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Mike Bradshaw

INTERVIEWEE: Mike Bradshaw (MB)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: February 22, 2006
LOCATION: Carrizo Springs, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Candice Holland and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2362 and 2363

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 22, 2006 and we’re just outside Carrizo Springs in South Texas and have the good fortune to be visiting with Mike Bradshaw, who’s a Texas Game Warden, who served for the State Texas Parks and Wildlife for over 30 years, involved in all sorts of cases, expert in surveillance and forensics. And we have a lot to talk about. I wanted to take this chance to thank you for spending time with us.
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MB: Well, the pleasure’s all mine.
DT: I thought we might start by asking you if there were some experiences as a child that might have suggested that you were interested in wildlife, wildlife protection in the outdoors, any sort of starting point there for you?
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MB: Well, I was raised on a farm and ranch combination in the northern part of Dimmit County here. We moved out there when I was 5 years old. And so, I’ve always been around farm animals and have had experiences with all the domestic livestock and we farmed too and had a truck farm. And it was there that I learned to hunt as a young man.
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And—and my Dad took me dove hunting when I was 8 years old. And a man named Fred Burns bought me my first shotgun. It was a 410 and I remember I shot several shots before I ever knocked a dove down but I thought that was just great that I could hit a dove as it flew by. So, I was hooked on hunting then at that early age. And—and each year my dad would have some of his friends out and they would always include me and the other men would bring their sons out. So, we’d have a father/son hunt out there. And I really grew to appreciate that. And at age 4, I guess I met my first game warden. My
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grandfather was a policeman up in Uvalde, Texas and his friend was W.A. Gentry, the game warden there. And in those days game wardens bought their own automobiles. And I remember game warden Gentry wanted to take me and my grandpa Bass fishing out to a tank somewhere north of Uvalde. I still see that tank as I drive by it, by the way, it’s still there. And so, when I got in the back seat, Gentry carried a big old Doberman dog with him. That dog was licking me in the face and I was kind of scared to do anything to that dog but he made it sit over there on its own side. And—and that was my
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first experience with a game warden and he took me fishing. So I thought, you know, hey this game warden stuff’s all right. I think I’d like a job like this and of course, it’s—it’s not all hunting and fishing but you’re dealing with those kind of people all the time and—and so there’s a great deal of job satisfaction there.
DT: I think as young man, maybe as a teenager, you had some visits and tours with game warden Jim Pon and I was wondering if he helped you decide that this might be a career that you might want to pursue?
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MB: You know, when we were about—when I was about 15, we moved to a new place near Jim Pon’s house. And we hadn’t even finished our house or moved in when Jim Pon and his wife Pauline came driving up, welcomed us to the neighborhood. And—and Jim kind of sized me up there and he was—he loved kids and so, he said “Maybe you’d like to go riding with me some time” and I said “Yeah, I’d—I’d really like to do that Mr. Pon.” Said “Well, this winter I’ll come by and pick you up” so, I waited and sure enough during hunting season, he called one time and said “You want to go riding
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with me tonight?” And well I readily accepted. I think I was about 15 then. So, I got in the car with him and we drove out to Zavala County up at a place called Cometa, which is just kind of an old—old community there in Zavala County. And we were sitting up on this hill and we were overlooking the Pendencia Creek watershed at the one direction and back to the Comanche Creek watershed to the other way. And about one o’clock in
the morning, we had a spot light hit the air and Jim picked up his field glasses and said “Uh huh.” And of course I didn’t know what that meant. That’s first spot light I think I’d seen from the other side of one anyway and—and so he said “Alright, go down there and open the gate.” So, I opened the gate and away we went. And I was amazed that he could see so well in the dark. I thought he could see like an owl and we went off down there and—and went about three or four miles maybe slipping up on this spotlight and
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went to an old orchard and the—the gate was left open. We drove down a side road and found where the men had left the gate unlocked and we drove in without lights. And we could still see the—the light every now and then. They’d hit the air down there and it was—oh it was as dark as pitch that night. And Jim said we’re going to take it on foot from here on and—so, we took it on foot then went up into kind of over a rise. They were on the other side there and we could here this car straining and it would back up and they cou—they couldn’t go anywhere. And it sounded like they were hung up on
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something. Well, what had actually happened is—is the guys were spotlighting and were so busy looking down that beam of the spotlight for a deer that they had neglected there—to stay on the road and had driven over an old fence that had fallen down. And they balled that barbed wire up around the drive shaft on the station wagon and they were underneath trying to cut the wire off. And so, we walked up a little closer and I could hear them banging down there and—and I didn’t think they were going to hear me and I cleared my throat and Pon put his hand on me and said “Shhh, be quiet.” And we didn’t
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hear another sound. And we listened and listened. He said “I think they’ve gone.” So, we went down there and sure enough man, there’s some deep tracks and they’re far apart where these guys had taken off running. I mean they bolted like a herd of jackasses out there and took off. And, of course, I felt bad and—and Jim didn’t—he didn’t jump on me too bad. He says “Well, and—you got to be real quiet when we’re doing this game warden work.” And so, he took me down and said “You stay on this road here and I’m
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going to watch the other road, maybe they’ll come walking back. And I said “Well, what am I supposed to do if they come walking back?” He said, “Well, you just tell them the game warden wants to see them.” I said “Well, alright.” And of course, part of me was hoping that they wouldn’t come and the other part of me was hoping that well, maybe I could somehow redeem myself and—and catch these guys. And—and Pon reached over and took his .357 magnum out and said “Here, said take this, put it in your coat pocket.
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Don’t tell anybody you got it. Use it only for self defense, don’t show the guys this thing but case something happens you might need it but you just tell them I want to see them. They know who I am.” Said “Okay” and he probably only left me there for an hour but it seemed like all night. And I waited and waited and finally I heard a car coming without lights and it was Old Jim. He came back and picked me up so, we stayed out the rest of the night and about eight o’clock that morning, well, he had them—he figured out who they were and knew who all the—the occupants of the vehicle were and who they were.
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And we went by the house and—and talked to one of the guys, got a confession out of him and Jim wrote him a ticket. He was a young college student there trying to get a little meat to take back to the college. So, they all paid their fines and I learned a good lesson from that now, whenever I’m slipping up on anybody I try to be as quiet as a mouse peeing on a bale of cotton.
DT: So, you told us a little about a teenager experience for you riding with game warden Jim Pon, I understand that later he actually became your partner is the correct?
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MB: Yeah, that right.
DT: Can you tell how your career began actually as a game warden?
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MB: Well, he got me a job as a Deputy Game Warden. And a Deputy Game Warden works—they call them free service wardens and you work without pay from the state. And usually a rancher or a group of ranchers pay the salary of that Deputy Warden and he’s assigned a certain area to work. And so I worked one season say from October to February for Jim Pon. And we were waiting for an upcoming game warden school and they weren’t having one come up any time soon. So the sheriff offered me a job. And so, I went to work as a deputy sheriff here in Dimmit County and then later up in Concho
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County around Paint Rock and were—was there. And finally had an interview in San Angelo, Texas and was hired and got in the game warden school. And then when I graduated there was an opening back here in Dimmit County. And I was the only one in the school who wanted it and was fortunate enough to be stationed back here in Carrizo Springs.
DT: What year was this?
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MB: That was in May of 1973, I was graduated from the school.
DT: And, so you came back here and then a sort of apprenticed as a junior partner to Game Warden Pon? How did you first get your experience within the Parks and Wildlife Department?
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MB: Well, when I came back here, Jim Pon of course, was a senior partner and I—I can’t say enough about a young warden going into a—a county and having an older warden here as a partner because Jim kept me out of all kinds of trouble I’m sure. He was like a—a—a set of encyclopedias. If I needed to know something about game wardening, I could call Jim day or night and he worked a lot with me. And we tracked and cut sign and we checked hunting camps and we patrolled on the river and we did all these things that—that we were supposed to do. And it was just a real pleasure having an old partner like that who knew his way around. And so, he really made me look good. And in fact a lot of cases if we would a—arrest someone Jim would say “You go ahead and write the tickets” and all the—and—really didn’t want to take credit for it. He was that kind of guy.
