The Warden's Words Game Warden Book Review and Information Column  
The Warden’s Words
Game Warden Book Information and Review Column
as featured in International Game Warden magazine


by G.W. Lister, British Columbia Conservation Officer

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Winter 2005

Welcome to the first installment of IGW’s new column devoted to books by, for and about the members of our profession – “The Warden’s Words”.   After some discussion with the editor Doug Lucyshyn and others I have decided to try and pick up somewhere near where Bob Mullen - “The Rathouse Reader” left off.  Through the life of this column I hope to keep the reader apprised of new titles, enlighten you on some older “classics” and on occasion provide my opinions. Rather than a book review column, I intend it to be an information source for readers of this magazine who also want to read other publications related to our profession.

Perhaps twelve years ago, I picked up my first Game Warden biography, probably based on something I had read in Bob’s column.  Not only was it informational to read about a game warden from a different time and place, but I also found the reading entertaining.  I set out to acquire and read more game warden books – biography, autobiography or fiction - it didn’t matter.  Book searches on the Internet turned up more titles than I ever realized existed.  More titles are being printed every year and the genre, especially Game Warden fiction, seems to be increasing in popularity.

Game Warden novels are not a new phenomenon – the warden was a central character in many young-adult fiction books as far back as the 1950’s.  However, in the last dozen years or so several series of mainstream novels have emerged and are immensely popular.

Ken Goddard, Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Oregon, penned three novels, beginning with “Prey” in 1992.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Henry Lightstone was the hero of this novel as well as its sequels, “Wildfire” (1994) and “Double Blind”(1997).   Although well crafted, the story line was far too fantastic and complex for me - a mere moose and goose guy.

Since 1998  Skye Kathleen Moody has written at least five novels about fictional US Fish & Wildlife Service Agent Venus Diamond.  I can’t really comment on these as I have not read them, but Bob Mullen provided more detail in his Winter 2002 column.  Bob also wrote about Jessica Speart’s first novel, “Gator Aide” (1997) in the Summer 1998 issue.  Her next two novels, “Tortoise Soup” (1998) and  “Bird Brained” (1999), were reviewed in the Summer 2003 issue.  The heroine of these novels is also a USFWS Special Agent and according to Bob (I have not read this series either) these books are entertaining, although they are poorly researched and not overly true-to-life.

Nevada Barr, a former U.S. National Park Ranger, now full-time author, published her first Anna Pigeon novel, “Track of the Cat”, in 1993.  Heroine Anna Pigeon is a National Park Ranger (modeled loosely on Barr) and each novel finds her solving a murder in a different National Park or Monument.  I really enjoyed most of them, but I have not picked up a copy of 2005’s “Hard Truth” and I have not yet read her twelfth, 2004’s “High Country”, because I am having a tough time getting through 2003’s “Flashback”.  It is a strange book – woven into the contemporary murder mystery are entire “flashback” chapters about fictional events that occurred at Fort Jefferson during the Civil War.  These chapters are written in what I can only describe as a “Wuthering Heights” period style and I am finding them very dry.  I’m sure they have some significance to the murder investigation, but I don’t have the patience to plod through them.

Something was missing for me in all the aforementioned novels, and I can tell from Bob’s reviews that he was looking for something else too.  That missing element, a good old-fashioned State Game Warden, finally appeared in 2001 in novels by two separate authors.  Joseph Heywood, an established Michigan author, published “Ice Hunter – A Woods Cop Mystery” (see Rathouse Reader, Winter 2001-02), with Michigan Conservation Officer Grady Service as the hero.  Officer Service was a realistic character that I could relate to.  Meanwhile Wyoming author C.J. Box introduced us to Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett in his first novel, “Open Season”.  Both books are fantastic reads, even if the story line isn’t all “moose and goose”.

In 2002, an author from the Lone Star State threw us headlong into the wild and wooly world of Game Warden John Marlin in “Buck Fever”.  Novelist Ben Rehder has a great tongue-in-cheek, shotgun-style of writing that bounces all over, introducing new events, and bizarre and colorful characters at every turn.  I couldn’t stop reading trying to figure out how on earth Rehder was going to tie it all together.  One word of caution – of the three authors, Rehder’s stuff is the raunchiest – I’d give it an 18+ rating.

Any of these three characters could be a real officer, but the authors have bestowed each with different personalities, strengths and weaknesses.  None of them is perfect and all have human flaws.   The supporting characters are also well drawn out and recur through each respective series of novels.

C.J. Box’s sophomore entry was “Savage Run” (2002), followed by “Winterkill” (2003) and “Trophy Hunt” (2004).  Joseph Heywood released “Blue Wolf in Green Fire” in 2002 and “Chasing a Blond Moon” in 2003.  Ben Rehder’s second novel, “Bone Dry” appeared in 2003 and was followed up with “Flat Crazy” in 2004.  I read each of these books as they came out and was not disappointed by any of them - each one left me anticipating the author’s next release.

In 2005 a new addition to each of these excellent series was published.  I just finished the latest Joe Pickett novel, “Out of Range”.  While not as action-packed as the earlier adventures, it is still a well-written and entertaining book, and probably the most true-to-life.  While Joe looks into the suicide of a fellow Game Warden in that warden’s former district, he continues to conduct regular wildlife enforcement and management duties.  As in each preceding novel, Joe’s character and those of his wife and family continue to evolve and the reader experiences the emotional ups and downs of a Game Warden’s family.

The fourth John Marlin novel, “Guilt Trip” was a blast.  Author Ben Rehder doesn’t appear to be slowing down, and supporting poachers Billy Don Craddock and Red O’Brien are chock-full of possibilities.  I am still waiting for my signed copy of the latest Woods Cop book, “Running Dark”, to arrive in the mail.  I’m sure I will enjoy it as much as the other three Grady Service novels.  I will let y’all know next time.

If you enjoy mystery-action novels, and want to be able to really relate to the hero, track down any of the books in these three great series and hunker down for a great read.

Also of interest, C.J. Box and A.S.A.P. Publishing released a Joe Pickett short story entitled “Dull Knife” this year.  There are two different limited editions of 200 numbered copies each.  There is also a limited run of twenty-six lettered special edition copies in a cloth-covered hard case, complete with a reproduction Wyoming Game Warden badge (which, incidentally, looks nothing like the real thing) affixed to the inside.  These editions are signed by author C.J. Box, illustrator Phil Parks and the author of the introduction, Ken Bruen.  The list price for the numbered limited edition of 200 copies was $40 and the lettered special edition was $150 and all were pre-sold to booksellers, so none are available through the publisher.

I would have thought that a Joe Pickett short story would have focused on a wildlife investigation instead of a murder, so I was somewhat disappointed with this work.  Being a short story it doesn’t really get off the ground.  The only reason to pick up a copy would be as an investment or to complete your collection.

So that’s it until next time.  If you have any questions or comments, drop me an email.  Stay safe and happy reading.
 



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Spring 2006

In the last installment of the Warden’s Words I introduced you to three great fiction series.  In this issue I will follow up on one of them, introduce you to another, revisit a great non-fiction series provide some info on a couple other titles –a new one and a couple of great old classics.

First, I would like to offer an apology to Skye Kathleen Moody, who I incorrectly referred to as Kathleen Skye Moody in the last issue.  I’d like to offer at least a partial apology to Nevada Barr as well.  I have given up on “Flashback” for now so I decided to take on the next book in the series, “High Country” (2004).  I have no complaints about this entry in the series – Barr is back in fine form and the book was very enjoyable.  In this novel, Anna Pigeon sets out to try and solve the disappearance of some residents of Yosemite National Park, only to come up against the usual bad guys and murderers and ultimately solve the mystery.

My copy of Joseph Heywood’s fourth Grady Service novel, “Running Dark” arrived just days after I submitted the last column.  As expected, I was not disappointed.  This one is a departure from the earlier novels, in that it goes back in time to Grady’s early days as a C.O. and chronicles his fictional involvement in actual events that occurred in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1970’s.  The plot centers on warden duties and there are no sub-plots about murder or drug trafficking that the Conservation Officer gets wrapped up in.  It’s a really good read and was hard to put down.

There have been advertisements for a series of novels by Kirk Russell in recent issues of International Game Warden.  I picked up a copy of the first novel in the series, 2003’s “Shell Games.  I was introduced to Lieutenant John Marquez of California Fish and Game’s Special Operations Unit.  Marquez is a former DEA Agent who is haunted by the murders of his fellow agents and the killer who he believes is still out for his blood.  Although this novel begins with a double murder, Marquez and his motley crew of officers stick primarily to their fish and game duties.  Of course their work and the murder investigation become entwined and the excitement builds.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it for your own library.  I will review his subsequent novels, “Night Game” (2004) and “Deadgame” (2005) in the summer issue.

From the non-fiction side of the game warden book business comes “The Thin Green Line” (2004).  This is the sixth and final installment of Terry Grosz’ excellent memoirs.  Johnson Books in Boulder, Colorado publish this fine series.  If you haven’t yet read any of Terry’s books I highly recommend you start.  Terry’s first book, “Wildlife Wars” (1999) won a number of awards and some of the stories in it were made into a TV special on Animal Planet a couple of years ago.

Terry is a masterful storyteller who always keeps you entertained from cover to cover, but this book makes a serious point as well.  In the preface to the “Thin Green Line” Terry makes a straightforward and impassioned plea to the reader and states that he is now convinced that we cannot win this battle we all fight.  He says we did not win because of the poachers, the general public, prosecutors, politicians, the “system”, inadequate budgets and ineffective conservation officers.  It is very powerful stuff and based upon his observations made over 30 years as a California State Game Warden, US Game Management Agent and Special Agent.

On a lighter note, retired Canadian National Park Warden Mike Schintz has recently published a recollection of adventures in Canada’s National Parks, through Rocky Mountain Books of Surrey, British Columbia.  “Close Calls on High Walls” (2005) is a very well written account of some of the close encounters Mike has experienced during rescues and patrols in his long career in the Rocky Mountains, on Lake Superior, and at other points along the way.  It isn’t full of your standard poacher chasing tales, but is enjoyable just the same.  Schintz has the natural ability to paint a very clear and vivid picture of the surroundings and the events, almost transporting the reader to the locations where the events take place.   Although he co-authored a history of the Park Warden Service in 2000, this is his first foray into pure story telling and he rises up to the challenge and wins.

Finally, for the younger readers and the book collectors, I’d like to make mention of two Jim Kjelgaard classics in the Game Warden genre.  Kjelgaard was an avid outdoorsman who primarily wrote books that featured young men and their dogs.  His best known title is probably  “Big Red” (1945).  His first book was “Forest Patrol” (1941) but his seventh book, 1949’s “A Nose for Trouble” is of interest to Game Warden book readers.  “A Nose for Trouble” is about a young man named Tom Rainse who returns to his native hill country and receives a bloodhound cross as a gift from an old family friend. Tom is then recruited as a Game Warden to help put an end to the market hunting that is occurring throughout his beloved hills.  It is a wonderful story to introduce young readers to game warden fiction and is devoid of all the murder and drugs found in today’s adult fiction.  “Trailing Trouble” from 1952 is the further adventures of Game Warden Rainse and his hound Smoky, but I have not yet been able to track down a decent, original copy of it so am unable to review it completely.  A clean, original copy of either book is difficult to find unless you are willing to pay handsomely for it.  Most used copies are ex-library books with the usual markings and card pockets glued inside them.

Where to find books:

Many newer titles are available in the US at major bookstores, but are much scarcer in Canada.  Many books can be purchased directly from the publisher or author as well.  If you are looking for older books or bargains on recent titles, and even signed copies, an online search can prove productive.  I have found a few great old books through visits to used booksellers, but many of these sellers are now registered with the online book-finder services so you can search from the comfort of home.  Great books, and the occasional deal, can sometimes be found on the Internet auction sites as well.  I live in the extreme north and don’t have a lot of opportunity to visit decent bookstores, and I prefer to collect signed hardcover copies, so online or direct contact with the author is my preference.

So that’s it until next time.  If you have any questions or comments, drop me an email.  Stay safe and happy reading.
 



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Summer 2006

Welcome back to another installment of the Warden's Words.  I thought of reviewing books from Quebec, in honor of their hosting of the 2006 NAWEOA conference, but I couldn’t find any.  That’s probably a good thing because any that do exist are most likely written in French and my comprehension of the language isn’t so good.  In lieu of a Quebec feature I am presenting you with a veritable "dog's breakfast" from every corner of the “literary” map in an effort to try and cover off several loose ends.

As promised in the last issue I have now read both of Kirk Russell's follow-up novels in the John Marquez series.  I devoured these two books in very short order.  What I enjoy about this series is that the focus of the novels, and the work of the Special Operations Unit, remains primarily in the fish and game realm.  There is the occasional murder tossed in for the police to investigate concurrent with the SOU’s wildlife investigations, and the two inevitably become intertwined.   In "Night Game" (2004) Marquez' SOU is trying to crack a bear poaching ring in a district that is patrolled by a former SOU Lieutenant who bears (no pun intended) a grudge against Marquez because of circumstances revolving around the downsizing of the SOU eight years earlier.   This former SOU officer is indirectly involved with the local poachers, which further complicates the ongoing operation.  Add to that an informant who is not completely forthcoming with information, a possibly blown cover and threats against Marquez' family, and you have a great novel with plenty of suspense to keep you turning pages well into the night.

In 2005's "Dead Game" the SOU takes on sturgeon poachers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta area.  Unfortunately the team is now down to only three officers and is on its last legs due to budget cutbacks.  They are given three weeks to wrap up the sturgeon case before the team is to be disbanded until such time as new money is found.  Even with the odds stacked against them, the team forges ahead and makes the case (of course!). This third installment in the John Marquez series easily meets the mark in the world of "eco-thrillers" (a new terminology coined for this series).  In the acknowledgements for this novel Kirk Russell states that he wrote this series with the belief that he could help those who have devoted so much to saving open country and the wildlife in it.  In other words he wrote these books to help us educate a larger segment of society than we normally contact.  I hope he's accomplishing that - unfortunately these books are not easy to find outside the US.  They are published by Chronicle Books, 85 Second Street, San Francisco – www.chroniclebooks.com , and distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, Vancouver.

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett returns in the recently released novel "In Plain Sight".  Although author C.J. Box doesn't appear to be letting up, poor old Joe is pretty much done and questioning if he wants to continue working for the state.  There has been an election with a new "Wyoming Democrat" governor taking power.  The Fish and Game director resigned as a result and has been replaced by meddling bureaucratic administrator Randy Pope, prompting Joe's supervisor to take early retirement.  Pope wants to rid the state of Game Wardens who have "gone native" or whom he has deemed to be uncontrollable cowboys.   Because of Joe’s record of going off a bit half-cocked and getting in some pretty big wrecks, killing a few people and burning up a few trucks, Pope has taken on the direct supervision of Joe’s daily activities.  Consequently he is micromanaging Joe to death.  Top that off with the arrival of a wacko out to seek revenge against Joe for his involvement in the deaths of several of his family members, and Joe's life is heading downhill.  The matriarch of a prominent local family goes missing and the feud between the two older brothers intensifies and has an effect on the whole community.  The new psycho in town leaves Joe and his family some chilling messages and when the local police are not moving as fast as Joe likes, he decides to throw caution to the wind and "go native".  Things get real hairy, real fast and it’s one heck of a good rodeo.  I don’t want to give the ending away, but this one leaves some big question marks and no doubt Mr. Box has some surprises in store for us in the next book.  I'm looking forward to it.

In the last issue I wrote about Terry Grosz' sixth and supposedly final book in his excellent series.  Well I'm here to tell you that the big man just can't seem to slow down.  Johnson Books, a division of Big Earth Publishing, 3005 Center Green Drive, Boulder, CO, 80301 – www.johnsonbooks.com , has just published the seventh and allegedly final installment in the series - "Genesis of a Duck Cop - memories and milestones".  While the first six books were intended to give the reader a sense of what the action in the world of wildlife enforcement was really like, this book provides you with insight into the man behind the badge.  The book is divided into two parts - the first part is called Memories and describes why and how Terry got to be a "Duck Cop".  Part Two, called Milestones, is where Terry again regales us with some memorable events from his 32 year career.  Unfortunately I can't provide you with a complete review of this book yet, because I just received my copy from Terry a couple days ago and I have a deadline looming.  However, I have not yet been disappointed with one of Terry's books and I don't expect to be this time.  You can pick up a copy of this book, or any of Terry Grosz' other fine books from most major bookstores, from the publisher or directly from Terry c/o 8041 Grizzly Way, Evergreen, CO 80439 – phone: (303) 674-1653.  The cost for Duck Cop is $20 US and an additional $2.07 for shipping in the US and $5 to Canada and overseas.

Five hundred copies of "Lost Patrols of the Arizona Game Rangers" by Kimrod Murphy were printed in 2005 and sold out in three months.  A second edition has been printed and is now available directly from Kim Murphy – all profits go to the Arizona Game Rangers Association.  Mr. Murphy tells the story of Ralph Morrow, a man who started as a Deputy Game Warden, rose up through the ranks, took an undeserved (but welcome) demotion and ultimately became a State Game & Fish Commissioner.  Murphy provides insight into some of the inner workings of the historic Game and Fish bureaucracy, provides some general Arizona historical information and tells a few tales about his own 38 year career.  There aren’t a lot of poacher-catching stories here - most relate to game management and departmental politics, but the author has such an easy style that it is a pleasure to read.  One can easily imagine him telling these stories, exactly as they are written, around the campfire.  If you care to part with $18 ($24 Canadian) you can’t go wrong, and you are supporting a good cause – send your payment to Kim Murphy, PO Box 16146, Portal, AZ, 85632.

Insignia of the California Resources Agency” by Michael G. Lynch, Douglas T. Messer and Steven D. Huntington is a must-have for the badge and patch collector, especially one with an interest in California items.   This 58 page hardbound book is full of glossy color photos as well as a wealth of historical information about the agency and its badges, patches and other collectibles.   The book is well put together and a nice collector’s item in its own right.  It came about as a spin-off project from the California State Resource Protectors Sesquicentennial badge project.  While the badge was issued for wear by state Game, Parks and Forestry officers in 2000, the book wasn’t published until 2004.  This book is a steal for only $15 US (plus shipping) from Mike Lynch, Box 3212, Auburn, CA, 95604-3212, phone 503-885-9420 - email: lynch@psyber(DOT)com .

The final publication I want to tell you about isn't exactly a book, but is worth mentioning here, as our very own Patch Exchange columnist Mike Lathroum produced it.  Mike has put his massive collection of conservation patches and his network of collector friends to good use and produced a CD entitled “Conservation Agency Memorabilia – A Pictorial Reference for Collectors”.   If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this little project is about 6 million words, as there are almost 6,000 images on it.  I know how much time and energy was put into this project as I provided some minor assistance to Mike over the several years that it took to pull this off.  It is a comprehensive guide to the embroidered insignia worn by natural resource officers worldwide and is interspersed with historic and contemporary photographs of officers on the job.  The guide also contains non-enforcement, Smokey Bear, hunter safety, commemorative issues, and reproduction patches and more.  There have been other guides produced in the past, mostly just photocopied patch collections, but this one goes way beyond and even provides the dates of issue when known.  If this publication was printed as a book it would be massive – 8.5 by 11 inches and 400 pages long, but it is produced in Adobe Acrobat which is now the standard for computer based publications.  The Acrobat Reader is available for free online so if you’ve got a computer and Internet connection, you can view this CD.  If you are a collector or a historian I would highly recommend this reference guide.  It is available for $50 US, which includes shipping in North America.  For more information on this product take a look at Mike’s website - www.geocities.com/gamewardenpatchexchange/book.html or contact him at kmlathroum@comcast(DOT)net or at the address listed in the Patch Exchange column.

With a busy summer planned, I probably won’t get a whole lot of reading done in preparation for the next column.  I do have a pretty extensive collection of books in my basement though and I plan to get you up to speed on titles from my favorite vacation destination, “The Great Land”, in the fall issue.   If you have any questions, comments or a book you’d like reviewed, drop me an email

Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.
 



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Winter 2006

I’m back after an unplanned absence in the last issue.  Sometimes your summer vacation doesn’t go exactly the way you intend and you end up spending a bit more time in the Great Land than expected.  I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that my vacation was three weeks longer than planned and involved two new engines, a lot of rain, a lot of stress, some helpful and gracious people, about $7000 I didn’t have, and some very interesting experiences.  After all that, I hope I was at least missed by a few IGW readers.  I know one of my fellow officers here in BC has been reading the column, as he called and left me a message advising that he would help interpret any French-Canadian Game Warden books I happen to come across.  So far I haven’t been able to take advantage of that offer.

In my last column I said that I would get you up to date on books from the “Great Land”.  In case you don’t know, the Great Land is Alaska - the panhandle of which lies just to the west of my patrol district.  I frequently travel in and out of that part of the state in the course of my duties, but I like to head to the “interior” on vacation.  During last year’s trip through Anchorage (which incidentally is much larger and a couple hundred miles closer than the nearest city in my home jurisdiction of BC) I picked up several books I hadn’t yet read.  This year I had a lot of time to kill there and was able to pick up a few more and track down some signed copies of ones I already had.

We all know that the Conservation Officer ranks are composed of predominantly male officers, so it only follows that the majority of “game warden” books are either the memoirs of male officers or novels about male wardens.  There are many female game wardens within our profession but their stories have been slow in being told.   In fact if I look through my own large collection I have three fiction series with female protagonists and there is one chapter about a female officer in Terry Hodges’ book “Predators”.  So when a non-fiction title penned by a retired female U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent comes along it is of special interest.

A Hunt for Justice”, written by Lucinda Delaney Schroeder, and published by Lyons Press, PO Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437 in 2006, is a welcome addition to the game warden book world and my collection.  Many of us may be somewhat familiar with the story of how she posed as a big game hunter with an unscrupulous guide in Alaska in 1992 and ultimately brought about his demise.  In fact, on a larger scale the entire operation resulted in charges against a number of guides and their clients and forfeiture of numerous aircraft and other equipment.  This is Lucinda’s autobiographical account of her involvement in Operation Brooks Range.   And what an account it is - I read this book in two sittings as it was hard to put down.

Lucinda “Cindy” Delaney was hired as a USF&W Service Special Agent in 1974 - only the third woman to hold that title.  She became the first female field agent in 1975 when Willie J. Parker hired her to work out of the Raleigh, North Carolina office.  In Parker’s 1977 book “Halt! I’m a Federal Game Warden” he offered Cindy his praise and indicated that he felt she was destined for further success.

A Hunt for Justice” is unique as it is not a collection of “war stories” but rather the story of just one complex case that Schroeder was involved in.  The book is written much like a novel, beginning with some background that develops Cindy’s character and helps you understand her motivation to succeed.  The remainder of the book is full of twists and turns, suspense, obstacles and intrigue – and it’s all true.  Cindy Schroeder writes with honesty and humility about her involvement in Operation Brooks Range and touches on the personal and professional highs and lows that many of us experience in our work.  It is obvious that this case was important to her, not only to prove she could overcome the barriers within her own agency, but also to protect the wildlife at all costs - professional and personal.  It not only serves to promote wildlife conservation, but it also recognizes the valuable contributions of one female officer in our profession without being boastful or self-promotional, while remaining entertaining through-out.  A nice added touch is a photo section in the middle of the book that helps the reader remember that what is written actually took place.

One of Cindy’s goals was to write a book that could be inspirational to all wildlife officers – to show what can be done in the face of adversity and what has to be done for the sake of our precious resources.  Yet what is great about this book is that it can appeal to a wide audience that includes wildlife professionals, conservationists and mystery lovers.  If you are going to read only one “game warden” book this year, or encourage someone else to read one, this should be the book.  If you’d like more information visit Lucinda’s website at
www.ahuntforjustice.com .

A classic game warden book from the Great Land, which has long been out of print, is “Trails of an Alaska Game Warden” by Ray Tremblay (1985).  Ray began his 25 year career with the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1953 in Fairbanks as a “flying game warden”.  At that time the Territory did not have its own enforcement staff, and the federal agents who enforced the Alaska Game Law were called Alaska Enforcement Agents - the title was changed in 1956 to U.S. Game Management Agent to conform to the title used in the lower 48.  After statehood in 1959 came the creation of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, with its own Wildlife Protection Division, but Ray continued on with the USF&WS, eventually rising to the position of Special Agent in Charge.  After his retirement from the USF&WS in 1978, Ray went on to work for the Alaska Department of Public Safety as its Aircraft Supervisor.  Most of this book tells of his experiences during the territorial days and provides an interesting historical insight into wildlife protection, enforcement and predator control during that period.  There are lots of interesting stories revolving around the use of aircraft while conducting these duties.

Ray had always intended to write another volume to continue the story after 1959.  What eventually resulted was an updated version of “Trails”.  The order of the chapters has been changed, with each chapter re-edited and some additional material added.  A number of photos have been added (there are none in “Trails”) and about one quarter of the book is entirely new material from the period after statehood.  While “Trails of an Alaska Game Warden” is a bit choppy and rough around the edges (probably truer to Ray’s real character), “On Patrol – True Adventures of an Alaska Game Warden” is a highly polished publication.   Sadly, as the book was going to print in August of 2004, Ray passed away suddenly.   The book was published posthumously in September 2004, by Alaska Northwest Books, Box 10306, Portland, Oregon 97296.   If you don’t have either of these books, “On Patrol” is well worth having and easier to locate than Ray’s earlier title.  But if you already have a copy of “Trails of an Alaska Game Warden” I would recommend grabbing a copy of “On Patrol” for the additional material mentioned above.

Beyond the Killing Tree” was written by Stephen Reynolds and published by Epicenter Press, Box 82368, Kenmore Washington 98028 in 1995.  Reynolds began his career as a Streamguard for the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska in 1957.  This was followed by work as a New Mexico Game Warden from 1959 to 1969, followed by employment as an Alaska Wildlife Protection Officer-pilot, a big game guide and an Alaska State Fish and Wildlife Trooper.  He retired in 1986.   The first part of this book chronicles Reynolds’ activities in New Mexico and is a nice mix of poacher-catching and predator control tales written in a unique present-tense style.  Near the end of this section the stories become more introspective in nature, and this sort of storytelling continues into the Alaskan portion.  It’s certainly not the type of storytelling found in most Game Warden memoirs - the theme of the book is Reynolds’ personal evolution, yet his stories remain entertaining and definitely thought provoking.  If you’ve ever wondered why we do some of the things we do, or you have a hankering to get a feel for the Great Land, I recommend this book.

A Little Further Up the Creek” is a self-published book from 2002 written by former Alaska State Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Bill Belligar.  Belligar began his twenty year career as a Protection Officer in 1962.  Like almost all other officers hired in that day, he was also a pilot.  This 124 page book is composed of 30 short chapters.  The first two chapters build the foundation for why Belligar chose this career.   The following 26 chapters run the gamut of game warden fare from Belligar’s career in Alaska and all are well written and entertaining.  There is not a lot of window dressing here – Belligar just tells the story in a concise manner and moves on to the next.  The final two chapters are more personal in nature and tell of his family and his own spiritual evolution.  He keeps it to the point though and doesn’t get all bogged down in it.  The book is interspersed with a number of photos.

I Slept With the Bears” by David H. Carpenter (2003) is another self-published memoir from a retired Alaska Wildlife Trooper-pilot.  Carpenter wrote this book in a conversational style and intended for the reader to imagine him telling his stories by a cozy campfire somewhere in the Alaska bush.  Carpenter begins the book by telling of his move to Alaska from Michigan, and then quickly jumps to 1973 when he was hired as a State Trooper.  He tells of the academy, and of his postings in Anchorage and Delta Junction as a regular Trooper.  In 1975 he made the transfer to the “brown shirts”, as the Fish & Wildlife Troopers were known, and the rest of the book recounts his time in Kodiak, Palmer, and Haines and finally back to Anchorage where it all began and where he finished his career.   This book is a real potpourri of Alaska frontier policing and game warden fare – everything from stake-outs, flying, sleeping with bears, commercial fisheries, general patrols, and poacher tales.  It is a highly enjoyable, honest, and unpretentious story of his journey through the world of wildlife protection in the Last Frontier.  Dave Carpenter retired in 1994 when he felt that he could no longer keep up with the changing times – he was getting older and was not enjoying the long, cold hours as much.  The pressure to write copious citations and the requirement to use computers for writing his reports settled it for him and he decided to make room for a younger, more energetic computer whiz.

On Patrol, Beyond the Killing Tree, A Little Further up the Creek and I Slept with the Bears are all available through the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers , PO Box 100280, Anchorage, Alaska 99510-0280; phone 800-770-5050; www.alaskatroopermuseum.com.

This next series of books is of interest because they are compiled by Chad Carpenter who is Dave (I Slept with the Bears) Carpenter’s son and because they depict Alaska’s wildlife, hunters, anglers, Troopers, Game Wardens, and a host of other subjects in a warped, twisted and hilarious way.  We all need a good belly laugh from time to time.  “Tundra” is an Alaskan grown comic strip that has increased in popularity over the last 15 years and is now enjoyed in the lower 48, Canada and Europe.  Although it is primarily a daily strip, there are a whole host of spin-off items, including 12 books (at least three of which are in full color).  I thought of reprinting one of the comics here to give you a taste, but I couldn’t decide which was the funniest – instead I ended up sitting here thumbing through one of the books and not getting down to business.  Chad’s artwork is unique and his sense of humor is way out there.  His material will make your eyes water and your stomach hurt, especially when he pokes fun at us and our clientele.   I’ll tell you what – log on to www.tundracomics.com and see for yourself.

I hope you enjoyed this segment featuring books from and about Alaska.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Great Land you are missing out on a real treat, but if you want to get a bit of a feel for what the 49th state has to offer, pick up any of the books I’ve written about here, and let your adventure begin.

In our next issue I plan to provide you with a mixed bag of old, new and forthcoming titles. If you have any questions, comments or a book you’d like to see featured, drop me an email - I enjoy hearing from you.  Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.

GW



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Spring 2007

I was speaking with another officer a few weeks ago and he mentioned seeing the picture of my neighboring Yukon officer on the cover of the last issue.  I asked him if he’d been reading my column and he replied that he didn’t know I’d been writing one.  I directed him to the appropriate pages and he stated that he never noticed before because he only reads the articles if there are pictures that capture his attention.  I always thought that practice only applied to another less wholesome type of magazine – one that certainly wouldn’t have much use for a column on Game Warden books.  I’m certain he isn’t representative of most IGW subscribers; otherwise I’d be writing this column for nothing.  It will be interesting to see if he reads this column and recognizes himself.  As you will notice there is now a picture in my banner – hopefully it is interesting enough to capture a wayward “reader’s” attention and persuade them to hang around and visit.

You have probably noticed advertisements in the past two issues of this magazine for “When Whip-poor-wills Call” by William “Bill” Armstrong.  This publication is an autobiographical account of special events that occurred in the author’s life and career.  Most of the book takes place in the West Virginian Appalachia country, an area that I am not familiar with, but certainly gained a feeling for after reading this book.  The author has created a very warm and enjoyable book that illustrates how a game warden is affected by the people and places around him and how those same people are affected by him.  The book contains a nice blend of human-interest stories, excitement and humor.  There is absolutely no sense of boastfulness or arrogance that is occasionally found in other autobiographies and the book goes a long way to show that Game Wardens are human beings just like the characters they encounter throughout their careers.

An interesting departure from the norm is that the stories are told in past tense until the exciting parts which become present tense.  Once the action subsides they revert to past tense.  I don’t recall ever noticing that in other books, but I didn't mind it at all as it made the action seem more immediate and edgy.

This book will make a nice addition to your collection.  A signed copy of  “When Whip-poor-wills Call” can be ordered by sending $25 US or $29 CDN to W.F. Armstrong, P.O. Box 13, Colora, Maryland 21917, or online by credit card at www.whenwhippoorwillscall.com.

In an entirely different vein is a trilogy written and published by former Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer Murray Bates.   Murray’s first book, written in 2002 was titled “Game Warden – the Career of an Alberta Game Warden 1974-1999 ” and is for the most part a collection of warden tales and memorable events from his career, much like many other warden autobiographies, although this book is entirely about the law enforcement side of the occupation.  Over the course of 205 pages Bates discusses 18 cases in explicit detail.  I noticed very early that there are a lot of references to legal procedures and usage of technical terms that are not found in most books intended for the general public.  This could make the book somewhat unappealing to the lay-person.  However, it’s a well written book and easily related to by anyone in our profession.  Murray was also a guest lecturer and instructor in resource law enforcement at Lethbridge College and it becomes apparent that he hopes this book will become required reading for the students.  Murray finishes this book off with a brief explanation of his final case, some history of the near demise of the Fish and Wildlife Division in Alberta, and of his early retirement for medical reasons.

Murray Bates throws us another curve in his 129 page follow up from 2003 entitled “Game Warden II – Cases from the files of an Alberta Game Warden 1974-1999”.  It is clear that Murray is not just telling stories for entertainment.  He is on a mission to delve a bit deeper into the psyches of the poachers and the finer details of his investigations.  Murray begins the book by providing some background on his classification system for violators and then discusses four cases that illustrate these categories.  That portion of the book, although informative and entertaining by virtue of the bad guys getting caught, is clearly designed to act as a sort of training manual.  The final chapter is a departure from this technical training as Murray discusses the changes to the Fish and Wildlife Division in greater detail than his first book.  He explains how those changes resulted in his demotion and the cover-up of a poaching incident Murray was attempting to investigate involving his replacement (who had come from Alberta Parks).  It’s very clear that Murray was dedicated to his profession and made catching poachers his number one priority.  Although he is clearly bitter about his own treatment, he is also bitter about the near demise of an agency that he was so proud to be a part of and the near erasure of the identity of the “Game Warden” in Alberta.

The final installment in the series was published in 2004 and is titled, “Game Warden III - the Profile of a Poacher”.  This is another unique book because Murray tells about a number of cases that were never solved – how often do we see that?  He takes several different cases, involving several different violators and informants, and strings them together as if they all involved the same individuals.  In this way he gives the reader some understanding into the mindset of a hard-core poacher.  The book illustrates the importance of confidential informants and reveals how much will go undetected in your patrol area if you don’t utilize them.  It is made quite obvious that general “deterrence” patrols will most times barely scratch the surface of what is truly taking place.  My only real criticism of this book is that it was too short – only 90 pages.

If these books sound intriguing, I’d recommend acquiring the entire set.  Murray can be contacted at pcwilb@telus(DOT)net or through Murray E. Bates Publishing, RR 2, Sundre, Alberta T0M 1X0, phone (403) 638-8066.  Make sure to ask him about a Game Warden discount package deal.

The Minnesota Conservation Officers will be celebrating their 120th anniversary this summer by hosting the NAWEOA conference.  It’s timely then that the officers association recently came into over 500 unsold copies of the 1987 book about their history.  Former Minnesota Conservation Officer Woody Schermann penned “Minnesota Game Warden - A History 1887-1987” in 1987 and the book sold well at the time.  As the centennial came and went, interest in the publication waned, and Woody was left with several cases of books stored in his home.  Woody is not well now and his wife has donated these first-edition books to the Minnesota Conservation Officers Association.

I have just read a copy of this publication and it is an eclectic collection of tales and facts from the first 100 years of Minnesota conservation law enforcement.  It is certainly not your standard textbook style historical chronicle.  It is a fairly light read and the author’s personality is stamped all over it.  Schermann relies on many quotes from the reports of the Game Commissioners, newspaper tidbits and recollections of officers of the day to paint a picture of the early years of wildlife protection in the state.  Much of the later material comes from the author’s own experiences, or from events that were in the news during his own career.   He occasionally editorializes what he’s written about, which gives this book a very personal feel.  Some of the material, such as lists of staff, is of substantially more interest to officers in Minnesota than it would be to the rest of us, but I found that many of the trials and tribulations of the Minnesota Warden Service closely parallel issues that existed in my own jurisdiction in the past.  There is a short synopsis and obituary for each officer who was killed or died in the line of duty, along with a picture of each.  There are numerous photos throughout and a couple in particular, taken at the crime scene where three wardens were simultaneously gunned down, are quite poignant.  There are also pictures of early badges and all of the shoulder patches worn up to 1987, albeit in black and white.

