IN MY 20 YEARS AS AN OUTDOOR WRITER, one of my great pleasures has been meeting and getting to know the men and women who serve as wardens of the Enforcement Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard fellow anglers complain and rail about their experiences with wardens. The talk of woe usually revolves around a spot check that a game warden conducts, and more often than not, it results in a ticket.
“That trout was 15 inches when I put it in the cooler. He didn’t have to give me a ticket over a lousy ¼ inch.”
“I didn’t know the kids had gotten at my fire extinguisher and used it up. He didn’t have to give me a ticket over an empty fire extinguisher.”
“I don’t know how that extra red got in the cooler.”
“My fishing license was in my wallet. I just left it in the truck.”
The refrains are different, but the song is usually the same. Too many times, the recollection of the experience is not positive, and ends with a ticket.
On a handful of occasions, an angler might say a few positive things about game wardens, some even shake hands when the boarding is over. More often than not, however, the storyteller closes with something along the lines of, “don’t they have better things to do than bother fishermen?”
Humph. You’d think what they were doing was pretty important.
The funny thing is, there is always a reason for the ticket, never a trumped-up charge (although there was the one wag who told me that a game warden took out a perfectly legal redfish out of the cooler and flexed and stretched it until it was an untagged 28 ½ inches long).
I have never heard of an unjustified ticket. I even received a ticket from a warden (I left my boat registration card in—you guessed it—my truck). As much as I hated to pay it, I can’t dispute the writing of it.
Honestly, I believe we all need to ease up on the job that game wardens do. Plenty of people seem to fail to appreciate what they do.
These same men and women who catch heat for writing tickets for everything from short trout to missing floatation cushions are charged to enforce not just the game laws of the State of Texas, but ALL the laws of the Lone Star State.
If they stumble on a meth lab while inspecting a deer lease, they make arrests. If they stumble on some fugitive with a felony warrant while conducting a safety check, they make an arrest. If they happen upon some lowlife smuggling drugs along the Rio Grande, they make an arrest.
They have the same duties as any other law enforcement officers, but they don’t seem to get the credit. Instead, all too often they get disrespect, criticism, and derision. Even so, they do their jobs with professionalism, aplomb, and tact. They behave just like every other officer of the law.
They also bleed just like other officers. Since 1919, more than 20 Texas Parks and Wildlife agents have died in the line of duty. By anyone’s tally, that is still too many. These men had families and friends who mourned their loss.
To them, these weren’t nit-picking snoops who were looking for any reason to write a ticket. These were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, best friends and confidants who paid the ultimate price while serving all of us. Like all others who dedicate their lives to public duty, their service can’t be measured, and no gratitude is enough.
If the cold numbers don’t drive the point home, let me share a story relayed to me by a retired agent. He had been patrolling the back roads north of La Joya, Texas when he came upon a pickup truck parked on the side of the road.
As he shined his light on the vehicle, he could see the driver moving around in the truck. That little buzz in the back of his head that every law enforcement officer has, began to ring. He drew his weapon and ordered the driver to stay in his vehicle with his hands out the window until backup arrived. An Hidalgo County Deputy Sheriff finally arrived. The warden and the deputy proceeded to order the driver out of the truck and to eat caliche.
When the driver stepped out, a .45 automatic fell out of his lap. When the deputy searched the vehicle, he found an AK-47 with an extended magazine—a “Cuerno de Chivo”—in the passenger’s seat. Both the warden and the deputy surmised that he was waiting to pick up a load of narcotics when they happened upon him.
The scary part, the warden said, was that the guy had him dead to rights. No windshield of a TPW vehicle is going to stop a .45 slug or a 7.62×39 fired from an AK. When he asked the suspect why he didn’t try and shoot it out, the man simply said that he was under orders not to shoot an American LEO.
When we stop to consider what these men and women mean to us, it would be a shame to have to read a news story about a game warden being shot on some lonely ranch road. Or hear about a warden who drowned while coming to the aid of anglers in distress—a real shame.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]