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Texas USA

Tales Game Wardens Tell

Love notes, kangaroos and Hurricane Katrina

Last fall, more than 100 veteran game wardens retired from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, taking with them many centuries of combined experience, an abiding respect for our state’s natural resources, and some darned entertaining on-the-job anecdotes. We decided to chat with a few veteran game wardens, some recently retired, and let them share a few of their favorite tales.

“You see people do some very strange things.”

That’s how Bill Blackburn of Llano County summarizes his years in the field. As an example, he tells of sitting on top of a hill—just watching and waiting, as wardens often do—when a truck passed by, turned around, came back, and finally stopped. Blackburn was observing classic poacher behavior through binoculars.

“I thought, ‘Well, they’re getting ready to shoot,’” he recalls. “But this woman got out, and she walked over to the fence, and I saw her put something under a rock.”

Blackburn didn’t think much of it at the time, but curiosity eventually got the best of him. He says, “I looked under that rock and it was a plastic bag that had a letter in it—a love letter to some guy. Apparently, it was an extramarital affair.”

More than just a fling, too. “For about, heck, three or four months, every time I’d go by there, I’d check under that rock, and I’d find letters from him and I’d find letters from her. I thought about putting my own letter under there, but I never did.”

Bobby Fenton, the game warden in Blanco County for 23 years, received a peculiar call from the sheriff’s department: A loose kangaroo was causing problems on U.S. Highway 281 south of Blanco.

“The deputies had been chasing that thing up and down the bar ditches for hours,” Fenton says.

When he arrived on the scene, Fenton attempted to tie the animal up, but he quickly learned how pugnacious a kangaroo can be. “He jumped over my head, and when he came down, he ripped my nose and pulled my badge off my shirt. I finally got him in a headlock, and his little old hand was reaching up, trying to get my eyes, so I bit him in the hand. I thought if he could’ve got out my car keys, he probably would’ve drove off. I look back at the deputies to get some help, and they’re laughing and taking pictures.”

Jim Lindeman of Lampasas County has a warning for poachers: “You never know where we’ll appear.”

He proved it when he snuck up on three men who’d spotlighted and shot a deer in the middle of the night.

“The gate was locked and I didn’t have a key, so I walked in about a quarter mile and got to the camp about the same time they did.”

At that point, Lindeman wasn’t certain what the men had shot, so he watched from a discreet distance as the men enjoyed a few adult beverages around the campfire. Then they lowered the tailgate to their truck and pulled out an eight-point buck.

“Two guys were holding the legs and one was field-dressing it. He kept complaining about the light. ‘Man, I need light. I can’t see.’”

Lindeman kept inching toward them, and when the man complained again about the lack of light, Lindeman turned on his flashlight and said, “Does this help any?”

“I thought those two guys [holding the legs] were going to have a heart attack.”

The man with the knife managed to keep his cool. “He said, ‘Officer, would you like me to keep field-dressing your deer?’ I said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t mind. You’re doing a good job.’”

Not all of the game wardens’ stories are purely amusing; some are simply heartwarming.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, more than 100 Texas game wardens contributed to relief efforts in New Orleans, eventually rescuing about 5,000 people stranded by floodwaters. Maj. Butch Shoop was in charge of on-the-ground operations.

“We didn’t have long to prepare,” he said. “They told us we were going over there one night, and we left the next morning.”

The wardens’ initial task was to remove patients from hospitals that had lost power—an undertaking that was delayed by sniper fire. Eventually, the wardens got their chance. “We cleaned out three hospitals, and I mean got everybody. We loaded those folks up in our trucks and in boats, and there were about 50 ambulances we took them to.”

“The best thing I did while I was there, a little girl came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Butch, my grandmother is over in a [bad] area and wants to come out.’ I sent two airboats and two gunners, and we rescued that 80-something-year-old lady. [Her photo is] on my screensaver. That’s my one claim to fame, as I call it. I was as proud of getting her out as I was of getting anybody.”

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Ben Rehder writes comic mystery novels with a Texas twang.