From Game Warden Entertainment’s “Once More”
The day after Christmas turned out to be a very interesting day for me. Earlier in the year I had purchased a small farm which joins my farm. I had spent all day and most of the night painting and tying up loose ends to prepare the house for rent. When I finally finished and got back to my house, it was almost midnight. It had been a long day and I was very tired and was very much looking forward to going to bed. I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk. As my system started to relax, I decided to review my telephone messages which had been left that day. While my answering machine was replaying the day’s messages, I walked across the room and stood in front of the sliding glass door which connects the kitchen to a covered porch. I found myself relaxing as I gazed into the star lit night. I had been enjoying the peaceful view for only a few moments when the headlights of a slow moving vehicle got my attention. Adjoining my property is a state-maintained gravel road which is only about 40 feet from the back deck of my house. As the vehicle came closer to my house I could see that it was an older model pick-up truck.
As soon the truck past my house, it suddenly stopped. I thought “What are they up to”? I surmised that it must be some drunks riding around and they saw me standing in front of the sliding glass door and were trying to harass me. Even though I had never had that kind of problem before, it was the only answer I could come up with. Standing there puzzled, I told my wife, Linda, to cut the lights off in the room. I thought this action would frighten them and they would drive off.
Instead of leaving, the truck just sat there. I slid the glass door open and stepped out onto the dark deck. From where I stood, I could plainly see the truck. Inside the cab of the truck I could see movement but could not tell what they were doing. Then I saw what appeared to be a light come on inside the pick-up. Instead of the light being inside the cab of the truck, the driver was actually shining a dim handheld flashlight over the hood of the pickup truck and into my yard.
All of a sudden there was a small caliber gunshot. Now I was really concerned as I didn’t know where the shooter was aiming or where the bullet might go. The actions of the truck’s occupants had not only surprised and confused me but they were now really making me mad. I could not believe that they anyone had the audacity to stop in front of “my house” and shoot a firearm. Confused and angry, I continued to watch the truck. Then the passenger door opened and a man got out and ran up and into my yard. In the headlights of the truck, I saw him pick up a dead rabbit. He then walked back to the pick-up truck and threw the rabbit on the back of the truck. He then got back into the truck and they drove away.
I didn’t know who was in the truck; the one thing that I did know was that I was mad. No I was not just mad but really mad. I was so mad in fact; I was just about running in place. I opened the sliding glass door and yelled to my wife to run and get my gun belt. She handed me my gun belt as I grabbed my car keys. With both in hand, I ran out of the house to my patrol car. I started out after the truck as if in a high-speed pursuit. As I drove, I kept analyzing what just happened. The answer that kept going through my mind was; this was a load of drunks, who wanted to brag to their friends that they had killed a rabbit at night. Their brags would be even bigger because they could say they killed a rabbit at night out of the game warden’s yard. For the first time, I was experiencing what other landowners were feeling when they called me to complain about poachers disregarding their privacy and poaching wildlife on their land.
I was determined to stop these men. Since I could see a half mile up the road and the truck was not in sight, I just knew they were hauling freight to get out of the area. So I pushed even harder on the gas pedal. I was coming upon an intersection and I knew that I needed to make a decision soon as to which way to turn. Of coarse that decision would depend on which way I think they would have gone, so that I could follow them. Without slowing down I rounded the bend in the road and before I had to make the decision as to which road to take; there they were, right in front of me. In fact, I almost hit them in the rear. They were not racing away but instead were creeping along. Again I was caught by surprise. The “Sons of a Gun” were still road hunting.
I turned on the blue-lights & siren, grabbed my Game Warden’s Ball cap with its badge from the dash, my pistol from my gun belt and stepped out of my vehicle as soon as it stopped. I proceeded to the driver’s door of the truck and found it to be occupied by three adult men. They were a motley looking crew. Each was busy trying to hide their open beer cans and the far passenger was also trying to hide a rifle. I identified myself and gave them instructions to put their hands on the dash of the truck and not move. I then went around and took the rifle out of the truck. After unloading it, I placed it my vehicle. I got them out of the pickup truck and had them stand in front of my patrol vehicle’s lights. I asked for and got identification from each. As each handed me their driver’s license, I really didn’t look at the addresses on them. Instead I just stuck them into my pants pocket. I stepped over and shone my flashlight into the back of their truck. There laid my rabbit, among a pile of empty beer cans and an old tire.
I was upset thinking they knew where I lived and was trying to rub my nose in their flagrant game violations. So with some intensity, I told them “You know I can seize your truck, it can be confiscated, and you all can go to jail because what you have just done fits the serious spotlight and shoot deer section of our game laws.”