DT: Well, can you remember some of the early cases that you worked with him on?
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MB: Well, I can remember one case. Yeah, I think it was my first deer season in fact. Jim and I were riding together and we were in the southern end of the county and Mrs. Pon called us on the radio. And said “Jim, ya’ll need to get over to the Light Ranch. Mr. Light just called and said that his cowboys had seen a woman let a man out of the car and he’s gone into the Peloncia Ranch.” And so, Jim and I went over there and this is old man Light and he was a—about 70 years old then, I think. And—and he had some of his hands there and—and they were telling us that—giving us a description of the car and
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telling us about the man they saw walk out into the pasture. And the Peloncia Ranch is a big ranch. It’s like 107,000 acres. And this man had walked out into the McGay pasture out there. So, Pon said “Well come on.” So, we went out there and crawled threw the fence and sure enough it was sandy land so it was good sign cutting and tracking out there. And the freeze had knocked the grass down and they had cattle in there. So, there wasn’t a whole lot of grass and it was good tracking. And we tracked this man out into the pasture for oh, probably a half mile. And Jim said “Now, look at this” and he’s pointing all these things out to me. Said “Now, look here you can tell where this guy’s knelt down here, you can see his tracks, where his knees have poked into the dirt here. And look at that, that looks like maybe a butt of a rifle laying down here, maybe he put his weight on that.” And so, I’m taking it all in, you know, and said “This guy’s rattling
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deer.” And for—case you don’t know what that means, that’s clashing deer antlers together during the buck’s rutting season and it—and it brings other bucks to come maybe try to take the doe away. And so we followed these tracks way out into the ranch maybe a—maybe a mile and a half or so. And we could tell from the sign that the man was kneeling down and—and rattling out there. So, Jim had the idea well, maybe we ought to go back up here on the hill and just wait because this fellow could bend around way back to the south and come out on a different highway. Maybe on the Laredo
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highway, we didn’t know. So, we thought maybe that’s—maybe that’s what to do. So, we came back and got in his car and went over to the Briggs Ranch and got up on a—on a hill over there, overlooking the pasture down there in the Peloncia. And there was—Briggs had a security man named William Rodgers who was sitting there with us. And the longer we sat there and the closer to sunset it got, the more we started theorizing which way this man got—might go. And Jim had the idea that maybe I ought to go into town while he sat there waiting and try to find this man’s wife. And hopefully she would
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cooperate and—and maybe tell us where her husband was and—and maybe help us get him out of the brush. So, William took me into town and—and these people operated a small store in town. So, I went up there and this woman was just as busy as she could be there working in the store. And she saw me walking in and she kind of disappeared back in an office. And I could tell she was looking at me through a one way glass there. So, I thought I’d out wait her and I waited around there and ate me an Eskimo Pie and she still
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didn’t come out. So, finally I told the cashier there that I needed to see the—the lady. And so she came out and I said “I need to talk to you’re husband.” She said “Well, he’s gone.” And I said “Yeah, he’s gone hunting, hasn’t he—hasn’t he?” And she said, “Well, yes.” And I said “He’s down there in that Peloncia Ranch too, isn’t he?” And she said “Well, yes sir.” And I said “Well, you know what’s going to happen if he falls down and breaks a leg well, the hogs might eat him down there and besides that, a lot can happen to man out there at night. And it’s going to get real cold tonight and the best
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thing you can do is help me get him out. I said, but otherwise you’re not going to be able to get him out. And if you go down there to pick up you can be charged with a crime too. We’d like to have your cooperation.” So, she thought about it and she was really caught in a tight place. And she didn’t want to give her husband up but she just didn’t know what else to do. And so, she said “Okay.” And she said “I need to get a—we’ve got a friend that was going to ride down there with me to pick him up.” And I said, “That’s—that’s a real good idea.” I knew she wouldn’t—she wouldn’t try to say that anything had
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happened but I think it was smart having a—another person along. And so, we got this other person to drive and the wife sat in the back of the car and I sat in the front and we drove down to Caterina and we were going to try to get the man out of the brush. And she said “He’ll have a mark on the fence.” Well, before we got there and unknown to me, Jim Pon was still back there at the Briggs Ranch. And some of Mr. Latch paid hunters, lease hunters, were there. I think they were from Louisiana, and they had run out
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of beer and they decided they’d make a beer run into Asherton, Texas. And they came by and went into Asherton made their purchase and came back and one of them had a spotlight. They didn’t have any guns in the car but they had this spotlight. And they drove right by Jim Pon shining this spotlight out in all directions around the car and as they moved along and so that kind of put Pon in a dilemma. He didn’t know whether to stay put or follow these spotlighters. So, he thought well, I’ll fall in behind them with my lights out. And so as these guys rolled along, not too fast, they were driving down the
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road. Well, Jim Pon was trailing them about 400 yards behind in the darkness there. And so, the man who was waiting for his wife to pick him up was down there. And he’d killed this big buck. It had like, oh, sixteen points on it. And it was a really nice buck and he’d cut the head off, he’d caped it out. In other words, cut the hide around the shoulders and pulled the hide forward and cut the head and neck off and let—let the meat rot. And he came out and was laying in the grass beside the bar ditch there. And when the car went by shining the spotlight that scared him because he said they shined that
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light all over him and then he raised up and something caught his eye off to the side. And he looked and—and here came a game warden car by with lights out. And so that really got his heart beating then. And so, anyway, moments later, we came driving up and she says, “There’s his mark on the fence.” And we kind of drove by it and made a u-turn and here that guy came. He was—he had a little age on him he was—and he was carrying a sharp barrel, a little .222 Mohawk rifle and a Remington 600, I remember and—and had
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this cape and head over his shoulders, came really running down there. And I sat there in the car. Well, the driver was very nervous and he kind of pulled past the guy and I couldn’t get the door open and get out. By the time that the—the man was right there on the door pulling it open well, I had my hat off, it was laying in the floor board there. And the guy—and I had on a jacket that didn’t have any of these—these blue patches on the side and it was just a plain jacket. And he opened that door and he didn’t recognize me.
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He told me, he said “Move over, the game warden are right down the road.” So, I said, “Well where is he?” And he said, “Right down the road.” And he—it started dawning on him that something wasn’t right and he bent down, way down and looked in that car and we’ll delete the expletives but he—he said something that wasn’t very nice and—and turned around and started walking off. And I got out and caught him by the—by the elbow. I said, “Here, hold on.” And he got kind of mad at his wife for bringing me out there but he got over it. So, I remember he—we went right in, paid his fine and it was all
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over with. I never did bring it up around the man but his friends just wouldn’t let it die and they love bringing it up, especially in a coffee shop. They’d have to tell that story on him and—and the funny thing about it is that guy I—I consider him a good friend nowadays because always—I—I treated him right.
DT: You told us a couple of stories about deer hunting, were there any cases that you made with game Warden Pon on Dove hunting maybe?