This 334 page “new-old-stock” book is a real steal – it’s a large format soft-cover (8.5 x 11 inches) and is less expensive today than when it was first published.  The price in 1987 was $20 including shipping but if you’d like a copy now, you can send a $14 check or money order in US funds payable to “Minnesota Conservation Officers Association” to MCOA, P.O. Box 171, Stacy, MN 55079.  International customers (and that includes Canada) will have to pay a bit more because of added shipping costs.  Contact Bruce Lawrence at bruce.lawrence@dnr(DOT)state(DOT)mn(DOT)us or at (651) 674-2705 for more information.  Copies will also be available at the NAWEOA conference in July – if there are any left.

I made brief mention of two vintage Jim Kjelgaard books that I hadn’t yet read in the Spring 2006 issue.  I have since obtained both books and recommend them both for teenagers or for those of us looking for a bit lighter or more family oriented story than is found in contemporary “Game Warden Literature”.

Forest Patrol” was Kjelgaard’s first book and was originally published in 1941.  I was expecting to be a bit disconnected as I read about the duties of a Forest Ranger in Virginia  in the 1940’s, but was pleasantly surprised as most of  John Belden’s adventures are more game warden oriented.  When old Ranger Fred Cramer is temporarily re-assigned to another area, he appoints young John as his replacement.  John gets involved in chasing poachers, stocking trout, fire fighting, nuisance bears and a water pollution investigation and never has a dull moment in between.  Unfortunately, this book is long out of print and I am not aware of any more recent paperback printings of it.

Trailing Trouble” was originally published in 1952 and is the sequel to “A Nose for Trouble”.  It is the further adventures of young Game Warden Tom Rainse and his hound Smoky.   In this book Tom and his partner Buck Brunt are on the trail of bad guys who are creating havoc for fishermen in a wilderness area that is proposed to become a National Park.   There is plenty of action and intrigue to keep the reader’s attention.  It’s pretty light reading for adults, but a great introduction to “Game Warden Literature” for youngsters.    This book is often seen in paperback form, and many public and school libraries will have a copy of it.  Hardcover, clean original editions of these two books are quite rare and highly collectible – not because they are Game Warden Lit, but because they are some of the rarest of the popular Jim Kjelgaard titles.  As such they are not easy to locate and can be quite costly, even when covered with library markings.

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Here are some updates regarding some of the contemporary novelists we have become familiar with:

Library Journal has chosen C.J. Box’s “In Plain Sight” as the best mystery novel of 2006 and it is now available in paperback.

C.J.’s new novel “Free Fire” is scheduled to be on the shelves May 10th.   I was promised an advance copy but it hasn’t arrived in time for this article, so here is the synopsis from Putnam’s:

Joe Pickett, recently fired from his job as a Wyoming game warden, is working on his father-in-law’s ranch when he receives a visit from the governor. Governor Rulon – a devious but down-home politico – has a special request; one Joe knows he can’t refuse. For weeks, the headlines have been abuzz with the story of Clay McCann, a lawyer who slaughtered four campers in a far-off corner of Yellowstone.
After the murders, McCann immediately turned himself in at the nearest ranger station. Seemed like a slam-dunk case for law enforcement – except that the crimes were committed in a thin sliver of land with zero residents and overlapping jurisdiction, the so-called free-fire zone. McCann has taken advantage of an obscure loophole in the law: neither the state nor the federal government can try him for his crime. The worst mass murderer in Wyoming history walks out of jail a free man.
Governor Rulon, sensitive to the rising tide of public outrage, wants his own investigation into the murders and will reinstate Joe as a game warden if he’ll go to Yellowstone “without portfolio” to investigate. Joe, happy to get his badge back, even under these circumstances, agrees.
It quickly becomes clear to Joe that McCann is deeply involved with some illegal activity taking place in the park – someone tremendously lucrative and unusually dangerous. As Joe and his partner Nate Romanowski search for the key to the murders, they discover that it may be hidden in the rugged terrain of the park itself.

The next Ben Rehder novel, “Gun Shy” will also be out in May and promises to be as much fun as the earlier John Marlin adventures.

Kirk Russell, author of the John Marquez eco-thriller series of novels including “Deadgame”, has no immediate plans to continue that fine series.  He has published a novel about a San Francisco homicide detective in hopes of broadening his audience.  He states that “abalone, sturgeon and bear aren’t for everybody, but my heart is there and I'm headed back that way.”

I have taken the time to compile a list of all books reviewed in IGW since the first issue.  The list is separated by reviewer (IGW editor or guest, Bob Mullen and myself) and then sorted alphabetically.  I have converted it to Adobe Acrobat and anyone who wishes to have a copy for reference can download it here: IGW Book Review Listing

That’s it for this issue.  In just a couple of months folks will be traveling to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the NAWEOA conference, so I wish you all safe travels.

If you have any questions, comments or a book you’d like to see featured drop me an email - I enjoy hearing from you.  Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.

GW


Return to INDEX

Summer 2007

While I was out of town recently an old friend of mine called my home and spoke to my wife.  He told her that he’d just seen the latest issue of IGW and noted that I now had a picture of myself in my banner.  Without beating around the bush he told my wife that the picture made me look fat.   He then said that I should have used my wife’s picture because that would attract more readers (and then my friend from the last issue might actually read it too).  Truthfully it isn’t the picture of me that makes me look fat!!  They say the camera adds ten pounds, but light duties due to a broken ankle and surgery on my arm probably add another ten or more.  Let’s face it, I was already fat and now I’m fatter.  I’m half bald too but I just accept it as part of getting old. However, I did omit the evidence of one of my other physical disabilities from my readers.  Truth be told, I can barely see the pages of the book that I am holding, but I am still too vain to submit a picture of myself with my “Granny glasses” on.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the master list of book reviews that I told you about last issue, I noticed I’d mistakenly listed Ray Tremblay’s classic “Trails of an Alaska Game Warden” as “Tales of an Alaska Game Warden”.  Suddenly the realization that I may have also done so in the text of the Winter 2006 edition struck me.  Sure enough there it is, five times, in print forever.  Spell-check would have never caught it and even though I proofread like crazy, I missed this one.  So I offer my apologies to the family of Agent Tremblay and to my readers.

In honor of the 2007 NAWEOA conference in Minnesota, I have a pair of recent books from the Gopher State to introduce you to.  “They Used to Call Us Game Wardens” and “They Used to Call Us Game Wardens Volume 2” were published in 2006 and 2007 respectively.   They are each a collection of stories by retired Minnesota Conservation Officer Bill Callies and were compiled by his daughter Ivy Hanson and his son Fred Callies following his passing.  Bill was considered a natural storyteller and upon retirement his family encouraged him to write down his stories for them.  He agreed but on the condition that they not be published until after he died.  After Bill’s death in 2003 at the age of 86, the task of typing all his hand printed stories was undertaken.  There were enough stories for two books, but only one was initially planned and the family only wanted to print 100 copies for family and friends.  However, a minimum order of 500 was required.  Ivy and Fred were concerned that this would be a costly venture, but they forged ahead and all the surplus books sold in three weeks.  They had orders for more so a second printing was done.  The response was far more than expected and the second volume was published in January of this year.

Bill Callies didn’t become a Game Warden until he was 43 years old.  He’d worked as a floor layer up until that time, but had always admired his brother-in-law Jerry Leimandt and the freedom that his job as a Minnesota State Game Warden afforded.  This went on for about 10 years and in 1958 Bill took the written and oral exams to become a Game Warden and scored 23rd out of eleven-hundred people who took the tests.  He was offered a position in 1960, conditional on meeting with three senior wardens.  One of the wardens, who later became his supervisor, objected to hiring him because of his age and his snow white hair.  Normally the maximum age at time of engagement was 35, but a law was in place that allowed the age restriction to be waived for applicants who had been honorably discharged from the Armed Services.  Bill was in and took a $6000 pay cut to become a Game Warden.  That is a lot of money even by today’s standards, but in 1960 that was a 60 percent drop in pay from the $10,000 he’d been making in the floor-laying business.  If you could ask Bill Callies today if it was worth it, I’m sure his answer would be a resounding “you betcha”.  He often stated that being a Game Warden was the best job in the world.

What amazes me about Bill Callies and his stories is that they begin at an age when many of us are well into our careers and perhaps at our peak, or maybe even on the downhill side.  Bill put in twenty years as a Conservation Officer and the energy, enthusiasm, determination and love of the job are evident throughout the pages.  He wasn’t the type of warden we’d refer to as “old-school”, a term that frequently denotes an officer who turns a blind eye to a lot of things and would rather fish and hunt on the department’s time than get out there and stir things up.   From his telling of it, Bill ran herd on the poachers in his assigned parts of Minnesota and when one of his fellow wardens wasn’t pulling his weight he’d let him know about it.

I enjoyed both of these books.  They are easy to read and apparently are written pretty much as Bill would have told the stories out loud.  It’s a personal thing with me, but I like the longer more involved stories, which is what Volume 2 is mainly comprised of.  The first book is mostly short one or two page stories.  Either book will stand alone, as they each cover the various duty stations Bill was assigned to, but they also complement each other and being quite reasonably priced there’s really no reason to only buy one or the other.

The books retail for $13.95 each and can be ordered from Barnes and Noble and Amazon or directly from the publisher, Callies/Hanson Publishing, 3308 1st Avenue, Hibbing, MN 55746.  If ordering from the publisher the cost is $17 US each which also covers tax, postage and handling.  They will ship to Canada for the same price.  It is hoped that copies will be available for purchase at the NAWEOA conference as well.  For further information you can call (218)258-7831.

While doing research on new titles as well as older ones that have been overlooked, I came across a book titled “You Win Some…You Lose Some, Recollections of a Newfoundland Fishery Officer” by William Roche.  It was published in 2002 by Creative Book Publishing, P.O. Box 8660, St. John’s Newfoundland, A1B 3T7.  This memoir is only 131 pages long and set in fairly large type so isn’t a long read by any stretch.  It is also not a heavy read and in fact left me asking not only “where is the rest of it?” but “what was the point?”  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect every autobiography to ramble on and on, but I do like to read a few exciting stories.  Maybe it was the mood I was in, but this book never really got going.  Officer Roche worked as a Federal Fishery Officer in Newfoundland for some 24 years, and it’s clear from his tales that fish poaching was rampant in the province, but the stories are pretty much routine patrol type fare.  I suppose to a layperson the stories might provide some level of entertainment and excitement, but to a person who works in this field they were merely run-of-the-mill.  Perhaps they could have been made more entertaining by an injection of humor - something that was noticeably absent.  Another thing I enjoy seeing in these books is what type of fines were imposed in the past and in other jurisdictions, but with only one noted exception Officer Roche merely states again and again that hefty or substantial fines were imposed, or in some cases just that the accused was found guilty.  I had never before seen a book written by a Canadian Federal Fishery Officer and was hoping for something unique and fresh, but unfortunately was disappointed by this book.

Ben Rehder’s latest John Marlin novel “Gun Shy” was recently released and is a bit of a departure from the four previous entries in this series.  As far as being a Game Warden novel, well it really isn’t one this time out.  Although our hero John Marlin is still a Texas Game Warden, he drops everything to assist the Blanco County Sheriff’s office with the investigation of the murder of an illegal Mexican alien.   The backdrop of this story is the national gun debate, and Rehder masterfully pokes fun at both sides as he weaves his satirical web of dirty deeds.  This novel is pure Rehder, from the colorful cast of characters that you need a Rolodex to keep track of, to the raucous wit, biting satire and rapid-fire pace.  Toning down the Game Warden angle is clearly a calculated move to try and draw a bigger share of the market and this book will hopefully do that.  It is a highly entertaining entry from a very talented and humorous author.  As a lover of Game Warden literature I hope that Ben doesn’t stray any further from Marlin’s roots, but if he does I will still continue to read his stuff as he’s one of a kind.   Be warned though, as with previous Rehder novels, this one can get a little raunchy, so it isn’t for the young reader or those easily offended.

I provided some information regarding the release of the seventh of CJ Box’s Joe Pickett novels “Free Fire” in the last issue.  As you read in the abstract from the publisher, Joe is re-instated as a Game Warden by the Governor and asked to go to Yellowstone and see what he can uncover about the murder of four people (from Minnesota by the way), by a lawyer who subsequently walked away scot-free because of a strange anomaly in the law.  Amazingly enough, I learned that this loophole may actually exist and was discussed by Brian C. Kalt in 2004 in a 23 page legal research paper entitled “The Perfect Crime”.  Thankfully no one has ever actually tested this theory in reality, but Box fictionally puts it to the test in “Free Fire”.  He also expands upon another theory regarding the volatility of the Yellowstone caldera.  By weaving the two theories together with a multiple murder, then throwing in Game Warden Joe Pickett and his pal Nate Romanowski to stir up the pot, Box makes for a compelling story with no shortage of interesting turns and bumps in the road.  To make matters more complicated the Governor disavows any knowledge of Joe’s assignment and the National Park Service wants him gone as his antics are drawing too much attention back to the park and to the so-called “Zone of Death”.  As everything begins to unravel and fall into place, it becomes clear that the cause of the murder is much more sinister than just someone out to run a test case through the courts.  This is another well written and entertaining entry by an author who has received well deserved praise for his work.

Steve Reynolds, author of “Beyond the Killing Tree”, a book that I wrote about in the Winter issue, has advised me that he still has about sixty original copies of the book available for direct purchase.  He will sign and personalize a copy for you and ship it out for $15 US all inclusive – he’s not trying to make any money off this one, just recoup some costs.  Steve can be reached via email at RiverRanchRoad@aol(DOT)com or by regular post at 7315 River Ranch Road, Montague, CA 96064.

So that’s it for this issue.   By the time you read this the 2007 NAWEOA conference should be underway.  I’m sure it will be a good one.

Next time I plan to look at another Minnesota warden book, an overlooked Robert J. Adams (author of “Fish Cop”) title, the three book “Poacher” series by Chuck Shipley, and the latest Grady Service novel by Joseph Heywood which is due out in September.  I may throw in a surprise or two as well.

Stay safe out there.  Until next time, happy reading.

GW


Return to INDEX


Fall 2007

I have found this Fall column difficult to prepare for. I submit the column about two months before you see it, so it’s mid-August as I try and get this done. Today is the editorial deadline and I just finished the final book I want to write about last night. It was a fine summer’s eve, something that has been lacking in my neck of the woods this year, and it was tough to be inside reading. But it is still too “buggy” to try and read outside in the evenings.

There are also a lot of things going on in the summer as we all know, but this one has been especially busy for my family, with little time to sit down and try to get a half dozen or so books read. There have been a number of roadblocks and tests my family and I have had to negotiate through this summer, including making preparations for a transfer to a new station. We are making our move within the next two weeks (from when I am writing this) and as anyone who has transferred knows, there are huge to-do lists, both at home and at work. The thought of taking a hiatus this summer did cross my mind, but I received a lot of positive comments about my column from many readers, authors and publishers this summer, and that certainly gave me a morale boost.

By the time you read this column I will be in place in my new post in Powell River. I’m moving from an unincorporated town of about 350 people, home of the most westerly and northerly field office in B.C., to a southern coastal “city” of around 15,000. Can anyone say “culture shock”, “kid in a candy store” and “mortgage payments”?

I hope that everyone who made it to St. Paul had an enjoyable time and a successful conference. It was pointed out to me that I referred to it as the 2006 conference in my last column. I made those intentional little mistakes just to check if people actually read the column and I’m happy to learn that some people actually do. And if you believe that, I know of a Nigerian investment opportunity with huge returns for you. Maybe I should enter the names of people who point out my mistakes in a draw for a free book?

Anyway, that’s enough procrastinating and it’s time to get on with business.

In the Summer 2000 edition of this magazine, Bob Mullen introduced us to Robert J. Adams and his career as an Alberta Fish & Wildlife Officer in “Fish Cop”. Mr. Adams continued to write about his escapades as a Fish Cop in “Skunks & Hound Dogs” in 2002 (see Rat House Reader Winter 2002). He has also written a number of books about his youth and one about his time in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, all of which were reviewed by Bob Mullen. Just by chance I came across a third entry in his Game Warden series. This one was published in 2003 and is entitled “In the Shadow of the Rockies”. As with all his others, it is published by Megamy Publishing Ltd., PO Box 3507, Spruce Grove, AB T7X 3A7; email: megamy@compusmart(dot)ab.ca . The cover price is $16.95 CDN.

In the Shadow of the Rockies” is a welcome addition to my bookshelf, and like Bob Adams’ previous books this one is very well written and highly entertaining. I’m sure Adams could write a book or three about chasing poachers and making the big cases, but he chooses to write about the lighter side of the job – the odd characters and situations, and his tribulations with “The Powers That Be”. From “A 4X4, a Lot, and My Family”, through “She’s a Class ‘A’ Guide” and “A Bear Killed My Wife” to “The Trapper’s Teacup”, Adams natural story telling abilities shine through. With a wry wit and impeccable timing he kept me in stitches from start to finish. It’s not a long book, 179 pages, and is set in large enough type that I can read it at arm’s length without my granny glasses, but it is a very satisfying read. It’s interesting to note that all the stories in the three Game Warden books from Adams appear to come from the early part of his career, so there is great potential for further tales of misadventure from this author. Although the biographical information at the end of each book makes no mention of it, I recently learned that Mr. Adams rose through the ranks of the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division and in fact became one of the “Powers That Be”, serving as Director of the Enforcement Services Branch. I think there might be the makings of an interesting book in that little ironic twist. If you haven’t read this one, or any of Adams’ previous titles, you are missing out on some great Game Warden entertainment.

I might as well continue on with another three book series from Alberta. Author Chuck Shipley is a retired 32 year veteran Alberta Fish & Wildlife Officer who published his first book, “Poachers, Cranberries & Snowshoes” in 2003. This first foray into the world of Game Warden memoirs is a very well done self-published book that consists of a random collection of stories of Shipley’s adventures throughout his career. The book contains a nice mix of tales covering all facets of work in northern Alberta beginning in the 1960s, and is entertaining and easy to read.

Shipley’s 2004 sophomore publication is “Poachers, Beans & Birch Bark”. The stories are still enjoyable, although I didn’t find them quite as fresh as in the first book. A common issue in self-published books is the editing and normally I try and overlook it as long as the stories are engaging. However, I started to notice more editing misses in this book than in the previous one. One particular issue that made the book difficult to read and was quite distracting as it interfered with the flow was the use of the numeral “1” in lieu of the written word “one”. The word is never actually written anywhere in the book, and there is a natural tendency on the part of the reader to confuse the numeral “1” with the word “I”. Use of the numeral is not too bad when referring to a given number of items, unless it is the first “word” of a sentence. Compounding the situation however was Chuck’s tendency to refer to himself or other people as “1”, as in “if 1 needed to go make yellow snow after lights out, 1 had to pick ones way over numerous inert bodies”. Now I don’t know if this was a typesetting problem or what, but if Shipley is planning another printing of this book, I’d suggest addressing this issue.

Chuck’s third book, published in 2006, is “Poacher Chaser Holidays”. There are a few warden stories in this book, but the majority of the stories are, as the title suggests, about Chuck’s days off from poacher chasing and his vacations to his cabin on the Peace River. He paints a wonderful picture of his off-duty life and the history of the Peace River region of Alberta. Although I am obviously a fan of the Game Warden book genre, I do grow weary of reading about the “same adventure, different jurisdiction” over and over. I found it pleasant to see a different side of the author and to read about his personal time with his family and friends. However, I was distracted by the editing of this one as well. The issue this time was primarily punctuation, but some spelling mistakes, repeated phrases and grammatical errors tended to make the story telling somewhat choppy. Hopefully these issues will be remedied for the second printing.

These three books are available through many Canadian book stores or directly from the publisher, JBS Publishing, Rural Route 3, Rocky Mountain House, AB T4T 2A3. Their website is www.jbspublishing.com. The cover price on these books is $18.95 CDN. The books, and the ads for them in IGW, list Chuck’s email as cesj1@telus(dot)net and his phone number as 403-845-4234. I tried emailing Chuck following release of the third book and received no response after a few attempts so I gave up trying. I ended up finding my three copies in the “Canadiana” section of a large independent bookstore in Prince George, BC.

There have been a few biographies of retired wardens, and there have been individual stories told about officers who are still serving, but I am not aware of any books written almost entirely about an active duty officer. “Border Warden”, written in 2006 by Murray Mills, is primarily a collection of stories about Conservation Officer Lloyd Steen of Ray, Minnesota. Why would Mills decide to write about Officer Steen while he is still on the job? Mills had originally thought of traveling the US in an RV and interviewing game wardens in various jurisdictions, with an eye to writing a book. The RV plan never materialized and attempts at making short local trips to interview local wardens didn’t pay off either. He bought a resort in Lloyd Steen’s patrol district in upper Minnesota and upon meeting him was enthralled with his stories and even spent time with him on patrol. Sort of like a literary version of the television shows “Game Warden Wildlife Journal” or “E-Force” with all episodes following the same officer.

Border Warden” is actually a very good book and the stories are top-notch and engaging. Mills writes about Officer Steen with obvious admiration and respect for him. He doesn’t portray Steen as some sort of Superwarden, but as a regular guy who has an important job to do and possesses the determination and perseverance to do it well. In “Diabetic Walleyes” we read about Steen’s gut telling him over and over to keep looking because something with this elderly couple isn’t quite right. I know many of us have been there and tenacity is what broke the case. In “Bitten Twice...the Same Day” we read about Steen trying to release a live wolf from a leg-hold trap – without the benefit of immobilizing drugs. Then there are the compelling events of “Left on the Ice…To Die” and “I Would Have Killed You” that illustrate just how tenuous and hazardous this job can be. These are just a few examples of the great true stories found in this book. There are numerous photographs of Steen on the job interspersed amongst the text. The graphic design and layout is very appealing as well.

One of the early chapters is titled “No Sainthood for the Author” and tells of a minor poaching incident that Mills was involved in during his childhood and although I think I understand why it’s there, the book is supposed to be about Steen and this chapter doesn’t really add anything to the subject matter. It would have been better incorporated into the appendix about the author. There is also a “bonus” fictional chapter at the end of the book that is a wildlife tale, but is not a warden tale. However it was a story that the author felt compelled to write and including it in this manuscript guaranteed its publication. I have to say that it is actually a well written and interesting short story that I quite enjoyed.

Border Warden” is published by Tower Hill Publishing, 41926 Daley Larson Road, Bigfork, MN 56628; telephone: 218-743-6575; email: borderwarden@bigfork(dot)net. The cover price is $16.95 US or $21 CDN. With the current exchange rate I’d buy it in US funds and save a few bucks.

For fans of Joseph Heywood’s Woods Cop series, a new entry was scheduled for release in September. I had opportunity to read an advance copy of “Strike Dog” and was quick to note that this novel is following the same theme that I noticed in the novels I reviewed last issue. There isn’t really much “Game Wardening” going on in this one, as our hero Grady Service is on the hunt for man-killers. The book opens with Grady learning of the death of his girlfriend and his son in a traffic accident, and it soon becomes apparent to him that they were actually murdered. Then he is sent off to provide assistance to a federal investigation into a serial killer who may be targeting the best Game Wardens in each of the fifty states. There may even be a connection between the murder of Service’s family and the Game Warden murders. It is kind of a far-fetched, fantastical story but author Heywood is able to keep it all on track and tie it together making for an interesting and gripping novel, full of suspense. It has been described by the publisher as being almost a psychological thriller, presumably because it is contains less action and leg-work and more criminal profiling, link analyses and head-work.

It is unfortunate that characters we have grown familiar with in previous Woods Cop novels have been killed off, but perhaps the author saw that Service was becoming too tame and wanted him to go back to the rudimentary existence he led and regain the edge he had when we first met him in Ice Hunter. If you are looking for pure Game Warden fare, this book is lacking in that regard and doesn’t compare to previous Woods Cop novels, but it is a good read nonetheless and a good vehicle to introduce murder mystery fans to this series.

So there you have it for another issue. If you’d like to contact me, point out any mistakes I’ve made this time or know of a book you’d like to see featured, drop me an email. Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.


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Winter 2007

I hope you all had a safe and productive fall season and that things have slowed down a bit so you can spend some time with your families and loved ones.

My fall was busy with trying to get oriented to my new patrol assignment and the challenges that it brings, along with getting my new home in order. I didn’t find nearly enough time to read and prepare for this column as I had hoped so I am offering you a bit less material than usual.

I had also hoped to submit a couple items of a different nature for possible publication this issue but you know how it goes – day to day life and work get in the way. Maybe in the next issue – stay tuned.

I am pleased to note that no one has contacted me to advise of any mistakes in the last column, so the prize pool is still full. However, I did receive a couple inquiries about the investment opportunities I briefly mentioned last issue and may soon be opening an offshore “retirement fund”.

The good news for Canadian book buyers is the soaring Canadian dollar (Loonie) which went as high as $1.10 US at one point. It has always caused me frustration that the Canadian list prices were so out of whack with the exchange rate. Many book sellers responded to the Loonie’s rise by charging the US cover price, but technically we were still overpaying. The sellers claim we pay more because of higher labor and shipping costs. If we buy the books from the US in Canadian dollars we can actually now get them for less than the US cover price. I haven’t yet taken advantage of this, as there is still shipping to consider unless I was making a trip to the US on other business anyway.

At the NAWEOA conference that was held in British Columbia in 2005 I picked up a copy of a self-published book entitled “All in a Day’s Work – Removing Problem Wildlife” by retired British Columbia Predator Control Officer Jack Lay. Although the book was of special interest to me because of my interest in the history of the BC Game Department, it wasn’t a book that I felt really stood out from the pack. The subject matter was interesting enough but the writing and the book’s pacing was pretty rough. I chose to delay reviewing it; mainly because I felt I had saturated IGW readers with enough British Columbia material in the Summer 2005 issue to last them for some time.

In the meantime Jack Lay took the manuscript to a professional publishing house where it was re-edited, some additional material was added and the cover design was altered leading to a re-release in 2006. The basic content is the same but the book is now much smoother and easier to read. As before, the book is full of humor and insight. This is actually the first book that is entirely an autobiographical accounting of the work of a member of BC’s Game Department. One chapter in A. Bryan William’s 1926 classic “Game Trails in British Columbia” discusses his role as the Provincial Game Warden and the only other book that explores the job of the old Game Department in BC to any extent is “Never a Time to Trust” (see Rat House Reader, Summer 2002) which, coincidently, is primarily about predator control as well. There are a few other books written by former BC Game Wardens but they do not discuss the workings of the department or the job (if you are interested in knowing more about them send me a note).

As the first book of its kind published in BC, and one of the few “Game Warden” books to deal exclusively with predator control and not with enforcement, this book is a welcome entry to the genre and should appeal to anyone who has an interest in “Game Warden Literature”. British Columbia was one of only a handful of jurisdictions that ever established a dedicated Predator Control Division and this book also provides some history of that branch and the role that its employees played.

“All in a Day’s Work” (ISBN 0-9781690-1-8) is published by Talus Publishing Group - www.grouptalus.ca. . The cover price is $17.95 CDN and $16.00 US. Please direct any inquiries regarding purchase of the book directly to the author at Box 243 Princeton B.C. V0X 1W0 , via email to JELay@persona(DOT)ca, or by phone - 250 295-6016.

I stumbled on this next book completely by accident and for the first time since I began this column in 2005, I am writing about a book where the story takes place outside of North America – this is International Game Warden after all. I had never really heard of a Patagonian Toothfish until I saw, and subsequently read, the non-fiction publication titled “Hooked – Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish” by G. Bruce Knecht (2006).

Readers may be more familiar with the restaurant industry’s name for this fish - the Chilean Sea Bass – which despite its simple flavor was all the rave on the restaurant scene beginning in the 1990’s. The demand for this fish, which was readily adapted to any type of recipe, exploded and as a consequence over-fishing occurred. As stocks declined in one area, new areas were exploited and despite attempts to regulate the fishery, it was widely abused by “high-seas pirates and poachers”.

“Hooked” begins with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority patrol vessel Southern Supporter locating three vessels suspected of illegally fishing in Australian waters. It then turns the pages back to 1977 as the Patagonian Toothfish is “discovered” and marketing attempts are begun. The chapters then alternate between the attempted intercept of one of the fishing vessels, the Uruguayan registered Viarsa, and the story of the rise in popularity of the fish now known as the Chilean Sea Bass, until the two timelines intersect. The book then focuses on the dramatic and dangerous sea chase that took place between Viarsa and her pursuer. This is the story of one of the longest hot-pursuits ever undertaken at sea and a story about international law enforcement cooperation as Australia hires an armed boarding party from South Africa to finally take control and seize the Viarsa.

Although the end result of this true story is less than satisfying, the book is highly engaging and although intended as an entry into the field of “environmental issues” it also makes for a pretty decent “Game Warden” type story with a fresh perspective and style. There is also a great selection of black & white photos in the book that help give life to the details of the story. “Hooked” (ISBN 13 978-1-59486) is published by Rodale and distributed by Holtzbrinck Publishers.

“Ramblings of a Lowcountry Game Warden – A Memoir” (ISBN 978-1-57003-728-3) by Ben McC. Moise is slated for general release in February 2008. I was fortunate enough to receive an uncorrected proof and very much enjoyed this book by this retired coastal South Carolina Conservation Officer. Ben served from 1978 to 2002 working primarily in the marshes and coastal waters of the Palmetto State. Most of the stories revolve around routine patrols and investigations and there are no really ‘fantastic tales” that make your heart race. The stories are pure, honest and unembellished and because of Moise’s professional writing style he is able to evoke a very clear and bright image of his work in the lowcountry and to ably demonstrate his passion for, and love of, his job. If someone unfamiliar with the work of a Game Warden were to pick up this book it would be a superb introduction to this genre for them.

I am unfamiliar with the southern US coast and in my own career I have not had the opportunity to work many of the types of cases that Ben writes about, so the opportunity to ride along with the author, as he paints his literary pictures in this area of rich and colorful characters, was a real treat. Keep your eyes peeled for this fine addition to the world of Game Warden tales this spring and grab it as you will not be disappointed. It will be published by the University of South Carolina Press, 719 Devine Street, Columbia, SC 29208. Phone 800-768-2500. Their website is www.sc.edu/uscpress. .

I’d like to make mention of a couple of series of books that readers may not be aware of but may find of interest. The first is a series of books about a character named Webb Carrick, a fictional officer of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Service. The late Scottish author Bill Knox first introduced readers to Carrick in 1964, with “The Scavengers” and ultimately wrote 15 books in this series, the final one being 1991’s “The Drowning Nets”. I have only read a couple of his books, specifically “Hellspout” (1976) and “Witchrock” (1977), and found them well written and entertaining. They are primarily murder mystery type books but Carrick becomes involved because of his duties as a Fish Cop so they fit within the genre. Unfortunately they were never readily available in North America and are all out of print, but copies can occasionally be found through used-book sellers.

Another series that I discovered during one of my trips to Alaska, while not exactly a Game Warden series, sort of sits on the fringes of the genre. Author Elizabeth Quinn has penned five books featuring Dr. Lauren Maxwell, an Anchorage-based investigator for the Wild America Society, which is a fictional Sierra Club-like entity. Maxwell’s role is to investigate the potential effects of industry and government programs on wildlife and wild areas. There are five books in this series, beginning with 1993’s “Murder Most Grizzly” and concluding with “Dead by a Whisker” in 1999. There is absolutely no “Game Wardening” in these books which are strictly murder mysteries. They are very light reading, albeit well written, and are not overly complex or technical. So why am I mentioning them? I have seen these titles listed under the broad category of “conservation” and even “conservation law enforcement” and I wanted to point out what they actually are, so no one unwittingly picks them up thinking that they are Game Warden fare. They are not bad books if you are looking for an entertaining mystery and a distraction.

I have written in the past about obtaining signed copies of books for my own collection and although I am not collecting books as an investment I often wonder what makes a book more valuable, so I did some research to see what the main schools of thought are on this. Certainly the author’s basic signature on the title page, which is frequently referred to as “flatlining”, will increase the value to some extent. However, the more flatlined signed copies out there, the less the overall increase will be for each copy. Maybe you’d think that an inscribed copy would be more valuable, but that is a matter of much debate. If the book is inscribed to the owner, it can be argued that this will verify the signature as authentic (assuming the owner can provide proof), thus making it more valuable. However, a collector will not likely consider a book that is inscribed to some other unknown collector as more valuable than a clean flatlined copy. One exception to this would be where an inscription is to a well-known person indicating the book came from their personal collection, which in itself could make it more valuable. Add to this the author’s signature and you might have a very valuable book. In the case of a non-fiction book, an inscription to a character who is mentioned in it would certainly increase the value of that book substantially. I have signed books meeting all of these criteria in my collection, but I’m not all that hung up on their value on the open market – their sentimental value to me is what’s most important.

Well folks, there you have it for another few months. Please drop me a note at moosecop@moosecop(DOT)net. I am always looking for books from new authors and old titles that I was not formerly aware of. Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.

GW


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Spring 2008

Happy Spring!! I trust everyone made it through the winter unscathed and none the worse for wear, apart from a little bit of winter fat from inactivity and Christmas dinners.

This time around I am devoting my column entirely to non-fiction books and publications about the Park Ranger profession. I realize that many of this magazine’s readers are Park Rangers and Wardens and they have been neglected somewhat.

There has really been very little written about non-fiction Park Ranger books in IGW in its 24 years of existence. Apart from the odd book or two appearing in a list of “Game Warden” books in the early 1990’s, I was only able to track down two reviews or synopses of U.S. Park Ranger books and three of Canadian Park Warden books, so I am setting out to remedy that in this one issue. My list will by no means be exhaustive, nor do I intend to try and review every title. There are also a large number of books out there about the history of the national and state parks services, but I will focus on books written by or written about the personnel, specifically the field staff.

What I believe might be the first book that touches on the work life of a Park Ranger was published in 1928 and is entitled “Oh, Ranger”. It was written by Horace M. Albright, who at the time was the Assistant Director of the National Park Service, and by Frank J. Taylor, a newspaper reporter and author. While it is primarily a light hearted book about the National Parks Service in general, the title alone justifies it’s inclusion in this list. The book is “dedicated to The Rangers and their Chief Stephen Tyng Mather” so clearly the authors considered the heart and soul of the National Park system to be its dedicated field staff. The story of the parks system is told by inserting the ranger as a key figure throughout the book. “Oh, Ranger!” is nothing short of a Park Ranger classic. Early editions of the book are still available from a variety of used book dealers for a reasonable price.

Another book that provides much greater detail about the early days of rangering in the National Park Service is “The Making of a Ranger” (ISBN 0-935704-18-3) by Lemuel A. Garrison, published in 1983. Mr. Garrison began his 40 year career with the NPS in 1932 as a seasonal, and worked his way up through the organization to Director of the Mid-West Region, followed by Superintendent of Albright Training Academy. This book provides a history of the NPS through the memoirs of Mr. Garrison as an employee of the agency during its early evolution. It’s a very well written book with an important place in any collection of Ranger memoirs.

“Park Ranger” by C.B. Colby was first published in 1955 and a second edition was published in 1971. Colby authored a number of books about a variety of careers which were geared toward a younger audience and provided primarily a pictorial look at those jobs. This is a great book for anyone who wants a quick visual overview of the life of a ranger 50 years ago. The black and white photos are crisp and clear and provide a wonderful reference for anyone interested in ranger or NPS history. Most copies on the market today are former school library copies and are quite inexpensive.