They all replied almost in unison, “Yes sir.”
I then told them to stay in the headlights of my patrol vehicle, as I went to call in the traffic stop to the dispatcher. I asked the dispatcher to run their Social Security numbers, truck tags, etc. to see if they were wanted for anything else. As the information started coming back from the dispatcher, for the first time I realized where they were from. It was not until then that I realize that they were from the adjoining county and perhaps they didn’t know that I lived where they had shot the rabbit.
The reply from the Sheriff’s Dispatcher told me that none of the three were wanted for anything. It is now 12:10 a.m. and it was my day off. Because I had been painting all day, I was very tired. I also knew that if I seized their truck and took them to jail, I would be processing them and the vehicle for the next three hours. Plus, they had been extremely cooperative so far, answering everything that I asked them, with either “Yes sir,” or “No sir”. I thought, I will let the driver make up my mind as to whether I am going to release them on summons or take them to jail. If the driver lies to me one time, about anything, I am going to seize the truck and impound it and they are going to jail.
I got the driver to get into my vehicle. I then told him this, “Right now, you have only been shooting rabbits, but I am not too sure that if a deer had been in your lights you would have shot it too”.
I was sure he was going to say, “No, sir, we wouldn’t shoot a deer.” I would then know that he was a liar and the truck would be leaving there attached to a wrecker and he and his buddies handcuffed in my patrol vehicle.
He looked over at me, and said “Well, Warden, you are right, right now we have only been shooting rabbits, but I can’t honestly say what we would have done if we had seen a deer. I think we would have shot the deer too.” I was shocked by his honesty.
I told him that because of his honesty, I would be willing to release them on summons and would workup a plea agreement with them, which would allow him to keep his truck. They agreed to pay $900.00 in fines and court costs. The firearm would be confiscated. They signed the summons and after I was confident that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol, I allowed them to leave in the truck, minus their rifle and my rabbit.
Three days later I was walking on the street in Harrisonburg, when I met a friend of mine. His first words to me were, “Frank, did you catch some guys shooting a rabbit in your yard last week?” I was surprised that he or anyone else had found out so soon. I replied, “Yeah, how did you know about that?” He replied, “Well, one of the guys you caught that night was telling one of his friends, who told me about it.” Now this bit of information had my interest. I asked, “Please tell me what you heard, I want to hear what their perspective of the night’s events was?”
My friend continued, “I will try to repeat it the way I heard it”. It was interesting watching him imitate the slow country slang of the culprit. “Well, we were up in Rockingham County, riding around and drinking some beers and shooting rabbits. Rockingham County- one of the biggest counties in the state- has over ninety thousand people- has only two game wardens and we had to pick one those “Son of a Bit*h’s” yards to shoot a rabbit out of.”
I laughed and then took a minute to tell him what had actually happened. It wasn’t long before the story was all across the county. Later that month when we went to court, we just happened to have a substitute judge sitting on the bench that day. The court room was still full of people when the judge called the cases. Since we had a plea agreement, as the judge read each charge, they plead guilty and I gave the recommended fine. When he finished the last charge, I said “Judge, the Commonwealth also asks for confiscation of the firearm.” Now the judge was familiar with the code sections that they were charged under which normally doesn’t include confiscation of the firearms. So he looked at the subjects, and asked “When you and the officer were making this plea agreement, did you know that the officer was going to ask for confiscation of the firearm?” The driver replied, “Well, Judge, the warden did say that the gun would be confiscated.” I could tell that the judge was still not convinced that he should take the rifle. Neither the judge nor the court room full of people had heard any evidence in the case because of the plea agreement. Up until now, they had only heard the charge, the fine, and now the request for confiscation of the firearm. The courtroom was extremely quiet as the judge contemplated his decision. I felt that the judge should know more about the case? So I said, “Judge, they did shoot the rabbit in my yard as I watched.” The judge and courtroom broke into laughter.
The judge looked at me and said” Well, officer, in that case we will take that firearm.” After court and as I was on my way home, I recapped the case. Their total fines and court costs were $900.00. I estimated the rabbit weighed approximately two pounds, which works out to be about $450.00 a pound. That’s a right expensive price to pay for a piece of meat, especially when you don’t get to eat it.
The sportsman magazine, “FIELD AND STREAM”, got word of this case and in their June, 1992 issue, did a small story, which I think sums it up with their title for this article,
“DESTINED TO BE CAUGHT”