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MB: Yes, we made a lot of good dove cases here. You know, dove hunting used to be half day season until they changed it to all day hunting. And the—the dove hunting was a lot of—lot of fun in those days because it was pretty intense for a half day and then game wardens could go home and eat supper and then go out and work deer hunters at night. And the state got a lot more of production out of their men that way. They could work large game animals at night and dove hunters in the afternoons. Jim picked me up one day and—and we went over to the Big Wells area, had a lot of doves that year. We’d had a lot of rains in August and the croton seed really pops out over in that sandy
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country if you get the rains just right. And the Mourning Doves had moved in there, I mean by the thousands, and the tanks had water in them and we had lots of—of doves flying around there. And—and so, we were trying to decide which bunch that we were going to hike in on. You can’t drive in on a marked car because these dove hunters throw the doves and—or they’ll have somebody down there by the gate. So, stealth is really the by-word for game wardens. You must be stealthy if you’re going to make cases and
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probably no other agencies use stealth like game wardens across the nation do. And so, we decided to hide the car and hike in. And there was an old stock tank over there. They had doves just circling that thing and it was still oh, maybe ten minutes of legal shooting time left. You can always tell how a dove hunter is doing too. If you hear—if they’re shooting automatics and you hear three shots and then another three shots and another
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three shots, they’re probably not hitting but when you hear a single shot and another single and a single, you can just about bet that that hunter is—is hitting what he’s shooting at. He’s not wasting any shells. And we were hearing a lot of single shots over there and—and so, we decided that maybe these guys going—maybe they’ll be a little over the bag. So, we walked in there and I went one way around the tank and Jim went the other. And there were two men out there. They were looking around for their doves. It was real high grass and—and they couldn’t find all their doves. So, finally the two
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men walked around to my side and—and they—just as they were getting ready to leave, a duck flew over. It wasn’t duck season and one of the two raised up and shot the duck and it fell down out in the grass. And they walked around and looked around for the duck a little bit, didn’t find it and they came on up my side of the tank they had to walk threw the brush and meander around out there probably for a few hundred yards. And I finally got to them and—and checked them and little bit—they—they were right on the limit too, by the way. And each had their license and one was an insurance man and the other
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one was a district judge. And they were from the Houston/Galveston area. I don’t remember which one was from which but over in that area anyway. And you could tell which one was the judge because he was obviously in charge there. And Pon came walking up in a few minutes and he had this duck in his hand and he said “Which one of you men shot this duck?” and they got real quiet. And Jim just sat there just looking at them and—and the—the judge kind of shuffled his feet a little bit and he looked over at
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this little insurance guy and finally he said “The man wants to know who shot the duck.” And the insurance guy said “Well, I guess I did, yes sir—I did.” So, he—he paid the fine for shooting that duck and we’ve always had a laugh about that. We’ve had our suspicions but we don’t really know who shot the duck but it was—it’s fun to speculate about who might of shot it.
DT: This previous case you told us about between the insurance salesman and the judge involved a Mourning Dove shoot and then of course the duck hunt. Can you tell us about white wing dove hunting and maybe some poaching problems there?
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MB: Yes, Dimmit County here has always been one of the special White Wing Counties, where in the 70’s and 80’s, white wing could be hunted in the first two weekends of September. And in the rest of the state, the season was closed. And they would send wardens across the state down to the big dove shoot down in the Rio Grande Valley and hunters from acr—across the southeast would just flock into the Rio Grande Valley to—to hunt these doves. And it was kind of a big party down there, especially opening weekend down there. And they’d send us off down there and then my first season, I remember, Pon and I went together down there and I think we stayed at a—I can’t remember the name of that hotel now—but anyway I think it was the Echo or—we
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had an office adjacent to that—that hotel. And they gave us assignments to work down there and we would—they had a big map up there and they would give us assigned areas where we were going to work. Pon and I worked in the La Grulla area of Starr County. And in those days, they had a judge waiting and when we would make cases, well they would—they’d take the prisoner right directly to the Justice of the Peace. And that’s where he would have court and end up fining them and—and we handled it that way. And I remember one day down there they started shooting a little early down there and
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the men that Pon and I caught, we had to slog through some mud to get down there and get to them. And it had rained just a little bit in—in one area down there but we caught those men and—and took them back to the car and one of them got real mad about it. He was a big butter and egg man, I guess, from Fort Worth. He thought he was somebody. So anyway, we took these guys in and—and the old judge fined them and—and the rule down there then was if you don’t have the money to pay the fine, you have to go to jail. And they didn’t like that too much and—but anyway, it was just crazy down there in
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those days. You can’t imagine what it was like. You’d have to have seen it. But the doves flew all day long but the big flash started late in the afternoon when those doves where leaving, all the wooded thickets down there headed back out to the fields. And it was just a constant roar of shotguns. I—I had not seen anything like that or heard anything like that in my life. And I was just in awe and the shot was raining down on us all afternoon long and we saw the hunting accidents down there like you wouldn’t
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believe. One guy had stuck a shotgun down on his foot and was testing the safety. And it was loaded all right and so they were bringing this guy out. And we had a little road block down there and here’s this fellow holding his foot. And they brought him up there and we stopped them and they said “We got to get to the hospital” and he had this—these amputated toes. It looked liked a bulldog had chewed the end of that boot off and I can’t imagine anybody doing anything so dumb. But I’m sure he learned a good lesson from it. I’ll bet he’s got his other toes on the other foot. And we—I just numerous cases down
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there. Of course, when you’ve got that many hunters, it’s kind of a circus atmosphere. Most of them are drinking. Texas has no law against hunting and drinking at the same time. A lot of them had a little bit too much. Some of the men were shooting song birds and—and—but this is a very small percentage of the hunters, I want to point out. The—the majority of Texas hunters are responsible and—and safe hunters but it’s that five percent or whatever it is that’s going to violate out there that make everybody else look bad. And that’s—that’s the ones we were trying to catch. And in fact, it got so busy at
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times that we didn’t really have time to even check licenses and plugs. We were just counting birds and going on to the next guy and laying the—the doves out on the ground and counting the birds. And I learned a valuable lesson down there too. Some of these hunters can get a little impatient and very rude and, you know, you have to lay the doves out on the ground to count them. And—and I remember we had that—the department took a dim view of us making some guy lay his new Browning shotgun down on the
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ground. So we let him lean it up against the tree and—and was kneeling down there and counting birds and that guy picked his shotgun up and shot at a dove just right over my head as I was kneeled down there and which was dumb on my part. I shouldn’t have let him get his hands on that shotgun. I should’ve been watching but game wardens are around firearms all day long and they’re hearing shots all day, we become desensitized. And a city policeman is very careful about those kind of things. They’re always watching for weapons but everybody we deal with has a weapon. So that’s—that’s kind
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of the difference and—and I guess anytime anybody wanted to shoot a game warden, he could do it pretty easy.
DT: Well, you’ve told us about the cases you’ve made and cases with deer and Mourning Doves, White Wing Duck, how about Quail, have you been involved with many Quail cases?
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MB: You know, quail hunters as a whole are a little bit different breed of hunter than deer hunters and a little bit different breed than—than dove hunters. And quail hunters are very serious about their sport. These guys have the—the snake leggings and they’ve got the—they—they walk maybe ten of twelve miles a day and they’ve got the fancy dogs. And they really take care of their—their sport and they’re conscientious people as a whole. However, it’s that small percentage of them that—that—where our business
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comes from, so to speak. And I remember, we have a fund here in Dimmit County the ranchers pay and it’s the Dimmit County Wildlife Aerial Surveillance Fund. And the ranchers would pitch in a penny an acre. And we have a bank account up here and any time we need an airplane, well we can hire this plane. And I remember we had a bumper crop of quail, it seems like every eight, nine or ten years down here we’ll have a bumper crop of quail come off. Everything’s just right and you’ll see a cubby of quail along these county roads, perhaps every half mile or—or something like that. And I mean
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they’re just everywhere. And it was one of those years and we were getting all kinds of reports of road hunting, finding shells out in the road and all the signs of illegal activity is—is going on. So, I got the airplane, we were flying around one day and—and looked down and I could see these guys down there in a Jeep. And they were driving along and what they’d done was baited a road and which is legal in Texas. And they’d bait the road with milomaize and then they’d make a round and come back around and they were just driving and shooting those quail out of the Jeep. That’s also legal in Texas so long as it’s
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not a migratory bird. It’s not very sportsman-like but some people do that. And they were taking the birds up to the camp and cleaning them. And so, we flew back in here to the airport and I got in my patrol car and I drove out there and had to go through a couple of locked gates and I knew what ranch we were on but I couldn’t quite figure out what road we were on. Everything looks different from the air and I remembered a certain waterway and—or watershed actually and drove down towards this creek and got onto
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the tracks finally and trailed them back up to the camp. And these guys had killed over 200 quail. And they really had the quail and they had them in an ice chest there in the house and they were, you know, quail you—you can just skin a quail, just pull it right out of its skin and throw the feathers down. And—and they had these things all dressed out and they were still peeling quail when I drove up on them. And got them all caught and of course they were a little indignant about being hauled in and taken before the Justice of the Peace. But the old judge, he—he fined them and—and we took the—the overage of
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the—of the birds and gave them to a needy family. So, we got that case settled. And we had another case here too—that reminds me, I got a tip from a landowner that he had leased to some men. One was a Floridian and I don’t remember where the other men were from but they were supposed to be quail hunting out on his ranch. And he’d gone into the camp. He had use of the camp too, so had the right to be in there, kind of a nosy fellow, I guess, and he opened up one of the ice boxes and it was during closed season but they’re—these men had killed 95 doves. Had them in the cooler or in the—the
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icebox so, he called me. And so, I went down to the court there and I got me search warrant. I figured I might need it and was out there in daylight the next morning and served the search warrant. And one of them was an F.B.I. agent and he was really embarrassed. He thought well he was going to get fired over the deal but I assured him if he were to pay his fine that I certainly wouldn’t be calling his agency about anything. I just wanted to see justice done and—and that’d be the end of it. And—and of course, you can guess, they all beat it into town there and had the fine paid on the same day and got it all taken care of and that was—that was the end of that.