Bob Mullen (Rat House Reader) wrote about “Rangers – the Law of the Land” by Paul D. Berkowitz (1995), in the Spring 1997 edition of this magazine. The first part of the book relates the history of Rangers within various US Federal Land Management agencies. The next part of the book contains 364 pages of incident reports involving deadly force and assaults. The final section of the book is a series of essays on a number of subjects of interest to all natural resource protectors. At the time Bob considered this book to be a “must read” and I concur, finding the material to still be relevant in 2008.

“Guardians of Yellowstone” (ISBN 0-688-09213-6) was written in 1991 by then Chief Ranger Dan R. Sholly with assistance from Steven M. Newman. This book is a great snapshot in time of the life of a Park Ranger in probably the most famous national park in the U.S., if not the entire world. It’s another must have for a Park Ranger book collection.

On the Canadian side of things are three separate essays each entitled “Guardians of the Wild”. The first, published as a 148 page hardcover volume, was penned in 1936 by M.B. Williams. It is more of a thumbnail history of the Canadian National Parks system than it is a Park Warden anthology. The second use of the “Guardians” title was made for a chapter in a larger publication entitled “A History of Canada’s National Parks” (ISBN 0-662-11497-3) written by W.F. Lothian and published in 1981. This chapter provides a fairly detailed history of the Warden Service since it’s inception in 1909. The third use was for a very in-depth and well researched history of the Warden Service (ISBN 1-55238-018-1), written by Robert J. Burns with assistance from Mike Schintz, and published in 2000. Bob Mullen wrote a glowing review of this work in the Summer 2002 issue of this magazine.

One of the first true Park Warden biographies from Canada is “Men for the Mountains” (ISBN 7710-5852-7) written in 1978 by Sid Marty. This book is often considered a Canadian classic with regard to National Parks and mountaineering and no Park Ranger/Warden collection should be without it. Mr. Marty wrote the “sequel” to this book in 1999. “Switchbacks” (ISBN 0-7710-5669-9) contains more Warden stories, although they are less interconnected than in “Men for the Mountains”. I don’t know quite how to describe the difference between the two, other than to say that “Men” was written for the reader’s sake, while “Switchbacks” seems to have been written more for the writer’s sake – more about style than substance.

A very interesting book, that puts a twist on the usual fare, was written in 1985 by Ann Dixon, and is titled “Silent Partners – Wives of National Park Wardens” (ISBN 0-9692189-0-7). Bob Mullen wrote a nice review of this book in the Spring 1998 issue and suggested it was a must-have.

I should also make mention of “A Ranger Alone – Experiences of a Young Park Warden”, written by Ray V. Fetterly in 1993. I’ll also remind readers of “Close Call on High Walls” written by Mike Schintz in 2005 and reviewed in my Spring 2006 column.

A recent title I read is “The Last Season” (ISBN 0-06-058300-2) by Eric Blehm, 2006. This is the story of long serving seasonal Park Ranger Randy Morgenson who mysteriously disappeared while on a routine back-country foot patrol in King’s Canyon National Park in 1996. The book moves back and forth between the personal and employment biography of Morgenson, and the ongoing story of the difficult search for him. It is a backcountry detective story of a search for a man who might not want to be found and the author leaves the reader wondering at every turn if Morgenson went into hiding, was the victim of foul or an accident, or just simply fell off the face of the earth. It isn’t the type of book that I regularly read for this column, as it isn’t about chasing poachers and bears, but I found it to be a gripping and worthwhile diversion that is extremely well written.

Another recent Park Ranger book that I devoured and had a hard time putting down is Jordan Fisher Smith’s “Nature Noir” (ISBN 0-618-22416-5), published in 2005. The core of the book centers on Fisher Smith’s career in the Auburn State Recreation Area of California. It takes place in an area that was to be flooded upon the construction of the Auburn Dam by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960’s, but due to a series of roadblocks the area remains above water to this day. California States Parks, through a contract with the Bureau, continues to patrol the deep canyons of the American River, up to 300 feet below the surface of the future reservoir. Many of the activities that would be forbidden in all other parks are overlooked, or are permitted here, as there is little sense in trying to protect the natural resources of an area that is doomed. The rangers spend the majority of their time protecting the users of the area from one another. Interwoven into these tales is the fascinating background story of the reservoir that was never completed. As an amateur historian and professional law enforcement officer, I found this book both informative and fascinating. It’s a first-rate read.

There are a number of more recent Park Ranger books in print which I have not obtained or read, but felt it worthwhile to mention here, should anyone be looking for other books in this genre. If anyone has read any of the following books and would like to pass along their comments, or wants to guest write a review, feel free to contact me.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway by Foot: A Park Ranger's Memoir” (ISBN 0-78-643140-7) by Tim Pegram, 2007.

“I'm Just a Seasonal: The Life of a Seasonal Ranger in Yosemite National Park” (ISBN 0-97-291194-4) by Thomas A. Smith, 2005.

“National Park Ranger: An American Icon” (ISBN 1-57-098392-5) by Charles R. Butch Farabee, 2003.

“Park Ranger: True Stories from a Ranger's Career in America's National Parks” (ISBN 0-96-745954-0) by Nancy Eileen Muleady-Mecham, 2004

“Ranger Stories: True Stories Behind the Ranger Image” (ISBN 1-58-385114-3) by Michael John Meyer, 2006.

“Seasonal Disorder: Ranger Tales from Glacier National Park” (ISBN 1-55-566374-5) by Pat Hagan, 2006.

“Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America's National Parks” (ISBN 1589791916) by Jim Burnett, 2005

The U.S. National Park Service has an exceptional history site on the internet containing a wealth of information on all aspects of the park system. One item of particular interest is an online book titled “Badges and Uniform Ornamentation of the National Park Service” which was researched and prepared in 1997 by R. Bryce Workman. It is only available online and contains an abundance of written information, as well as photographs and drawings of NPS badges, patches, buttons and other insignia and uniforms. It is a great resource for badge and patch collectors with an interest in Park Ranger items. You can view the book here.

Finally a few housekeeping items:

Bob Snow, President of the Federal Wildlife Officers Association wants to let readers know about a link on their website titled "Wildlife Officer Classifieds". The purpose of the site is to provide advertising to Game Wardens selling anything of interest to other game wardens – books are one such item that comes to mind. Advertising is currently free of charge. If you would like to list an ad contact Bob through the website or at kysa543@gmail(DOT)com. He will need either a link to an existing website offering the item to be sold or a .PDF (Adobe Acrobat) file with the advertisement already completed. You can preview what they offer by clicking here - FWOA Website

In the last issue I wrote about “All in a Day’s Work - Removing Problem Wildlife” by Jack Lay. Jack and the publisher have requested that all enquiries regarding the book be directed to the author. Jack can be contacted through the following routes - Box 243 Princeton B.C. V0X 1W0, via email to JELay@persona(DOT)ca, or by phone at (250) 295-6016.

Feel free to drop me a note by email if you have any suggestions or information to pass along. I am always looking for books from new authors and for old titles that I was not formerly aware of. Until next time, stay safe and happy reading.

GW


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Summer 2008

Wow! It’s hard to believe that this is my tenth installment of this column. When I first began this column in late 2005, I didn’t really intend for it to be a book review column, but more of an information source for Game Wardens regarding books about our profession. However, as it evolved I found myself doing reviews and expressing my opinion about certain books. What qualifications do I have to be a book reviewer? I’m not yet a professional book author but I have a bit of formal communications training and have written and published a few magazine articles over the years, as well as my regular column in this magazine. If readers don’t agree with my observations that’s their prerogative, but hopefully they will see it for what it is - constructive criticism. If I read a book that is truly a mess I feel bad for the author and because I am not really a “type-A” personality I worry about upsetting him when I say something unflattering about his book in this column. It’s worse when an author has sent a complimentary book to me as I feel a certain obligation to please him. I have to weigh that obligation against the one that I have to my general readership to provide them with a fair account of the books I write about in this column. Despite all that, I always try to find and say something positive about each of the books that I read, and with very few exceptions I have been able to achieve that goal. This issue’s column is no exception – I was fortunate that of the five books I am reviewing, four were first rate, and the fifth, while not exactly in the same league, does have some redeeming qualities. I have observed that occasionally it is a side-effect of one method of publishing that can be a determining factor in whether a book is outstanding or just run of the mill.

There are two methods of book publishing taking place with Game Warden books, and unfortunately the differences between the two are often readily apparent in the final product, especially when it comes to typographical errors and structure.

The method that will lead to the widest distribution and the best quality product, but will also eliminate many authors from the pool, is the use of a professional publishing house. This may require submission of your manuscript to dozens of publishers, but if accepted by one, it also means that they will proof-read and edit your manuscript as part of your contract. Generally they will only want to publish material that will appeal to a wide audience. The real plus here is that the only cost to you is the initial mailing of your manuscripts – if the company feels the book is worthy of publication, all associated production, promotional and distribution costs will be borne by them. However, with the added benefits, comes less profit per unit for the author, but you will likely see a much wider distribution which could mean more profit overall. Generally you do not own the rights to your book until the expiry of your contract with the publisher.

The other method, which is often referred to as “Vanity Press”, a term that inaccurately assumes these publications will not have any appeal to the general public, is to simply pay a company to publish your book for you. Some will require you to do all the layout and design and are merely a printing house that will send the finished books to you for final distribution. Some companies will do layout and design for you for an additional charge and some will even distribute your book for you for an additional charge – the more you pay, the wider the distribution. In most cases you will retain all rights to your manuscript. Once the book is complete, you stand to make more profit per unit than the professional publishing house method, but it’s unlikely that your book will sell anywhere near the numbers that can be generated by the professionals. Think about this – if a publishing house sold 10,000 copies of your book and paid you $2 per copy, or you independently sold 2000 copies at a profit of $10 per copy you would make the same amount of money but you operated risk free and worry free with the publishing house.

The one very important thing that these self-publishing companies will not do for you is provide a proofreading and editing service. Reliance on family and friends will not provide you the same quality as the discerning eye of a professional editor. Relying on your word processor’s “spell check” feature is dubious at best, as many spelling mistakes result in actual words, but not the word that should be used. As previously stated I’m not really a professional, but I can quickly spot spelling, grammatical and structural mistakes in the material I read and I find it distracting and something that generally degrades the quality of the publication. If you are considering publishing a memoir or series of Game Warden tales by this latter method, I can’t stress enough the importance of proof-reading well, even if you need to pay someone to do it.

“It Takes One to Catch One - Confessions of an Alaskan Wildlife Trooper” by Steven A. Knutson was published in November 2007 by Outskirts Press. The author spends less than half of the book’s 278 pages telling the usual Game Warden stories. The majority of the book is an entertaining recollection of the author’s childhood and adolescent misdeeds, followed up with tales from his adventures with the US Air Force, both in Vietnam and in the US. These stories clearly illustrate his somewhat reckless nature and why he claims “it takes one to catch one”. There are some very enjoyable warden tales spun as the author transitions into that phase of his life, but there continues to be a theme of non-conformism with a hint of contempt for his superiors thrown in. The author points out that this book is a work of “fiction’, but it clearly isn’t, and in a couple cases he details the exploits of his co-workers after changing their names for reasons that will be obvious. One of the names was unfortunately changed to that of an actual Alaskan wildlife law enforcement officer, albeit from another agency, who I was asked to emphatically state was not the intended subject of that tale. One such story, although uncomfortably interesting, did little to further the purpose of the book, and perhaps would have been better told in some other format.

“It Takes One to Catch One” is self-published and on the face of it looks like a top-notch publication, but it could have benefited from a good proof-reading and editing job. There are so many “non-words”, wrong words and misspelled words that they take away from the flow and potential professional presentation of the book. While I understand that the author has his own style, I observed a number of “idiosyncrasies” that were distracting as well. Other quirks, while not the mark of a skilled wordsmith, were interesting and useful in interpreting the personality of the author. As a first entry by someone who I suspect has little formal writer’s training, this book does provide a fair amount of entertainment value for its low $12.95 cover price. It is available from several of the major booksellers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

In 2001, Jim Wilson, a columnist for the “Webster Echo” and “Webster Republican” newspapers in West Virginia, revealed the presence of a mysterious creature named the Abbagoochie in that state. It had been introduced by the DNR in order to try and eliminate the other invasive species that they had previously introduced. Unfortunately, the Abbagoochie was also feeding on native species and domestic pets and panic spread amongst the readers of Jim’s column. Fortunately, the Abbagoochie was actually a figment of the vivid imagination of Jim, his good friend Conservation Officer Rich Robertson and a local taxidermist. However, it stirred up quite a controversy at the time and Jim had created a local legend. ``Abbagoochie Gotcha! The Making of a Legend and Other Game Warden Stories`` by Jim Wilson (2007) tells the story behind the creation of the Abbagoochie, as well as the story behind the legend of Jubert Russell, nemesis of local Conservation Officer Rich Robertson. Jim wrote about Jubert for seven years, and although he is a real person, the tales of his exploits are highly embellished and many of them are included in this book. In addition to the previously mentioned subjects, Jim tells a few local Game Warden stories and reprints the ``Red Trillium`` story from Bill Armstrong’s `When Whip-poor-wills Call`` along with an explanation from Bill regarding the perplexing end of the story. He finishes it all off with a few of his favourite outdoor related stories. Jim is a very witty and talented story teller and I thoroughly enjoyed his tales.

Abbagoochie Gotcha!” presents an entirely fresh take on game wardens and outdoor writing and is a refreshing change of pace from the norm. For the first time since I started this column, I’d been presented with a book that I couldn’t clearly categorize as either fiction or non-fiction. About a third of it is confirmed reality – the rest is either pure fiction or semi-fictitious. Conservation Officer Rich Robertson is the common thread throughout most of the book, so there is no doubt this one belongs in the game warden literature library and I have no reservations about recommending it. Ordering is easy – go to www.abbagoochie.com to place your order. The book costs $12.95 plus $3.50 shipping in the US. Jim will autograph it for you on request.

Another fresh and unique book is Pennsylvania Waterways Conservation Officer Vance Dunbar’s `Rattlers and Snappers: Reptiles, Amphibians, and Outlaws” published in 2007. It is an updated edition of “Rattlers & Snappers: Teachings, Tales and Tidbits” which was released in 2001. The snake section of the book contains information on life history, husbandry (of both snakes and their live food supply), capture techniques, preservation of dead specimens and more, as well as a wealth of information on amphibians and reptiles with special attention to turtles, including capture techniques and recipes. You might think this would all be rather dry and technical but it’s not so. Author Dunbar keeps the material very light and personal, spicing it up with personal observations from his own experiences. Sandwiched in the middle of all the semi-biological information are two sections about people who have devoted a large part of their lives to handling, keeping and educating people about snakes – first the private snake experts and then the Conservation Officers who have had interesting experiences with them. These stories are very well done and a pleasure to read. I learned a lot from this book as I have not had much exposure to reptile handling or enforcement in my career in the land of the moose. I had no idea that there were three species of pit vipers (rattlers) in Pennsylvania and was unaware of the scale of hunting and the scope of the snake and turtle trade.

All proceeds from the sale of “Rattlers and Snappers” go towards funding youth outdoor education programs sponsored by the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania Association (COPA). The book can be purchased online through the major bookstores like Amazon (.com or .ca), Borders and Barnes & Noble or ordered for in-store pick-up. Autographed copies can be ordered directly from the author for $20, which includes shipping. Make checks payable to COPA and send orders to WCO Dunbar, PO Box 272, Hyde, PA 16843. Vance can also be contacted by email at wco5048@aol(DOT)com.

And now for something completely fictitious. The sixth Ben Rehder novel ``Holy Moly`` featuring Texas Game Warden John Marlin was released May 13th. This time out of the gate Rehder unloads on television evangelists with the same satire and wit that he flung at the anti-gun lobby in his last novel. A backhoe operator working on the construction site of a televangelist’s new mega-church discovers a dinosaur bone and is later found dead, shot with an arrow, and the dinosaur bone itself has gone missing. Are the theologians trying to eliminate evidence of evolution, or are the paleontologists trying to add priceless artifacts to their collections? Or is there some completely unrelated motive at play? Marlin is again asked to assist the understaffed Blanco County Sheriff’s office in the investigation and the list of likely suspects grows. Our old redneck buddies Red O’Brien and Billy Don Craddock are back and right in the middle of it all again. There is the usual assortment of eccentric characters we’ve come to expect from the twisted mind of Ben Rehder.

I try and stick to the game warden genre in my reading, and apart from the fact that John Marlin is a fictional Texas warden there isn’t much in this book that has anything to do with hunting, fishing or trapping, but I just couldn’t help but enjoy myself when I read it. It has got the same shotgun style pacing as his previous books and no shortage of whackos and wierdos to keep me entertained. There are not many books that I read in two or three sittings, but Rehder`s stuff is always in that category. If you don’t mind a bit of crude humor in your murder mysteries then you’ll get a kick out of “Holy Moly”.

Another author whose books are in that “hard to put down” category are those from novelist C.J. Box. His eighth entry in the Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett series of novels, ``Blood Trail``, was released May 20th and Box is back in fine form. I`m not sure the same can be said for Joe Pickett. Joe is still working directly for Governor Spencer Rulon and this time out he is asked to help track down a hunter whose quarry seems to be other hunters – his latest victim is field dressed and hung in a tree like an animal, his head apparently removed as a trophy. A big-name anti-hunting activist is on his way to Twelve Sleep County to try and cash in on the associated publicity. Joe and a small rag-tag team set off in search of the killer only to be hunted themselves. Joe plays the lead role in wreck after wreck and is makes more uncalculated and nearly fatal decisions than usual and appears to be headed for disaster. Just when things look their darkest, it all comes together for good old Joe but the final body count is high.

I devoured this book, as I did with most of the Joe Picket novels. It’s a real page turner and keeps you guessing right to the end and when you think you have it all figured out, there’s another twist that leaves you reeling. Once again, Box has scored a real winner with “Blood Trail” and has left the door open for a follow-up. But I’ve got to wonder how he’s going to clean up the mess Joe Picket has left in his wake this time.

Well, I hope I’ve done what I set out to do in this issue – to give you a bit of insight into the writing of this column and the making of those future Game Warden classics, and to keep you as up to date as possible in the world of “Game Warden Literature”. Until next time...

GW


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Fall 2008

As I mentioned in the last issue, I had just submitted the tenth installment of “The Warden’s Words” to IGW magazine. In the past I have submitted two articles of a historical nature (one of my other interests) and ghost wrote one installment of “The Patch Exchange”. Oddly enough, after all that involvement with this magazine I had never met the man who puts it together and keeps us all on task – our editor Doug Lucyshyn. He was gracious enough to offer some kind words about me and the other regular contributors in his last editorial which was greatly appreciated. Anyway, this summer’s NAWEOA conference offered the opportunity to finally meet Doug, along with providing an excuse for a camping vacation in northern Washington, Idaho and Montana, and providing an opportunity to do some face-to-face patch swapping with some of my old cronies.

Having recently moved down to southern British Columbia placed me closer than I’d ever been to a host city. The return trip to Great Falls is actually only a few hundred miles farther than a one-way trip from my old post in Atlin B.C. to the 2005 conference in Penticton B.C. A lot of folks were droning on about “high gas prices” but my thought was that they are probably just going to get higher by next summer, so if we didn’t go to Montana this summer, we probably wouldn’t ever go. To save a bit on gas I decided to make the entire trip within the USA, with the exception of the short run to the border. We saved anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per gallon that way and we also lucked out because the Canadian dollar was on par with the greenback the whole time. My wife could only get two weeks off work and didn’t want her whole vacation to consist of my “busman’s holiday”, so I agreed that the conference would only encompass a portion of each day spent in Great Falls and would primarily be a social event. In addition to meeting and talking with Doug Lucyshyn and his wife, who is actually my proofreader (have I put you to sleep yet Jeanette?), I was able to renew old acquaintances from past conferences I have attended and make some new ones. Of course I hooked up with the usual patch trading crew and met a few patch guys I’d only traded with through the mail before, and did some swapping with a couple guys I hadn’t traded with before. It’s always enjoyable for me, but rather mind-numbing as far as spectator events go; my wife and boys found other things to do.

On the first day of the conference, I was approached by a Washington State officer who reads my column and we discussed the pitfalls of self-publication, especially poor or non-existent editing. I spoke with several other officers who read my column and were appreciative of the work I do. Thanks for the encouragement and the new friendships guys! In retrospect I don’t think I talked about real game warden work at all at this conference and I will admit I didn’t attend any business meetings or seminars (don’t get excited Chief, I used vacation time to attend).

In the last issue I wrote about how I feel I have an obligation to both the authors who supply me with my material, and to my readers who deserve an honest evaluation. I spent some time between submission and publication of that column bantering back and forth with a couple of the authors, one who I praised and one whose work I held out as an example of the need for good editing. Jim Wilson reminded me that authors should have a tough skin and be ready for harsh criticism; otherwise they should do something else. Steve Knutson expected me to barbeque him worse than I did and was pretty much aware of what I would be finding fault with. In fact Steve admits he is a buffoon as far as editing and grammar go. It’s a part of his character that he makes no excuses for. Despite what I referred to as a “theme of non-conformism with a hint of contempt for his superiors” Steve was a commended and respected supervisor within the Alaska DPS Division of Wildlife Enforcement. I recently corresponded with Steve and learned he has published a second book “Confessions from the Last Frontier” about his 36 years exploring Alaska. Purely by coincidence one of the chapters in it is titled “So You Wanna Write a Book” and is about the trials and tribulations of self-publication. He provided this chapter to me and it is very enlightening and much more detailed than what I provided to you all in the last column. The editing is not too bad either.

Following the spring column which I devoted to Park Ranger and Warden Literature, Sean Cox, a National Park Warden at Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland, provided me with the title of a book chronicling the history and development of the Parks Canada mountain rescue corps, arguably the best mountain SAR group in existence. The book is entitled "Guardians of the Peaks: Mountain Rescue in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains" by Kathy Calvert and Dale Portman (2006). Although not your standard bear and poacher chaser book, it is about the bear and poacher chasers who also rescue people in Canada’s mountain parks.

Sean also advised me that he has read “Park Ranger: True Stories from a Ranger's Career in America's National Parks” by Nancy Eileen Muleady-Mecham. He describes the book as a collection of disjointed occurrence reports. He advises that many of the events described are exciting but they are written in the dry technical language of an enforcement occurrence report, so as a “read” it is not very good. I’m guessing that if the author had taken the time to re-write them and color them up a bit with more descriptive writing, she could have turned it into something with a bit more “flow” and wider appeal. Many thanks to Park Warden Cox for the above information.

Both Sean and Keith Hickling of the NWT advised me of a new book by Sid Marty, and based on their assessments I thought it would be worth tracking down and including in this column. I was fortunate to easily locate a copy at a local book store and even more fortunate that it was on sale (like most game wardens, I love a bargain). “The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek” (2008) is a fantastic book about the tragic bear maulings that occurred in Banff National Park in the summer of 1980. Two separate bears were ultimately dealt a fatal blow, and officially are each considered responsible for separate incidents, but it is quite possible that a rare black phase grizzly bear was the sole culprit. Utilizing more than a hint of artistic license, Marty fills in the gaps around what we humans know of the incidents by detailing what he believes the bears experienced before, during and after these events. This captivating perspective allows us to view these events at their most basic level and clearly see the cause and effect of park management’s indifference toward enforcement of bear feeding regulations in place at the time. Marty does a masterful job of describing the biological factors and sensations, and the possible “thought” processes, which cause a bear to do what he does – primarily how the necessity to feed plays the pivotal role in almost all decisions made by the bear. When attending bear-human conflicts in my own area, I often try to use some “bear psychology” to predict how a bear will react to me and my techniques, or to a property owner who is trying to deter the bear. This book provides some similar type analysis, but is far from being technical. Sid Marty is no stranger to the inner workings of the National Parks service of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, having been a park warden who resigned following the publication of his classic book “Men for the Mountains” . In that book he criticized his employer to some degree. In this book he makes no bones about criticizing parks management and their decisions in relation to the incidents of 1980. It all makes for some pretty compelling and enjoyable reading.

“The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek” is published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart. The hardcover edition is priced at $34.99 CAD and is available at most major booksellers in the US and Canada. The trade paperback edition will be released next April at a cost of $21 CAD.

I received a copy of “Alaska Justice” (2007) by Mike D. Kincaid for review and being a big fan of all things Alaskan I was looking forward to reading it and was not disappointed. This book is technically a work of fiction, but is based on actual cases of the Alaska State Troopers. After reading the book I contacted the author and learned that many of the stories are based quite closely on events that the author experienced himself, while others are events that colleagues were involved in. One chapter basically retells an event that has already been told in print. Regular readers of game warden literature, who have read the Alaskan books I have previously recommended, will recognize it but the occasional reader will probably not catch on. I suppose this is one of the potential pitfalls of creating a work of semi-fiction that is based on actual cases.

To be clear, the main character, Trooper Jack Blake, is not a Wildlife Trooper. As is often the case in bush Alaska, he does get involved in the occasional wildlife investigation and does work closely with a wildlife trooper. This is where reality and fantasy part ways as this same wildlife trooper is Blake’s love interest (yes, it’s a “she”).

Because I read a large quantity of material for this column and for entertainment, I generally have to pick away at biographies and warden stories and read them in several sittings, probably because there is no build-up of suspense over the entire book like there is in a novel. “Alaska Justice” reads like a series of trooper or warden tales, each of which could stand on their own and are, for the most part, believable, but the author has added a fictitious premise (beyond the love interest) that connects them together. This connective element is what makes this book a mystery/adventure and keeps it moving forward. I found this book hard to put down and kept turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. It is a refreshing variation from the norm and I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a shot of Last Frontier adventure and some good old-fashioned Alaska justice. This book is available directly from the publisher, Adventurous Books, online at www.adventurousbooks.com for the cost of $17.95 plus $4.60 shipping or can be ordered through your favorite book store. There is also a misprint edition available for $6.95 plus $2.50 shipping.

Nevada Barr has returned, after a three year hiatus, with the fourteenth Ranger Anna Pigeon novel “Winter Study” (2008). Fans of Ms. Barr’s work should not be disappointed with this one as it is well crafted and entertaining like most of the novels in this series. Anna Pigeon returns to Isle Royale (the setting of the second novel “Superior Death” ) to take part in the long-term winter wolf/moose research study there. In addition to Anna and the regular members of the study team are two researchers who are appointed by Homeland Security to evaluate the study to determine if it should be terminated, thus allowing the park to be opened to visitors year-round in order to patch a potential weak spot in the border. Barr does a great job of developing the characters and setting the stage and I had no trouble getting pulled into it early, but Barr’s novels are primarily murder mysteries, and the first death does not occur until almost halfway into the novel. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for more murders. I guess it’s kind of like a snowball rolling down hill – it takes a while to build up size and steam but once it gets going, look out! As usual Anna feels the compulsion to snoop around immediately when things don’t seem quite right with this death and she quickly makes some shocking discoveries that lead her to suspect that everyone in the group is up to no good. I’m not sure if it’s a record or not, but Anna cheats death three times in this book – you’ll have to read the book to find out how. As is always the case in this series, Anna gets beat up near the end, but despite being half-dead (okay I just gave one away), she manages to subdue the bad guy. When the blowing snow clears at the end of this book, and all the questions are answered, it is clear that Nevada Barr is one imaginative lady. It’s not that anything in the book is far fetched or beyond the realm of possibilities, it is just fascinating how she crafted the puzzle that is “Winter Study” . Despite my criticism of the slow start of the action, and the inevitability that Anna will get the stuffing kicked out of her at least once, the book is a respectable read and the conclusion is more than satisfying. Ms. Barr’s work is widely distributed and can be located quite easily as most major book stores and online. It is presently only available in hardcover and is priced at $24.95 but is often discounted online.

For fans of Joe Heywood’s fine “Woods Cop Mystery” series, the next entry is due out this fall. I plan to have a review of Michigan Conservation Officer Grady Service’s adventures in “Death Roe” for you in the winter edition of IGW.

I will make mention of one other book that I became aware of which may be of interest to readers. It is one of the entries in the popular “CSI” series of paperbacks and was written by Ken Goddard. Ken is the Director of the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory and author of three game warden novels, “Prey” , “Wildfire” and “Double Blind” . This new novel “In Extremis” (2007) takes place, at least in part, in Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Range. I haven’t yet read it myself but with those two links to the “genre”, and the fact that it is a fairly inexpensive mass-market paperback, it might be worth a look.

Until then, I remain your humble servant,

GW


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Winter 2008

Although this column primarily exists to provide information about books and other media I want to use part of it a bit differently this time around, partly because I didn’t have the usual availability of material, and also because of other events that took place this fall.

Of particular significance to us all was the tragic loss of another member of the natural resources law enforcement family that occurred on September 20th, when US Forest Service Officer Kristine Fairbanks was murdered in the line of duty near Forks, Washington. This loss hits our community of law enforcement officers hard, not only because we lost a fine comrade, but because Kristine’s husband Brian is also a member of our community, serving as a Washington State Fish and Wildlife Officer.

On September 29th I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending the memorial for Kristine in Port Angeles on behalf of the BC Conservation Officer Service and participating with the Honor Guard during the recessional. I had never been to a “police honors” funeral service and had no idea of the emotions that it would evoke. The show of support from the public and from the law enforcement family, particularly the US Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was absolutely awesome. There were a thousand civilians in attendance and even more law enforcement officers present from city, state and federal agencies in the US and Canada. The funeral service was covered by the three major TV networks out of Seattle.

Behind the podium were over 100 police K-9 handlers and their dogs paying tribute to Kristine who was also a K-9 handler. There were pipers from the US Border Patrol, a Color Party and an Honor Guard of over 100 officers representing numerous city, state and federal agencies.

While the ceremony was very touching and poignant, the stories told by three of her closest friends and co-workers were filled with good memories and humor, and paid special tribute to Kristine in a way that she would have appreciated. Kristine was described as a very vivacious and energetic person who cared deeply about her family, her work and the people of her community.

The final portion of the memorial was very moving as “Amazing Grace” was played by the US Border Patrol Pipes and Drum Corps and a 21 gun salute was fired by the Washington State Patrol Honor Guard. A radio call to Kristine from the police dispatch was made, broadcast over the sound system, advising that there was no contact with Kristine and she was "10-7, gone but not forgotten". Two helicopters from the Port Angeles Coast Guard base then came into view and did a fly by, one continuing on and the other making a slow turn to the east and then flying out to sea. Wreaths were laid, the Governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire and US Forest Service Special Agent-in-Charge Tom Lyons spoke to the family, and the folded US flag was presented to them. I was privileged to have been included in the Honor Guard for Kristine and grateful to have been able to honor her in this way. I have seen similar ceremonies in movies and on television, but to actually be at such an event fills one with so much emotion and pride in being a member of the law enforcement family. It was an outstanding send-off for an outstanding member of the law enforcement family. Although no one ever wants to have to attend such an event, because of the circumstances that cause it to take place, such an experience is truly humbling and makes so many other things in our lives seem insignificant and petty.

As I write this column I am already well past the normal submission deadline. To say that I am busy at work would be an understatement. The enforcement calls are coming in steadily, and there are the usual necessary patrols required at this time of year. In addition my partner in this part of our zone is off on over three months convalescence leave after having his hip replaced. Because I am trying to deal with twice as many enforcement calls as I would normally have to, I am finding myself spending less than half as much time in the field on patrol. Servicing the public always comes before what one headquarters staffer refers to as “driving around and playing in the woods”. There are only so many hours in the day, and overtime isn’t paid for routine patrols, so unfortunately some things have to be left unattended and some patrols not made, or our personal lives have to take a backseat for a while as we donate some time to the cause. All this flurry of activity doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading books and writing magazine columns.

I also had a difficult time locating books for this column. I didn’t hear from many readers about new titles out there so I don’t have much to review. I am aware of several books in the works or nearing publication, so next issue should be flush. Forgetting to include my email address at the end of the column might have been a factor in things being quiet on the email front, or more likely you were all just as busy as me.

I also didn’t hear from anyone about my apparent lack of writing skills in the last issue. The main points of two sentences were lost when a portion of them was deleted due to a formatting issue during layout of the last issue. If you want to see what I was actually trying to say, visit my website at books.moosecop.net. Perhaps I foresaw that something was going to go wrong and that’s why I subconsciously left my email address out of that issue.

I don’t know how many of my readers are fans of Ben Rehder`s John Marlin Texas game warden series, but if you are, don’t hold your breath waiting for the next entry in the series. The sixth novel in this series, “Holy Moly” (reviewed Summer 2008), is reported to also be the last, as Ben has decided to put John Marlin behind him and try his hand at some other writing endeavors.

In the past I have written about the “Woods Cop Mystery” series by Michigan author Joseph Heywood and in the last issue I mentioned that his sixth entry in the series was due out this fall. Shortly after I fired my submission off to Doug, my review copy of “Death Roe” arrived at my door. I had to stare at the dust jacket for a bit to figure out the significance of the photo – a close-up of the lips and fingernails of a woman with fish eggs rolling off them. The cover seems out of place for a game warden book because it implies that the book will be a murder mystery with perhaps a sexual overtone, when in reality Heywood’s novels are more centered on actual conservation officer work than most other game warden fiction. In fact there is no actual murder in this book, something I find refreshing about most of Joe’s work.

A former egg taster and production manager for a company called Piscova is dying from cancer which is believed to be brought on by consuming tainted salmon roe she was required to eat during her employment. The company has a contract with the Michigan DNR to harvest roe for their hatchery program and is permitted to sell the surplus as caviar. Tainted roe is suspected to have been illegally imported from New York and mixed with the legal roe from Michigan and then sold to unsuspecting customers – a sort of roe-laundering scheme. DNR Detective Grady Service stumbles into this web of deceit following a seemingly routine pinch of a salmon snagger. He enlists the assistance of a New York Conservation Officer and an IRS agent who are already conducting a parallel investigation. However, when Grady tries to get some traction in his investigation he is immediately dodging roadblocks and making enemies within his own department. It is clear that there is corruption and a cover-up taking place when it comes to the agency’s dealings with its contractor. In order to insulate him from political interference within the DNR, he and his temporary partner are re-assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the duration of the investigation. With typical dogged determination, and some unorthodox methods of heating up the suspects, the case begins to unfold.

This novel is almost an about-face from Heywood’s last entry in the series, 2007’s “Strike Dog” (reviewed Fall 2007), and is more reminiscent of the earlier “Woods Cop” novels. For the most part this book could actually be a work of non-fiction as it seems to be well researched and most of the plotline and events are viable. It delves into internal politics, evidentiary issues, and the personal struggles of the characters. Much of it would be familiar to any of us who have worked a similar ‘commercial crimes” type case. One reviewer commented about a lull in the action closer to the end of the book, about plot threads left unresolved, and about the conclusion not quite being satisfactory, but I have to disagree. I think that author Heywood is trying to stay as true to life in this book as he can, and he is providing us with the most realistic course of events and conclusion that he can. We don’t always get to forge ahead and make instant progress in our investigations. Sometimes monkey wrenches get thrown at us and we have to regroup before proceeding, and many times the outcomes of our cases are not what we had hoped for. This book illustrates those realities and the reality that not every issue we encounter along the way gets resolved. As far as mainstream game warden fiction goes, I rank this book right up there as one that most of us can relate to, and one that may go a long way to educate civilians about the frustrations we encounter in our profession.

“Death Roe”, ISBN 978-1-59921-428-3, is published by The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut. The cover price is $24.95 US or $27.50 CDN but it is available through the online bookstores at discount prices. I certainly recommend you read this one.

