From Game Warden Entertainment’s “The Next Book”
This experience happened many years ago. During this time, all Game Wardens in Virginia were required to work a minimum of forty-eight hours and were on call seven days a week. With the officers working so many hours, it was necessary for them to spend a lot of time at the local sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office was usually located in the county jail building. This location was a convenience to the warden by having the radio dispatcher and magistrate’s office situated together. The magistrates are the people responsible for either bonding (releasing) or jailing prisoners. It also was a good place to get a cup of coffee. Another perk of being around the sheriff s office so much was, if you were there during daylight hours, you could sometimes get your patrol vehicle cleaned up by some of the prisoners.
The prisoners who cleaned your vehicle and did other chores around the jail were called “trustys” (Yes, it is spelled correctly.) These trustys are very important to the operation of the jail because they provide cheap labor. Some duties included cooking and delivering meals to prisoners in their cells, doing cleaning, laundry and cleaning buildings to name a few. To become a jail trusty is an earned designation. To earn this designation, it is very important that the sheriff trusts you neither to be a threat to personal safety nor to escape. They are also required to obey orders and not cause any problems. If you fulfilled all the required stipulations, then you might be considered for a coveted trusty position. In return for their work, trustys are given some liberties that other prisoners do not receive. They are able to be out of their cells during certain times of the day. They are also allowed to walk around in certain areas of the jail at their own pleasure. Another benefit earned as a trusty is three days off their original sentence for every two served. This story concerns a trusty named Hank. Trusty Hank had befriended the new game warden who also was named Hank. They bonded for several reasons. Of course, there’s the obvious sharing of the first name. Second, the new Game Warden Hank had always treated the trusty well.
For instance, anytime they were together, Hank would talk and listen to trusty Hank’s stories and concerns. Also, if trusty Hank washed Warden Hank’s patrol car, the warden would buy him a drink. He also put money in his canteen fund for snacks later. (Game Warden) Hank didn’t have to tip because trustys were expected to wash patrol cars anyway.
Well, over time, the two Hanks developed a unique relationship. The story begins the first day of early duck season many years ago. Game Warden Hank had arrived at the jail to meet one of his fellow Game Wardens. They were going to check the river for people duck hunting.
To make this a little less confusing, I will “pretend” that I am Game Warden Hank. I will write this in first person, we will now have to call trusty Hank “Frank” as well. To continue, I had walked up to the heavy steel door of the jail and buzzed to be let in. The door was soon opened by a jailer. After I walked into the jail, the heavy steel door shut behind me. The very first person I saw inside, besides the jailer, was trusty Frank.
Trusty Frank walked up to me and asked, “Frank, how are you doing today?”
“Fine,” I replied.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” he asked.
“Yes, that would be great,” I answered.
As the trusty walked over to the coffee pot, he asked, “What are you doing all dressed up in camouflage clothes?”
I answered, “Well I’m going to meet Game Warden Stipper here, and he and I are going to work duck hunting today. I might even hunt a little, too.”
Trusty Frank was well known as a person who grew up hunting wild game both legally and illegally. It was said that he could skin a deer lying on its back on the ground in the dark faster than a man could skin one hanging up in the daylight. The thought of hunting excited prisoner Frank. “Can I go with you and Warden Stipper to work duck hunting?” he asked.
“Frank, you can’t go with me; the sheriff will never let you go with us,” I stated.
“Yes, he will,” he answered.
I responded, “Frank, you are in here for murder, the sheriff won’t let you go.” Frank was convicted of killing a man in a fight at the local county fair. Frank and the man he was fighting both were drunk. Frank had hit him with nothing more than his hands but the man died. When Frank was not drinking, he was one of the nicest people you could ever meet. The court had given him a lO-year jail sentence for second-degree murder. He was only in the local jail until a bed space opened up for him in one of the state prisons.
Trusty Frank, with assertion said, “The sheriff will let me go.”
I knew there was no way the sheriff would permit a prisoner who was in jail for murder to go out on a boat with Stipper and me, especially since we would have guns. I thought, well this is a good time for me to make extra points with trusty Frank. The best part was it wouldn’t cost me anything. Looking at Frank, I said, “Frank, if the sheriff will let you go with us, then, by golly, you can go with us.”
The face on the trusty lit up. Then, only seconds after I had made the statement, someone buzzed the door. The jailer unlocked and opened the door. In walked the sheriff.
No sooner was the door shut than trusty Frank went over to where the sheriff stood. “Sheriff, Frank and Warden Stipper are going down to the river and work duck hunting. They said that I can go with them if it’s all right with you.”
The sheriff looked at Frank and then at me and he said, “Well, I don’t see any reason why you can’t.”
I could not believe what I had just heard. Frank jumped up and hollered. I just stood there in silence. My thoughts were soon broken as, again, someone was buzzing the door. This time, the jailer let my fellow Warden Stipper, through the door. He looked at me and asked, “Are you ready to go?”
I said, “Yes.”
Looking at Frank, I said, “Come on Frank, let’s go.”
With Frank in tow, I walked past Stipper and headed out the door. Stipper looked at me with that “What the h_ll is going on” look.
Looking at Stipper, I just said, “Don’t ask any questions. I will take full responsibility.” Now, I am one who would rather take a serious reprimand than go back on my word.