DT: You told us about deer cases and dove cases, quail cases that you’ve made, have you ever been involved in cases, I think you may have just touched on one involving songbirds or other non-game species?
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MB: Yes, that’s not a real common occurrence but you do have people that just, maybe they’re idle and there’s nothing else to shoot at and a song bird will fly over. They’re liable to shoot that thing just for the fun of it. And I remember one time I had a call and—out here southwest of town and the man said “These people in this Jeep are driving up and down the road and they’re shooting dove off the high line.” And I said “Well, I’ll be right out there.” So, I made it out there and—and these were medical people and one was a doctor, I don’t remember what all, a hospital administrator and—and little boy. And—and they were parked down here by the road and I just pulled up there and got out,
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introduced myself, of course they knew who I was and told them that I’d had a report of some shooting out there on the road, had they shot anything off the road? And—and the doctor said “Oh, well, no, no sir” and the little boy said “Nu huh daddy, how about that Scissor Tail you just shot out there?” And of course, daddy was a little bit embarrassed and I said “Where is he son?” He says “He’s right over there.” I said “You want to take me out there and show me?” “Yeah” and boy dad was really getting uncomfortable about
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that time. So, we walked out there and I found that Scissor Tail and I walked back up there and dad didn’t quite know how to handle this. And I didn’t know how I was going to handle it either and—but I’ll tell you part of the way I handled it was is that I explained to the good doctor that he ought not to get onto this small boy for telling the truth because I felt like he was a bigger man than—than the dad was. And of course he assured me that he wasn’t going to get onto the boy. And I—we just—we—we handled
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it accord—accordingly, you know, but I can’t remember now if—I think I just issued him a ticket. I don’t even think I took him in but the—the part that—that sticks out in my mind is that boy being so truthful and how embarrassed the father was. And before we left I told him, I hope you don’t ever whip that boy for lying.
DT: I know this is sort of an unusual sort of case for you but are there some inhumane treatment of animals, livestock, domestic animals that you’ve been experienced with?
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MB: Well, this is not normally what game wardens do, however, and—under our authority as a peace officer in Texas, we’re sometimes asked by the sheriff’s department or the police department to respond with them or perhaps even alone to go out and investigate suspected animal abuse, domestic animal abuse. And just last week I
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received a call from a rancher that his neighbor was starving his cattle to death. I took a deputy with me and we went out to this place and—and walked in there and the—the man was burning pare for the cattle. That’s where you take a propane torch and singe off the—the thorns and feed the cattle. And—and there wasn’t a blade of grass on that place. And the old momma cows were really drawed up bad and the calves were in fair shape but you could just see the ribs on those cattle. And—but there were some cattle in—in in good shape so I figured the best way to handle that was to inform the man of what the
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law was and explain to him that he needed to get some supplemental feed out there and—and that day, not the next day but right away and start feeding those cattle better than he was doing it and explained what the law was, that the courts could even take the animals from him. And that’s the way we handled that particular case but there are cases, especially like, oh, I know where were game wardens have been in one cock fight raids and dog fight raids over the state, over the years and done that kind of stuff.
DT: Did any of those things happen here, these dogfight or cockfight raids?
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MB: There are reports of cockfighting all over south Texas and as you know it’s illegal. And in some—some areas the—they don’t have any—any problem with it, the sheriff doesn’t have any problem with it, the prosecutors don’t want to do a whole lot about it. They have bigger fish to fry. And—and then in other counties, they’re after them all the time. And there was just a big—big raid up in San Antonio the other day where they raided a cockfight and—and took all the chickens and put a bunch of people in jail and now they’re in serious trouble.
DT: It seems like many of you cases you run across the suspects, perpetrators in the act but sometimes the poaching, whatever the incident is, has already happened and you have to track down the suspects after the fact. Can you give any examples of how you’ve used tracking people or forensic evidence to try and make a case?
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MB: Yeah, you know, I—it’s very satisfying to catch someone in the act because the case is just about made but a game warden can improve his catch rate dramatically if he will do some investigating and answer all his calls where there’s been a deer killed say illegally or poached and dragged into the fence at a ranch and drug from one ranch over to the other ranch. And so, the first thing I do when I get out there, I use my skills as a tracker and a sign cutter and hopefully there’s still some remaining tracks out there because by looking at the tracks, I can tell approximately how old they are. And I don’t
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mean I’m like some native tracker over in Africa that can tell you to the—to the minute how old the tracks are but I can age tracks. I can tell you if they’re a day old or red hot where the guy just stepped out of them. And from that, I can tell where they walked to and probably what they did and how many people there were, judging from the sole patterns. Another thing I do is I look at the blood stain patterns and from the geometric
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patterns there, you can determine what happened out there. You can determine where the—the victim or the—in this case perhaps a deer or some wildlife or some wildlife animal, game animal, was taken. And you can tell if it was—if a bullet passed through. Often there are atomized droplets, spray of blood, perhaps where the bullet passed through the animal and there’s a cone shaped dispersal pattern. And you can judge—maybe, if you’re lucky enough, where that deer was standing if the—if you find these little atomized droplets of blood on a—on a cacti. You can also tell if there was any
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movement about the scene there, judging from the blood droplets. And you can tell if someone has dragged that deer and—and—one from the front and one from the back and heaved it up on something because the—the blood that flies from the animal leaves a different pattern. And you can tell even which way they—they swung the deer when they’re loading it. And also I use—I—I use several of my acquired skills out there, you know, it takes a long time and nobody’s born knowing how to do this stuff. And—and it can all be learned and—and you learn it on the job. It takes probably, as—as old Bob
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Evans used to say up there at the game warden training school, takes five years to make a game warden. And I think he was just being nice in that estimate. I—I think maybe it takes ten years to really get good at it but I—I know some really good game wardens that were quite skillful in their jobs at—at five years.
DT: Well, maybe you can give us an example of some cases that you investigated after the act had already been done and you had to come in when it was quite cold.
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MB: I assisted a warden over at Pearsall, Mike Morris is his name. And Mike had a case where he had received an anonymous call, that a man had killed this deer and had taken the antlers up to a taxidermist shop. And that’s all that he knew. And he and another Warden named Kirby McMurray went up there and confiscated the antlers. And this taxidermist up there turned him over and I think the plan was they were going to add a couple of points to this head. And they were—or to the antlers and they were going to repair a couple of points. And so we got the name of the—of the man and—and everything and we went over to interview the—the person. And he didn’t want to
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confess. And he—in fact, he didn’t want to talk to us really. He just said he—he just couldn’t talk about it. And so, we got another tip that we ought to go down and look into a certain—a deer stand, that that’s where that head had been placed and hidden. And we walked over there and—and went up into the deer stand and found these blood stains. And so, we took up the part of the floor out of the deer stand there. Got a sample off of it, just got a little chip of wood out of it and—and did a DNA match and matched that blood stain to that head. And then later on, we found a witness who had photographs of the—of the head. And it just went on and on and on. And—and it took us five months working part time on this case and finally Mike came up with a—with a witness who had seen a lot. And we ended up making the case on the man and he was convicted of a felony. And what he had done is—is walked into the neighbor’s place and had killed this
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deer. I think it scored like 174 or something, which is a nice sized deer, just to—to run across it. And to really put the icing on the cake, the—we were talking to the landowner about the case and he said well, he had video of that deer and we were able to get the video out and turn the antlers just right and match—match those antlers. We couldn’t get it just right where we could super impose one image over the other but without a doubt, they were the same antlers, judging from the—the—the marks and the—the antler configuration. They’re all unique and so, that made the case for us.