In the Summer 2008 issue I commented on my lack of awareness about the reptile trade, so Maryland Natural Resources Police Officer Mike Lathroum, a bit of a reptile aficionado, told me about a book that looks into the illicit reptile trade. “The Lizard King” (2008) by Bryan Christy is a true-crime chronicle of the life and times of Mike Van Nostrand and his father Ray and the inner working of the reptile importing business. In it the author describes what led the characters into their lives of crime and also what drove the US Fish and Wildlife Service agent to make it his personal goal to bring them down. It is a well researched book and Christy is able to keep the writing straight-forward and matched to his target audience. He doesn’t digress too deeply into technical issues that would alienate most casual readers. All in all it’s a pretty interesting and entertaining read that provides great insight into a business that the author describes as “a lint screen for human vices”.

The book also ends up being a tribute to US Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Charles “Chip” Bepler who was instrumental in running Mike Van Nostrand and his international ring of co-conspirators to ground. Agent Bepler died of a brain tumor in 2003 and in testament to Bepler’s dedication and professionalism Mike Van Nostrand not only attended his funeral but spoke to those gathered of his admiration for the agent who had hurt his business and put him back on the straight and narrow.

“The Lizard King”, ISBN 978-0-446-58095-3, is published by Twelve Books, New York, New York. The cover price is $24.99 US or $27.99 CDN but it is available through the online bookstores at discount prices.

Way back in the Spring 2007 issue I mentioned that I compiled a list of all books reviewed in IGW since the first issue. I continue to update the list after each new Warden’s Words column. The list is separated by reviewer (IGW editor or guest, Bob Mullen and myself) and then sorted alphabetically. I have converted it to Adobe Acrobat and anyone who wishes to have a copy for reference can download it clicking this link: IGW Book Review List.

Finally, I have a bit of a contest for you. Locate a copy of “Alaska Justice” (reviewed Fall 2008) – borrow it from the library or a friend, sit in Barnes and Noble and read it while sipping on a latte, order it from the publisher or find it in bookstore. Give it a read and then send me an email at moosecop@moosecopDOTnet and tell me which chapter in the book you think I am referring to in my review, and which book the events previously appeared in. I will enter all correct responses in a draw for a free book of your choice from a list I will provide to the winner. There are first editions and some signed copies of a variety of books to choose from. My next deadline is February 15, 2009 so please respond by then and I will print the winner’s name in the Spring issue.

Until then, work safe and watch your back.

GW


Return to INDEX


Spring 2009

As I prepared for this column by reading a number of new books and corresponding with authors and publishers about their work, I was informed of the loss of a well respected member of the game warden community who was also a loyal reader of this column. This tragic event has caused me to alter the content for this issue in order to pay tribute to a man who touched the lives of so many people, including myself.

Michael Wayne (Mike) Bradshaw, a recently retired Texas State Game Warden, passed away unexpectedly from an apparent heart attack on January 19, 2009 while fishing with a game warden friend near Port Mansfield, Texas. Mike had only retired from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife in May of 2008, after an illustrious and rewarding 35 year career. He was only 61 years old when he passed away.

Mike had decided that he wanted to become a game warden when he was five years old after his grandfather's friend, Texas Game Warden Wilbur “Bill” Gentry, took him bass fishing. He thought “this game warden stuff’s all right – I think I’d like a job like this.” Here’s how Mike describes the event that really put the icing on the cake for him: “One December night when I was 15, I accepted Dimmitt County Game Warden Jim Pond’s invitation to accompany him on night patrol. We drove atop a hill covered in mesquites and waited. An hour or two past midnight a spotlight broke the monotony of our staring into the darkness, when a couple of miles away, a beam flashed toward us, then cut the sky. Pond drove off the hill without turning on headlights and as we crept along on pavement and then dirt roads, he said, “They’re driving around in an old citrus orchard back there.”
Concentrating on the spotlight, he steered toward a slight rise in the topography. Judging from the brightness of the beam on the opposite side of the rise, the hunters were now only a few hundred yards distant. Pond stopped and turned off the motor. We heard the sounds of a straining engine nearby, followed by clinking metal tools and men cursing.
Pond said, “Sounds like they’re havin’ car trouble.” We got out and listened, then walked closer.
Untrained kid that I was, I cleared my throat. The suspects heard me and bolted through the brush. When we reached their station wagon, all we found were three sets of footprints headed southeast. In the cargo bed of the vehicle lay a freshly killed buck deer, blood oozing from a bullet wound in its chest. We drove back to the scene and removed the carcass to strap it onto the trunk lid of Pond’s sedan. As we stood in the darkness, I knew my noisiness a few moments earlier in clearing my throat had caused the culprits to rabbit away. I had messed up the game warden’s case.

I cringed in embarrassment and braced myself for the chewing out sure to come. Pond sensed my discomfiture and to my relief, said calmly, ‘You can’t make noise when slippin’ up on these outlaws. Now I’ve got to figure out how to catch’em again” he drove us blacked-out to a road he thought the outlaws might take.
Warden Pond handed me a flashlight and his .357 magnum Smith & Wesson revolver with directions to leave the weapon concealed in my coat pocket. “If they walk by here, tell ‘em the game warden needs to talk to ‘em. Now, don’t point that pistol or shoot ‘em, unless they try to hurt you.” With that, he drove away slowly.
In a weedy ditch, I stood waiting in the cold darkness. Only a fraction of me hoped to redeem myself by detaining the fugitives for Pond. The rest of me wished they would choose the road where Pond waited. As I hid beside the road, I rehearsed my lines repeatedly in my head so I wouldn’t flub up. I hoped the outlaws wouldn’t notice in the darkness they were dealing with a teenage kid still so physically immature he couldn’t grow a whisker.
An eternity later Pond came back and when he told me the names of all three actors – college boys on Christmas vacation – my dread of a confrontation with the poachers disappeared... best of all, I would soon be off the hook for my gaff at having spooked the spotlighters. After sunup, Jim Pond and I drove to one of the wayward collegian’s homes where he elicited a confession. Case solved…and better yet – I’d found my destiny! At that moment, I knew I too, would become a game warden. If Pond could have hired me, I would have quit high school then and there.”

That adventure took place in 1962.

Mike entered law enforcement in 1970 as a deputy game warden, and following graduation from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Academy in 1971, he served in Dimmit and Concho Counties as a deputy sheriff. In May of 1973, Mike graduated from the Game Warden Academy at Texas A&M University and was assigned to Carrizo Springs, his hometown, in Dimmit County. For the first several years of his career he shared Dimmit County, and a portion of Maverick and Webb Counties, with his old friend and mentor, Warden Jim Pond. Mike spent his entire 35 year game warden career in Dimmit County and is considered somewhat of a legend in that area, and across Texas.

I never met Mike in person but we swapped patches and books, and we were both fans of the old “Rathouse Reader” column in this magazine. Around 1996 he started working on a book, which he titled “Game Wardens, That's Us”. In 2002 he informed me that work was progressing on that project “at a gopher turtle's pace.” He had traveled around the state searching out and interviewing old retired game wardens with good stories and old photographs. He’d interviewed several who were then in their 70s and 80s and intended to publish some of their stories as well as a few of his own. Unfortunately, many of them had trouble harking back to the late 40s and early 50s to remember some of their best cases. Following the tedious process of transcribing the audio tapes of the interviews, Mike translated them into stories, which he then passed along to his literary consultant. She then proceeded to mark all the pages with a red pen and returned them “looking like someone had gutted an elk over them.” Mike figured she enjoyed seeing his pained facial expressions when he asked why she wanted to daub red ink on to what he thought were perfectly good sentences.

Mike and I lost touch for a few years, while I was first stationed up in Atlin, but he contacted me again when I took up writing this column and we emailed back on forth about books in general and his book project specifically. I received some wonderful and encouraging emails from Mike where he stated how much he appreciated the service I provide to the game warden community through “The Warden’s Words”. When I asked if he was going to retire soon to finish his book he said he wanted to work until he was 65 because he loved the job so much. However, as he approached 35 years of service and 60 years of age, concerns about the newly implemented minimum physical standards assessment led him to make the decision to retire once he’d achieved his 35 years.

By this time he’d renamed his book “Texas Game Warden Chronicles – from Cowboy Era to Helicopter Hunt” and was anticipating publication in the summer of 2007. Issues around layout and design, wait time at the printers, website set-up and other associated details were resulting in numerous delays. Finally in late December of last year Mike sent me the final cover art, as well as a link to the promotional website, and it looked like he was getting close. He told me he was “pawin' at the dirt, chompin' the bit and rarin' to go.” By January he’d reviewed the galley proofs for the book and according to his widow Debbie the book was set to start rolling off the presses on January 20th, but had to be postponed when he died on the 19th.

The release of the book has now been delayed until some changes can be made to the biographical details, but Debbie told me that 1000 copies will be printed very soon. In honor of Mike, and with Debbie’s permission, I am including the front cover art with this tribute as well as the link to his website. When the book is published I will provide you with ordering information both in the magazine and on my own website - ORDER HERE. It would be a great help to the family, and a nice tribute to Mike, if the first printing was to sell out. There will be a second printing if there is a demand.

Mike retained his law enforcement commission after retirement from TPWD, and at the time of his passing he was working as Border Liaison Officer with the Governor's Division of Emergency Management/Texas Department of Public Safety at the Joint Operations Intelligence Center in Edinburg, Texas. In his heart he was still a game warden.

Mike Bradshaw was a legendary game warden. He was also a great husband, father, grandfather, author, historian, citizen, friend to all who knew him and a true role model for any young game warden. The world is a better place because of the contributions he has made. One can only imagine what else he may have done if he’d only had more time. He deserves our thanks and our admiration.

Adios my friend – you are missed.

As I didn’t have a great deal of space left for book reviews in the magzine, I wrote a quick thumbnail sketch of the books I had read for this issue, and will be expanding them here on the website (see below). I don’t intend to make this referral process a regular practice, but I felt the need to pay homage to a special person who left this world far too early.

There are two new releases from Talus Publishing that relate to game wardens, conservation officers and fishery officers in my home province of British Columbia. I’ve said it before – I like reading about catching poachers. Unfortunately, neither of these BC books has any real “poacher chasing” tales, and they tend to leave the false impression that catching the bad guys is not important in BC, or perhaps that we don’t have the same type of bad guys as other places.

“Bud’s Story: Game Warden to CO” (2009)ISBN 978-0-9781690-3-9, by the late Leroy “Bud” Ward and his widow Lois Ward chronicles the career of the author as he patrols the Kootenay area, the central Interior, the northern portion of the province from the Alaska border to the Alberta border, and the arid southern Interior area around Merritt BC. He writes about his frustration around changing mandates and priorities in the early 1980’s and his reluctance to adapt to those changes. He also writes about the people he met and worked with along the way, and provides a series of biographies of some of the game wardens that influenced his career. There are numerous black and white photos throughout this book, and although it is written entirely from Bud’s perspective, which was not necessarily the view shared by all conservation officers, it does provide an interesting history of the province and of the Fish and Wildlife Branch.

Bud joined the Fish & Wildlife Branch at a time when law enforcement was a low priority within the branch, and conservation officers were considered the hands-on frontline field staff by the biologists who ran the department. Conservation officers were truly generalists, but from management’s point of view, had no real status within the branch. The Conservation Officer Service (COS) which was created in 1980 was all about enforcement and public safety, and many officers who came up through the former system had a hard time adapting to the new role. Other officers, including those who had been Game Wardens prior to 1961, welcomed the new way of doing business. Probably the biggest pill for many officers to swallow was that the Chief C.O. and several of the regional supervisors were former Mounties, who had no real concept of resource protection, only law enforcement. Bud Ward never really adapted to the role of enforcement officer and alludes to this in the book. He once told me that “they literally gutted a good organization.” I see and understand his point, and feel his frustration, but having entered the Service after all this had transpired, I don’t have any first-hand experience with the former system that Bud loved so much. As stated earlier, “Bud’s Story” is not the standard fare that I usually read and review in this column – it is not chock-full of wild adventures and tales of catching bad guys. It is not the comprehensive history of the Fish & Wildlife Branch, or the Conservation Officer Service, but it provides an inside look at them from the perspective of a respected and personable officer. This book also provides us with a look back at some interesting people and events from British Columbia’s past. It is unfortunate that Bud passed away so early and did not have the opportunity to put the finishing touches on this book, but his widow and the publisher have done a commendable job of putting it together. For anyone interested in British Columbia’s history and game protection in the 1970’s and 80’s this book is worth reading. It’s an easy read and intelligently written – Bud’s love of this province and its resources is apparent throughout.

“Fish Cops and Game Wardens” (2009) ISBN 978-0-9781690-4-6, by Bill Otway is a series of 72 short tales which are, for the most part, fairly innocuous but at the same time quite humorous. It definitely highlights the lighter side of the job and I have no doubt was intended to do so. Some of these stories were told to the author by officers who he is friends with, some are events he was involved in, some are retellings of stories previously appearing in old Fish and Game Branch publications, and others are somewhat loosely based on reality, but have enough factual, historical or geographical errors to be suspect. There are also some stories that revolve around violations but they are primarily light-hearted in nature.

I know many of the subjects of this book, and I’m sure not all their adventures were humorous and light-hearted, and I think the book could have benefited from a few hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat poacher tales. I'm sure there are plenty of folks who would disagree with me and feel this book is right on the mark. I actually have no issue with the book - it is well written and easy to read and contains a nice mixture of amusing stories from various aspects of the C.O. and Fish Cops jobs. If intended as a good-natured poke at resource protectors, then it is wonderful. I just think that the time was right for some of the more exhilarating tales from BC to be told.

You can order either of the above books online through the BC Wildlife Federation website.

From Pennsylvania, a state which has probably spawned more game warden books than any other, comes “A Conservation Officer’s Portfolio – Hoofties and Heroes of the wildlife world” (2008) by retired Wildlife CO Chuck Arcovitch. This book is a cornucopia of stories about chasing poachers, bears and beavers, dealing with the media and management, and everything in between. It also provides a candid insight into the workings of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the struggle for full police officer status for its officers. The details of the inner workings of the department are quite interesting. There is something for everyone in this book. My only real criticism is that it tended to get repetitive at times, and it seemed to loose its focus somewhat about ¾ of the way through, jumping from subject to subject, but it did get back on track toward the end.

It is worth a read, not only to be entertained by the usual type of game warden stories, but also to learn about some of the trials and tribulations faced by Wildlife Conservation Officers in Pennsylvania, who it seems are not afforded the same respect by the State as their brothers and sisters in the Fish & Boat Commission. The author writes fondly about most of the Deputies he worked with and makes it clear that they provide a vauable service to the Wildlife Commission, but that very service is one of the things that has kept the full-time officers from achieving parity with the state police.

To order a copy of “A Conservation Officer’s Portfolio" contact the author at 71 Schermerhorn Landing Road, Hammond NY 13646 (May thru October) or 6201 U.S. Hwy 41N, /2055, Palmetto, FL 34221 (November thru April. The cost is $12.95 (US) plus $2.75 shipping for conservation officers and their families. Cost for all others is $15.95 plus $2.75 shipping.

“Puma” (2008) is a novel by Ted L. Gragg, who spent 18 years working as a Deputy Conservation Officer in South Carolina. This novel is primarily the story of a man-eating cougar, a species (man-eating or not) that the South Carolina DNR denies exists, and the ensuing investigation and hunt for the cougar. The story is split between following the cougar’s activities and following the human characters, primarily the hero, fictional Wildlife Officer Mike Carson. The author’s interests and knowledge are highly evident, and if the reader is able to overlook the extraneous detail that didn’t really contribute to the progression of the story, the occasional loss of focus and the editing issues, the overall book is quite entertaining and engaging. It is written with a great deal of skill and imagination. There is no lack of excitement in this one as man and beast engage in deadly conflict. The book is published by Ted’s own company Flat River Rock Publishing.EXPANDED REVIEW COMING SHORTLY

“Slaughter in the Sacramento Valley” (2009) is the 8th book by retired US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Terry Grosz. It is just as well written and enjoyable as all his earlier books, but it differs from them in several ways. For the most part this book focuses on one single issue, the reduction of waterfowl populations in the Sacramento Valley due to over harvest and market hunting activity. This book is not entirely an autobiography and many of the “poacher chasing” stories involve other game wardens who worked the valley before Terry. Not all the poachers get caught, which helps to illustrate some of the desperation that the game wardens of the day must have felt. Terry also interviewed several old “duck-draggers” in order to tell the story from that point of view. Finally, he ends the book with a tribute to a number of officers whom he felt made a difference in the wildlife wars. I do have a minor criticism with this section, because some of the officers he writes about did not work the Sacramento Valley, which is the subject matter of the book. There is also some repetition amongst the chapters, but this was likely intentional, because the chapters don’t build on one another and can be read as individual stories that stand on their own.

Some of Terry's previous works have been called unbelievable, far-fetched and downright b.s., but never boring or run-of-the-mill. Like his earlier material “Slaughter in the Sacramento Valley” is extremely well written and very entertaining, and the book focuses more on the people who were involved in the events in the valley - Terry's escapades are only one facet of that. Not only does this book tell game warden stories from a variety of points of view, but it also provides us a first hand look at an issue that was of historical significance in the U.S. It is well worth reading on its own, or as a companion piece to Terry's first two books "Wildlife Wars" and "For Love of Wildness" which both contain numerous other tales of battling the waterfowl poachers in the Sacramento Valley.

“Slaughter in the Sacramento Valley” is published by Johnson Books. and is available directly from them or at all major book retailers for $20 or less. It is softcover and 256 pages long.

Finally, Brian Richman, a retired Canadian Federal Fishery Officer has published “a history of Fishery Officers” (2008). I requested a copy of the book for review from Brian but one was not provided, so as a consequence I am not able to review it. However, I felt that this is an important enough publication that I had a responsibility to make mention of it.

The book is soft cover, 225 pages and measures 8 ¼ inches x 10 ¼ inches. It contains numerous black & white photographs. The cost of the book is $49.95 (CAD) not including postage. For more information or to order a copy contact Brian at 604-942-9396 or by email at brianrichman@shaw.ca.

Now you are (almost) up to date in the world of game warden literature.

GW


Return to INDEX


Summer 2009

I hope you are enjoying the 25th Anniversary issue of International Game Warden magazine. This magazine has seen many changes, including three publishers and editors, in its quarter century of existence, but information about game warden books has been a fixture for most of its life. Some of the early issues had full page reviews of just one book, and later issues included lists of books, provided by a number of readers of the day. In 1994, avid reader, book collector and Iowa Game Warden, Bob Mullen was one of the people who provided lists of books to the magazine. He then approached editor Don Hastings and asked him if he’d like a recurring book review column in the magazine. Obviously he did, as the “Rathouse Reader” debuted in the Winter 1994-95 issue. The column remained a regular feature in the magazine until the Fall 2003 issue, which was printed shortly after Bob’s retirement. Bob would usually write a short review of four or five books in each column in a straight-forward, no-nonsense style. His columns were often embellished with a short tale about “The Rookie” and his latest goof-up or stupid question. Upon retirement Bob and his wife decided to move into a smaller home, and with no room for his large collection of game warden books, he donated them to the North American Wildlife Enforcement Museum and then ramped things up for the next phase of his life.

I recently caught up with Bob to see how retirement is treating him and I was delighted to find him happy, healthy and as active as ever. He advises that he has never been busier and hardly has any spare time to get to the “honey-do” list. He is working part-time at a shooting supply company, spending time with his granddaughters, has been travelling, and of course is enjoying his favorite pastime, squirrel hunting.

We also spent some time talking about game warden books and the idiosyncrasies of our respective departments. I then asked him about “the Rookie” and he advised me that no one person like that (thankfully) ever existed and that “the Rookie” was basically a character who embodied all of the ridiculous things other officers told him about the new young officers they worked with.

For the two years following Bob’s departure, apart from a couple individual book reviews in the magazine, no one filled the void left by the Rathouse Reader. I contributed several articles for the Summer 2005 issue, and as a small thank-you our editor sent me a copy of a book he’d received from a publisher. One thing led to another and I offered to take a stab at penning at least one book “information” column. I’ve never looked back, and apart from one hiccup in 2006, have been contributing to each issue of the magazine ever since. In honor of the 25th Anniversary of this publication, I’d like to thank Bob Mullen for paving the way for me to carry on what has become a bit of an IGW tradition. I’d also like to thank the two previous editors – Don Hastings Sr. and Laura Spradley for keeping the IGW torch lit, and of course the current editor Doug Lucyshyn, for all his hard work since taking the helm after NAWEOA bought the magazine in 2002.

I wrote about Mike Bradshaw, author of “Texas Game Warden Chronicles” in the last issue. The book can now be ordered directly from Mike’s family, either by going to mikebradshaw.org where you can place an automated order with PayPal, by emailing contact@mikebradshaw.org or by snail-mail to Mesquite Bean Press, PO Box 643, Carrizo Springs, TX 78834. The cost of the book is $39.95, and shipping ranges from $5.95 for one book to $20 for up to five books within the USA, or $15 to $20 for shipping internationally.

Being a typical cheap (or is it underpaid) conservation officer there aren’t many game warden books that I’d want to pay $39.95 for, but “Texas Game Warden Chronicles” is one that is well worth the money. This book stands out like a beacon in my bookshelves, as it’s easily one of the largest books in the genre that I’ve encountered. It’s hard bound with a printed cover (no dust jacket) and it’s a really wonderful tribute to the author as he clearly he put his heart and soul into it. Honestly, I was immediately taken aback by the look and feel of it when it arrived, but its appeal is not merely cosmetic. Although I haven’t taken the time to read more than a few chapters, because at 321 double columned pages it is a massive volume, what I have read thus far is first class. It is one of those books that will take many, many sittings to finish, not because it is tedious reading, but because there is such a vast quantity of material in it. Mike certainly covered the gamut, writing about the origins of the department, many of the old time wardens, many interesting cases, and even a bit about himself. There are black and white photographs throughout the book, as well as an appendix containing photographs of Texas Game Warden and Supervisor badges.

Debbie Bradshaw advises that it is selling well, so make sure and get a copy while it’s still available.

If you have an interest in western American culture, Wyoming game management history or game wardens, then “Men to Match Our Mountains” (ISBN 1-932636-32-3) by Wyoming’s Chief Game Warden Jay Lawson, is a recommended read. It was published in 2007 by Pronghorn Press, but I just received a copy a few months ago. It provides a fascinating glimpse into Wyoming’s past and some of the men (and women) who were responsible for early game management in the state, as well as some other colourful western characters. It is very easy to read and hard to put down.

All proceeds from the sale of “Men to Match Our Mountains” are donated to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of Wyoming to further the conservation of Wyoming’s wildlife. The book is available for $21.95 plus $10 shipping directly from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Online Store or from Amazon books if you want to save a few bucks but donate less money to the Foundation.

Murder for a Buck” (ISBN 978-1-60264-298-0) is a novel by a new author in the game warden field - retired Siskiyou County, California Deputy Prosecutor Mark Travis. The author is not new to the book writing field however, having previously penned numerous mystery novels. The main character in “Murder for a Buck” is California Game Warden Lieutenant Ethan Cooper, who has recently been promoted and transferred to a northern district, after spending most of career in coastal California. A hunter is murdered after harvesting a trophy buck, and the killer steals the deer. Warden Cooper investigates the suspected hunting accident scene, but is not convinced it was an accident based on evidence at the site. Cooper proceeds to conduct an investigation, and soon finds an ally, and a love interest, in the Deputy District Attorney.

Aside from the personal relationship angle, this book is for the most part a fairly mainstream game warden novel, if there is such a thing. The main theme revolves around two parallel investigations – the hunting accident and bear poaching. The author does a great job of using flashbacks to give us insight into the mind of a poacher and killer and easily sucks the reader right into the story. I really liked this book, as it was full of game warden work (a California warden did provide advice to the author) and was actually quite plausible. It was a hard book to put down and whenever I had spare time I would get back to it to find out what happened next. Just when I was confident that I had it all figured out, and was sure that it was just another predictable story, I was surprised by a sudden turn of events. At 202 pages, “Murder for a Buck” is not a long novel, but at only $11.95 US it is pretty darn good value for your money. It can be ordered online directly from Virtual Bookworm, or from most of the major online vendors, including Amazon (.com and .ca) and Barnes and Noble.

Laurel E. Neme has written “Animal Investigators” (2009) which gives us an inside look at three varied wildlife investigations that involved the Clark A. Bavin U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. The first case, which was initiated only as a fact finding case, not an enforcement investigation, involves walrus carcasses washed up on beaches in Alaska that appear to have been killed only for their tusks. The book details the history of native subsistence hunting and the related regulations, and how the lab worked to establish techniques to determine why the walrus were killed, and who (Russian or Alaskan Natives) killed them. This section of the book then goes on to talk about changes that were effected as a result of this investigation, and also details an undercover operation that took place concurrent with the forensic investigation.

The next section of the book details two separate bear gall investigations, one in British Columbia and one in Wyoming, and how the lab worked to establish a technique to differentiate bear galls from galls of other animals that are often alleged to be from bear. This section then goes on to discuss the bear gall industry in Asia.

The third section revolves around an undercover case into the illegal import into the US of CITES protected Amazonian bird parts. It details the difficulties in accurately identifying the species of bird from individual feathers found in various articles of ceremonial dress created by Brazilian rainforest Indian tribes.

The book is very well researched and contains much data, all of which is footnoted and cited. Yet the book is easy to follow and very interesting, and unlike many books that get categorized into the “environmentalism” genre there is no anti-hunting overtone here, which makes the book much more appealing to readers of this magazine. Author Neme shows us how the lab was able to adapt and develop new techniques relative to previously unknown issues, and discusses how it will need to continue to evolve and develop techniques as more species of wildlife, and plants, become threatened and endangered.

Animal Investigators” (ISBN 978-1-4165-5056-3) is published by Scribner’s and is available in hardcover through most major booksellers, either in-store or online, for $25 (USD) or less.

The ninth Joe Pickett novel, “Below Zero”, by C.J. Box was released on June 16th. Joe is now exiled to the Baggs District - known within the department as “The Place Where Game Wardens Are Sent To Die” - in extreme south-central Wyoming, so that he can fly under the radar while all the heat from his previous adventure (Blood Trail) dies down. Not much happens in Baggs until the Mad Archer arrives and Joe takes no time putting the cuffs on him, but catching the local poacher is only a distraction from the bigger mission to come. Joe’s wife and girls have remained in Saddlestring, and Joe is called home when his eldest daughter receives a text message from a girl claiming to be their foster daughter April, who was believed to have been killed in a Federal raid on the Sovereign Cult’s stronghold six years earlier (Winterkill). The sender of the texts knows things that only Joe’s girls and April could know and despite what he saw, Joe believes that April might have survived the raid.

The girl is travelling with a Chicago mobster and his son and could be in danger, as it is suspected that the men are responsible for a number of murders since they left Chicago two weeks earlier. Despite Joe’s faltering relationship and mistrust of the FBI he feels he must go to them for some assistance, but he can’t give them all the facts and let them run with the investigation, because he believes that might jeopardize the safety of the girl. He enlists the assistance of his old friend Nate Romanowski, who is in hiding after escaping from federal custody the previous fall, as well as his own 17 year old daughter Sheridan, and sets out to find the girl before the Feds can swoop in and botch things up. This time it’s very personal, as this may be Joe’s shot at redemption for failing to rescue his foster daughter six years prior.

Below Zero”, shows us a toned-down Joe Pickett when compared to previous novels. Although he is still a driven man and on a mission, his moves seem more calculated and more mature, and he doesn’t make the same types of mistakes he has made in the past. Despite that, author Box has created another page turner that is tough to put down because of the irresistible desire to find out how all the pieces come together. If you’ve enjoyed the previous Joe Pickett novels, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. The Joe Pickett series is not “pure” Game Warden literature, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I read a lot of game warden material, and occasionally I just want to read something that is totally distracting and purely entertaining, but I don’t have the time or desire to read material that has no game warden connection whatsoever. When that’s the case I don’t need to transgress into another genre, because the Joe Pickett novels fit the bill for me. If you’ve never read any of them, and you like a good murder mystery type novel, but want to be able to relate a bit to the hero, this series is top-notch.

Below Zero”, is available at most major booksellers, either in-store or online.

There aren’t many films out there that highlight our chosen profession, so even though this is primarily a book related column, I try and provide information about other game warden related media that may be of interest to readers of this magazine. So, if you are not aware of the current plight of California game wardens, there is a new DVD available from Snow Goose Productions entitled “Endangered Species: California Fish & Game Wardens” that will give you the lowdown. Not only does it explain the current California warden shortage and the prognosis for the Fish and Game Department, but it provides us with a great insight into the job of a California Game Warden.

Producer James Swan is a huge supporter of the California Game Wardens , and is the author of “In Defense of Hunting”, so this film highlights the importance of what game wardens do, what could happen if the current situation doesn’t change, and the dangers and frustrations that wardens face. As conservation officers and game wardens ourselves, we are somewhat familiar with the ins and outs of the job, but may not be so familiar with the particulars of the job in California. This video is a bit of an eye opener and aside from being a great educational tool, and providing some entertainment, it makes a valuable addition to the game warden book/video collector’s library at a very reasonable cost. The DVD’s special features also include statistics about game warden staffing numbers across North America, and some interesting trivia about game wardens.

DVD copies of “Endangered Species: California Fish & Game Wardens” can be purchased from Snow Goose Productions, P.O. Box 2460, Mill Valley, CA 94942 for $22.00 US ($25.00 foreign) which includes tax, and shipping and handling. As far as I know it is only available in North American NTSC format. For more details about the video or to order it with PayPal click here.

And that wraps it up for another edition of the Warden’s Words. Until next time, stay safe out there.

GW


Fall 2009

As summer winds to a close, I am wondering why it feels like another one has slipped away without me taking advantage of everything it had to offer.  Although I did take a few weeks off work this summer, I didn’t embark on a road-trip this year.  Like many folks, my family and I decided to have a bit of a “stay-cation” in order to save some money, and the rest of the time I just toiled away on my many side projects and interests. 

This summer has basically been a blur and mostly spent indoors when off-duty, even though the weather has been nothing short of incredible.  I seem to have overextended myself just a bit with all my game warden related hobbies.  For those who are not aware, I research and write about the history of my agency, I collect game warden shoulder patches and badges and maintain a website related to collecting these items and their associated history.  On that same website I post an online version of this column.  I also maintain my officer association website.  Of course I also collect game warden books and spend countless hours reading them so that I can write this column with some authority on the subject.  I also recently decided to get back into drawing after a fairly long absence.  Two of my cartoons graced the pages of this magazine in the past year.

Most people would say all that is enough to keep one person busy in addition to his regular job as a conservation officer, but I have this urge to continue to produce more material that covers a broader spectrum.  On occasion, like right now, I have used this column to expand my creative writing skills, but an opportunity was afforded me this spring when the officer association magazines from Alberta and Saskatchewan amalgamated and then asked the associations from the remaining western Canadian provinces and territories if they’d like to be a part of this new venture, Western Canadian Game Warden magazine (WCGW).

Although I initially intended for my involvement with the new magazine to be limited to one or two articles, and perhaps a cartoon for each issue, I fell into the role of jurisdictional coordinator, but I insist that it is only temporary.  My officers’ association came on board quite late, so I submitted what I could for the first issue, and Steve Wasylik submitted his Work’s Quirks piece which has been a long running feature in the former Alberta Game Warden magazine, and is now also published in this magazine. 

There is a long list of submissions that each jurisdiction is expected to supply and as the jurisdictional coordinator my role is to encourage members of my association to submit suitable material for the magazine in a timely manner.  Unfortunately the magazine hasn’t yet generated much interest amongst my association, and other issues have recently reduced officer morale to an all time low, so recruiting volunteers has not been overly successful.  In the end it was necessary to write most of the submissions myself in order to meet the obligations of our association.  

The deadline for submissions for the Fall issue, along with my IGW deadline, was fast approaching and I was certainly feeling a great deal of stress.  If things weren’t already hectic enough, our fire season took a turn for the worse and enforcement of the province-wide open fire ban was made a top priority, not only for the Forest Service but for the Conservation Officer Service as well.  Where I reside a number of FS staff were on vacation and conservation officers were asked to step in and fill the void outside their regular shifts.  Suddenly the little bit of time I thought I had available was taken up with campfire patrols.  The upside of this turn of events was the resulting overtime, something that conservation officers don’t see a lot of.  

Some family friends arrived for a weekend visit three days before the WCGW deadline but I spent most of the weekend working campfire patrol, or ignoring them while I toiled away on the computer.  Despite all these setbacks, and with a great deal of sweat, frustration and stress, I managed to get all my required submissions in to the editor of the new magazine on deadline day.  As I was struggling to meet that deadline, I had put an IGW feature I was developing on the back burner and was also unable to do any preparation for this column.

Once again I had to ask IGW editor Doug for an extension on my deadline.  Doug made my day when he said the feature could wait until the next issue and didn’t appear panicked that he didn’t have my column in hand yet.

So here I sit, putting the final touches on this column two weeks past the deadline, four books finally read, still helping WCGW with last minute finicky details, and wondering why I do it.  One reason is that I can’t seem to say “no” to anything of a creative nature; I think it is because it’s part of what makes me who I am.  For years I tried to stifle my creative side, with the exception of cranking out the odd satirical cartoon about my job, because “being creative” appeared to conflict with being a “Type-A”conservation officer.  Finally I realized that I have a need to write more than dry case reports.  I enjoy telling stories, and writing and drawing allow me to create something tangible from my life experiences so they can be shared on a wider basis.   I don’t do it to brag or feed my ego.   Hopefully my musings provide entertainment or information to the people who view them. 

I do feel quite rewarded when I see my material in print, and when I receive positive comments back from readers, and it makes me want to do more.  If you have a talent for writing, or drawing, or photography or something else that can grace the pages of a magazine, or can be formulated into a book, you should explore it.  Do it today, because tomorrow may be too late and the personal rewards are certainly worth the effort in my opinion.  We all have stories about our work and there’s no point keeping them to yourself when others can learn from them, or be entertained by them.

So, let’s move on to the original intent of this column - books.  I only read four books for this column, and all of them were titles that I located while surfing the internet for new material.  I was actually surprised that I’d missed so many titles from recent years, and I even located two more that I am reserving for the next issue. 

I have said before that Pennsylvania has probably produced more game warden books than any other jurisdiction, and I’m going to fill you in on two more.  Alaska, where the other two books take place, has also produced a large volume of material, especially when considering its much smaller population base.

William Wasserman, a retired Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer, who has penned three previous books about his career, wrote and published “Poacher Wars – a Pennsylvania Game Warden’s Journal” in 2008.

Wasserman’s fourth book is a collection of sixteen true stories about encounters with dangerous and unpredictable poachers and criminals.  For the avid reader of game warden literature it is a great addition to his library, and for the Eastern outdoor sportsman it is a great book to provide a behind the scenes view of the seedier side of our profession.  This book is not an autobiography of the author, but instead is an unpretentious, straightforward accounting of some events in his career that left him shaking his head, or counting his blessings.  I found this book to be very well written, highly entertaining, and somewhat thought provoking and I highly recommend it.

Poacher Wars” (ISBN 0-9718907-6-5) is published by Penn’s Woods Publications and is available though most major booksellers, either in-store or online, for $12.95(USD) or less.  How can you go wrong at a price like that?