We walked out to where Stipper’s patrol car and boat were parked. As Stipper unlocked the doors, I placed my equipment in the trunk and told trusty Frank, who was in his prison clothes, to get in the back seat. He never batted an eye, I guess by now he was used to being transported in the back seat of a patrol car.
I got into the front passenger’s seat. I then turned around and looked back at Frank. I said, half-serious and half in jest, “Frank, if you run or cause me any kind of trouble at all, I am going to shoot you. It won’t matter what I do to you because my job as a Game Warden will probably be gone anyway.”
Frank looked at me and said, “Heck man, I’m not going to give you any trouble I’m really thankful that you are letting me go with you.”
Stipper started the car and quickly drove to the boat landing. Upon arrival Frank was like a young kid on his first boating trip. We had asked a deputy sheriff if he would help us shuttle our vehicle to the take out point. Trusty Frank was all around the vehicle and boat as he helped us load and put the boat into the water. Trusty Frank and I waited while Warden Stipper followed the deputy to our take-out boat landing. Stipper would leave his patrol car and boat trailer there for our return trip back. While they were gone, Frank and I had a nice conversation about hunting.
It was not long before Stipper and the deputy returned. Afterthanking the deputy for his assistance, we headed for the boat. Stippergot in and moved to the back of the boat. He would operate the motor. After putting a life preserver on Frank, he got in next and sat in the middle.
I decided to help our duck-hunting disguise. I would hunt a little. I set my shotgun on the floor of the boat and pushed us off. If anyone saw us floating down the river, it would just look like two duck hunters, yeah, two duck hunters with a prisoner. Something you see every day while hunting. Right! I sometimes wonder what a duck hunter might have thought if we had stopped to check him. I guess if asked why we had a person in prison apparel in our boat, I could have answered, “We caught this man hunting without a hunting license, he’s under arrest. If we catch anyone violating any of our laws, we immediately put them under arrest and in prison clothes before we lock them up in jail.”
Then, while watching their face, I could ask, “Do you have a hunting license?”
I’m sure their expression would be priceless. Well, enough of these thoughts, back to the hunt, I mean “duck patrol.”
As we floated, I mean patrolled, I quickly killed three ducks. The limit during this early season was four ducks. We floated for several more miles. It seemed any ducks we saw now were flushing way ahead of us and out of shotgun range. We had approximately two miles to go before we would arrive at our take out point. I had wanted to kill my last duck as I had promised a little ole lady the ducks, if I killed any. (Yeah right)
Looking ahead, I could see several ducks swimming ahead of us. I told Stipper, “Let me out, and I will walk down the bank and jump shoot my last duck.”
Stipper eased over to the bank and I got out. I almost handed Frank my shotgun as I struggled to get up the steep bank. I guess the color of his “hunting clothes” quickly reminded me that I shouldn’t.
Well, anyway, I got out and walked down the riverbank. Stipper and Frank stayed in the boat. I had gone about 100 yards down river when I saw two mallard drakes flying up the river. They were about 75 yards out. I aimed at the front one that was about 15 feet ahead of the second one. When I fired, the second duck fell like a sack of potatoes.
To shoot at the front duck and miss, then to kill the second one that I was not aiming at, was uncanny to me. As I watched the duck fall, it just blew my mind. First I was shocked, then I was impressed and finally, I thought it was down right funny.
As the duck hit the water, I heard Trusty Frank exclaim, “Good God, what a shot, I ain’t never saw a shot like that!”
Then Stipper started the boat, and he and Trusty Frank rode out and retrieved the freshly fallen duck. They were still admiring my last kill as they pulled up to my location on the riverbank. The way Stipper and Frank were talking, you would have thought I had made a superior shot that won the Olympic gold. I just looked at them and grinned. They thought I was being quiet about the shot because I was being humble. I felt that I couldn’t talk without laughing.
To me, this just made it even funnier. Especially, since I knew the truth about the “shot.”
The remainder of the trip was a continuation of how great the shot was. I would just look at them and grin. Then they would get quiet, then start again about never seeing a shot like that before. We were soon at our take-out point. It only took several minutes to load the boat onto the trailer. I think the efficiency was because, for a short time, they did not talk about the shot. We were soon in the patrol car on our way back to the jail.
While driving back, trusty Frank said, “After seeing that shot, I’m sure glad, I didn’t run.”
I just looked at him, grinned, and said, “You and me, both.”
The trip back to the jail went without incident, except Stipper and trusty Frank kept reliving the “shot.” When we arrived at the jail, I have to admit it felt good to have our prisoner/hunting companion at the jail and out of my charge. It was ironic that the first person we saw after we returned was the sheriff. The sheriff looked at trusty Frank and asked him if he had a good time?
After answering, “Yes,” trusty Frank had to tell the sheriff about my last shot.
It was hard for me to stand there and be quiet. To me the best story was the truth about the shot. I could not stand it anymore. I had to tell them the truth about the shot. I went over the shot step by step. I described how I had shot at the lead duck and killed the back duck. Their reaction to my version was not what I expected.
They just said, “Sure that’s the way it happened, we saw the shot.” I don’t really think that they believe me yet today. I guess by the time I told them the truth they wouldn’t accept it.
Well today, I am still known there for that unbelievable duck shot. I am so very glad that my claim to fame is for my shot that killed the duck and not a shot at an escaping duck hunter.
I guess you could say “trusty Frank really was a trustee, after all.”