DT: Speaking a little more about forensics, I think that you were one of the first game wardens to make a case using DNA. Is that correct?
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MB: Yes, very fortunate here, years ago, when DNA first came out, we had caught some men who’d had killed a deer over on the—the wrong land and then dragged the deer into the fence. And we had—the men didn’t really want to tell us that they’d been over there and so, we took blood samples from the other sides of the fence there and—and matched it and—and—which made the first DNA deer case in Texas.
DT: You’ve talked a little bit about some of your methods, forensic methods, the aerial surveillance that you’ve done, have you ever worked under cover?
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MB: No I never have. I don’t think I’d be very good at it. It seems everywhere I go people recognize me.
DT: Let’s talk about some of the different offenses that you might have dealt with. You’ve mentioned bag limit violations and night hunting. Have you been involved in any commercial breeding offenses or violations of that kind?
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MB: You talking about deer breeders?
DT: Deer breeding, yeah.
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MB: Yes, in the mid 90’s, the state sent me around and—and I was checking breeding pens and those were class C misdemeanors, very small misdemeanors but we made a lot of cases. I’d take the local warden, we’d go in and—and check the deer and—and check the paperwork and—and there were some violations.
DT: What’s the concern about commercial deer breeding?
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MB: Well, the concern at that time was that unscrupulous breeders were catching deer out of the wild and putting them in breeding pens. The straight breeders, the honest ones, by law were required to buy their deer, pay top dollar and buy them from other breeders. And there was just that small percentage of the, you know, there always is, who were going out and catching those deer with a helicopter and—and putting them in the pens. And a breeder deer in those days, I think, maybe you could buy a doe for—a bred doe maybe for fifteen hundred dollars, something like that unless—unless—she was noted for throwing fawns that made big antlers eventually. And you could catch a deer out of the
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wild and transport it to these pen for like three hundred dollars. So, the economics were there and so that—there was the incentive to catch those deer out of the wild. But the department has in place purchase permits and—and certain paperwork that will always catch these people. If you, you know, it’s just an audit. You count the deer in and deer out and against the deer found in the pen today and deer out are sales and deaths or escapes. And deer and their births or deer that are purchased and brought in and everything has to add up on the worksheet.
DT: Maybe you could tell us about some other offenses, maybe ones involving how an animal is taken. I mean, for example, have you worked any cases where hunters have used dogs to chase game down or perhaps have used automatic weapons?
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MB: Haven’t made any cases using automatic weapons and here it’s legal to use up to two dogs to—to track a wounded deer. And we have a few hunters here who will track a wounded deer. They always call. I know when they’re going out. We have some deer dog men who come in here. They always call me and I haven’t had any problem with those men at all. And I’m sure that somewhere out there, that there are some unscrupulous ones that might bring a whole truck load of dogs down and turn them loose but it’s just practically—I—it’s just unheard of down here in south Texas, especially on these big ranches because the ranchers exercise such tight control over the deer herd.
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They’re just not going to allow that, where if you’ve got public land like over there in east Texas, well they—they don’t have that control and that’s where the deer/dog problem is found.
DT: So, there are violations that are more common in one part of the state because of how the land is owned or cultural reasons than in another part of the state?
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MB: I would say so, because you just think about it. If you’re a landed baron down here, so to speak, you’re not going to allow any of that kind of stuff to go on on your place. First of all a landowner has his reputation to think about and he’s not going to sell his reputation to let some guy get out here with a bunch of dogs or—or let them hunt deer with a helicopter or any of that kind of stuff. Just—although I’m—some of that probably has gone on. I—I don’t know any in Dimmit County. It has happened in other places.
DT: Hunting from aircraft?
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MB: Yes, uh huh. We—we made a helicopter case one time or I assisted in a helicopter case.
DT: Could you tell us about that?
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MB: Oh, that was back in, I guess about maybe in the early 80’s down in Webb County, not here in this county—a helicopter was seen flying around and the witness heard some shots. And we went over to assist but radio communications were poor in those days and we didn’t have cell phones then. And they were trying to get somebody to find this helicopter pilot and—and the helicopter and they finally located the chopper up there in—around San Antonio. And the men had part of the deer meat in the helicopter. And then we went out to investigate the crime scene and Jim Pon was supervisor by then.
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And he took several of us men down there and met us and—and we had the 3500 acre crime scene down there to try to figure out where this deer was. The witness had heard shots and the only thing we could do is line up between hills. So, we—we walked and we walked but we finally found that deer and deer DNA hadn’t been invented yet. We were sure hoping that it had been but well—but where the carcass was, a couple of back
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straps had been peeled out of it and that’s just what they found in this helicopter. And the deer also had some bullet holes in it, I believe it was two or three shots had been fired from above. And we got some of the—the bullets out of the deer, I believe and—and we photographed the scene and found where the helicopter had set down and we measured all of that, measured what—what size the skids would be. And I remember the Feds came in and took the case over, U.S. Fish and Wildlife wardens and Doc McCallum was a warden down there at Corpus in those days and Mr. McCallum took over the case
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and was able to get a conviction out of the men. And I think they paid like a ten thousand dollar fine which in those days was a very hefty fine. And I—I just couldn’t imagine paying such a fine in those days. Well, it’d be big as a wagon sheet to me even today.
DT: What are considered the most serious kinds of offenses and the ones that bring the longest jail time or biggest fines?
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MB: Well, the more serious offensives in state law against wildlife are of course, taking deer without consent of the landowner. And that is a state jail felony. And the next most serious offensives are waste of game or fail to retrieve. Those are know as class “A” misdemeanors and you can do up to a year in jail and—and I think, pay a four thousand dollar fine or both. And the other is sale of wildlife. And then there’s hunting at night or hunting by aid of artificial light, which is also a class “A” misdemeanor, carries a real
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stout fine. And—and unfortunately a lot of judges throughout the state are reluctant to lay on maximum fines whenever we catch one of these people. They always come in, they’re looking good in court and wearing a suit and bring their kids and—and they have tears in their eyes and—and they’re humbly penitent when they go in and—and speak to the judge and—and they’re able to sway them and—and any times they get off very lightly and to return and do it again.
[End of Reel 2362]
DT: Mr. Bradshaw, you’ve been a Texas game warden for over thirty years now and I was wondering if you could tell us how hunting and being a game warden has changed over that—almost a full generation?