The Thin Green Line – a thumbnail sketch of the career of a Wildlife Conservation Officer in rural Pennsylvania” (2009) by Rick Larnerd differs from Wasserman’s book, in that it is a memoir of his career, punctuated with interesting events that he was involved in.  This is an appropriate way to get to know Rick, as this is his first foray into the game warden book “business”.  Although his career as a Wildlife Conservation Officer only spanned 20 years (he retired early for health reasons) it was rewarding and successful, and Rick was recognized publicly for his service to his state.  He has done a great job of hitting some of the highs and lows of his career, while at the same time painting a colorful picture of his corner of Pennsylvania and his work there.  Rick has a very personable style that draws you in and makes you feel as though you know Rick personally.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is very well written and readable.  I found it to be a wonderful freshman undertaking, and I suggest that Rick consider a sequel, as I’d love to read more about his career.

The Thin Green Line” can be ordered directly from Rick Larnerd at a cost of $15.95 plus shipping - $20 total in the US, but likely more to Canada and overseas.  Rick can be contacted by mail at PO Box 142, Gainesboro TN, 38562, by phone at (931) 268-1022, or by email at wco516@yahoo.com.  He will personalize and sign your copy for you.    

Will Troyer wrote “Bear Wrangler – Memoirs of an Alaska Pioneer Biologist” in 2008. The author is certainly not a literary rookie, having published several articles in popular magazines and scientific journals, and having written two previous books, and his skills are evident in this publication.

Troyer began his 30 year Alaska wildlife career in 1951 with the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a seasonal fisheries technician.  He graduated from Oregon State College in 1952 with a wildlife biology degree and wanted to return to Alaska to work in wildlife management, but the Fish and Wildlife Service’s emphasis was on enforcement so his best opportunity to work in Alaska was in that field.   He spent three years as an assistant enforcement agent, working in the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula, and in Wrangell, followed by a stint in Juneau as acting Alaska Enforcement Agent.  While Troyer enjoyed enforcement field work, he really wanted to pursue his wildlife management dream.  He became the refuge manager in Kodiak, then Kenai, followed by a position where he evaluated the wilderness potential of Alaskan refuges.  After becoming assistant refuge supervisor for all Alaskan refuges, he became frustrated by the lack of fieldwork, and left the FWS in 1974 to become an area biologist for the National Park Service, retiring in 1981.  He had a varied and interesting career that took him to the four corners of Alaska and all the places in between, and his description of these places is part of what makes this book enjoyable.

Although most of this book is about the author’s work in the wildlife refuges and not enforcement, it is still a highly engaging account of working in a wild and untamed land.  His ability to tell his personal story, while entertaining and educating the reader, is exceptional.  There are also many high quality photos throughout this book that lend a great deal to its appeal.

Bear Wrangler” is published by the University of Alaska Press and is available in both soft cover (ISBN 978-1-60223-044-6) for and hardcover (ISBN 978-1-60223-043-9) for $26.95.

From veteran Alaska author and biographer Jim Rearden is “Sam O. White, Alaska – Tales of a Legendary Wildlife Agent and Bush Pilot”, which was first printed in 2007.

Sam O. White became the first flying game warden in Alaska, and quite likely in the entire world, when he first flew solo in 1930.  After a storied career as a Wildlife Agent, he resigned in disgust over Commission politics and became a pioneer bush pilot.   This book is divided into three sections – Sam’s early life, his game warden career and his bush pilot career.  Author Rearden made use of Sam’s own diaries, archival material, letters Sam wrote to family and friends, recollections of his friends, and many newspaper accounts, in order to create this manuscript.  I have tried to read other books developed from personal diaries and recollections, and often found them to be disjointed and repetitive, and generally as dry as unbuttered toast.  The result in this case is a smoothly flowing and engaging biography of one of the great Alaskan wildlife protection and aviation pioneers.  It also contains Sam’s own recollections of other Alaskan pioneers that he befriended through his travels.  The historic photographs that have been included throughout the book are a wonderful compliment to the text, which is highly polished and clear.

I was particularly taken with the game warden section for obvious reasons, but also because of the wealth of historical information about the Alaska Game Commission who employed the first game wardens in the territory beginning in 1925.  The history behind the initial use of airplanes by Sam and the Commission’s resistance to them, in favour of the dog team, is quite interesting.

Sam O. White, Alaskan” is an important book, not only in the realm of game warden literature, but also with respect to Alaskan pioneer history.  Jim Rearden has crafted a comprehensive memoir that is deserving of a place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in Alaska’s pioneers and places, game wardens, or aviation history. 

Sam O. White, Alaskan” (ISBN 978-1-57510-130-9) is published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company.  It can be ordered directly from the publisher at 713 South Third Street West, Missoula, Montana 59801 by calling (406) 549-8488, by fax (406) 728-9280, or via email to phpc@montana.com, or directly from their website – www.pictorialhistoriespublishing.com.  You may also be able to get your local bookstore to order it in for you.  The cover price is $23.95

I found it interesting to note how dissimilar a wildlife officer’s job is in different parts of the continent, especially when one compares the size of patrol areas, density of hunters and what the regulations allow or disallow.  When I read about game law enforcement in the Keystone State certain things jumped right out at me as completely foreign like chasing after deer baiters, the use of blaze orange, the very small size of the patrol districts, the availability of deputies and other back-up, and the short firearm season for deer. 

Despite these vast differences several things remain the same.  The officers all apply the law wisely and effectively, and their dedication to protecting their state’s wildlife resources is never in question.

Whether you are in Alaska, Pennsylvania, Florida, or anywhere in between, have a safe and productive hunting season and keep those poachers guessing.

GW


Return to INDEX


Winter 2009

Why are so many retired game wardens putting the stories of their lives down on paper?  In some cases it is to try and educate resource users (or abusers) about conservation, or to educate people who may not have a complete understanding of what we do, such as judges, lawyers, politicians, or even bunny huggers.  Still other authors write about their own exploits, or those of officers they have worked with, so that these stories live on as a lasting testament to their dedication, even after they are gone. In other cases, especially with fictional game warden literature, it is primarily to entertain the reader, with something other than the standard “detective” novel.  

The authors who write these books have either a passion for their life’s work and are justifiably proud of what they have accomplished in their careers, or are honored to have worked with or known people who have toiled in this noble field.  Many of the novelists were influenced at some point in their lives by a game warden.  Authors keep writing, and the public keeps buying, because regular cops are a dime a dozen, but game wardens have a mystique about them that fascinates many people.

Regardless of whether our agency calls us game wardens, game protectors, conservation officers, wildlife agents or some other name, the one thing that we have in common, and which the public identifies most with, is our fish and wildlife enforcement work.   Despite our officially bestowed titles, most members of the public still refer to us as “the Game Warden”, and that is how we often refer to ourselves.  We can all find common ground in the one thing we all share – our game warden role and identity.

In some jurisdictions officers carry out only fish and wildlife enforcement and related public safety duties, while in others they might also conduct resource management duties, fight forest fires, patrol provincial or state parks, enforce forestry regulations, or as is the case here in British Columbia, conduct all environmental investigations.  I may be way off base here, but I think that the vast majority of us in this line of work entered it primarily so that we could protect the fish and wildlife resources by catching poachers and other n’er-do-wells who might are prone to abuse these resources in our respective localities.    Unfortunately, as is often the case, especially in Canada, in order for us to be able to be a game warden, we also have to take on these other duties, which may not be quite as exciting or entertaining, or as highly valued by the people of our communities.  More often than not the non-game warden work consumes a great deal of our time, often to the detriment of the fur, fin and feathers resources, and to the chagrin of the law-abiding hunters and anglers who would like to see us out there more often and who contribute many dollars to our employer’s coffers. 

Most of the non-wildlife work can be rather mundane and does not make for good literary copy.  Because of my connection to the publishing world and game warden literature in particular, I now tend to view every patrol and investigation from the point of view of how good a story it will be when it’s over.  I look back at each of the five districts that I have worked in within this province and rate each one on their “entertainment” value, both from the aspect of how entertained I was in my work, and how entertaining the work will be to readers who I might someday share my adventures with.  The best characters, the most exciting adventures, and the best stories almost exclusively come out of the fish and wildlife enforcement work that I did, not the environmental files (with the exception of a few funny litter investigations).  Granted, all the work we do is important to overall environmental protection and an officer can choose to put his or her heart and soul into it or not, and do a great job at it, but the allure and mystique of the game warden work isn’t there.  

Many politicians don’t truly value fish and game enforcement, and in an over-taxed and underfunded agency something has to “fall off the table.”  When push comes to shove, it’s more likely that the traditional warden duties will take the backseat to environmental work.  In fact, some upper-echelon staffers within the resource agencies denigrate fish and wildlife patrol work and consider it a nice to do, not a need to do, and even refer to it as “playing in the woods.”  In BC we have been told several times in recent months that we should not ever refer to ourselves as “game wardens” as the term does not describe what we do and only serves to devalue our role.

The BC game warden tradition goes back to 1904 when the first men bore this honorable and esteemed title.  In many localities and jurisdictions game wardens came to be considered as an important person in their community, looked up to by adults and children alike. 

It has been 48 years since the title of Game Warden was officially stricken from the books in BC, and almost 30 years since the enforcement mandate of the Conservation Officer was broadened to include all environmental law enforcement. Despite that, we are still referred to as game wardens by many members of the public and still tend to identify ourselves in that manner in many instances today.  Game wardens still occupy an important place in society, and the name itself evokes pride and passion.

There are a number of changes and “initiatives” that have taken place resulting in much less time weeding out the poachers and running them to ground.  Much more time is spent justifying where we spend our time, rather than getting out there and just doing the job as most of us know it should be done.  I don’t know the situation in other jurisdictions, but I see the importance and the identity of “the Game Warden” being buried under the larger umbrella of environmental protection.  There is so much to do when your job mandate is so broad that one finds himself being directed to do what is deemed important, forsaking what he often knows is truly important, and what gives him a sense of purpose and value.  Agency restructuring has in some cases eliminated officer self-direction and initiative.  As a result, officer dedication, such as is written about in most game warden books, may become a thing of the past.  Much of the time it is the policies and directives of the agency that sucks the wind out of a previously dedicated officer’s sails, to such an extent that he no longer has the motivation to go above and beyond, because he is not supported in his efforts and is criticized for not diversifying his work duties enough.

Terry Grosz once said to me that wildlife officers are the only voice the critters have and come hell or high water we have to be able to look at ourselves in a mirror at the end of our careers and be satisfied with what the person looking back at us accomplished in this mission that we swore an oath to carry out.  Unfortunately there are a lot of hurdles that stand in our way as we strive to accomplish this mission, and many of these roadblocks are out of our control, and if we try too hard to fight against them we may find ourselves without a pension.

Is the dedicated Game Warden who pours his heart and soul into his work for the good of the resource disappearing?  If so, what will eventually happen to game warden literature?  Hopefully not too much in the foreseeable future, because those of us who were still around in the “good old days” or at least at the tail end of it may be writing about the glory days for several more years to come.  But I fear that eventually the game wardens we are reading about in 2009 will only vaguely resemble the conservation officers of the future.  I think more and more agencies will broaden the mandates of their “game wardens”, and the fish and wildlife resources will suffer as a result of less time spent on direct protection.  As a consequence, officers will be less dedicated, as it will be necessary to be competent in a wide range of duties, but impossible to truly focus on the primary “mission”, resulting in frustration and stress as their identity is lost.  The only way to combat this frustration will be to start shutting the job down after hours, or to fight against it and create more stress and anxiety.  The game warden books that I write about today may one day chronicle a time in history when the now extinct, dedicated and passionate protectors of wildlife devoted their entire time and attention to this noble and important cause.  I hope I’m wrong, but I believe that the writing is on the wall.  Drink it all in while you can.

Somehow, despite all my searching for new titles over the past couple of years, I overlooked a book that was published in 2007, so when I became aware of it I immediately contacted the author and requested a copy for review.   “Game Warden Games” by Fred Hosea is the only book I have seen that chronicles wildlife enforcement and management work in Washington State.  Author Hosea began his 35 year career with the Department of Game in 1952, eventually rising to the level of Deputy Director of the Department of Wildlife.  Although he had what is arguably a successful career, this book focuses only on his time as a field officer something all of us and most members of the public can identify with.

The book is mostly an anecdotal recounting of the author’s evolution as a Game Protector and Wildlife Agent, only lightly embellished, and most times quite modest in its presentation.   It is a very easy read, written in a nice light, but professionally polished style.  For the most part the author doesn’t mess around with a lot of details and gets right to the point, yet the reader completely understands what is going on.  There isn’t a lot of flowery description in this book causing us to become overly intimate with the violators or the surroundings.  Some books can get a bit carried away with their glowing picture painting, but Hosea just focuses on the events themselves.  What some authors would take twice as many pages to tell us about, Hosea fits into 284 pages. This isn’t a criticism, as I quite liked this approach because he keeps the stories coming at a fairly quick pace, and with a lightly humorous undertone.

There are a number of crisp black and white photos interspersed throughout the book, many of which are of the officers and biologists that the author shared his adventures with. 

All in all, this is a fine book, providing lighthearted entertainment and a glimpse into the good old days of the Washington Department of Game.  I am glad that Mr. Hosea took the time to provide us with this snapshot in time. 

Game Warden Games” is self-published and is available directly from the author for $19.95 plus shipping.  Fred can be contacted by telephone at (360)-456-4845, or by email at Protector007@comcast.net.

Ron Bailey, retired US F&WS Special Agent, former Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger, National Marine Fisheries agent, and Ohio Game Protector, provided me with a copy of his book, “Wilderness Patrol – Memoirs of a Federal Agent”, which was published this year.  Apparently the original subtitle was “a Game Warden and Park Ranger’s story” which would have more accurately described the book, as the Federal Agent portion of it comprises less than half of this 377 page book. 

This book runs the gamut of game warden and park ranger work and is quite entertaining and informative, with a lot of descriptive detail, but it occasionally veers off course a bit.  This is however a memoir and as such is more personal than just a series of unconnected stories, so the meandering is understandable, and does help to humanize the author.  As I moved into the section about the author’s time with the Army Corps of Engineers, which was not a wildlife enforcement job, I thought that the book was going to bog down, but the author was able to keep it crisp enough that it wasn’t a chore to read.  That in itself is a testament to the author’s writing skills, which are quite good.

The author is a man of faith, and that is evident in many places in the main body of the text, but he also makes some statements in his preface and in his final chapter that more clearly illustrate his faith.  I am a believer in the separation of church and state so to speak, and was put out a bit by a paragraph in the preface where Ron claims that he’s never met a game warden or park ranger worth his salt who is an atheist, because anyone who witnesses His creation from our vantage point should never be a non-believer.  After reading that paragraph, and scanning the final chapter, I was worried that this book would be “preachy” and the stories would not be about the “worldly” mission of wildlife protection, and would instead focus on salvation of poachers, non-believing game wardens and other “sinners.”  Fortunately, I can say that apart from the material mentioned above, I did not find the book to have any sort of “holier than thou” theme or perspective.  Instead I believe that Ron’s faith was what kept him focused on his mission and allowed him to be the passionate and successful wildlife officer we read about in these pages.  It may even be what kept him safe from harm at the hands of some of the nasty desperadoes that he encountered.

Wilderness Patrol” is a jam packed, enjoyable book, containing some really good poacher catching tales, written by an author with a true passion for his calling.  The book is only $14.95 plus shipping ($3.50 in USA), and all profits from its sale are being donated to Reverend Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, probably best known for its Christmas Shoebox program.  It’s definitely a winning combination – you get a good book to read or give as a gift, and some less fortunate children are helped out.

Wilderness Patrol” is published by Lightnin Ridge Books, Box 2, Bolivar, MO, and autographed copies can be ordered directly from Ron by calling him at (276) 728-3276, emailing him at decoy219@embarqmail.com, or by sending a check or money order for $18.45 (in the US) to him at P.O. Box 415, Fancy Gap, VA 24328-0415.

Until next time, keep the faith,

GW


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Spring 2010

It is time for me to step down off my soapbox for awhile.  This column is supposed to be about books written by, about and for game wardens and conservation officers.  However from time to time I feel the need to use this platform to editorialize about situations that are sticking in my craw.  My submissions in the Western Canadian Game Warden are research pieces and pure story-telling, but with this column I have free reign to go where I want to with it.  One of my regular readers, whose opinion I respect greatly, has encouraged me in the past to stretch myself a bit more in this column, so that’s what I did in the last couple of issues.  I got some supportive and encouraging feedback on the last column but despite that, I have elected to get back to the meat and potatoes of my mission for the next few columns, unless some big ugly situation really gets my hackles up.

As I get older and make more and more friends, many of whom are retired game wardens who have authored their memoirs, the reality of how tenuous our existences are becomes more and more apparent.  Prior to the publication of the last issue, another of the interesting and entertaining gentlemen that I have come to know through this column passed away, far too early. 

I first introduced you all to retired Alaska State Trooper Steve Knutson in the Summer 2008 issue where I reviewed his first book, It Takes One to Catch One.  While it was an entertaining read, the appalling and atrocious grammar and editing in that book prompted me to editorialize about the book publishing business in that same column.  I actually went pretty light on Steve, who, as it turned out, expected me to “rip him a new one.”  As a result of that review Steve and I continued to exchange emails, not only about book writing, but about a number of other areas of interest as well.  I looked forward to receiving seafood recipes, short stories, jokes and insider information about the trials and tribulations of the Wildlife Troopers within the Alaska Department of Public Safety.  Steve was also kind enough to send me personalized copies of his follow-up book “Confessions from the Last Frontier”, and his memoirs of his time in Vietnam, “Valley of the Shadows”.  He also sent me the first portion of the transcript of his next book with the working title of “The Great Alaskan Kook Book” and it was precisely that, a book of short stories and recipes from a kooky cook.  I miss those emails.

Steve had been living with insulin dependent diabetes for 40 years, a disease that produced complications resulting in his early retirement from the Alaska Wildlife Protection Division.  Steve had also had a minor stroke a year prior to retirement.  He liked to smoke, drink and eat which I’m sure didn’t help his situation either.  He was only 61 years old when he passed away in hospital in Soldotna, Alaska on Dec 2, 2009. 

So as a tribute to Steve, and to get to know the man he was a bit better, I decided to finally read “Confessions from the Last Frontier”.  When Steve sent it he advised me that I was under no obligation to review it or even read it, he just wanted me to have it.  I had been putting off reading it for some time, as I knew it was going to be full of typos, grammatical faux-pas, and odd idiosyncrasies like his first book, and I wasn’t sure if  I’d be able to negotiate my way through it without cringing.  However, given that my present intent was not to review the book, the preconceptions I had were not really important.  This book confirmed that Steve is a full fledged buffoon, who never really grew up, and liked to be a bit of an a******.  I know, you are all gasping about now, as I apparently speak ill of the dead.  But to be honest, those are Steve’s own descriptions, and he made absolutely no apologies for himself, and I won’t apologize for saying it either, because he wouldn’t want me to.  I think I owe him that much and right now I know he’s a got a big grin on his face.  No problem Steve, glad to be of assistance.J

So what did I think of the book?  Well, once I’d decided to just read it without the critical eye of a reviewer, I had no problem traversing through its pages.  It’s no better and no worse than Steve’s first book.  It is mildly entertaining and occasionally shocking, but less so than his earlier work.  Most importantly it furthers the story of who Steve was.  If Steve hadn’t written a book, I probably wouldn’t have met him.   Even if I had, it would have taken years of emails and phone calls to really learn who he was.  On the other hand, his books accomplished this task quite readily.  Best of all, his own kids and grandkids will get to know him better, because he took the time to put his life story down on paper.  

“Confessions from the Last Frontier”, ISBN 978-1-60643-970-8, is still available through online booksellers, and there may also be some copies in stock at the stick and mortar locations as well.  Retail cover price is only $12.95.

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A couple of years ago, novelist C.J. Box’ friend, Wyoming Game Warden Mark Nelson, told him a story of a strange encounter he had with twin brothers living a meager existence in the Wind River Mountains.  The tale haunted Box, who wrote a short story based on it, with Joe Pickett as the game warden involved.   The real wardens never did find out why the men lived there, where they’d come from, or what became of them, so Box decided to utilize some creative license and answer those questions in the form of a fictional novel titled “Nowhere to Run.”  The tenth “Joe Pickett” novel is set for release on April 6, 2010 and in the nine years since the first novel “Open Season”, Box has not let up with regard to quality or creativity. 

In “Nowhere to Run” Joe Pickett is in the final week of his temporary assignment to the Baggs District, and following the re-election of his savior Governor Rulon, Joe is no longer considered a liability to the department.  As he makes preparations to return to his former district in Twelve Sleep County, he decides he needs to conduct one final horseback patrol into the mountains to investigate a series of strange happenings there: car windows broken at the trailheads, camps looted, tents slashed and a poached elk dressed out and hauled away before the poachers even found it.

During this patrol, an encounter with an odd and threatening individual at a remote lake, along with his twin brother at their hidden camp, turns from unsettling to downright dangerous, and ultimately to a fight for survival.  But we all know Joe: even when he’s beaten to a pulp, and every bell and whistle imaginable is going off in his head, warning him to just walk away and let someone else take care of it, he has to go and try to save the day.  This time he goes in with the full knowledge that he likely will not return.  His old friend Nate tags along as extra insurance, but when the crap hits the fan and the reality of what the brothers stand for becomes apparent, Nate may prove to be a liability.  Joe is then forced to make a decision that could change his relationship with his old friend forever, or get them both killed.

“Nowhere to Run” is well crafted with the usual complexities and misdirection that Box is so adept at.   This series is far from getting stale and this novel is as fresh and original as the first Joe Pickett novel in 2001.  This is an enjoyable and entertaining book, on a par with any entry in the series so far.  At first I was disappointed that the climax was not as suspenseful and action-packed as many of the previous outings, but then decided that it was appropriate in this case.     

“Nowhere to Run”, ISBN978-0-399-15645-8, is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and will retail for $25.95 in the US and $32.50 in Canada.

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I received a telephone call from Warden’s Words reader Larry Weaver in Oregon who told me about a soon to be released novel titled “The Poacher’s Son” by Paul Doiron.  Larry had access to an advance reader’s copy and advised me that although the book is not exactly a “game warden” story, the protagonist is a Maine Game Warden who happens to be “the poacher’s son.”  It sounded like worthwhile reading to me so I obtained a review copy from the publisher, St. Martin’s - Minotaur.

“The Poacher’s Son” is the first novel by Maine native, and editor in chief of Down East: the Magazine of Maine, Paul Doiron, so it comes as no surprise that the story takes place in that state.  The main character is Mike Bowditch, a young Maine Game Warden, with barely a year of service under his belt.  Growing up in a broken home, Mike had little contact with his father, a hard drinking logger, guide, trapper and poacher.  A chance meeting with a veteran game warden several years earlier had led young Mike to embark on a career as a game warden himself, despite the urgings of his girlfriend and his mother who wanted him to go to law school.   The all-encompassing and solitary work of a game warden, and the disappointment of the women in his life, has led to a breakdown in his relationships.  When his already estranged father is accused of murder and goes on the run, Mike decides he must locate him before he is killed by the authorities.  Mike’s blind dedication to this mission quickly puts his future with the Warden Service in jeopardy as he begins to act irrationally and self-destructively.

Although his father is a poacher, Mike Bowditch cannot believe that he is a killer of men, and he is forced to choose where his loyalties lie – either with his biological family, or with the Warden Service.  While he knows for certain what the Warden Service stands for, family ties, even with someone he doesn’t really know, can be strong, and Mike makes the choice he believes he must make. 

The author masterfully crafts the story of Mike Bowditch, a young man trying to make amends for the errant ways of his father, but at the same time win his father’s approval.  Mike is a complex character, and because the book is written in the first person, the author is unable to directly tell us what Mike’s flaws are.  Mike isn’t shy about exposing his demons and sharing his fears with us and we get a good sense of the turmoil in his life.  Game wardens aren’t perfect and they aren’t made with a cookie cutter: they are human, they have flaws, and they have pasts that affect their futures.

“The Poacher’s Son” is the story of a fictional Maine Game Warden, but is not a story about game wardens.  The fact that Mike Bowditch is a game warden plays a crucial role in the tale, because on one hand he is the antithesis of his father, but on the other he is still the poacher’s son. 

The theme of “The Poacher’s Son” is a familiar one:  evil father begets son, son fights against evil, influence of father is strong and son must ultimately choose between good or evil.  Despite that common theme, this novel is utterly compelling and undeniably entertaining.  It is so well written that it is hard to believe this is the author’s first foray into fiction. The first-person style was unquestionably the right choice for this story: we only learn things as Mike fumbles his way along and discovers pieces of the story himself.  Until it all comes to a head, we don’t know if Mike has done the right thing, or has gone completely off the deep end.   I will leave it up to you to find out the answer.

“The Poacher’s Son”, ISBN 978-0-312-55846-8, will be released by Minotaur Books in April and will retail for $24.99 in the US and $31.99 in Canada. It will also be available as an audio book from Macmillan Audio.  If you like mystery novels don’t pass this one by.

Until next time, keep the faith,

GW


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Summer 2010

What’s in a name?  It is interesting to note that about half the folks that I deal with on the job or through this column, or just in life in general, are confused by my name.  Since birth I have gone by the “nickname” of Gerry, which is pronounced exactly the same as Jerry.  It is a variation of my given name which is Gerald (which I rarely ever use).  Some folks get it right, but others call me Garry or Gary, with the hard “G”, which is not a nickname for anything as far as I know.  Some folks will actually reply to my emails with “Gary” even though my name is spelled out clearly in my signature block and the sender box.  I have asked the odd person why they think it is pronounced with the hard “G” and they provide other example “G” words like “gun”, “game” and “golf”.  I will counter with “Germany”, “general” and “Geronimo” and the fact that the letter itself is pronounced with a soft G.   There are a few people who know how my name is pronounced, have seen it written down, and will then send me a note referring to me as “Jerry”.  When I am verbally providing my name I will often say “Gerry with a G” and for some people that has become my nickname.  It’s not really a big deal I suppose, but it’s nice for people to call me by my actual name. What is most difficult is trying to correct someone, especially someone who has called me by the wrong name or misspelled my name for a long time, without embarrassing them and me feeling bad for letting it go on so long.  I have even tried to get around the confusion by simply referring to myself by my initials, G.W., which I now use frequently.  Even though they are the same initials as the much maligned former U.S. president, I am proud to display them, because not only do they represent my own name, but also relate to my unofficial and preferred job title – Game Warden.   Anyway, you now know my sad tale of woe, and how to pronounce and spell my name if you decide to call me or send me an email.  If you are one of the guilty people I referred to above, you can quietly make the correction and I will probably be none the wiser.

I noticed the first obvious editing of my column in the last issue.  I typed a full, uncensored “bad” word because it was written that way in the subject’s book when he used it to describe himself.  It ended up “bleeped” in the final print copy, but we all know what it was supposed to say.  It was kind of like when they censor an expletive on TV but you still see the person’s lips moving and sort of hear the word in your head anyway.  What’s the point?  All the conservation officers and game wardens who read my drivel are big boys and girls who should be able to handle the odd mild curse word.  Break this compound word up into its two root words.  One seems to be perfectly acceptable these days and is dropped with regularity on primetime TV, although in Canada we still like to use “jerk” to describe a person’s character, and “bum” for the area of the anatomy. The other half of the word has never been considered an offensive word in any situation, but put them together and it gets censored.   I admit I wouldn’t normally use that word to publicly describe anyone I work with or have encountered in the course of my duties, but in this case it was intended to honor Steve in the manner that he would have appreciated most.  It would have been his final off-beat jab, delivered by a friend.  By having it censored, the shock value and punch that would have made him grin was nullified.  However, my present consternation over the issue would probably cause him to smile, so I guess all is not lost.

As so often seems to be the case, I was scrambling to get my books read as my deadline approached and then passed.  I only had two books I was going to review, but I was contacted about a couple more books a few days before the deadline and advised the authors that I would be happy to review their material, but not until the next column.  Then, because I had dragged my heels so long, the books showed up before the column was done and I was compelled to stretch the deadline even further to fit them in.  As a result you get a big dose of my “pre-ramble” and four reviews.  Lucky you.

“Shell Games” (ISBN 978-0-06-153713-4) was released in April and is published by Harper Collins.  It is written by Craig Welch who is the environmental writer at the Seattle Times and also writes freelance material for Smithsonian magazine.  “Shell Games” is the true story of the poaching of marine life on the West Coast.  Although there is a sidebar story about leopard shark poaching in California, the main tack of the book is about geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) and crab poaching in Washington State’s Puget Sound.  The book focuses on the state Fish & Wildlife detectives and National Marine Fisheries Service investigators and their informants as they pursue poachers from 1994 to 2002.  In order to stress the urgency of their mission, the author also provides some biological details of importance.

“Shell Games” was thoroughly researched and the author is able to use that research to paint a vivid picture of the fascinating characters and their investigations.  The book is replete with rich detail and some gripping and almost unbelievably compelling situations. It is a work of non-fiction that at times could be mistaken for a novel as the story unfolds to reveal the intrigue and deceit that is taking place.  One treacherous individual, with a larger than life personality, plays a pivotal role in this story and his antics will cause the reader to shake his head in disbelief.

The Puget Sound geoduck industry was rife with abuse in the late 1990s and early 2000s and author Welch’s accounting of it clearly shows how cutthroat it was and how it was very much like an underworld drug operation.   To the general public this book will certainly be an eye-opener.  To those of us familiar with large-scale market poaching, it introduces us to yet another facet of that multi-billion dollar illegal industry, and serves to reinforce why what we do is so important.  This book is not a preachy environmentalist type book in any way – it is pure storytelling, focussing on the characters and the crimes, and it is superbly done.

“Shell Games” is a thoroughly enjoyable and evocative read.  Author Craig Welch has hit the mark with this one and has written a book that has earned a spot in the world of “game warden literature.”  “Shell Games” is available from all the major online and stick & mortar booksellers.  It is hardcover, 288 pages and lists for $25.99.

Joseph Heywood is back with his seventh “Woods Cop” novel featuring Michigan DNR Detective Grady Service.  I don’t mind saying it, and I have heard it from several of my readers and friends as well, this is one of my favourite game warden fiction series.  While not as well known to the general public as the popular Joe Picket series, the Woods Cop novels have everything that series has and more.  Heywood’s knowledge of the intricacies of a Michigan Conservation Officer’s job, and his skills as a writer and storyteller, make these books perhaps the most relevant novels to the readers of this magazine.

“Shadow of the Wolf Tree” (ISBN 978-1-59921-900-4) by Joseph Heywood was released in paperback in May by Globe Pequot Press.  This is the first of the Woods Cops books not released in hardcover, which is a bit of a disappointment to me, being a collector, but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment value one bit.  I don’t know much about these new Kindle devices, as I prefer to hold my reading material in my hand and turn actual pages, but this book and most of the earlier Woods Cops novels are available in that electronic format as well.  Handy for travelling I guess, and a bit cheaper than a bound copy, but just not the same in my opinion.

“Shadow of the Wolf Tree” picks up in April 2006, about six months after the end of “Death Roe”, the previous novel.  There is so much going on right out of the gate to even attempt to explain it is difficult.  In a nutshell, Service’s dog finds some human remains while he and his pal Luticious Treebone are fishing.  Then they have a run-in with some razor wire and a set gun along the river.  Meanwhile a fisherman is killed by a second set gun downriver.  An eco-terrorism group is suspected of trying to scare off fishermen and a joint DNR, State Police and County Sheriff investigation is commenced.  C.O. Dani Denninger is then severely injured by a leg-hold trap while “creeping” near a suspicious compound known as Art Lake.  The trap and several more like it are set up around what is known as a “Wolf Tree.”  Are these events related and what is really going on at Art Lake?   You might need a score card because the investigation runs in several different directions all at once and there’s no telling if it will all come together or not.

The dialogue in “Shadow of the Wolf Tree”is engaging, the plot is engrossing and the pacing is perfect, but it is a bit of a departure from Heywood’s previous outings.  Detective Grady Service may in fact be slowing down physically, but his brain is still going at warp speed.  The action scenes are minimal, and Service seems more in control and less of a loose cannon. His overall contempt for bureaucracy is still evident, but he doesn’t seem to let it get to him, and his moves seem more calculated and less reactive.  These are not complaints, just observations about a character that continues to grow and develop as the series progresses. 

I was very entertained by “Shadow of the Wolf Tree” which is an excellent addition to the Woods Cop series.  I read this one in a couple of days, not wanting to put it down; at once anticipating how it all ties together, but at the same time not really wanting it to end.  As is the case whenever I finish a novel in this series, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next entry.  The characters are so richly portrayed that they seem like friends who I want to spend more time with.  If you are already a fan of this series, you won’t be disappointed in this one, and if you haven’t yet discovered the Woods Cops series, you should have a read.

“Shadow of the Wolf Tree” is available at all major book retailers.  It is 339 pages and retails for $16.95 in the U.S. and $18.95 in Canada.

In the last issue of International Game Warden there was an ad on page 24 for a book titled “Centennial of the Oklahoma State Game Warden”.  The OK State Game Warden Association was kind enough to send me a copy to review for this column.

First, I have to say that this is a handsome book.  As described in the ad it is a leather-grained hardcover, but the ad fails to mention the gold inlay and the very nicely designed dust jacket.  The overall layout and design of the book is quite professional and the OK Association should be proud of what they have produced.  I have seen a few other agency and association anniversary books and publications and this one is by far the nicest I have seen yet.

The content is varied and wide ranging, covering all aspects of the evolution of the wildlife law enforcement program, but is quite general and only scratches the surface.  The book is basically a compilation of biographies, newspaper articles, short stories (including very brief detailings of the murders of two game rangers) and out-takes from departmental publications that help to tell a superficial story of the history of the agency.  Consequently it tends to be a little light on details and does not expand upon issues of political patronage and departmental interference that are occasionally alluded to.  However, it was not intended to be a comprehensive history of the organization, but rather a commemorative keepsake.   Every written account in the book is accompanied by a photograph, so what the book lacks in actual text, it makes up for in photographs.  There are also a few photographs of badges and patches worn by the rangers. 

This book would serve as a nice memento for past and present Oklahoma game rangersand wardens, the family of now departed rangers, and supporters of Oklahoma game wardens and wildlife.  It would hold some interest for people interested in Oklahoma history or general game warden history as well.   I’m not sure how interesting it would be to someone who does not already have a connection to Oklahoma however.  Despite that, the cost of the book relative to its quality is quite good, and the proceeds of its sales go to the Oklahoma State Game Warden Association.

Thecost of “Centennial of the Oklahoma State Game Warden” is $40 US and shipping is an additional $6.  It can be ordered by calling the OSGWA at 918-865-7767, or by sending check or money order to Gary Smeltzer, PO Box 374, Mannford OK 74044.  There may also be a few copies available at the NAWEOA conference but there is no guarantee of that.

Finally, well-known badge collector Ken Lucas Sr. has compiled his 19th badge collector’s guide.  His latest endeavor is titled “Badges of Conservation, Fish & Game, Forestry.”  This publication contains actual size full-color depictions of over 600 natural resources badges primarily from the US and Canada.  The badges range from vintage to contemporary.  No histories of the badges are provided however, and I did note that of my own rather sparse collection of approximately 75 wallet and breast badges from the western US and Canada, only about a third of them are depicted in this publication.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t comprehensive, it just means there are a lot of badges out there waiting to be collected.

Each copy of “Badges of Conservation, Fish & Game, Forestry” is desktop published on Ken’s computer, printed with a color laser printer, and then spiral bound and shipped out.  There is a 10% discount for law enforcement officers if you provide your official business card.  The cost for this publication is $49.95 with free shipping in the US.  Shipping to Canada and overseas is $13.75 for priority mail.

Ken has an ongoing listing for this item on eBay where you can see a couple previews of it and order it, or you can contact him directly by email at sgt116@yahoo.com, by phone at (410) 885-9929, or via snail mail at Kenneth W. Lucas, Sr., 90 Two Rivers Road, Chesapeake City, MD 21915.

