. Didn’t matter if you were poor, rich, in politics, not in politics. And I treated every animal the same. Whether you killed a deer illegally or you killed a tee-tee bird illegally— If it was illegal and you did it and I caught you, you were going to get a ticket. It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t personal at all. I wasn’t God. I couldn’t decide whether you were telling me the truth or not. I wasn’t the judge. That was left up to the judge to make those decisions, not me. I’d just bring the case. You looked at it. I’ve lost some cases, don’t get me wrong. Very few, but I have lost a few cases that I really thought that I should have won, but I didn’t. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a great thing. I was not ready to retire, but, like I said, we had to. We were all like that. All the ones I worked with—none of us, I don’t think, were ready to retire. We all enjoyed our work.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you for being here. Folks, thank y’all for listening to another episode of Duck Season Somewhere. I hope y’all have enjoyed the stories and the message, today, as much as I have. Y’all join us next time. Thank y’all for listening.