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MB: I think the—the—the most important thing that happened was I like to refer to it as federal interference, but when I started to work, we could patrol all the hours we wanted. And I seldom made it by the house except to eat and bathe and sleep and I was gone again. And that’s the game wardens worked during hunting season. We stayed in hunting camps and we carried a cook stove. I still carry one out in my vehicle and—and I still enjoy staying in the camps. And many days or on many patrols, we’d stay gone three or four days at a time and come in and—and lay around and rest up a little bit and go back out again. And during hunting season we probably worked—I—I—I—I can’t
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really estimate—maybe 70, 80 hours a week. It was just a tremendous amount of hours and without cell phones or—or any way to get a hold of us, well the messages would pile up and a lot of those messages couldn’t be put out over the air. Game wardens in those days had house sets where the wife could call and every game warden’s family worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife free, believe or not, because all our kids had to know what was in that hunting guide, it seemed like because you had people calling all the time “When’s dove season” or “When’s deer season end” or “When is this” or “When is that?” And so, my wife knew those regulations and the dates just about almost as well as I did and my kids knew a lot of the dates too. And it seemed liked my whole family worked for the state. And I have a—a daughter and a son and—and—and my wife and they were
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very supportive of me. And I know my wife didn’t like it. I’d get in there and just sit down to supper and the phone would ring and we’d have a call and I’d have to leave. And I remember one time I left on a call and I was right here in the county and my wife could hear me on the radio out there talking and—but I stayed gone like three days till I finally made it back. But it was just one of those seasons where things were happening. I was making one case after another and in those days, game wardens made lots of deer cases in south Texas. I can remember one season where Jim Pon and I probably caught
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sixty or sixty-five men a piece, which is quite a load for a game warden to make. And wardens all over south Texas were catching them like that. Oh you’d have a little dry run in there where it seemed like you were snake bit and then pretty soon, you could do no wrong again. You’re out there catching them. And—and so we were free and—and unfettered. We could just run all hours we wanted. We had all the gas money we could ever run through that old automobile. We had fast cars and big engines and—and it was lots of fun. And the judges were available 24 hours a day and when you’d catch one, you’d—hauled him in, put him in jail or you’d call that justice of the peace and got them
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in there. And it was pay or stay here in Dimmit County. If they didn’t have the money well, they could make their call from the jail and—and they soon got the money. And that’s the way it was. Nowadays you can’t find a judge to come out at night hardly unless it’s a death or something. And the federal government has—has fixed—fixed it where with the wage and hour thing, they don’t want us working over 160 hours in a 28
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day period. And that has just severely restricted us. And it changed our way of life and the new guys coming on don’t know what it was like back then and quite frankly, it was a lot of fun. And we wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t enjoying it. And now, you know, the department could get in trouble if you work too many hours and—and—especially if the Feds come in and do an audit and see that you worked all these hours. They’re going to have to pay you overtime. And we were told by the director of law enforcement back in those days that he’d pay overtime, once. And I—I kind of took it that we’d be out if—
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if we turned in any overtime. So, we—we handled it in our own way. I’ll—I’ll just—I won’t go any further than that but that’s—it was kind of a blow to us. And I know Jim Pon took it particularly hard. He even called the governor. Pon was one of those kind of guys, you know, that—he didn’t really go through channels like you’re supposed to go. He never thought anything about picking up the phone. I can’t remember who was governor there but he went through three or four secretaries and different ones to—to get to talk up there where he could voice his opinion about this new federal ruling. And of
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course, the governor called over to the Parks and Wildlife or to one of the commissioners over there and—and—to explain that he didn’t really have any control over this federal law but that the department could fix it by paying overtime. And, of course, we’re on a very tight budget and they’re just not going to do that. We’re on a monthly salary and—and we just have to live with that because the legislature has a little pie to divide among a lot of hungry people out there and that’s just a fact of life and we have to work around that.
DT: Well, you’ve explained how the life and certainly the pay rates have changed over the last thirty years, have the hunters changed—the number and kind of poaching incidents that you see, changed?
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MB: Oh, yeah, you know, I mentioned to you that one year that Pon and I caught so many hunters. Nowadays a game warden in southwest Texas, around Dimmit county and—and surrounding counties is probably having a great year if he catches a dozen road hunters or—or spotlighters or knife hunters. In fact, we’ve got wardens who go all season long and maybe make one, two or three road hunting or knife hunting cases. It kind of depends. It always varies but the upside to that is that instead of getting a two hundred dollar fine, you’re going to get maybe a fifteen hundred dollar or two thousand dollar fine now. The guy might get placed on probation. I know that sounds a little
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contradictory with what I said a while a go but that’s still not a great fine. Perhaps even the man might have to serve his time out in jail. There’s also the potential that he might have to serve some jail time if you ever find a real hard nosed judge. So that part’s good and the—the other part of it is that a lot of wardens don’t like it, because you have to write a report now. And back in the—when I started, you just wrote a ticket, took the man in directly to the judge. He didn’t pass go, he paid his two hundred dollars and he was gone. And nowadays it may be a month before the case comes up. The county
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attorney has to review the cases and then you—normally you—we have a plea bargain and the—the thing works its way through county court. And eventually the fine is paid but it’s—everything is slowed down now. It’s like we’re going in slow motion but the cases are all investigated and there’s—we take pictures and we have lab reports and it’s almost like working a murder nowadays, especially if you have one of these cases where a suspect has dragged a deer from one property onto another. Say he’s—he’s committed a felony and taken the game without the landowner’s consent well, then comes the big
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investigation. And that kind of makes up for the lack of action to me because I always enjoy the investigations. I—I like drawing up the reports and taking the pictures and—and doing all that kind of stuff so and especially like getting the convictions at the end and having a plea bargain where the guy just goes and pleads guilty and—and you—you—you get him so thoroughly that he doesn’t fight the case. And so, there’s—there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in that but I still miss the old days.
DT: Is part of the reason for changes in the hunting, poaching and game warden work due to the increased cost of hunting leases and the increased value of a trophy buck? Are the stakes higher than they used to be, in other words?
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MB: Well, the stakes are higher, of course, and the greater the risk, the fewer the players you’re going to have out there. And in the older days a two hundred dollar fine really wasn’t much, you know. I think as a game warden, when I started out, I was making like six-eighty a month. So, a two hundred dollar fine wouldn’t have broke me had I been involved in one of those kind of things. And so, I’m sure the average person out there working made more than the average game warden. So, I—they could pay the fine and—and they just considered that, maybe as a cost of playing the game and it is a game to them. Nowadays, it’s a more serious game. I remember—we seldom caught the same
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guy twice down here because we had a very good judge, Judge Larry Spear and we didn’t take them to justice court too often. We’d take them into county court when Larry was in office for eight years. And we’d usually file two cases and we’d get the two hundred dollar fine plus sixty dollars court cost which amounted to five hundred and twenty dollars a man. And you’d catch a car load of guys at five-twenty a person; that translated into big bucks back in the 70’s. So, it usually scared them off. We broke them away from hunting down here. And Herbert Ward had his own way of—of enforcing the law here, Mr. Ward went to work in the 1920’s
DT: And he’s a early Texas game warden?
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MB: He was an early Texas game warden and he started here, I think in 22’, at Caterina and he had a jail cell down there. We had satellite jails in Dimmit County. We have the main jail up here in town and then we had a satellite jail there at Caterina and another one as Ashton, one at Big Wells. And Mr. Ward would throw them in that and it was just like a big old parrot cage or monkey cage down there and no bathroom. They had a bucket and he’d give them a little water down there and take them to the judge the next morning, I guess and they certainly didn’t want anymore of that. And they—after they paid their fine, they didn’t come back to Dimmit County to road hunt when Mr. Ward got through with them. And then came Jim Pon in, I think in ‘49, and then I came on in ‘73.
DT: I hear that in the early days that these game wardens did much of their patrolling on horseback, is that true?
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MB: That’s true. Mr. Ward told me that there were very few fences back in the 20’s. And so he had a couple of horses and a pack outfit and when he’d leave on patrol, of course, he was gone for many days at a time and—and he’d work parts of Webb County down here and over in La Salle County and up towards the Mines Road and the Chupedero Ranch and—and back that way and ride right up into the camps there. And people walked and hunted in those days. That’s another way hunting has changed in Texas. When Mr. Ward started, he told me everybody hunted Indian Style, to use his words. They got out and—and walked and stalked their game. When I started as a warden, hunters were driving around in vehicles but they didn’t bait. That was—that was—very seldom did you find corn spread out in a ranch. Within four or five years, you
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started seeing the game feeders in the ranches and then pretty soon came these inventions that—where they hooked the—the corn spreaders on the back of the vehicles or on the front of the vehicles, push a button and spread the corn and—and then shoot the deer’s that comes up to eat the bait. And it’s—it’s not hunting compared to the old way but that’s they way a lot of the new hunters are being trained and it’s hunting to them.
DW: Speaking of changes and packets, I know when we were at Parks and Wildlife looking at their footage (inaudible) but I notice that were as you speak of baiting, the hunters bait the deer. I noticed that the wardens bait the hunters. It looked to be this artificial deer that they put out there for track and road, some very interesting footage from that, it may help describe what we’re seeing in those images.