And that wraps up another Warden’s Words.  Until next time, stay safe.

GW – Gerry with a “G”


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Fall 2010

Okay, I give up. I tried to have some fun in the last issue with this whole Gerry with a “G” thing, but it backfired on me somewhat. Some folks are now calling me “Garry” just to mess with me, and others are calling me “Gerry with a G”. To top it off someone (and no one will confess) changed my sign off so it said Gerry with an “e”, which contradicted the whole point of the story. On the bright side, a good friend of mine from Washington State said he laughed his “bum” off when he read it (although he used that other word I wrote about).

So despite an ever present lack of time to really do anything but work, I was recently able to get the online version of this column up to date. I had not posted any new columns to it for almost a year. I also updated the master index of all the book reviews that have been done in IGW since its inception. You can download a copy of the list HERE. I also have every issue of IGW that has been printed (except for Winter 1985) so if you need a copy of a particular review I could probably supply it to you.

I find it perplexing that there are officers within my own jurisdiction who aren’t aware that I even write this column, while there are others who know that I write it, but have not read even one installment because they don’t care about game warden books. Interestingly, these same folks will read the rest of the magazine, where much of the content is similar to what is found in many of the game warden books that I write about. My own supervisor doesn’t even read this column, yet pats me on the back for my game warden “fraternalism” which is displayed by my contributions to this magazine and another conservation officer publication. Just when I begin to worry that my co-workers are a representative sampling of all IGW readers and that there is no one who actually reads this column, I am elated as I receive emails from readers either telling me about new titles, looking for old titles, laughing at my tongue in cheek humor, or referring to me as Gerry with a “G”. It’s good to know that despite my perceived anonymity within my own agency, the service that I am providing is appreciated by many others.

There are several new game warden and ranger publications, and despite it being hard to find the time to read them, I managed to “git ‘er dun” and I was suitably entertained in the process. I didn’t have to put much work into tracking material down this time, as almost everything I read was either referred to me by readers, or sent to me by the author without any solicitation on my part. That is a good sign that the column is serving its intended purpose.

My friend Tom Valenta gave me the lead on a book titled "Ranger Confidential – Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks", which was written by former U.S. Park Ranger Andrea Lankford, and published by FalconGuides, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press in 2010.

The book is a sampling of real life stories that involved the author or rangers that she worked with in various National Parks, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Denali. While not completely about the law enforcement part of the job, most of us can relate to the other events that the rangers encounter. While told with humor and insight, this book goes behind the scenes to reveal who the rangers really are, where they came from, and why they are so selflessly dedicated. It also exposes the damage inflicted against them both physically and emotionally, while they work for the cause. Some suffer burnout, some suffer physical harm, and in one case the ultimate sacrifice is made.

I trust Tommy V’s opinion and it was dead on with respect to "Ranger Confidential". He advised it was a very good read and it certainly was. "Ranger Confidential” is a very well written, thought provoking book, which confirms that despite the shiny badges and crisp uniforms, rangers are people too. They have their faults, their idiosyncrasies and their personal demons like anyone else, but when they don that uniform and are called into action, they are true heroes. Give this one a look, you won’t be disappointed.

Although the cover price of "Ranger Confidential" (ISBN 978-0-7627-5263-8) is $16.95, it is available at all the online bookstores, for as little as $12, making it an exceptional bargain. It is also available for the Kindle for around $10, but I’d be surprised (or shocked) if even one of these “new fangled” devices has made its way into the hands of a reader of this column.

Next up, perennial author William (Bill) Wasserman sent me a copy of his latest outing, "Game Warden – Adventures of a Wildlife Warrior”, published in 2010 by Bill’s own business Penn’s Woods Publications. Wasserman is a retired Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer, who has penned four other books about his career. He never seems to run out of stories to tell, but an active 32 year career, spent entirely in the field, will surely provide a wealth of material to work from.

Wasserman’s fifth book is a collection of five tales just the way readers of this column like ‘em. They aren’t all bust ‘em up poacher catching tales, but each one depicts an interesting and important facet of the wildlife enforcement job. As always they are unpretentious and give credit to all the other officers involved where it is due. Like Wasserman’s other books this one is well written, highly entertaining, thought provoking and even a bit educational. The dedication of Wasserman and his deputies is clear, and the hunting population of Pennsylvania should be grateful for his service. This is a terrific little book.

If I have one criticism of "Game Warden" it is that it is a little too short at only 145 pages. Wasserman’s style is easy to read and his work is so entertaining, that I always find myself wanting more. However, with a cover price of only $12.95 this book is a steal, although I suspect most folks would be willing to pay extra for another hundred pages.

"Game Warden – Adventures of a Wildlife Warrior" (ISBN 0-971-89077-3) is available through most major booksellers.

Retired Oregon Fish & Wildlife Division State Trooper Joe Schwab has been bitten by the writing bug and has penned "Outlaws on the Big River (2010), a collection of stories spanning his 25 years of service, most of which was spent on the mighty Columbia River. I don’t recall having heard of any other books about fisheries enforcement on the Columbia, or any other type of resource law enforcement in Oregon, so this one definitely intrigued me.

The author is a very good writer, but he is not one to excessively embellish, or mess around with a lot of superfluous detail. He provides a minimal amount of background information, then cuts right to the heart of the story, ties it all up, then moves on to the next one. As a consequence the book is very easy to read. Because it is interspersed with numerous black and white photos, the reader is easily able to conjure up the scenes in his mind, without the need for extravagant descriptions.

With the exception of one chapter, the entire book is about fisheries enforcement patrols and investigations in Oregon. Oregon is one of only two jurisdictions in North America where the fish and wildlife enforcement is conducted by the police, and not by the resource agency that sets the regulations, so the premise of this book is unique to begin with.The fact that it focuses entirely on fisheries work suggested that perhaps it was going to be tedious and dry, but that isn’t the case at all. By writing crisp and concise chapters, the author was able to keep the stories light and entertaining and I found myself caught up in the action.

As with Bill Wasserman’s latest book my only real criticism is that there isn’t enough book here. Schwab is a fine storyteller, who deftly draws the reader in to the duties of the Fish and Wildlife Officer on the big river, and the ride along with him is a real treat. Sadly, it ends far too soon. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as he puts you out on shore to regroup before he comes back and takes you on another ride. Joe is currently working on a sequel that will be a compilation of stories from other officers who worked the Columbia. I’m looking forward to it.

"Outlaws on the Big River"(ISBN 1451556365) is self published by Joe Schwab. It is 118 pages and lists for $12.95. You can get a signed copy directly from Joe by emailing him at bigriverjoe51@yahoo.com or an unsigned copy can be acquired online through amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

In the summer 2010 issue of IGW there was an article about the history of the Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officers written by Jack Weaver, a retired officer. The article was accompanied by a small advertisement for his book, “Omerta – Code of Silence”. I attempted to contact Jack at the email address listed, but my messages bounced back. Being a seasoned investigator I was able to track down a current email address for him in short order and make contact to obtain a review copy for you. The correct email address is listed at the end of my review.

"Omerta" is a work of historical semi-fiction that is based on actual events, precipitated by the 1906 murder of Pennsylvania Game Protector Seely Houk, whose body was found floating in the Mahoning River. Author Weaver relied on court transcripts, the actual reports of an undercover operative, and newspaper accounts of the day to establish the foundation of the story. He then used a considerable amount of literary license and imagination to weave it all together into a well crafted story. The undercover murder investigation quickly becomes much more as the inner workings of the notorious “Black Hand” or the Society of Honor are exposed to undercover agent #89, who has embedded himself in the Italian mining community of Hillsville. Agent #89 is able to join the Society and bears witness to violent acts of revenge, duels of honor, murder and extortion. The secrecy of these events is ensured by the “Omerta”, an oath of silence that all members of the society must swear. Violating the Omerta is punishable by death. Fear and violence is how the society maintains control, but as that control slips away and is regained with increased violence, the attention of law enforcement in also increased.

The embattled character of Agent 89, known in the story as Dominick Prugitore, is well developed and I found myself rooting for him and sympathizing with him as he struggled to maintain his cover and peel back and expose the layers of the Society. The author also inserts a fictional love interest of sorts, who plays a pivotal role in the story, and adds an element of additional drama and tension. This helps to round out the story, counteracting the evil that is so prevalent, and making the story much more than just an embellished regurgitation of reports and transcripts.

This is a 290 page book, and I picked it up in the morning of a day off from my real job, and apart from a couple of meal breaks, I did not put it down until I had finished it that same day. I think that Weaver did a terrific job creating a very compelling and evocative read, based on actual historical events, without varying too much from the recorded facts of the case. This novel is not really an entry in the game warden literature arena, as the investigation into the murder of Seely Houk takes a backseat to the much larger and quite fascinating story of the Black Hand. However, as a lover of game warden books, and an amateur historian, I found reading this book to be well worth my time.

A personalized signed copy of "Omerta" which is published by Trafford Publishing can be obtained directly from Jack Weaver by sending him an email at oldwarden@live.com. The cost for a hardcover copy is $34 and soft cover is $24, with $2.50 shipping added to that (in the USA). Jack advises he is also in the process of setting up a website where copies can be ordered using PayPal. Discount (but unsigned) copies can also be obtained from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Tower Books and other online sellers.

Reading "Omerta" prompted me to learn more about these events. I found a very informative, if not a bit dry, entry on the internet: Chapter 1 of “The Hunter’s Game”, The Killing of Seely Houk. This narrative not only verifies many of the events in "Omerta", but expands upon the issues around Italian immigrants and hunting in the Hillsville area. You can read it at http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/warren-game.html. You may have to set up a free account to get access.

Finally, James Swan sent me an electronic copy of a new book authored by California Fish and Game Lt. John Nores and Swan which is due for release on October 5, 2010. It was not an electronic copy for my non-existent Kindle, just a PDF for the computer. Unfortunately, due to time limitations, computer related issues (which includes just being tired of staring at a computer screen), I was not able to read it and provide a review in this issue. However, I do intend to review it for the next issue, but in the meantime be on the lookout for "War in the Woods – Combating the Marijuana Cartels in America’s Public Lands" published by Lyon’s Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. No doubt it’s a good one.

And that wraps it up for this time. Until next time, buy a few books to help out some struggling authors, and keep those pages turning.

G.W.


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Winter 2010

Based upon comments that I have made in previous columns regarding the use of Kindle devices for reading books, and not wanting to read a PDF copy of a recent publication on my computer, you might think I am some sort of prehistoric technologically challenged throwback.  The truth is that I am far from it.  Despite my 47 years on this planet, which might result in me being considered middle-aged, or even “old” by some standards, I am arguably one of the more technologically adept and innovative officers in my jurisdiction.

I was a bit of an Audio-visual geek back in grade school, and despite the virtual demise of 16 mm film and analog audio equipment, I have managed to keep up with the times for the most part.  I’ve been using GPS technology since 1994.  I’ve embraced computers wholeheartedly, have had a couple hand-held PDAs, and am firmly entrenched in the digital age, with a couple of notable exceptions.

I’m not a big cell phone fan.  They make us too accessible, and increase the expectation of our associates, employers and the public to be available to the point where we get questioned as to why we didn’t answer our phone.  I’m sorry but there are times when it is not appropriate or necessary to be so readily available.  Your life should not be controlled by a communication device.  Prior to my latest work location I lived in northern BC where we didn’t have any cell phone coverage, and guess what?  I got along just fine.  Another reason why I’m not a fan of cell phones, and their evolving offspring of I-phones and their ilk, is that I can’t see the bloody screen without putting on my reading glasses.  When the phone is jangling away, I have to locate my glasses to see who is calling, or roll the dice and hope it’s not someone who I’d rather not talk to right now.  I can barely read what’s on a computer screen without my glasses, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how anyone can watch a YouTube video or a sporting event on a tiny little cell phone screen.  Ironically, the people who find this to be a great thing are often the same people who have a 52 inch flat screen in their family room.  I’ll take just the big TV and high-definition football myself.

As far as the aforementioned Kindle goes, I think they have their place.  You can load a mountain of reading material into one, yet it takes up very little space.  For ease and efficiency, that’s a great thing.  I could pack all my review copies around under my arm and read them anywhere (providing I have my glasses with me), but I am also a book collector and the Kindle works against this endeavor.  I have many signed editions in my collection, which hold a nostalgic, sentimental and possibly financial value.  And there is something warm and comforting about sitting in front of a bookcase full of books, whether they are collectors editions or not.  Bookcases have long served as furniture, decoration and focal points in our homes, sometimes with whole rooms built just to feature them.

One thing I did learn recently is that the Kindle is a proprietary book reader, available only through Amazon.  Not really caring to know much about them, I had the idea that they were more widely available and that the Kindle book format was available from other bookstores.  Not so.  The Kindle has its own file formats – MOBI, PRC and AMZ, but can also read TXT and PDF files.  There is also a Sony book reader that utilizes PDF, RTF, TXT and BBeD formats.  Barnes and Noble has now entered the market with a gizmo called the Nook.  The Nook can view its own EPUB format files, as well as PDB and PDF files.  This confusing proliferation of file format acronyms basically means there is no ability to share material other than PDF and TXT files between different manufacturer’s devices and that is a major reason why real books remain superior.  Good old fashioned books never need recharging and they all share the same format – paper and ink.

So I was finally able to force myself to sit in front of a computer screen to read the PDF version of “War in the Woods – Combating the Marijuana Cartels in America’s Public Lands” that I mentioned in the last issue.  It is written by California Fish and Game Lt. John Nores, with James Swan, and was released on October 5, 2010.  Although the version I read was an uncorrected proof, and reading a whole book off a computer screen was rather uncomfortable, what I read was a very well done chronicle of how and why the California Department of Fish and Game is involved in not only the eradication of marijuana on public lands, but also the prosecution of the people responsible.

My first question, which I am probably not alone in asking, was why a Fish and Game agency would have any interest in this criminal activity?  I know that the US Fish & Wildlife Service has been undertaking eradication on their wildlife refuges for several years, but that made sense to me based on the fact that they are the managers of the land base as well as the resources.  I am also aware of some state agencies that undertake these actions on their state-owned property.  In most cases it seems that the main goal is the eradication of the crop, which results in a financial loss to the grower, but no legal action.  What I have learned from “War in the Woods” is that there is a very good reason why natural resource law enforcement agencies should be involved on government-owned and public land.

In California, illegal growers not only trespass on public land and leave all sorts of waste materials behind, but they also damage streams by creating unauthorized impoundments, and by introducing fertilizers and pesticides.  The reduction in water flow and the chemicals that are used kill fish and affect downstream users of the watercourses.  The removal of riparian vegetation to create planting sites and allow sunlight to reach the “gardens” also impacts the streams in a negative manner.   Add to this the illegal harvesting of wildlife to feed the growers and you can easily see why marijuana cultivation on public land is a serious concern to the California Fish and Game Department.

Most of us know that water quality enforcement is not exactly the stuff that generates exciting stories, and apart from providing us with the requisite education, the author does not get into any great detail about the investigation and prosecution of the growers for their environmental crimes.  He does however cite one example of a grower receiving a substantially higher penalty for the environmental damage he caused, than for the marijuana cultivation itself.

The bulk of this book consists of the recounting of various surveillances and take-downs of marijuana gardens and it is some of the most exciting and compelling reading I have enjoyed in a long time.  The hazards and risks encountered in this type of enforcement are huge, and the author makes us keenly aware of this.  His descriptions of the take-downs generate such a vivid picture that the reader feels like he is there alongside the officers.  While these are not “poacher-catcher” tales in the true sense of the term, they are highly exciting tales of stalking, pursuing and catching bad guys who are operating without any concern for the serious damage they are doing to a public natural resource.  They are driven purely by greed, and although the growers are often just pawns, it is still satisfying to read about their capture and the disruption of their illegal activities.

“War in the Woods – Combating the Marijuana Cartels in America’s Public Lands” is a unique and fresh entry into the genre of “game warden literature”, and is richly deserving of its place there.  For sheer game warden adventure this one is highly recommended, but I also recommend it for its educational value.  “War in the Woods” is published in paperback by Lyon’s Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, and lists for $16.95.  It is available from most of the major bookstores at a reduced price, and Amazon has a Kindle edition.

“Game Warden – On Patrol in Louisiana” (ISBN 978-0-8071-3704-8) by Jerald Horst was released by the Louisiana State University Press in September 2010.  This book has the feel of a television reality series about game wardens.  The author didn’t travel around interviewing game wardens and then sit down and write a book that regurgitated what he was told.  Instead, he spent almost a year, riding with numerous officers in their trucks and boats, and watching their activities and their interactions with the public and their fellow officers.   While not every patrol and stakeout he witnessed was successful, the cumulative result was an unbiased, realistic picture of what these officers do and who they are.  In a genre where many of the books are almost indistinguishable from one another, apart from the location and the main players, this book really stood out as different.

“Game Warden” is unique in its perspective, because I cannot recall any other game warden book approaching the subject in the same manner.  Magazine articles about conservation officers are often written in this type of third–person style, but are more often than not based on a week or two of observation and interviews with the subjects.  Author Jerald Horst devoted much more time to the subject and covered much more ground.  The result of this is a comprehensive and candid view of the day to day activities of wildlife enforcement officers in Louisiana.  If the book is any true indication of what Louisiana officers face on a day to day basis, I have to say that these devoted officers have their work cut out for them, because the amount of violators they end up on the trail of seems rather high.

The author has produced a very professional manuscript, and the publisher did a fantastic job of incorporating his numerous color photographs into the book.  Not only is this a book that the author and publisher should be very proud of, but it is a credit to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that the author spent this amount of time with their game wardens and portrayed them and the department in such a positive light.  This book should be required reading in hunter safety courses in Louisiana, so that new hunters can enter the field with a clear picture of who game wardens really are, and why they are out there disrupting their hunting and fishing activities.  However, the educational and public relations benefits this book can achieve are equaled, and perhaps surpassed, by the sheer entertainment value of the stories contained within.  It is, plain and simple, a darn good game warden book, full of wonderful, exciting and true stories about Louisiana’s devoted wildlife warriors.   I highly recommend this book to readers of this column who are looking for an engaging book, with a fresh perspective.  I enjoyed it immensely, and found it made my job of late seem rather mundane in comparison.

 A hardcover copy of “Game Warden – On Patrol in Louisiana” can be ordered directly from the publisher for $34.95.  Every game warden wants to save a few bucks, and the book can also be ordered through Amazon.  Yes, there is a Kindle edition available there as well.

I was contacted by retired Indiana Conservation Officer E. Wayne Martin a few months back to see if I wouldn’t mind making mention of his publication “A Century of Service – Indiana Conservation Officers 1897-1997”.  As you can probably surmise from the title, this is not a new publication.  It was first published in 1999, and was reprinted in 2006.  Officer Martin recently moved and needed a way to update the ordering information for the book.  That is one of the many services of this column.  He did not request a review of the book, but a search of my master list of reviews previously done in this magazine indicates there has been no prior mention of this book.

 The book is hardbound, large format, and is 130 pages in length, and contains numerous photographs of historic equipment, uniforms, badges and shoulder patches.  It tends to be a bit heavy on the details with regards to the specifics of uniforms, insignia and equipment, and some of the photos of uniforms are a bit redundant.  However, for the collector of insignia and uniform components, this book is almost encyclopedic.  For example there are photos of 60 different badges and seven pages of accompanying information.

The rest of the book is more or less an accumulation of various facts and figures from the agency’s past, without a whole lot of gritty details as to how and why things came to be the way they were or are.  This seems to be a common way of putting together a centennial book, which then tends to be of more interest to retired officers than to the general public; almost like a high school yearbook.  There almost seems to be a fear of saying anything too critical of the department or anyone involved in the incidents or decisions.  There are also no “war” stories of wardens past and present to illustrate what conservation officer in Indiana have done over the course of 100 years to protect the resources of the state, an omission that would further reduce the appeal of the book to the general public.

A copy of “A Century of Service – Indiana Conservation Officers 1897-1997” can be ordered from the author for $25.00 USD, plus $4.00 S&H (in USA) or $8.00 S&H (to Canada).  Officer Martin can be contacted by email at ewmartin@cox.net, or by old fashioned snail-mail at E. Wayne Martin, 14600 W. Whispering Wind Trail, Surprise AZ 85374.

Finally, James Swan, and Original Productions, the same company that produces Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers, have teamed up on a new TV series.  “Wild Justice” which follows the exploits of California’s small group of Fish and Game Wardens, premiered on National Geographic Channel in the US on November 28th.    Check out the Wild Justice website.  The episodes listed look pretty entertaining.   Unfortunately the Canadian version of National Geographic Channel isn’t broadcasting it (yet?).

And that wraps up the 20th instalment of the Warden’s Words.  Until next time, keep those pages turning.

G.W.
 


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Spring 2011

This is International Game Warden Editor Doug Lucyshyn’s final issue. Doug has been the only editor of IGW since the magazine was purchased by NAWEOA eight and a half years ago.  He previously edited the Saskatchewan Game Warden magazine, and brought his creative designer Bruce Weild with him to IGW, which resulted in a fresh new look for the magazine.  The two of them have kept the magazine sharp and professional ever since, even after Doug left his position as a Saskatchewan Conservation Officer three years ago. Doug has now decided to move on to other aspirations, leaving the game warden world behind completely, and he’ll be turning the reigns of the magazine over to his successor.  I’m sorry to see him go.  I wish him well and I plan to stay in touch, as he has become a bit of a mentor and a friend during my association with the magazine.

As I noted at the sign-off of my last column, I have now written 20 installments of this column.  Of the numerous books I have reviewed in that time, at least 50 of them were provided to me as complimentary review copies by either the author or the publisher.  In many of these cases the author sought me out to provide a copy.  That is the way the publishing world works.  It has been said that any publicity, even if it’s less than positive, is better than no publicity at all.  Providing review copies is how one receives publicity, and is one of the cheapest ways to get the word out about your book, plus it’s a tax write-off.  Only once has an author not been willing to provide me with a complimentary copy for review.  I profusely explained to him that this was the way it was done, but being a new author with no experience, and probably having paid too much to print the book, he was unwilling to part with even one copy which could ultimately result in the sale of many copies.  I even tried to make some sweetheart deals with him like offering to read the book and if I thought it was not good for anything but fire-starter I would send it back to him and not write the review.  If it was decent I would write a positive review and keep the book.  He didn’t like that, still not wanting to comp even one copy, so I sweetened the pot by suggesting that if he did not have ten or more buyers tell him they heard about it in my column I’d return it.  He dug in his heels until I finally gave up, exasperated with him.  To this day I have never seen a copy of his book or heard any comments about it from readers, and the author has not come back to me to ask me to review it.  Although I doubt I will ever encounter such an obstinate author again, I sure would be interested in feedback from past review recipients with their observations about whether they think this column had any effect on the sales of their books.

As I wrote in the last issue, I am technologically adept and innovative, so it should come as no surprise that I have also been ‘experimenting” with the Kindle e-Book reader.  No, I didn’t buy one for myself, and it’s not likely that I will, but a number of my extended family members have them, so my wife decided that she wanted one too.  I bought her one for Christmas and decided to play with it a bit.  I accessed the Amazon Kindle Store and searched for “Game Warden” and two books that I had not previously been aware of, both by the same author, came up.  It turns out that these two titles were never released as “paper and glue” publications, but instead went straight to the Amazon Kindle Store for downloading.  As the cost for each was very low I figured I couldn’t go wrong with either of them, so downloaded both.

The author of these two e-books, Brian Angevine, decided that rather than spending a pile of money self-publishing a book and potentially ending up with boxes of unsold books, the Kindle route would give readers access to his work, at no cost to him. Unfortunately this method does not result in a whole pile of profit for him – he gets around 35 cents for each book that is downloaded.  I suppose if you write prolifically and have a large list of books to choose from, there is the potential to make a few bucks, without any significant overhead costs.

If  Mr. Angevine were trying to enter the niche market that CJ Box has been so successful in, I’m not sure that the Kindle-only route would be the best way to do it.  I have no idea how many Kindles are out in the populace now, but I’m sure that the segment of owners that is interested in game warden fiction is not very large.  I don’t think that my reviews of his two game warden books will substantially increase his sales either, because unless I am completely ignorant, I highly doubt that many IGW readers have gone out and invested in a Kindle lately.

The first of Angevine’s game warden “novels” is titled “In the Jaws of a Dilemma” and was actually written in 2005 released on the Kindle site last fall.  I’m not going to pull any punches and even suggest this is in the same league as the work of any of the mainstream novelists I have written about previously.  However it is a creative story with an interesting premise.  Two young women are killed and the local police quickly determine that a rogue bear is responsible, but something doesn’t sit right with local game warden Randy Waters.  So he calls in his friend, a homicide detective from Colorado Springs, to help him confirm that the women were murdered.  The local police are eventually convinced that a bear is not responsible until another killing occurs which has all the tell-tale signs of a bear attack.

While the book has a fair amount of excitement and entertainment value, it lacks the unexpected twists and turns that we usually see in these types of novels.  Once the investigators identify their suspects the book launches forward at a brisk pace and ultimately confirms their involvement. I also found the ending to be less than satisfactory.  Although it was explained how the killings were made to imitate bear attacks, the author never explains why the killer went on his rampage and consequently he leaves the reader hanging.

Angevine’s second novel featuring Game Warden Randy Waters is more in the vein of a Joseph Heywood novel.  In “Wilderness Justice” (2007 – released to Kindle 2010) the author stays away from the murder mystery genre and instead focuses the entire story on the resource enforcement work of Warden Waters.  He balances both the good and the bad aspects of the job, until finally arriving at a point where Waters is thrust headlong into a fight for survival and then into a mission of vengeance.

I enjoyed “Wilderness Justice” more than Angevine’s first outing because it was actually honest to goodness game warden fiction.  Although it was a fairly linear story, again offering no real surprising twists, it was well written and cohesive and offered some excitement and good entertainment.

“In the Jaws of a Dilemma” and “Wilderness Justice” are only available through the Kindle store, and of course you will need to get a Kindle (or borrow one from somebody) if you want to read them.  However, both titles are a steal at 99 cents for the former and $1.25 for the latter.   And just so you know, after the initial investment of around $139 for the basic Kindle, all mainstream books are roughly half the price of a bound copy and take up way less space in your house.

The author also advises me that he has completed a third novel in this series, which should be out soon.

Next up is a book that I received completely unsolicited from the “story teller”.  I use that term because the stories themselves belong to Eric Nuse, a retired Vermont Game Warden, but the actual author of the book is Megan Price.  Confused?  So was I, especially when I began reading it and found it to be written in the first person.  I since learned that Eric had lots of stories to tell, and Megan is an accomplished writer, so the two joined forces to create this book.

The pair, along with illustrator Bob Lutz, have created a wonderful book about Eric Nuse’s career as a Vermont warden titled “Vermont Wild: Adventures of Vermont Fish & Game Wardens – Volume 1” (2011).   I have found over my years of collecting and reading game warden books, and especially since I began writing this column over five years ago, that there are many different ways of approaching the task of writing about yourself (or in this case having someone else do it).  I’ve said before that I love to read exciting poacher catching tales, but I also really enjoy memoirs that run the gamut of all the other tasks in our job, but do so in a humorous way.   I’ll tell you right now that Nuse does not take himself too seriously at all and Price is definitely onside with that.  Although a couple of the tales in this book are about dealing with serious violators, the majority are about the non-law enforcement duties we undertake, from relocating moose, to tracking injured deer, and all the tasks in between.  Nuse and Price approach all of them in a very down to earth and light-hearted way.  All the stories are well written and most are quite humorous, but a couple like Raccoon Riot and Moose Vesuvius are downright hilarious and had me in stitches.

You don’t have to be from Vermont to get a kick out of this book.  There is something in it for every outdoorsman and every game warden who wants some good wholesome entertainment.  I’m sure most of us will appreciate these stories and identify with Nuse.  I can certainly appreciate a good illustration as well, being a published cartoonist myself, and the illustrations by another Vermont warden, Bob Lutz, are priceless.  This is one of those books that you shouldn’t pass up.

Published in paperback, “Vermont Wild” (ISBN 978-0-9828872-1-9) is 284 pages long and retails for $19.95 plus shipping. Ten percent of profits from the book’s sale will be used for wildlife and outdoor education.  It can be ordered online .  It can also be ordered directly from Eric by emailing him at EricNuse@gmail.com or by sending him a note at Eric Nuse, Vermont Wild, 657 Maple Hill Road, Johnson, Vermont 05656.

A book that I somehow overlooked in 2009 popped onto my radar so I contacted the author, Virginia Conservation Police Sergeant Jon Ober, and had him send me a copy of “A Game Warden’s Field Notes III” (ISBN 978-0-9841128-2-1).  I’m certainly glad that I made that contact, and that John sent me the book, because it turned out to be a nice little gem.  As you can tell from the title, this is the third in his series.  However a large portion of it is made up of re-written versions of stories from the first two books.  John was kind enough to send me a copy of “GWFN II” as well, which I read first to try and get some background on the series.  While “II” was a decent little book, “Game Warden Field Notes III” is a much better book.  While I have no idea which stories first appeared in “GWFN I”, I was able to compare the stories that appeared in both the second and third books.  The stories in this latest book are more polished and the book itself just has a higher quality look and feel to it.

Books written by officers who are still on the job are not common; in fact this may only the second or third one I’ve ever come across.  This is not a book entirely about the author however, as many of the stories are about his fellow wardens, some of whom have since retired.  The stories are all top notch and the chapters are interspersed with what the author refers to as “Reflections” which are the author’s observations about the role of the game warden and the work he does.

Ober writes with a great deal of humor and is a terrific story teller and writer.  He provides us with highly entertaining stories that cover almost every facet of the job from chasing “drones” and “toads”, to boating safety, and problem wildlife.  I had no problem breezing through this 219 page volume, as the tales were of such great quality and variety that I never got bored.   Ober has hit the mark with this one and I highly recommend you add it to your library.

“A Game Warden’s Field Notes III” is published by Mariner Publishing and is available from their website or most major online discount book retailers.  The list price for this soft-cover book is $16.95.

In my last column I wrote about a new TV series titled “Wild Justice”, which follows the exploits of California’s Fish and Game Wardens.  I am happy to report that this series has been airing on the Canadian version of National Geographic since early February.   I have not missed an episode yet and all I can say is that it is one adrenaline pumping hour of television.  It is easily the best hour of TV you will find each week, so even if you don’t watch anything else, you’ve got to watch this series.  The show is kind of a like a hyped-up outdoor version of “Cops” just way more fun and much more relevant. Anyone who spends time outdoors hunting or fishing will certainly get a thrill out of this show, but even a died-in-the-wool conservation officer will find the show exciting and evocative.  The wardens are getting into some stuff that I have only dreamt about and they are kicking some serious poacher and tweaker butt.   It’s great stuff and not to be missed.

So until next time, kick some butt, take down some names, and most of all, be safe.

G.W.
 


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Summer 2011

This will be my fifth summer column and it’s the same thing every year as I try and get it written in mid-May.  After a long and wet west-coast winter, the weather starts warming up, the fish start biting, the dandelions start growing, and I start feeling the need to be outside more.  On the home front there are countless things to repair and build, and recreational activities to enjoy.  Work really starts ramping up as well, as folks start mucking around more in the bush, builders start burning more land clearing debris, a-holes start dumping more garbage in the bush, and anglers start hitting the local lakes in greater numbers. And of course those black furry beasts we know and love start waking up and getting in to all the things that people didn’t bother to get tidied up and put away yet.  It’s a good thing that I’m not a huge hockey fan, because those darn Vancouver Canucks would really be sucking up the rest of my spare time this spring!!  With all the spring activity, making time to work on this column is difficult, but somehow I always manage to get it done, because I know you’d all miss me if I didn’t.  I really do need to practice better time management.  I thought about taking a time management course, but I couldn't fit it into my schedule – there’s just no time.

The literary pickings were a bit slim this winter and I had very little in the “waiting to be read” pile, but with a little luck some material did trickle my way.

For the most part the books that I review in this column are entertainment based, rather than informational or instructional, probably because there aren’t than many books in the latter categories that are geared specifically to game wardens.  However in this issue, in addition to the requisite game warden entertainment, I am going to cover off an informational book (although not game warden specific) and an instructional publication that is game warden specific.

For the fans of game warden fiction, spring is the time of year when the latest entry in C.J. Box’s Game Warden Joe Pickett series is released.   The eleventh novel in the Joe Picket series, “Cold Wind” was released on March 22nd.

Now I’ve said before that the Joe Pickett novels are not true “game warden” fare because our hero does not really spend much time doing game warden work in them.  In the past I’ve stated that I don’t have the time or interest to read anything with no game warden connection at all, but I do want to be entertained and escape from reality, so the Joe Pickett novels are an annual indulgence that I look forward to.

“Cold Wind” is different than past novels in this series.  As is usually the case, Joe stumbles upon a murder.  However, this time the victim is his father in law, Earl Alden.  The murderer is quickly identified by incompetent County Sheriff McLanahan as none other than Joe’s despicable mother in law, Missy Alden. Rather than trying to run down a murderer, Joe is now on a mission to find evidence that Missy is not guilty.  That proves to be a bit of a dilemma for Joe, because he has no love for Missy, but she is his wife’s mother and Joe’s sense of family responsibility is strong.

This time the main premise of the story relates to the growing wind energy “boom” taking place in the western US.  It’s a big business, not without its environmental and political issues, and author C.J. Box is masterful at taking a subject like this and weaving it into a murder mystery, so that both sides of the topic are eviscerated with equal zeal.

There is a sub-plot in this novel involving Joe’s old friend Nate Romanowski that does not have any real connection to the main storyline, other than to serve to bring Joe and Nate, alienated from each other since their last adventure together, back together.  However, the scene is consequently set for the next novel, which no doubt will team Joe and Nate up for an all out battle against forces out to eliminate Nate.

The main storyline involving Joe Pickett is not the out-of-control rodeo that we have come to expect from earlier Pickett novels.  I pointed out a few years ago that Joe seems to be maturing a bit, learning from his mistakes and making more educated and informed decisions.  He’s also older and not as physically resilient.  He barely even gets beat up in this novel and a big deal isn’t even made of it.  Unlike a lot of fiction series where the characters seem frozen in time because the stories all take place at the same relative period in the hero’s life, the Joe Pickett novels each take place a year later than the preceding one.  So as we progress through the series, we see the evolution of a game warden whose family is growing up and whose actions are based on an additional year of life experiences.

“Cold Wind” is certainly not the best Joe Pickett novel if you are looking for flat-out action and excitement.  Without analyzing it to death, it may or may not be the best written of the series either.  But it is a good read, and for me more entertaining than any regular detective novel.  It was a distraction which I was reluctant to put down, because like all CJ Box books I was expertly baited and hooked and was compelled to read on and see how it all wrapped up.  I wasn’t disappointed, although my heart was not pounding like it has with many of his earlier works.   However, this novel clearly needed to be written in order to not only explore the subject of wind energy, but also to get all the loose ends tied up in preparation for what I expect will be a wild  book number 12 in the series.

“Cold Wind” (ISBN 978-0-399-15735-6) is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and retails for $25.95 in the US and $32.50 in Canada. As a major publication it is available at most booksellers, either in-store or online.

A few years ago I missed out on a seminar presented by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, Ph.D., about Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.  I was told afterward that it was a great seminar and the information was extremely beneficial.  I fully intended to acquire a copy of Dr. Gilmartin’s accompanying book, but it fell off my radar.  I recently came across a copy of it and decided to give it a read, and I believe that it is important enough to make mention of here.

“Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement – A Guide for Officers and Their Families” (ISBN0-9717254-0-3) was originally published in 2002 by E-S Press.  The author, Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, states that despite huge advancements and investments in officer safety and physical survival training, which was dramatically reduced line of duty deaths, very few police departments have invested any efforts in reducing the loss of officers from other causes such as suicide and unethical behavior.  The author believes that these losses to the law enforcement community can be avoided if departments trained their officers in “Emotional Survival”.

Without giving away the entire content of the book, the main theory is that law enforcement officers tend to operate in a sense of “hyper-vigilance” when on duty.  The officer begins to relate only to being a police officer and they may shut down and detach when off-duty.  Their outside interests and friends disappear and their whole identity is defined by their job.  This can cause their non-police relationships, particularly with their spouses and children, to erode.

Good officers, who feel mistreated by their managers and supervisors, begin to feel victimized, and may engage in unprincipled, unethical or even illegal behaviors as a way of “getting back” at the department that they feel has let them down.

The author discusses the importance of off-duty recreation, hobbies and interests that are non-police oriented, so that officers don’t define themselves solely by their role as a cop, because that is a role that for the most part is not controlled by them.

I know many conservation officers who are guilty of “putting the job first” and of stating “being a CO is not what I do, it’s who I am”.  They devote all their time to being a game warden, and develop no hobbies or outside interests.   According to Dr. Gilmartin these officers could be at risk.  However, the author touches on the reactive nature of police work affecting an officer’s off-duty spontaneity or ability to plan and organize his off-duty life.  I think we see this less in conservation officers, especially in more rural areas, because much of our work is self-directed proactive, or patrol and community outreach type work, and is generally within the control of the officer.

“Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement – A Guide for Officers and Their Families” provides a great deal of insight into why so many law enforcement relationships break down, and why so many officers have a tough time when they are not on the job, and when they retire.  I recognized many things in the book as being true, and realized that although I am nowhere near the extreme cases that are discussed, I could still make a few changes for my own emotional well being and that of my family.  It is a very easy to read book, full of great information, and in my opinion it should be mandatory reading for all law enforcement officers.

The copy I reviewed states on the back cover that the US price is $19.95 and the Canadian price is $32.00, and although the US pricing I found online was indeed $19.95, the price at Amazon.ca was over $47.   I would recommend ordering the book from the Emotional Survival website  or in the US through Amazon.com.

In the last couple of columns I introduced readers to the Kindle, an e-Book reader available from Amazon.  In the last column I even reviewed a couple of novels that are only available for Kindle.  Since that time, I have been provided with a review copy of a Kindle-only instructional book written for game wardens.
 
Retired Idaho Game Warden Tony Latham, a self professed “firearms evidence nut” has put together a Kindle only publication titled “ANALYZING BALLISTIC EVIDENCE, On-Scene by the Investigator”.

Why would a game warden go the Kindle-only route, especially when it’s unlikely that very many game wardens have the devices?  Well, the answer is economics and simplicity.  It is relatively cheap and easy to put together a book using standard computer software, and quite simple to put it on the Amazon Kindle site to sell it, and there are no printing, storage or shipping costs associated to that type of self-publishing.  So the only question remaining is how does the field game warden read it and keep it handy as reference when out in the field or back at the office if he doesn’t have a Kindle?

It turns out that there is free software for your PC or Mac available through Amazon that will allow you to read Kindle content.  If you’ve got a mobile workstation then that’s really all you need to have access to it in the field.  What if you don’t have a laptop?  If you’ve got an iPhone, an Android phone or an HTC with Windows Mobile, there is a free Kindle app available for these Smartphones.  I have a new agency issued iPhone, so I chose to install Kindle on it and review the eBook there.

Latham has put together a superb little reference book to guide the field investigator of wildlife crimes involving firearms.  Armed with the information in this e-Book and a little practice, officers can get the most out of their bullet, casing and other firearms evidence while the trail is still hot, rather than collecting incomplete or extraneous evidence that is then sent off to a lab for processing, while the potential suspects disperse.
 
Latham doesn’t bore the reader with endless technical specifications and details; he gets straight to the meat and potatoes providing concise yet comprehensive directions on narrowing down the list of potential suspect firearms and numbers of suspects, and establishing probable cause for seizure of evidence.  He then provides advice on how to use these techniques in front of the suspects to aid in eliciting a confession.

The author doesn’t stop with tool mark type evidence on bullets and casings but also covers bullet tracks, entry and exit wounds in carcasses, bullet trajectories, and information on where to access firearms related databases.  There are several other helpful suggestions thrown in for good measure as well.  The author also provides the reader with details on what to include in a basic field firearms forensics kit, and how to make the most out of those items.

Good quality color photographs throughout the publication illustrate the points that are made.  I was able to zoom in on them on the iPhone and see all the details described by the author.  I’m sure they would display great on a laptop as well.  My only concern is that they may not be as useful on an actual Kindle, because of the display quality of the device and its inability to display images in anything but monochrome.

Without a doubt this eBook is very useful and long overdue, and stored on your Smartphone or laptop can be easily referred to if needed while conducting field investigations.

“ANALYZING BALLISTIC EVIDENCE, On-Scene by the Investigator” is only available from the Kindle Store, so once you’ve set up the Kindle reader on your computer or iPhone, create an account at the Kindle store and download this eBook for only $6.99.  As a wildlife officer you will definitely find it to be worth more than that.

So until next time, keep ‘em guessing and be safe.

G.W.
 


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Fall 2011


If you've been reading "The Warden's Words" since its inception six years ago, you've seen the column evolve and change, as it's gone from a simple information source, to a book review column with a dose of editorializing thrown in for good measure.  With a new editor now in place at International Game Warden, there will likely be more changes in store.  As I look back at these past six years I trust that it has all been worthwhile and that I have been able to provide you with a valuable service, some food for thought, and some lighthearted entertainment.  What does the future of the Warden’s Words look like?  I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.

It seems that the well has gone a bit dry with regards to “game warden” or even “park ranger” literature lately.  I have one ranger related book that I’m working my way through, one game warden related e-Book on my iPhone, and have finished reading one honest-to-goodness game warden book.  The latter is the only book I am going to review this issue.  I’ll save the other two for next time.

Joe Schwab Retired Oregon Wildlife Division Trooper is back with the sequel to his 2010 outing “Outlaws on the Big River”, aptly titled “Outlaws in the Big Woods.”  The former book was somewhat unique given that it was completely fisheries enforcement related and from a state that no prior warden related books had come from.  So I was intrigued to see if this sequel would simply be a run-of-the-mill game warden memoir or something different.

The author covers the gamut of being a wildlife officer in the state of Oregon, by not only telling stories of his own exploits, but recounting the adventures of some of his fellow officers.  I found myself recalling some of my own adventures earlier in my career and wondering why it isn’t like that anymore.  Although these are the stories of Joe and his fellow Oregon Wildlife Troopers, they represent what the public believes a wildlife officer should be, and what all wildlife officers wish they could be.  That’s really no different than most game warden memoirs, but as far as I know the stories have never been told before with an Oregonian perspective.   Schwab is a good storyteller, and skillfully chronicles the duties of the Oregon Wildlife Officer.  If I was to rate this book based on other game warden non-fiction I’ve read, I’d put it somewhere in the mid-range category.  It’s certainly not the best book I’ve ever read, but it is quite good, and it’s definitely better fare than some I’ve read.

Like “Big River” the author does not excessively embellish, or mess around with a lot of superfluous detail in his story telling.  He provides the requisite background information, then cuts right to the heart of the story, ties it all up, then moves on to the next one.  I’ve got no problem with that because it makes the book very readable and fresh.  It is interspersed with numerous black and white photos to complement the text.

Schwab sums up his tales with a short chapter about the societal changes affecting the sport of hunting.  He also writes briefly about the transition in the way that a wildlife officer now does his job, and how much of the job is about justification and not actually about doing the job.  Sound familiar?  Substitute your agency name here….

“Outlaws in the Big Woods” (ISBN 1456530739) is self published by Joe Schwab.  A signed copy can be obtained directly from Joe for $18 which includes shipping in the US – international shipping will be a bit higher.  Email him at jrschwab1@msn.com or if you also want to contact Joe the old fashioned way his number is 503-366-9521. An unsigned copy can be acquired online through amazon.com.  The cover price for this 191 page book is $15.95.

Until next time, remember that we are the voice of the critters, and we have to do right by them.

GW


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Winter 2011


Whoever said “when it rains, it pours” sure knew what they were talking about. In the last issue of IGW I only had enough material to write one book review, but this time around, I didn’t have to go looking very far for material for the column. In fact, I have had to leave a few books for next time, including the two that I said I’d be looking at this time. I typically like to review everything I have on hand, so that the information is timely, but I am going to hold back a little, in anticipation of another potential drought.

As I was reading one of the books for this column, my older son’s girlfriend came in and asked what I was doing. I said I was reading. She said reading was boring and stupid. She then asked me why I was doing it. I told her that it is enjoyable, and in this case I was reading books so I could write about them. She then said that she didn’t like writing either. I told her that I had an obligation to read these books and write reviews of them. Then she said “well if it’s your job than I guess it’s okay.” “Gee thanks”, I thought, but no, it is not my job. I guess in her world reading is like work, and you get paid for work. Obviously this young lady can read, because she’s able to understand what people post on their Facebook pages and write in their texts but I have to wonder if she is indicative of young people in general today. Are kids just plain lazy or are they just bombarded with so much technology and “social networking” that there is just no time left to actually read a book? Or is it because they expect instant gratification in the way of on-demand movies, video games, videos on their smartphones and computers, texting, and instant messaging? Perhaps Kindles and eReaders are a good way of introducing the younger generation to the joys of reading, by combining the two worlds. Even so, it still takes “effort” and time to sit and read a book, and I think that technology has spoiled our young people so much that we may never recover. What a shame.

Before I get started on the meat and potatoes of the column I need to provide you with some additional information about Outlaws in the Big Woods . I was contacted by a reader who does not have a computer, so wanted to contact author Joe Schwab by traditional means. If you also want to contact Joe the old fashioned way his number is 503-366-9521.

First out of the gate is a pleasant surprise from a first-time author, B.B. (Brad) Luxford, from Virginia. Brad was a Virginia Game Warden for five years and is currently a County Sheriff’s Deputy with a specialty in forensics. I guess he’ll now have to add “book writin” to his resume.

Brad is a reader of IGW and this column in particular and contacted me back in March of 2011 with some questions about publishing his book and having it reviewed. To say he was nervous about his first foray into the publishing world is probably an understatement. He told me that he’d written and rewritten and edited his manuscript multiple times. I know what that’s like – you eventually reach a point where your manuscript just seems kind of old, tired and not very interesting to you. Fortunately, those of us who have never seen an author’s work until it’s published don’t feel that way.

Green Dawg (ISBN 978-1463-6772-37) is a wonderful first book. Despite its huge size of 530 pages, albeit set in a fairly large typeface, it is definitely a joy to read.

Green Dawg begins while the main character, Jake Dupree, is still working as a county police officer in Virginia. While traveling to his “camp” in New York he gets involved in a manhunt and shootout, which provides an important backdrop for the remainder of the book. The rest of the story basically follows Jake’s life as he begins his field training after graduation from the Virginia Game Warden Academy. The author takes us on the journey of Jake’s introduction to the world of the game warden, but we also travel with Jake off-duty as he tries to make sense of his personal life as well.

While this is a work of fiction, some of the stories of Jake’s on-the-job exploits have got to be based on real adventures that either the author experienced, or were recounted to him. Some of them are quirky, yet familiar enough that they have to be based on reality. As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

Green Dawg is not your typical game warden novel where everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package and the crime is solved. This novel is more akin to the actual day to day goings-on of a real-life game warden, where your fingers are in so many pies that it seems like you’ll never get on track. Granted some of the adventures are amped up just enough to make it more exciting, but there is so much going on that Jake is not able to focus on just one crime, as is the case in so many other game warden novels. The novel ends as Jake finishes his field training, yet two main issues are still unresolved – one at work, and one in his personal life. Thankfully, Luxford is already putting the finishing touches on the sequel Rivva Dawg . I can hardly wait.

Green Dawg is a large format paperback book that can be ordered online from both Amazon.com for $24.33 and .ca for $24.77. I contacted Brad Luxford to enquire about direct purchase from him for those who want a signed copy, so he has set up a website – http://www.ledgefarm.com - where it can be purchased for $18 plus $4.99 shipping in the US by using PayPal. If you want the book shipped outside the US, you should contact him at greendawg.luxford@gmail.com with your location so shipping can be calculated.

A year ago I wrote about a book titled Game Warden – On Patrol in Louisiana and stated that it offered a fresh perspective on the game warden book, and should be required reading, at least in Louisiana, so that sportsmen could see what the boys and girls in green are faced with on a constant basis. Well, Louisiana State University Press and Jerald Horst have teamed up again to publish Louisiana Wildlife Agents – In Their Own Words (ISBN 978-0-8071-3999-8) and once again they have hit a home run.

Louisiana Wildlife Agents – In Their Own Words offers yet another fresh perspective on the role of the wildlife agent in that state. This time Horst only acts as editor, and lets the wildlife agents tell the stories in their own words. Some agents are more verbose than others, some write their submissions like case reports, while others tell their stories like stories should be told. It all makes for an unpredictable, interesting and enjoyable read.

The book is broken down into four sections – the first being about training school. The book then moves on to tales of on-the-job adventures and exploits. For the third section, Horst lets the spouses, and one ex-spouse, take over and write about the view from the home front. These first three approaches have all been undertaken before in other publications, though not all in one book that I am aware of. However, it is the fourth section that I found to be the most compelling and provocative. Even though it is not about actual “game warden” work as we normally perceive it, this section tackles the unique and tiring duties that were undertaken in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As we all know, the Louisiana Wildlife Agents stepped up in a big way immediately after the hurricane swept through and spent long days rescuing victims trapped by the flood waters. This is their story and it is emotional to say the least. The author has included 22 color photos, many taken by the officers themselves, to help illustrate their stories. They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words, but in this case the words of these dedicated and heroic officers overshadow what the photos depict.

A hardcover copy of Louisiana Wildlife Agents – In Their Own Words can be ordered directly from the publisher for $29.95. The website to order is http://lsupress.org/books/detail/louisiana-wildlife-agents/. Of course every game warden likes to save a few bucks, so the book can also be ordered through Amazon.com for $21.86, while the Kindle edition is $7.96. The book sells for $21.42 on BarnesandNoble.com. It is also available in Canada through Amazon.ca for $31.14.

The eighth “Woods Cop” novel featuring Michigan DNR Detective Grady Service was released on September 1st by Globe Pequot Press. Force of Blood (ISBN 978-0-7627-7284-1), by Joseph Heywood, is available in hardcover and in a Kindle edition.

Heywood’s knowledge of the Michigan Conservation Officer’s job and the complexities of investigations, coupled with his skills as a writer and storyteller, typically make these novels the most relevant to the readers of this magazine. Force of Blood wanders into an area of the Michigan C.O.’s job that probably very few of their own officers, let alone officers from other jurisdictions, are even familiar with. Although the book provides a great education about the obscure world of Native American artifact collecting and trading, it isn’t the most engaging topic for a “game warden” book.

Grady Service is the most “in control” he has ever been in this series, and although he turns down a promotion that would have taken him out of the field, he does receive recognition for his hard work, while still remaining a field officer. As in the other “Woods Cops” novels, the dialogue is engaging, the plot is complex and the characters are plentiful and colourful, with some of the most oddball names ever conceived.

I was reading Force of Blood while under some time pressures, and perhaps I was pushing myself at times, so I may be a bit rash to say that I found this particular outing to be lacking a bit in actual substance. The primary subject matter may be interesting in its own right, but it just wasn’t hard-hitting game warden fare, nor was it great cloak and dagger detective fare. I was able to keep reading for long stretches, which is probably a good sign, but I never really understood what it was that Grady and crew were actually investigating. The characters didn’t seem to know either, but when it came time for the take-down, I found myself flipping backwards in the book, trying to figure out what I missed, because I still hadn’t any idea of how the subjects of the arrest figured into any crimes that may have been committed. I did find that I wanted to keep reading to see where the “investigation” was going, but I did become distracted when Heywood wandered off topic somewhat. Heywood provided a very detailed and educational account of a forest fire fighting effort that had some connection to the plot of the story, but not enough to warrant the number of pages he devoted to it.

Author Heywood did throw in a few wrinkles and interesting tidbits, including introducing himself into the story at one point. This, along with the changes to Grady Service’s job description, opens the door for a very interesting next entry in this series. Whenever I finish a novel in this series, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next one and that is still the case, even if it is only to see where the author goes next. I also anticipate it with the hope that the next book finds Grady Service back doing what he knows and loves, and that’s real game warden work.

Force of Blood is 367 pages and is available at major book retailers. Suggested retail for the hardcover edition is $24.95 in the U.S. and $27.50 in Canada. As always, discounts can be had at Amazon.com ($16.47) and .ca ($20.16)

So that’s about it for this issue. Just to let you know, although I have been neglecting my website for some time, with a couple of weeks off over the holidays I hope to have it back up to date by the time this column is in print.

So, until next time, remember that we are the voice of the critters, and we have to do right by them.

GW


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Spring 2012


Here I am, back again, with the 25th installment of The Warden’s Words. It’s hard to believe that I have been at this for more than six years already, and have not only written this many columns, but also read and reviewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 books, and mentioned at least 30 others I may not have read. The vast majority of these books are game warden related in one way or another, while the rest are park ranger themed. My predecessor, Bob Mullen, reviewed around 158 books in his nine years as “The Rathouse Reader,” and generated a couple lists that had several more titles on them. The two of us combined have surely tried to mention every warden and ranger book out there, but no doubt we’ve missed a few along the way. I guess I’m trying to say that that’s a lot of books written by or about game wardens and park rangers, or featuring a warden or ranger as a central character.

Twenty years ago, it was almost unheard of for a game warden or ranger to be the hero in a work of fiction; now, several authors have written entire series of novels with wardens or rangers as protagonists. Some of these series are quite realistic in their approach, and some not so much. But the fact that these authors consider natural resource officers worthy of a central role in their work should make us all proud to be part of such an honorable and noble profession.

This issue’s column is all about game warden and park ranger fiction, and revisits three authors who have appeared previously in this column. One has been writing for many years and has created a large body of highly acclaimed work, another started to create a fine series but didn’t achieve the critical or financial success he needed to continue at the time, and the third is only on the second novel of his series.

Kirk Russell began a three-novel series about fictional California Fish and Game Lieutenant John Marquez in 2003. The last book in the series was written in 2005 and after reading it, I contacted Kirk to ask him if he intended to write another installment in this fine series. He advised me that he did not have any immediate plans to do so, as abalone, sturgeon, and bear weren’t for everybody. He did tell me that his heart was there and he would head back that way at some point. In the summer of 2009, he told me he had completed another John Marquez manuscript and was shopping it around because his previous publisher was no longer interested in mystery fiction.

Well, it is my pleasure to alert readers that the manuscript did sell – to a UK publisher called Severn House – and the fourth John Marquez novel, Redback (ISBN 978-0-7278-6965-4), was released in 2010 in Great Britain, and hit U.S. bookstores in June 2011.

Was it worth the wait? Yes. Is it good old game warden fare like the original three novels? Not entirely, but enough to place it firmly within the genre. It is a compelling and entertaining read as well.

The books opens in 1989, fourteen years before the first book in the series, and Marquez is working as a federal Drug Enforcement Agency Supervisory Agent. The first part of the book details his final tumultuous days with that agency and the months that follow his unceremonious departure.

Fast-forward to 2009, and John Marquez occupies his familiar role as Lieutenant of the California Fish and Game Special Operations Unit. Ghosts from his DEA days begin to reappear and an operation goes bad, and Marquez once again finds himself on the outs with his employer. But by a strange twist of fate, a new employment offer emerges: one that allows Marquez to continue to protect wildlife and at the same time go after the man who caused his life to unravel so many years ago and who is again meddling in it.

The employment situation John Marquez finds himself in is entirely fictional, created just for this book by author Kirk Russell, but it allows Marquez to not only return to his federal agency roots, but also travel the world hunting down wildlife traffickers. It definitely opens up a world of possibilities, as long as the author keeps it convincing and doesn’t get too far-fetched in his quest for excitement. I certainly did not find that to be the case in this outing. Despite Marquez trailing his quarry in a faraway land and making contact with a local game warden, it is all quite plausible and very engaging. Not only does Marquez successfully track down his prey and run him to ground, but as a result, he solves another mystery that haunted him for twenty years and ruined the career of one of his former team members. Hopefully Marquez has now exorcised all his demons and can begin his new career with a clean slate and a renewed mission to protect wildlife around the globe. Welcome back John Marquez, and good job Kirk Russell!

Redback is available in hardcover and trade paperback from most booksellers. The cover price on the hardcover is $28.95 USD, but it can be ordered from Amazon for $22. The paperback sells for $12.44 and the Kindle edition is $9.39. A Nook edition is available through Barnes & Noble. I think this is the first time I have ever seen this happen, but the prices for the bound books on www.amazon.ca are actually slightly cheaper than the U.S. prices.

Author Paul Doiron and his self-destructive antihero Game Warden Mike Bowditch first appeared in this column two years ago, in the Spring 2010 issue. Completely enthralled with the first book, titled The Poacher’s Son, I literally raved about it. I was utterly amazed at how deftly the author told the story and how well he crafted the troubled Bowditch. As a result, when I heard that a sequel had been written, I couldn’t wait to get hold of it.

Trespasser (ISBN 978-0-312-55847-5), published by St. Martins-Minotaur in 2011, chronicles the further adventures of beleaguered Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch. This is a novel that did not disappoint. In fact, it delivered from all angles. When I was about three-quarters of the way through it, I decided that unless something major happened to change my mind, this novel was about as close to perfect as any work of fiction I had ever read.

Game Warden Mike Bowditch is back in the saddle looking after his own district, following the adventure that took place in the previous novel. Mike attends the scene of a vehicle collision with a deer where the animal is reported dead, and finds that not only is the deer gone, but so is the driver of the car. A state trooper who finally arrives on scene advises he’ll follow up and try and locate the driver. Something about the trooper doesn’t sit well with Bowditch, so with the help of his old friend, retired warden-pilot Charlie Stevens, he tries to locate the missing driver, only to find her murdered in the vacation home of an out-of-state professor. The case, eerily reminiscent of a murder from seven years earlier for which a local man is serving a life sentence, is turned over to the state police. Told to keep his nose out of the investigation, Mike is then injured on the job while trying to deal with current warden duties, leaving his mind free to wander. After a group hoping to free the incarcerated man approaches Mike, he can’t help but get involved, against the direct instruction of the prosecutor and the wishes of his frustrated girlfriend.

The story that unfolds is fast-paced and riveting, and compels the reader to keep turning the pages. I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it, and was thoroughly captivated and entertained throughout. Far and away one of the best books I’ve read in some time, Trespasser is expertly written, evoking crisp, clear images amidst a masterfully executed plot.

The cover price of Trespasser in hardcover is $24.99 USD or $28.99 CAD, but it is available online from the major booksellers for as little as $16.49 USD. A paperback edition slated for release on April 10 will retail for $10.19 USD. Also available are a Kindle edition from Amazon, a Nook version from Barnes & Noble, and various audiobook versions.

So, with two very good books read, and a third waiting in the wings before I could get down to writing this column, I wondered “what’s the likelihood that all three are home runs?” Because at least one of the books I review often falls a bit short, I wasn’t holding my breath.

Nevada Barr introduced readers to U.S. National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon in 1993 with her critically acclaimed novel Track of the Cat. I’ve talked about these novels before, but have only actually reviewed one of the previous sixteen books in this best-selling series, back in 2008. Since then, Barr published two more books with G.P. Putnam’s Sons before moving to St. Martin’s-Minotaur. On January 17 of this year, her new publisher released the seventeenth Anna Pigeon novel, titled The Rope (ISBN 978-0-312-61457-7). Barr has never ranked among my top five fiction authors – despite the fact that her heroine is a law enforcement park ranger – because Pigeon really doesn’t much engage in typical natural resource park ranger duties, as each novel revolves around a murder of one type or another. That said, I wasn’t expecting much from The Rope, which is actually a prequel to all of the previous books.

The Rope takes us back to the months following the death of Anna Pigeon’s husband and her first seasonal job with the National Park Service in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. I was thinking this wasn’t going to be a great reading experience, because Anna isn’t even a real ranger: in fact, she is an assistant poop collector. Almost immediately, meek and mild Anna finds herself dazed, confused, and naked at the bottom of what is known as a solution hole, with a fresh corpse for a camping buddy. She is drugged and then mutilated while she is unconscious. This is an interesting premise and Barr tells the story with her usual elaborate prose, evoking a strong mental picture of the compelling situation Anna finds herself in.

Ultimately, by her wits and determination, Anna escapes and makes it back to safety, and the Glen Canyon ranger staff begins their investigation. What transpires next could be termed “the evolution of Anna” as she breaks free of the depression and despair she has been living with, and works to become stronger and more self-confident. As relationships with her fellow park employees develop and grow, Anna begins to stumble upon clues about her captor that not only lead her closer to the truth, but also jeopardize her immediate safety. Eventually, almost by dumb luck, she is engaged in a tense and desperate showdown with her tormentor from the solution hole.

Barr moves the story ahead at a terrific pace, tossing curve balls left and right while turning over new stones. What I had initially thought might be none too exciting to a prolific reader of game warden and park ranger prose kept me completely captivated and engrossed. Before I knew it, it was 1 a.m. and I had 50 pages left to read. I devoured the rest of the book the following morning and the climactic finish was full of exhilarating action, leaving me with a renewed faith in the Anna Pigeon series. My only real criticism is that I correctly pegged the identity of the bad guy fairly early on, despite the fact that Barr throws in several diversions and smokescreens.

Nevada Barr stated in an interview that she chose to write a prequel to the series because she wanted Anna to be less encumbered by modern technology and the trappings of her current life. She also wanted Anna to be less capable than she is now. The only way to achieve this was to go back to an earlier, simpler time in Anna’s life, which was also a time when technology was less prevalent. I think she made a good decision and did a tremendous job.

The hardcover edition of The Rope retails for $25.99 USD and $29.99 CAD, but as usual it can be ordered for less through the major online booksellers. Kindle and Nook versions are also available, and the mass-market paperback edition will be released August 28 for $9.99.

It’s amazing: I got lucky and scored a hat-trick of excellent books this time around! Next time, I will try to review some stellar non-fiction material for those readers who prefer the real-life exploits of the men and women in green, gray, and blue (did I miss any uniform colors?).

GW


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Summer 2012


I recently completed my twentieth year of service as a BC conservation officer, and I have to admit that I am missing a step or two these days. I’m not exactly the ball of fire I once was.

I came into this line of work a bit later in life, with lots of life experience, and I hit the ground running. I worked hard – long hours, often unpaid – because it’s what I loved to do and what a dedicated game warden is supposed to do. The job has changed somewhat over twenty years, and as a result my dedication has waned accordingly. I certainly don’t put in the same amount of volunteer time, but my desire to catch bad guys is still strong. However, there are days that I think “I could work harder and be more dedicated,” but then I look around at some of our newer officers, and some of our officers from my generation, who just put in the bare minimum to earn their paycheck and consider this a mere job rather than a calling, and I don’t feel so bad. I’ve never been a clock- or calendar-watcher and I start my day when I need to start, and finish when I feel the job is done. Officers who follow “office hours” and go home at the same time every day, rarely work weekends or evenings, and take the same days off every week are not functioning in the true spirit of a natural resources law enforcement officer. Game warden work is not a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job. If you think it is, then you are probably in the wrong line of work, because you are not getting out there when the guys you need to catch are out. Predictability and complacency is the enemy of the successful conservation officer.

A long-serving and dedicated retired game officer once said, “We are the only voice that the critters have. When you take off that badge for the last time, will you be able to look in the mirror and see someone who did the best he could for the resource?”

I don’t know if I will be able to do that, but at least I’ll try. And I’ll have some pretty darn good stories to tell about my career as well. What about you? Will you be able to tell some outrageous and entertaining tales like the authors of the books that I review?

I reviewed the e-book Analyzing Ballistic Evidence, On-Scene by the Investigator by retired Idaho Game Warden Tony Latham in the Summer 2011 issue and thought I’d take a moment to let readers know that it is now available in a softcover edition.

Latham has now published memoirs of an undercover operation he worked 20 years ago as well. Trafficking – A Memoir of an Undercover Game Warden (ISBN 978-1475209891) is well worth a look.

Tony begins the book by introducing the reader to the role of the Idaho game warden, and then quickly moves on to his attendance at “undercover school” and his initiation into the world of covert operations. By Chapter 3, the undercover adventure has begun and Idaho Game Warden Tony Latham has now assumed the role of Tony Henderson, a resident of Idaho who works in Alaska during the summers as a smokejumper. He is teamed up with Mike Best a.k.a. Peyton Parker, a former Secret Service agent who is Idaho Fish & Game’s new fulltime undercover operative. Their targets are a Nez Perce tribe member suspected of selling wild game meat and the bed and breakfast establishment that is involved with him.

The two covert operators, posing as recreational fisherman staying at the B&B, encounter and interact with an unsavory cast of characters that no imagination could dream up. Tony describes how certain precautions are taken to preserve their cover, and how the two are able to secure and process evidence without drawing the suspicion of the targets. The ever-present concern that their covers could be blown is exacerbated when they discover a leak within their agency and Tony must quickly work to nip it in the bud. The very real possibility of ending up in a body bag is never far from the author’s mind as he bobs and weaves through the various obstacles of the investigation.

It all adds up to a very engaging, compelling, and insightful journey inside the world of undercover wildlife investigations. I was completely engrossed by this book, and kept reading it not because I wanted to get to the end, but because I was enjoying the experience of being involved in the investigation. I’ve never worked undercover, and often thought it might be fun, but this book helped open my eyes to just how dangerous it can actually be. As field patrol officers we generally deal with a small percentage of real hardcore bad apples, but in the undercover world, all the apples are rotten and some are downright putrid.

Trafficking recounts only one case, but Tony is able to describe it in enough vivid detail that he easily fills a whole volume and leaves the reader wanting more. This is one book that even the casual reader of game warden books should add to his bookshelf.

Trafficking – A Memoir of an Undercover Game Warden is 305 pages long and available in softcover for as little as $14.95 or Kindle for $6.99 through Amazon online. You can order a copy of Analyzing Ballistic Evidence, On-Scene by the Investigator while you are there as well. A Nook version of Trafficking is also available from Barnes & Noble for $6.99.

Megan Price, who authored Vermont Wild , which I wrote about in the Spring 2011 issue, is back with Vermont Wild – MORE Adventures of Fish & Game Wardens – Volume 2 .

As in Volume 1, Megan actually writes the stories, but they have been related to her by various contributors. Eric Nuse was the only contributor to Volume 1, but this time four other retired wardens, including one from Maine, have provided their tales. A new illustrator, Norma Montaigne, has come on board for this book and provided a nice little cartoon to preface each chapter.

Take a look at the cover of Volume 2 and it’s immediately apparent that this is not going to be a serious collection of high intensity, thought provoking, or pretentious game warden stories. None of the contributors take themselves too seriously and in fact the humor is often over the top, but tasteful and suitable for all ages and walks of life. Let’s just cut to the chase here – this is a FUN little book. There’s just no two ways about it. The stories themselves are chock-full of all the necessary ingredients to tickle the funny bone, but Megan Price is able to gussy them up in such a way that they often move from chuckle level to full-on laughter level.

There’s a story about Eric Nuse’s first time using a four-wheel drive vehicle and engaging in a low-speed pursuit when he shouldn’t have, along with a tale about his attempt to relocate a rogue turkey. Richard Hislop tells us about using trickery to get the goods on a too-successful trapper, and he provides us with a five-part mini-series about his aptly named black lab, Satan. Stan Holmquist’s story about following night hunters around on foot while they shoot at, and miss, everything within range is almost too bizarre to believe, and is a lot of fun. This is followed by Denny Gaiotti’s story about a young buck who decides to attempt to outrun him through the woods at night, only to find himself “hung out to dry,” so to speak. The final fours chapters were contributed by retired Maine and federal warden Howard Brown, and run the gamut of game warden work “back in the day” when times were hard, and are very entertaining as well.

The stories in Vermont Wild – Volume 2 are timeless and could have taken place almost anywhere, so this book is for all fans of game warden literature. There is something in it for every hunter, fisherman, and game warden who wants some good wholesome entertainment.

Published in paperback, Vermont Wild – MORE Adventures of Fish & Game Wardens – Volume 2 (ISBN 978-0-9828872-0-2) is 305 pages long and retails for $19.95 plus shipping. Ten percent of profits from the book’s sale will be used for wildlife and outdoor education. It can be ordered online at www.VermontWild.com.

Despite the paid advertising and my stellar review of Volume 1, the sales numbers that the publisher had hoped for did not materialize. I’ve now been put on the spot, because it is money out of the publisher’s pocket when they send me a complimentary copy. A small publisher like this could go into the red because of my grovelling for a free review copy so I need you readers to ensure that you mention that you read about it in IGW when you order so that I don’t lose my credibility with this publisher.

The annual installment in CJ Box’s award-winning Joe Pickett series was released in March. Force of Nature (ISBN 978-0-399-15826-1) is the twelfth novel in this series, and is just as fresh and entertaining as the earliest books in the series. I didn’t find the last couple of books to be up to the same standard as the first eight or nine, but this book puts the entire series back on track.

Readers of this series are familiar with Joe’s friend and protector, the ever scary and often violent Nate Romanowski, who was introduced in 2003’s Winterkill. Romanowski has a mysterious and dark past and not only is he wanted by federal authorities, but he has also been targeted for elimination by rogue members of his old Special Forces unit.

When I reviewed last year’s Cold Wind, I commented on a sub-plot involving Nate that did not have any real connection to the main storyline other than to serve to bring Joe and Nate back together. I wrote that the scene was set for the next novel, which would no doubt team Joe and Nate up for an all-out battle against the forces out to eliminate Nate. I also predicted that the follow-up novel would be a wild one.

Not to brag, but I was bang-on in my predictions. Force of Nature is more of a Nate Romanowski novel than it is a Joe Pickett novel, with Joe now playing the role of supporting character as all hell breaks loose around Nate. We finally learn what Nate’s dark secret is, and why his old leader and mentor wants him dead. In order to get to Nate, the elimination team needs to strike at his weaknesses – his closest friends and associates, including the Pickett family.

The surprise twists are plentiful and there is lots of intrigue and action to keep you turning the pages. Reading this book, I felt like Box was breathing new life into the series, as it deviates from the normal modus operandi in a positive and forceful way. I don’t think this series was getting old and trite by any means, and in the world of “detective novels” I still find it to be one of the best, but the author did seem to employ a bit of a formula. Force of Nature casts all that aside and breaks out into a completely new arena and takes flight. I absolutely enjoyed the heck out of it and highly recommend it to anyone who has dabbled in the Joe Pickett series, or as a standalone action-adventure/detective mystery novel. Honestly, I don’t even know what genre it would fit into, but it’s darn good nonetheless, and if all else fails, it has a game warden in it! And for those of you who have been following the entire series, this one will certainly tie up a number of loose ends and answer some of your questions.

Force of Nature is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons with a cover price of $25.95 in the U.S. and $27.50 in Canada. As a major publication, it is available at most booksellers, either in-store or online. Deep discounts can be found at the larger online retailers, and there are e-Book versions and even an eleven-hour audio-book version available.

So there you have it, folks. For those of you heading to the NAWEOA conference in Arizona, enjoy and stay cool.

GW


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Fall 2012


With my spare time at a premium, I often think about why I devote a substantial portion of it to the essentially volunteer endeavor of writing this column four times a year. As the quarterly deadlines approach, I often think that maybe it is time to just throw in the towel and reclaim my personal time.

Usually, as I contemplate this, I will receive an email or a letter from a reader who states that I provide a valuable service, or who wants my opinion about something book related. My spirits are lifted and I keep going. I am reminded that what I am doing is helping you folks in some small way.