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MB: Yes, you know, we had this idea that we would love to use a decoy deer and Mr. Ward used a decoy deer back in the 30’s and 40’s. I don’t know what years it was but he used that. But in those days, some people considered that entrapment but the legislature clarified that language, I believe, where merely to offer the opportunity to someone to violate the law, does not in itself constitute entrapment. So we got it cleared through the commission and through some district attorneys, they talked to them and through the legislature it’d be okay to use that kind of—of tool. And I think they were using it in—in Tennessee and different places by putting the decoy deer out. So we’ve worked the decoy down here. There’s—it’s kind of labor intensive because you have one man right
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there with the decoy where he can film or take photographs and then you’ve got a—a—a person at either end of the road as catch cars in case they run, they can go stop them. And so, you’ve got three wardens tied up there at the same spot. And a lot of wardens just prefer to work in an area where there were a lot of deer and where you have a heavy road hunting activity. And it’s kind of sad; we don’t really have a way to shut them down when a road hunter comes by. In other words, it’s kind of like after the fact with law enforcement. It’s not against the law to have a loaded gun in the vehicle. It’s not against the law for a person to drive slowly along the county road where deer are known
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to roam. It’s not against the law for a person to turn around and even look at a deer in a bar ditch. The violation comes after that person has pulled the trigger. So, you kind of have to sacrifice the deer and let the hunter load it up but after that, you’ve got one strong case. So I—you know what? Its—it’s—a lot of people don’t understand how—how the thing works but that strengthens the case when they shoot the deer out there and load it up. And a lot of wardens just prefer to work that way.
DT: You’ve told us a little about wardens and I think that part of what you’ve learned is through your research and interviews for a book that you’re doing ‘Game Wardens, That’s us” is in preparation right now, can you tell us what led to you to want to collect these interviews and try to write this book?
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MB: Stories around the campfire. When I started to work and I came to this district, Jim Pon was my partner and my supervisor was John Caudle over at Cotulla and Larry Griffin was a warden at Cotulla. Down at Laredo was Jim Reese and an old fellow named C.E. Whittington who’d came on in the 40’s. Bill Lenerman was over at Brackettville. He’d started, I think in ‘59 and we had Bill Hoyle up here at Pierce Hall. He had started around ‘55, I think. And then at Uvalde, had Raymond Custer. He’d started about ’55, somewhere in there. And had all these old timers there and I just love listening to those stories. And I thought, you know, somebody ought to take a tape
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recorder over here and—and record that. Well, unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to do that until about nine years ago, it finally hit me that I needed to preserve some of this history. So, I started going around trying to find these old game wardens. Unfortunately many of them had already passed away but I started trying to preserve some of the stories that I could and would set them down and—and we’d just talk. And sometimes the interviews would last six-seven hours. And from that well, I would glean the stories. Then I went—I went up to the archives and that led me on a even greater hunt because I didn’t really know where our roots were. And I didn’t know when the first game warden
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was hired, had no idea. And from the archives, I found some old reports and then I went back to some old newspapers clippings. And it’s been a long, slow investigation as you—as I wind my way through all of this—these tons of—of papers out there and—and trying to decipher what went on. And—and it’s kind of sad though. Our records at the archive are—are lacking and they’re minimal at best. And at Parks and Wildlife, all our
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records were hauled to the city dump in the early 60’s to make room for an expanding department. So photographs and old reports and anything that game wardens may have written in, old letters, files and all of that were—they were all hauled away and dumped there at Austin. So it’s—it’s been very hard trying to put all of this together but as people find out that I’ve been working on this project well, they call up and say my uncle was a game warden and—and or I have a letter here that somebody gave my grandpa or different things like that and—and have been able to put together a lot of interesting stories from that.
DT: Can you tell us any of the highlights from some of the more exciting stories that you’ve heard from these older wardens?
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MB: Oh, man, well, in—in the book there you’ll read about it. Bill Lenerman, for example over in Kinney County, has a funny story about the night they killed the gate. They got into a shoot out from some deer poachers at night and they were from Mexico and forded the river down there illegally and were coming into this ranch and—and killing cattle and were also shooting deer and cutting them up and taking them back across the river and selling them in the market. And I thought that was a very good story and how they got into this fire fight down there and—and apparently no one was killed on the spot but they shot that gate all to pieces, Bill said. And then John Caudle, who was my supervisor for years, he grew up up in the Panhandle and then became a game
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warden around 1959. And—and he’s got just all kinds of exciting stories, chases that he’s been in and—and cases that he’s made. And then of course, Jim Pon’s story. Jim Pon was a cowboy before he came to—to work and Herbert Ward. Mr. Ward went to—was a cowboy down on the old Caterina Ranch and the Caterina Ranch in those days was about 230,000 acres, a very big ranch. And—and that’s what led him to become a game warden because he guided hunters down there. And so Mr. Ward has told me some of his stories. And—and a lot of these old time stories involve kind of what you would call
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heavy handed tactics today. You’d probably get sued for it today. There’s a little head knocking in some of those old stories and Mr. Ward actually had to kill a man in—in the line of duty. And Warden McBee over in Kinney County actually had to—had to kill a man in self-defense. So, it’s a—it was—it was different times in a way. You can still get killed today, don’t get me wrong but you’ll read a lot of stories in there where wardens have instead of using pepper spray or mace or a taser gun or something, pulled their pistols out and conked that guy on the top of the head, creased his hat for him, knocked
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him down and put the cuffs on him. But that’s just the way it was done in those days. Wardens didn’t have the training like they have today.
DT: I was just saying that it has always impressed me that game wardens go into situations as you suggested where everybody’s armed, it may be dark, a number of them may be drunk and I’m curious if, you know, have you been shot at yourself or been in a dangerous situation like that?
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MB: I don’t think I’ve ever been shot at purposely but I have had bullets come very close. I remember one night I was sitting on a hill and watching for night hunters. It was in the middle of the week about one o’ clock in the morning and—and a car came by. And they stopped down the road and I put the glasses up and was looking at them and I could see this deer walk in front of the headlights. It was a doe and they just drove on but they were very interested in that deer. So, I just decided I’d just kind of get off and follow them out there in the darkness and drove off the hill and trailed behind. And they hadn’t driven just a couple of miles and they went up to a gate and went in it and broke
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out a spotlight and—and started spotlighting this field. And there were a bunch of deer running around out in the field and they started shooting and—and they drove up there real fast and these deer ran around behind the vehicle. And the deer all of a sudden were between me and the hunters. And they got out and started shooting at that deer. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard bullets come by but they really sound bad out there and it’s just very hard to describe the feeling. I don’t know how close they were to me but they sounded like they were very close. So, I got out—got behind my car and these men shot and spotlighted two deer right there in front of me and then ran over a third deer and took it up to a camp. They had a bunch of illegal aliens working in there and were feeding them. And of course, when they came back out the gate, I’d called Jim Pon on
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the radio and got him up and they were two gates and we didn’t know which gate that they were going to leave by. A smart guy goes in one gate and comes out another. And—but they came right out the same gate that they went in. So and we were watching both gates and—and we caught them when they came out. And oh, they lied. They—they said they hadn’t shot anything and here’s all this wet blood dripping out of the back of the truck. And finally they knew we were going to go up there and find the deer. So, they finally they confessed. I think they’d told me they were going out there picking cucumbers or something at one o’clock in the morning.
DT: I think there were a lot of people, a broad segment of the population curious about wildlife but I don’t know many people who care about it enough to put their life at risk. And I was wondering if you could say what it is about you and some of your colleagues that drives you to be a game warden and, you know, undertake this kind of risky work.
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MB: That’s kind of hard to—to say. I don’t know what drives a person to—to want to do this kind of work. In one way, it’s—it’s fairly safe because most of the people you’re dealing with are—are sportsmen. On the other hand, we’ve had wardens murdered and left or—or shot and assaulted. And there’s a high rate of assaults in game wardens across the nation. And Fish and Wildlife did a study one year and found that game wardens were more likely to be assaulted than any other group of officers. I—I don’t know where they got their information or much about it. I’m just quoting what I read there. And I—I
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think when I was young I felt invincible and I never believed that that was going to happen to me, that I was going to get hurt in any way or—or—or shot or stabbed or anything. Now that I’m at the age where I am, and—and I’m—I have realized my mortality and try to be careful but sometimes you just—you have to go into these situations. And a smart warden, if you can, will call for back-up. I mean, it’s kind of dumb to go into a camp were you know there’s going to be trouble and try to handle it all yourself and be the hero. That kind of person doesn’t last very long and—and usually gets someone hurt in the process. So, you try to—try to use your head.
DT: You told us a little about this game management and game protection effort from the game warden side. I was curious if you can give us any insight how the typical poacher has changed from when you first came on staff and what maybe makes him tick?
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MB: You know, I’ve often wondered that, what does make a poacher tick? So, I approached a group of many—several I should say, I put several retired poachers and asked them for an interview. And they consented and we had rules and of course, I—I didn’t use their name or anything. But that was all the rules and I could ask them anything I wanted to ask. And so, our interviews lasted a long time and there were probably a hundred questions or a hundred and fifty questions to each of these men. And I began to see kind of a pattern in there. And number one they look at themselves as like Robin Hood’s almost, not necessarily they’re going to share their bounty with the poor
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now but they’re trying to stick it to the man. They want to go out there and—and hunt on a big landowner’s place because he has land and they don’t. They also don’t like the idea that if they get caught in addition to paying the fine, they have to pay a restitution fee to the Parks and Wildlife Department for that animal that they’ve killed. It’s a civil fee, yet a landowner when he sells a hunt out on his ranch, he doesn’t have to pay the state a restitution fee. And that really galls these outlaw hunters. They, you know, they think that the landowner ought to have to pay that fee. And another thing they like of course, is
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the adventure. They—they like to go out there and—and talk about how they fooled the game warden. Man, I tell you they—they tell more stories and you can—you just can’t believe how these stories grow and grow and grow. And in their stories, of course, the game warden never comes out the hero. They’re always the hero of their stories. And—but it’s very interesting and the reason I did that is so that I could try to understand how these men think. And I told them it was for training purposes and I use those interview tapes to show the cadets up at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or if I’m giving a
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program somewhere to game wardens and I’ve shown this film in several states how these people think and what they’re doing. And it will just amaze you at the tricks that they’ve come up with to get around the system and to avoid detection.
DT: Can you give us an example how they elude getting caught?
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MB: I can give you a few of them. Some of them I wouldn’t want to put on the air because they’d be using them again but these guys are very clever. You know, they steal locks off of gates and have—have keys made to the locks and then take and put the locks back on. And they—they figure out gates that aren’t used and go in there. And—and they may enter through the main gate but they’ll come out on the back unused gate if someone presses them or gets after them. They—they use all kinds of night vision goggles and—and all this kind of stuff to hunt with. They’ll—they go to such pains to
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kill a deer that it would probably come out cheaper if their time were worth anything, they could probably go get a hunting lease a lot easier than all this plotting and planning that they do to get away with their crime. They wrap their feet many times in—in sacks or cut a rug out and put it on the bottom of their feet so as not to leave tracks. And it really works well. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you’ll just see some disturbed soil out there but it doesn’t look like a boot track. And they’ll walk for miles doing that. And of course, they’re fully camouflaged and have on the face paint and—
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and nowadays with the cell phones, they have better communication in case they’re jumped and they—they’re split up well they can get back together and they can call they’re rides to come pick them up on the highway. And that’s just some of the more common things that are done and I mean, it doesn’t take any Einstein to figure that out. And—but some of these tricks that they use are very devious. They’ve gone—I—I don’t know how they come up with some of these things but the—the interviews were—were very fruitful in—in many ways.
DT: Do the reasons that poachers hunt change over time? I’m curious if at one time they were poaching more for the meat that they could get and now maybe more for the trophies that they could take home?
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MB: I—I would say in a—in a way, yeah. I think a man has always liked to kill a big trophy buck, maybe even a hundred years ago. I—I don’t know but I would think that because you hear these stories about great grandpa killed this really big deer and—and the antlers were passed on generation to generation. I know men especially during the depression and before that when times were so hard, hunted to feed their families. Nowadays there’s no need for that of course, you have all these government subsistence programs and all the gimme stuff out there. And so, you very seldom hear them talk
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about hunting for meat. In fact I just don’t hear it anymore. The reason men hunt nowadays is to get those big antlers. Some are getting them to sell, others acquire the antlers just to put on the way to have a trophy up there and have bragging rights. And depending upon who’s listening to the story, I’m sure it changes. If they’re—if they’re talking to a local district attorney they tell him they killed the deer on some hunting lease somewhere. And if they’re talking to their beer drinking buddies, they probably tell them that they spotlighted the deer and tell them all the gory details.
DT: Are some of the poachers hired by other people to shoot a deer or some other animal?
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MB: Well, close to that. We have poachers who have acted as guides. In other words, they take clients for pay into ranches and guide them for a fee. And they explain to the class that if we get caught, you’re on you own, you pay your fine, I pay my fine. And that’s the way it works and I’ve interviewed two or three poachers who’ve told me that.
Male: Has GPS made it harder to catch these guys?
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MB: GPS helps them—it helps them navigate through the ranches and especially now that you can download these—these programs where you can see all the ranch roads, what do they call that—a topo map—that helps. And helps them get around and they really know where they’re at nowadays. And they—and they can find their way out in case law enforcement gets after them. They can run. They know the quickest way out to the highway and yeah, I’d say it’s—it’s helped a lot.
DT: Do you run into taxidermists that are in league with the poachers?
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MB: Uh, yes.
DT: And what’s their role involved in that?
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MB: Well, again many of the—many taxidermists are straight arrows, wouldn’t commit a violation if you tried to force them to, yet there’s that small percentage. We’ve caught taxidermists trespassing. We’ve caught them in—in other violations and—or we know over the years a few of them helped poachers conceal heads. And we know of cases where the—they may have gotten word that wardens were looking for a certain head and may have removed that head from their place of business before the wardens could get there. I’m—I’m—I’m sure that goes on a lot and we’ve heard reports of that.
DT: Well, I think that pretty much uses up the questions I have that are reasonably focused. I was wondering if you might have any thoughts about the kind of advice you might offer to younger people about wildlife? About game protection? Maybe even about being a warden?
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MB: Yeah, I tell you, I’ve had a lot of men over the years approach me and tell me, you know, I always wanted to be a warden. I—I admire you guys but I decided that I’d go for money instead. And unfortunately you have—you have to be able to live on a small salary if you’re going to be a Texas game warden. And they pay us adequately but
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you’re not going to get rich. And so you have to derive your satisfaction in other ways and not for money or for your worldly things that you can accumulate. And I—I guess the average warden out there feels like he’s giving his part to the—to the enhancement of wildlife somehow by keeping the—the sport of hunting straight and helping prevent over hunting and—and keep the outlaws scared off. And so to a young man who wanted to be a warden, I’d tell him go for it. If you want to be a warden, I think—I think that that’s a good career. It’s—it’s an honorable profession and there’s no job like this one because
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we have to have so much mileage and so many skills to do this job. For instance, you have to be a good tracker and a sign cutter if you’re going to be a brush country warden. I mean, that just goes a long with the territory but you have to know something about forensics and you have to know the—the penal code plus you have to know the Parks and Wildlife code. And plus you have to know our proclamations and then you have to be a public speaker because they train us to do that. And no other branch of the service or like D.P.S. for instance, the state trooper, they have specialists that they can call in. But we
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may be working a pollution call one day and rescuing some kind of a bird out of somebody’s house the next day or picking up a fallen deer and then—and then helping the sheriff’s department work a crime scene perhaps on a murder one day and then another day out catching poachers. And so, you—I think there’s just a lot more to have to learn at this job and—but it’s—it’s interesting, it’s not anything boring about it.
DT: We usually close these interviews by a question about a place and some kind of spot that is in the outdoors that you like to go visit, that reminds you of why you enjoy your job, protecting wildlife and game, gives you some kind of solace and rest.
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MB: Yeah, you know, I can drive out my driveway and—and head out and in five minutes be away from—from a—a lot of people. And I can go through a couple of gates down there and go into some of these big ranches and perhaps not see another person all day long if I wanted to avoid people. But I have some favorite places that I like to go along the Rio Grande and along the Nueces River up here and they’re—they’re beautiful and they’re calm and—and I just wonder what the rest of the world is doing that day. I kind of fell sorry for them.
DT: Good point, well, thank you very much for your time, is there anything you’d like to add?
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MB: Well, I really don’t have anything else to add. I—I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Texas Game Wardens.
DT: Well, thank you very much.
[End of Reel 2363]
[End of Interview with Mike Bradshaw]