Game wardens are busy people who don’t generally have a lot of time or finances to spare so when I take the time to research the books that are out there and provide my opinions of them; hopefully it means that you can make informed decisions about where to spend your reading time and dollars. It makes me feel good to know I am not just doing this in vain. However, without your occasional words of encouragement, it is easy to forget.

So, as they used to say before the computer age “keep those cards and letters coming”. Don’t despair if you don’t get a reply from me right away – like you I am busy too, but I will get back to you when I have some free time. And to the authors out there who email me requesting reviews or just to chat – please keep it up because without you, we’d all have nothing to read.

__________________________________

This issue I am reviewing three self-published books, all sent to me unsolicited by the authors. All three books, and one I reviewed in the last issue all appear to be printed by the same company. I’m assuming that this particular printer must be pretty good to deal with if so many folks are using it. I often get requests from would-be authors about how to go about self-publishing a book, and while I am no expert in that regard, never having published a book of my own, I am aware of some of the pitfalls surrounding the enterprise. Consequently, I am planning to contact each of the authors who have used this particular company to get some feedback about their experiences which I will try and summarize in the next issue.

The first book up to bat in this issue’s column is titled Soundkeeper (2011) and is the first foray into fiction writing and publishing by North Carolina police officer Michael Hervey. The subject of the title is Gale Pickens, an environmental monitor in Port William Sound and its surrounding watersheds, whose salary is paid by a partnership of private environmental groups. Before you skip ahead to the next review, because you think this book is about environmentalists and not game wardens, rest assured that the subtitle of the book is “A Hall McCormick Thriller”. As it turns out Hall McCormick is a fictional US Fish & Wildlife Service Refuge Officer at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Whew!! I’ve read a few “pseudo-warden enviro-thrillers” in the past and they are not my cup of tea.

McCormick is a trained marine biologist, but was unable to find employment in that field, so he migrated toward the USF&W Service Refuge System, in hopes of using it as a stepping stone to his real life’s passion. He really doesn’t want to even be there, in what he probably feels is not a real profession, especially while packing a gun on his hip. So right off the mark we know that our hero is not your typical square-jawed hair-straight back game warden, so we’ve got to give this one a read to see how this plays out.

As a raw recruit at Pinckney Island, McCormick has formed both a professional and personal relationship with Soundkeeper Gale Pickens. When Pickens fails to return home one night, and her boat is subsequently found adrift and empty, McCormick, who is quite enamored with her, is compelled to provide what assistance he can in the search for the missing Soundkeeper. He and her family fear the worst, and have no idea Gale is being held captive by a career criminal, whose partner also believes she is dead.

While McCormick tries to assist in the search for the missing Soundkeeper, a series of large scale fish die-offs, and his normal Refuge Officer duties serve to distract him. The author’s descriptions of some of these duties, which don’t contribute to the development of the main storyline around the disappearance of Gale Pickens, may be distracting to some readers. My observation is that they serve a valuable purpose. They illustrate to the reader how a multi-discipline natural resource officer can get pulled in several directions at once, sometimes preventing him from focusing on his main objective. At the same time they demonstrate to McCormick the value and importance of his job, and as a result his character begins to develop quickly into a professional law enforcement officer. A secondary storyline develops within the descriptions of the other duties and provides an interesting portrayal of the perils of law enforcement and the justice system. Personally, I enjoyed these distractions, as they were well written and added a sense of realism to the depiction of this fictional refuge officer.

Soundkeeper isn’t perfect, but as far as first novels go it’s pretty darn good. I found the premise of the various storylines to be quite plausible. I was certainly entertained by the entire book and I had absolutely no trouble getting involved in the story and reading for long periods without a break. The smooth prose kept my attention throughout, and because of the author’s excellent depiction of the characters I felt like I was familiar with and cared about them. When I care, I have a genuine desire to keep reading because I am interested - I need to know if and how the characters are going to get out of the jam that they are in.

There were a couple of small editing misses that distracted me, but ignoring those, the book was well crafted, the area and the people richly rendered, and the storyline well developed. I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes next in the upcoming sequel Fool’s Gold

Soundkeeper (ISBN 9780615625560) is 215 pages long and is available through Amazon in both a softcover edition for about $9.99 and a Kindle edition for $2.99. These prices make this book money very well spent.

Under A Poacher’s Moon was released this year by retired 30 year veteran Wisconsin Conservation Warden Steven Dewald. Steve wrote the book with the intent of giving the average citizen a better understanding and appreciation for the work that conservation officers do. He tried to provide readers with a view from behind the badge, by sharing his thoughts and emotions as he described various experiences from his career. After he retired, he thought it would be beneficial to share the emotions and feelings he experienced during his career.

He told me that he tried to write a book that was easy to read yet interesting for the average person on the street. There are lots of ways to write game warden non-fiction. The author can pick a dozen or so good events from his career and embellish the heck out of them, or he can take three times as many stories and make them short and sweet and straight to the point. The latter is Steve’s modus operandi. He touches on just about every aspect of the Wisconsin warden’s duties, with the exception of problem wildlife duties, without spending a lot of time beating around the bush. Consequently, he paints a very broad, but sufficiently detailed picture of the job which not only shows the public what it is that a warden does, but why he does it, and often why he does it the way he does.

Off the top of my head I can only think of four other books about Wisconsin conservation officers and this is the only one I have read that is contemporary and told by the person experiencing the events. As a result this book could be considered the definitive Wisconsin warden book, at least for the time being, because there is another new Wisconsin warden memoir available, but I have not read it yet.

Under A Poacher’s Moon achieves most of what Steve set out to accomplish and does so in a very well-crafted and polished manner. The book is very pleasant to read and moves along quickly, changing subject matter frequently, which helps to keep the reader’s attention. This is a wonderful book that neatly recounts many memorable and important events in not only the author’s career, but in the evolution of the modern DNR as well.

The only disappointment to me, and this is not a criticism of the quality of the book itself, is that the emotions and feelings that the author wanted to share aren’t as prevalent or as obvious as he may have intended. I found the book to be quite matter-of-fact and I didn’t really feel the emotions of many of the events he described. Perhaps it is because the stories didn’t draw me in to a point where I had a real connection to them, or because the author, as a result of so many years of stifling his emotions in a law enforcement environment, did not clearly state in the stories how he was feeling? Or maybe I am so jaded from reading so many non-fiction game warden books over the years that I don’t see things as clearly as I should? Perhaps you should read it for yourself and then tell me I am wrong, and explain why.

Under A Poacher’s Moon (ISBN 9781470026363) is 163 pages long and is available through Amazon in the US and Canada, and Barnes and Noble. The cover price is as little as $12.82. Steve advises there is a Kindle version available for $5.75 but I can’t find it on their site. If readers in the US and Canada would like an autographed copy mailed to them Steve requires a $20 money order in U.S. funds along with your name and mailing address. His address is Steve Dewald, N3525 Sun Valley Road, LaCrosse, WI 54601. You can email Steve at smd2dmd@centurytel.net if you have any questions or give him a call at (608)781-9774.

If you want to talk about an author who demonstrates his emotions in his books, you need look no further than Stephen Reynolds. I first made mention of Ol’ Steve way back in the winter 2006 issue of this magazine. Steve and I have become “pen pals” or “email buddies” and he presently writes regularly for this magazine as well. He has now taken material from his previous book, Beyond the Killing Tree (1995), his columns in this magazine and in the Siskiyou Daily News, and completely new material to put together From a Bush Wing: Notes of an Alaska Wildlife Trooper (2012).

As you can tell from the title, this book is primarily about flying airplanes in the wilds of Alaska. The vast majority of the tales are about Steve’s own experience with planes, especially during his days as a Fish & Game Officer and Wildlife Trooper. He also throws in some stories about other officer pilots to further illustrate the challenges and perils of Alaskan bush flying.

Steve’s style is somewhat unique. It can be quite detailed and explanatory, and then shift to a very concise and almost poetic style. I find it interesting, refreshing and often quite thought provoking. It’s a style that requires some very special writing skills, and was noticed in his earlier book as well. Steve is a gifted writer who skillfully paints thoughtful and emotionally charged images for the reader. There is no denying the fear, the anxiety, the excitement or the passion that Steve is feeling as he recalls these events and writes his passages.

I could probably find fault with every book I read, but sometimes the book is just so well written that the faults, if there are any, are overlooked because the rest of the book is so outstanding. That is the case here. However, I’m sure some readers would not agree with me. Steve’s style might not work for them, or they may tire of a whole book of stories about flying and working in bad weather, but the images evoked in this book are so real to me that I was carried away in it all and found it quite exhilarating at times.

I am tempted to give you a run down on some of the stories in this marvelous book, but my synopses would not do it justice. All I can really say is that you need to get yourself a copy and experience these adventures and the excitement and emotions that accompany them for yourself.

From a Bush Wing: Notes of an Alaska Wildlife Trooper (ISBN9781475283297) is softcover and 188 pages long. It is available from Amazon.com for $14.95, while the Kindle version is $4.99. If anyone wants a signed copy, they can send $14.95 US or the Canadian equivalent direct to Steve Reynolds at 7315 River Ranch Road, Montague, CA 96064. Steve will cover the shipping costs in the US and Canada. If you want the book shipped outside of North America, you’ll have to contact him to make those arrangements at RiverRanchRoad@aol.com or if you don’t have a computer get hold of him the old fashioned way at (530) 340-2598.

Finally, I was negligent in making mention of an item in the last column, so hopefully there is room left to do it now. Retired Connecticut Conservation Officer Jim Jones Jr lost his oldest son Raymond to cancer in May of 2011. Ray had returned to the family home to help care for his mother two years earlier, but the roles were reversed when Ray was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jim and his wife cared for Ray for four months until his passing.

As a way of healing after this loss, Jim decided to write a book of poems about Ray and the trials and tribulations that went along with dealing with this emotional event. Raymond: Poems by the Father is 50 pages long, with 20 poems and numerous full color photos of Ray, his family, his home and his beloved animals.

The project is non-profit and the book is sold at cost with a shipping charge applied. A donation card is included with the book and the author encourages buyers to donate directly to the Second Chance Animal Rescue Shelter in Littleton, New Hampshire in Raymond’s name.

You can obtain a copy of Raymond: Poems by the Father from Mr. Jones by sending him a money order for $9 US plus $2.50 for shipping to anywhere in the US or $3.50 to Canada. His address is James R. Jones Jr, PO Box 344, East Ryegate VT 05042. If you have any other questions, want to send a check, or live outside the US or Canada, send him an email at skytop@fairpoint.net.

Until next time, be safe and be well.

GW


Return to INDEX


Winter 2012-13


In my last column I noted that the three books I reviewed appeared to have been printed by the same printer. As a result of some very quick sleuthing I was able to determine that the company is called CreateSpace and is owned by Amazon, the book conglomerate.

I received some feedback from one of the authors and learned that the self-publishing business has evolved somewhat since I last wrote about it in 2008. He basically said that the use of a traditional publishing house, while providing you with all the resources at their disposal, puts very little money back in your pocket after the initial advance. He suggests going directly to Kindle (electronic book) first, so you can generate some quick money, which could be more than you’d ever get from a publisher. A Kindle book can be edited and re-submitted as many times as necessary and there is no up-front cost to going the Kindle route.

If you want to graduate to a hard copy of your book, there are different publishing options available through Createspace. If you have a good editor of your own, then you can simply use the company for layout and design. Otherwise they can provide an editor. In either case you are actually assigned a project team, which I assume is paid for by the fees you pay to the company. Thus, unlike a traditional publisher, which provides all these services at no cost, but they make all the money and pay you a small royalty, you pay all the upfront costs and all the profits are yours. At two different stages of the process Createspace will provide you with printed proofs for review.

This information is not meant as an endorsement of Createspace, as I have no personal experience with them. I am sure there are other similar self-publishing options out there, and if you are contemplating writing a book, you should do your own homework.

One final note before I move on to the book reviews. If you are writing a book, make sure you have someone else, who has a very good grasp of the English language, edit it for you. Then get someone else to proof-read the whole thing. I have read very few self-published books that do not have at least a few grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors that jump out at me and frustrate the reading process. These types of errors are much less common in the traditional publishing world, but I have stumbled across a few of them there as well. However, like any writer I can review and edit my own material to death, and still miss a few things because I become tired of it. A fresh set of eyes is imperative.

So, I have reviewed several books by my old friend Joseph Heywood in this column in the past. Those of you familiar with the column, or Heywood’s previous work, will be familiar with the very well written and entertaining “Woods Cop Mystery” series featuring Michigan Conservation Officer Grady Service. Joe advises that the next Woods Cop book is due out in 2013. In the meantime Heywood and Lyons Press have published the first in the new Lute Bapcat Mystery series.

Red Jacket is a historical mystery set in 1913 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the same area where the Woods Cop novels take place. The protagonist, Lute Bapcat, a former Rough Riders sniper alongside Teddy Roosevelt, returns to the U.P. after the Spanish-American war and became a trapper. As the State Department of Game, Fish and Forestry begins to hire their deputy wardens through the civil service process rather than through patronage appointments, Bapcat is recruited to police Keweenaw and Houghton counties and to try and put an end to market hunting in the area.

As a copper-miners’ strike looms, Bapcat, his expatriate Russian sidekick Zakov, and their fellow deputies begin to make strides towards bringing the residents of the area into compliance. But it appears that the mining companies are setting out to deplete the wildlife populations in other ways.

This book is full of richly portrayed characters and historical references. Although the main thread of the story is fictional, it is set against a backdrop of actual events and actual historical figures involved in the strike and the other activities in the area. One such character is George Gipp, who was immortalized by Ronald Regan in the movie Knute Rockne, All-American and by the famous line “win just one for the Gipper.”

The story is very well written and involved, using the various true events to support the premise of the story. Without being aware of the factual nature of much of the novel, it is still a wonderful re-creation of a rough and tumble time in Michigan’s history. After doing some side reading about the actual events and figures woven throughout the story, it becomes readily apparent that author Heywood is a very gifted writer. His ability to craft a fictional game warden story, while still remaining true to the history of the area, is nothing short of remarkable.

I have previously stated that of all the game warden fiction I have read, Heywood’s novels tend to stay more within the realm of actual game warden work than most others. In Red Jacket he doesn’t vary from this assignment – this novel is planted firmly within the game warden genre as well. However, the historical nature of this novel takes it in an entirely new direction for Heywood. I reviewed another historically-based game warden novel in the Fall 2010 issue, but unlike Omerta which was more about a murder investigation than game warden work, Red Jacket is quite the opposite.

Other than being a very intriguing and well crafted story about game law enforcement work before the First World War, I found the book offered a spin-off benefit of educating the reader about some actual events in the history of Michigan and its labor movement. I was compelled to go on the internet and read about the copper mining strike of 1913 and was quite surprised to find out how much of the story was rooted in fact.

The ending of the book disappointed me somewhat, as it was not fitting of the build-up towards it, but in hindsight I don’t think it could have ended much differently, without seriously altering the historical details.

I’m not sure what other historical events of significance took place in the Upper Peninsula in the ensuing years, but I’m sure that Heywood is already figuring out how to intertwine them with the further adventures of Lute Bapcat. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Red Jacket (ISBN 978-0762782536) is hardcover and is published by Lyons Press. It is 420 pages long and retails for $24.95 USD and $27.50 CDN, but as always much better deals can be had through the online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Next up, for those of you who prefer non-fiction game warden fare, I have Suddenly, The Cider Didn’t Taste So Good – Adventures of a Game Warden in Maine (2012) by retired Maine Game Warden and Sheriff John Ford Sr.

One thing that often nags at me when I read non-fiction stuff is how similar many of the stories can be from author to author. To the general public, who may only read one or two of these books, and only from their own jurisdiction, that’s fine. For someone like me who reads a lot of them, it can get a little tiresome, especially when the author is not a seasoned raconteur. Then along comes John. When I was looking for material for the column, and I saw the name of his book, I was immediately intrigued. This was not your usual book title, so the hope was that it would not be a run-of-the-mill game warden memoir.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be a bit of an understatement. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but John Ford’s style of writing, his sense of humor and his willingness to laugh at himself, definitely make this book a keeper. I had no trouble breezing through this book and enjoying the heck out of it. Perhaps it was because I found that many of the author’s personal philosophies and interests were similar to mine, or simply because he’s a really decent storyteller.

Many of the stories are 4 or 5 pages long and are what I generally refer to as “short snappers” – humorous tales about odd or entertaining events or characters encountered on the job. However, there are a couple, like “The Moody Mountain Manhunt” and “The Game Warden and the Murderer” that make you pause and give you a little shiver. The author has also thrown in a story of tragedy, which led to saving a person’s life – his own.

Suddenly, The Cider Didn’t Taste So Good seems to have just the right mixture of short snappers, poacher-catching tales, and wildlife encounters to not bog the reader down in any one subject category. John Ford has done a great job with this one and if you are looking for a winner to spend your hard earned warden’s wages on, this one is surely it. If you want to know why the cider didn’t taste so good, give this one a perusal.

Suddenly, The Cider Didn’t Taste So Good (ISBN 978-1-934031-94-0) is published in softcover by Islandport Press. It is 218 pages and retails for $16.85 USD or $18.95 CDN. Further information about the book can be found at the Islandport website http://www.islandportpress.com/suddenlythecider.html or at the author’s website http://mainewarden.com/ . You can order the book from John’s site and pay via PayPal. The book will be autographed, but be sure to note in the comments box if you want it personalized. If you wish to order by mail, John will accept personal checks, money orders, or cash. Send payment to John Ford Sr. P O Box 187 Brooks, Maine 04921. Remember to include instructions if you wish to have your book personalized. Of course, if you just want to save a few bucks on a bare-bones copy, the online booksellers can help you out with that.

Perennial favorite William Wasserman is back with his sixth book Wildlife Guardian – Stories of a Pennsylvania Game Warden (2012), which is the fifth one published by Penn’s Woods Publications. This entry in his series is dedicated to Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer David Groves, who made the ultimate sacrifice on November 11, 2012, when he was shot and killed while attempting to arrest a deer poacher.

The stories from this retired 32 year veteran Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation officer just keep coming and are as entertaining and enlightening as ever.

Like Wasserman’s previous book, this one comes in at 145 pages of material and sells for $12.95. It is an extremely affordable book and well worth the price.

Wildlife Guardian is a collection of seven stories ranging from investigating deer, bear and turkey poachers, to chasing night hunters, to being stalked by a four legged predator. All the stories are written in Bill’s usual high-quality, detailed and easy to read style that keeps you turning the pages until, before you know it, the book is done. If you are familiar with Wasserman’s previous memoirs and want to go for another ride-along, here’s your opportunity. Anyone who has not read any of Bill’s books before could easily start with this one and work backwards, as they do not need to be read in any particular order, and they are all top-notch game warden non-fiction.

Wildlife Guardian can be purchased online through the US and Canada Amazon sites, or Barnes & Noble, in both electronic (Kindle, Nook) versions and the more traditional softcover version.

Well, that wraps up another installment of the Warden’s Words. In the next issue I plan to take a look at the latest Terry Grosz book, as well as a book about the history of the US Refuge System Law Enforcement program. Perhaps I’ll look at a Kindle-only book or two. However, just like the plans I make in my day job, these plans too are subject to change without notice.

Until next time, be safe and be well and I hope you are having a great 2013.

GW


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Spring 2013


All the non-fiction authors that I review in this column seem to have one thing in common - they were hard working and dedicated officers, who didn’t watch a clock and occasionally might have bent their agencies policies in order to get the job done.

Often times our core purpose gets clouded and lost in larger agency priorities, politics and administrative tasks. Officers should step back and consider why we, as conservation officers, really exist. Perhaps you can’t really wrap your brain around some of the less exciting jobs we do. But consider this – every hunter and fisherman out there has the potential to take wildlife and fish out of season, in excess or set quotas, and of the wrong age or sex class. There are a lot more of them than there are of us, and even if a small percentage chooses to do so, we are still outnumbered. Game wardens are often referred to as “The Thin Green Line” and that title is certainly true. We are the only people, apart from the hunters and anglers with a strong moral compass, that have the ability to take action against those who could do irreparable harm to our natural resources. Often times that’s one or two officers holding the line against thousands of potential resource abusers. You have a great responsibility and if you don’t take it personally when poachers are taking advantage, then you have either lost the passion, or you never had it at all. As a result, you are not only letting down the fish and wildlife, and the dedicated and honest sportsmen (and women), but you are letting down the rest of us who hold this Thin Green Line and truly feel that this is so much more than just a job - it is a “calling”.

Now consider that the hard core lawbreakers don’t “work” business hours. Granted, violations do occur Monday to Friday from 9 to 5, but far more people will be afield when they have time off work, typically evenings and weekends. A game warden who always works business hours, goes for coffee or lunch in a public café at the same time every day, and whose patrol truck sits in his driveway every weekend and after 5 pm on weekdays, has become predictable and is likely the laughing stock of the poaching community, and probably not well respected by the honest sportsmen either.

The worst thing a game warden can be is predictable and routine. He might as well take out an ad in the paper advertising that it is open season, with no bag limits. Some wardens will say that they “gave it their all” for many years with no thanks from their employer, so now they are just putting in the time they get paid for (Making 8), doing what their employer wants, until they can retire. That’s a bad and dangerous attitude. In fact if you had that attitude on any other team whose goal was to win (and that is what we are trying to do here), you’d be cut or traded, not allowed to “ride the pine”. And who really cares if the employer recognizes your hard work or not? In many cases the employer doesn’t actually understand the ins and outs of the community, and truth be told, this job should not be about getting accolades from your employer. It is about catching the bad guys and holding on to the hope that your presence, hard work and dedication, is preventing all hell from breaking loose. That alone should be enough for you to hold your head high with pride.

When it comes to catching the bad guys, I think it is kind of like fishing. You can limit the amount of time you will be on the water, fish only when the weather is nice, and be satisfied with catching your limit then going home. The first four fish in the boat is enough to make you happy, although they were not necessarily the fish that you really hoped to catch. Or, you can go fishing when it’s a bit less convenient for you, but the big fish might be biting. Because those big fish are harder to catch, you might need to put more time into it, and stay out well past your usual time. You might also want to shake some of those smaller fish off without landing them because they will slow you down and alert the big ones, who will then swim away. You definitely don’t want to bonk everything that comes your way, because you’ll have your limit before you have caught your real quarry. The old adage “there are bigger fish to fry” is so appropriate.

The authors who write about their own escapades were dedicated to the art of angling for poachers. Their reward is the knowledge that they did the best that they could to make a difference, and that if the birds, fish and animals could talk they’d probably say “thanks”. The spin-off for these authors is that the best stories often come from those cases involving the big fish that took a bit more time and effort to locate, catch and reel in.

Bob Lee, a retired Florida officer, was one of those officers who put in a great deal of time and effort to try and catch the “big fish”. Bob was a water patrol officer with the former Game and Fish Commission, and then became a land-based patrol supervisor with that agency and its successor, the current Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Officer Lee spent over 30 years chasing poachers, and the occasional polluter, in Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties in the north-east part of Florida.

Bob Lee’s first book, Backcountry Lawman: True Stories from a Florida Game Warden was released on March 12, 2013. It is published by the University Press of Florida and is the latest volume in the Florida History and Culture Series, a collection of 59 volumes about Florida. Backcountry Lawman is one of only two books in this series that deals specifically with game wardens, the other being Death in the Everglades: The Murder of Guy Bradley, America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism (2003). It is quite an honor for Officer Lee to hold the distinction of sharing one of only two places in this series with someone who gave their life for “the cause”.

Fortunately, Bob Lee did not become a martyr himself, and survived his career relatively unscathed, so that he could put pen to paper (or I guess in more modern terms “put fingers to keys”) and regale us with outstanding tales from his eventful career.

Bob Lee has been writing freelance articles for outdoor and law enforcement magazines, including International Game Warden, for some time and it shows. He is a very descriptive and effective storyteller, with a very professional style. Backcountry Lawman is around 235 pages, which is just about the right length, and because of Bob’s writing style, and likely some very skilled editing, it is pure joy to read.

I often comment that some books are lacking in detail (common), while others tend to get mired down in excessive explanations (rarer), but Lee seems to have found the “sweet spot” in my opinion. Lee uses just the right adjectives to paint the picture, and provides enough detail so that the less informed reader becomes educated, while the more “experienced” reader (i.e. other game wardens) doesn’t get bored.

Despite the fact that a large portion of Officer Lee’s career was spent as a water-borne patrol officer, he manages to find the right blend of aquatic and terrestrial tales to keep the book varied and fresh. There are several stories that involve a notorious “monkey-fisherman” and all-round poacher named Roger Gunter, who was perhaps one of the most cunning and paranoid ever to exist, but who, as a result, was likely one of the most successful. Although Officer Bob Lee and his team of wardens, including Guy “Gator” Banks and Tommy Shearer, had some luck in knocking Gunter down a notch from time to time, it only made him more careful in covering his tracks and looking over his shoulder and beyond. In fact he was never prosecuted for his “monkey-fishing” activities. If this guy had ever decided to go straight, he would have made a great game warden. He was such an intriguing character that after Lee’s retirement he visited with Gunter to try and gain further insight into the man. This visit is detailed in the book as well.

Backcountry Lawman has something for everybody, including white-knuckle boat chases in the dark, surveillance on bird poachers, deer decoy operations, and even an entertaining, yet important, pollution case. I’ve always been one to state that pollution cases are unlikely to make for a good conservation officer book, but Lee highlights a significant case in his career that had a far reaching and significant impact. And despite the overall seriousness of the case, he is able to insert some rather humorous details into the narrative, including the name of the story – “The Choo-Choo-Poo-Poo Case”. In fact, throughout this book the author injects bits of humor into almost every story, while still preserving the overall seriousness and importance of the events.

Many books that I read and review in this column could be considered “diamonds in the rough” because they have all the necessary elements but they remain a bit rough around the edges. Backcountry Lawman is one of those books where everything is polished, almost to perfection, and in my opinion it is a true “gem”. If you are going to buy just one game warden memoir this year, this should be the one you buy.

Backcountry Lawman (ISBN 978-0-8130-4429-3) is published in hard cover and has a suggested retail price of $24.95. You can order it from the publisher’s website and it is also available at a discount though Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. There are also electronic editions available from those retailers for around $10. While you are at it, you should check out Bob Lee’s website.

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How many books has Terry Grosz, retired US Fish and Wildlife Special Agent, written now? In the non-fiction arena he had written seven about his career and one about the history of market hunting in the Sacramento Valley. He has also written three historical novels, with two more in the works. The guy is flat-out, a workaholic. In 2012 he released yet another memoir, this time titled Wildlife on the Edge: Adventures of a Special Agent in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This latest outing is not, with only a few exceptions, a retelling of any of his previous stories, despite him working with a new publisher – Flying Pen Press in Denver, Colorado.

Terry Grosz had a long and successful career, and I would venture to say he may have been one of the hardest working and successful wildlife officers to ever creep the tules, marshes and potholes. His list of accomplishments and accolades are testament to that, and the abundance of material he is able to recount in his memoirs is certainly proof as well. By my figuring, based on his own claims as to the long hours he worked, and days off he never took, he worked at least double what any other regular government employee would have worked in that same timeframe. That would be the equivalent of sixty-four years of stories!! I know I will never be able to hold a candle to him.

I have glowingly praised the books in Terry’s original series. Some readers have criticized them as being exceedingly boastful, outright bull-crap, and overly embellished, but regardless they were well written and highly entertaining, and often times educational. Unfortunately Wildlife on the Edge: Adventures of a Special Agent in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service just doesn’t measure up to the quality of that initial series. The stories themselves are fine, with plenty of variety. Grosz has always been quick to state his disapproval of people who did not work as hard as him, or who do not share his political or moral beliefs, but this book seems to have more of an undertone than previous works. However he does stress one important point several times and that is that law enforcement is as important as any of the other four tools of wildlife management. He often voices his frustration with those who did not see agree, and who seriously underfunded the law enforcement program of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a result.

However, where I think this book is truly lacking, is in the quality of the editing. Grosz has always had a tendency to embellish and perhaps overly detail things, but this book is somewhat extreme in that regard. I noted several times where superfluous details are provided and then a paragraph or two later the same details are provided, almost word for word. There tends to be a great deal of redundancy throughout this book with the same concerns, issues and details expressed chapter after chapter. There was also one particular euphemism that was so over-used that I began to cringe every time I saw it.

Wildlife on the Edge: Adventures of a Special Agent in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is 431 pages long, but I venture to say that it could have easily been pared down to around 350 pages with some better editing. Additionally the formatting is such that one of the “chapters” is 172 pages long!

At this point my readers must think that I hated this book. That is not the case. There are some very good stories, and some great lessons in this book, as there are in all of Terry’s non-fiction work. With the embellishment and redundant details cleared away and the prose tightened up a bit by some improved editing, this book could have been very good. I just found it a bit of a chore to get through because of its lack of clarity and crispness.

Wildlife on the Edge: Adventures of a Special Agent in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (ISBN 978-0-9845927-9-1) retails for $22 USD, $33 CDN, 14.95 UK and $26.50 AUS. It can be ordered through Flying Pen Press. Like most mainstream publications it is also available from the online book sellers at a discounted price. There is no electronic version available. If you’d like to contact Terry directly to get an autographed copy, he can be reached at tgrosz@juno.com.

In the last column I indicated that I would be reviewing a book about the history of the US Refuge System Law Enforcement program. I’ve got to admit that I dropped the ball on that one. First, the book I was referring to is about the US Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement program. Second, I just plain ran out of time and could not get to it. Truth be told, I have several books on my desk that were sent to me for review over the past few years, and I have just not been able to fit them in. Perhaps in my next column I will provide readers with a list of these titles, so that they are at least aware of their existence.

Until then, get out and enjoy your spring, and keep those poachers on their toes.

GW


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Summer 2013


It has been a busy spring out west and it looks like it is shaping up to be a banner year for bear complaints. The enforcement cases have not been lacking either. I am struggling to find time to get everything that needs doing done, including this column. But don’t I say that every year? I know, I should quit whining, as we are all busy. Honestly, I haven’t even begun to whine – there are some issues taking place out here in BC that have got our field officers hopping mad, myself included. However, I will not regale you with those tales, because this column is supposed to be upbeat and entertaining.

This will be the 30th time I have put together a column under the Warden’s Words banner. I have only missed one submission since my first entry in the Fall of 2005. When I began this column almost 8 years ago, I had no idea I’d stick it out this long. Incredibly, I still have at least a year to go before I have officially surpassed the old “Rathouse Reader” himself, Bob Mullen. He “put down his pen” when he retired from service as an Iowa game warden. I still have several years to go before that day comes, so if I follow Bob’s lead, you will be stuck with me for a while yet. Lucky you!

I had hoped to give you the low-down on four new books this issue, but time and deadlines precluded that from happening. Despite the usual hurdles, I was able to plow through three books - two non-fictions and one fiction. The best part of it all was that not one of them was a dud - the reading material was three for three.

The first non-fiction book I had a look at was a 2012 release titled Poachers Were My Prey – Eighteen Years as an Undercover Wildlife Officer by R.T. Stewart, as told to W.H. “Chip” Gross. Mr. Gross put the words on paper, as he is a professional freelance writer. No doubt Mr. Stewart is a great raconteur, but my understanding is that he isn’t much of a writer. Stewart could have chosen to go the self publishing route, but that can often end with a very poorly edited and hard to read product. Poachers Were My Prey is published by Black Squirrel Books, which is an imprint of the Kent State University Press. The relationship amongst the three entities was definitely the right choice, because Gross’ writing skills and the professional polish of a bona-fide publishing house are very evident throughout the book.

R.T. Stewart’s story is important because prior to him becoming an undercover operator, the state of Ohio Division of Wildlife had never conducted an in-depth undercover operation, and did not have a covert unit. Officer Stewart was a pioneer in his field, so much of what he recounts in this book was being tried for the first time in the wildlife world.

Poachers Were My Prey gives the reader a first-hand look at the inner workings of ten undercover operations. Stewart is the operator in nine of these and the file coordinator in the tenth. It is evident as the reader moves from operation to operation with the author that Stewart had an innate ability to fit in quickly and develop close relationships with people, despite his dislike for them or their actions. As can be expected, there are times when these relationships become actual friendships, and it wears on Stewart when he realizes that he is going to hurt people he actually likes at the culmination of the investigation. The long months of undercover work also put a strain on his relationship with his wife, who notices drastic changes in his personality – changes he cannot just shut off, because his undercover persona seems to take over his whole life. When faced with losing his wife if he does not leave the undercover business, his marriage ultimately disintegrates. Talk about a dedicated wildlife warrior.

Poachers Were My Prey does not pull any punches when it comes to telling it like it really is. The perils and pitfalls of being an undercover officer are brought to the forefront and exposed. Stewart talks about the danger of the job, the loneliness and how the resulting stress finally forced him to leave the work that he loved so dearly. Some tricks of the trade are revealed, although technology has made many of them obsolete and no longer relevant.

The eleventh chapter of the book is about how Stewart prepared and trained to be an undercover officer. It is quite an interesting chapter, particularly when he talks about the use of force and his edged-weapons training and practice. He goes on to discuss training sessions he has led and some of the bizarre assignments that the students must perform.

Poachers Were My Prey is an exceptional book. It provides first rate entertainment as the reader plays “secret squirrel” with Stewart through ten tales of infiltrating the ranks of Ohio’s poaching fraternity. While captivated by the intrigue and seamy underbelly of the wildlife wars, the reader is given a firsthand glimpse into the mindset of the undercover officer. Finally the author wraps it all up with a very frank, yet entertaining and educational look at what it takes to be successful in the world of deception that is undercover wildlife enforcement.

Poachers Were My Prey (ISBN 978-1-60635-137-6) is available in only in soft cover and eBook format from the major online booksellers, and if not in stock at the “stick and mortar” stores, can certainly be ordered in. Retail is $18.95 US, but as is always the case these days, the online sellers offer it at discounted prices.

So now let’s switch gears and look at a fictional work from Michigan author Joseph Heywood, best known for his Woods Cop series and his recent Lute Bapcat historically-based novel. This time out Heywood offers us something completely different – a collection of twenty-nine short stories of fictional Michigan Conservation Officers, all of which take place in Heywood’s beloved Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Hard Ground is published by Heywood’s long-term publisher Lyon’s Press and was released in May of 2013.

Heywood wanted to tell these stories, which he implies are based on actual events, but there was no way to weave them into the Woods Cop or Lute Bapcat series. While one story does feature Woods Cop hero Grady Service, and another involves Lute Bapcat, the remainder each feature a unique fictional character in some very interesting and often amusing situations. Despite some of them being a little “out there” I could certainly relate to many of them, as truth is often stranger than fiction.

I have been a bit hard on my old friend Joe on occasion, but I have to hand it to him this time. I did not know what to expect from this new direction he was taking, but because of his exceptional skill at developing colorful and engaging characters, his top-notch writing abilities, and his amazing imagination (what he refers to as his internal cedar swamp), he was able to put together a highly enjoyable collection of short stories. This soft cover book is 218 pages long, and I tore through it in one afternoon and was spellbound and entertained the entire time.

The book begins with a story about an officer on his second day on the job who locates a missing hunter, dead from an accidental gunshot wound. That story is contrasted by the next one that involves two veteran officers, one of whom may have become a bit too complacent and almost learns a lesson the hard way. The next story is about a female officer, still fairly new on the job and full of piss and vinegar, who in her zeal to kick ass makes a dumb mistake. The stories continue, each with its own quirky hero and often eccentric foil, masterfully created in Heywood’s inimitable style.

There’s a tale about a pilot CO who, facing the loss of his wings, decides to have one last hurrah, and one about a female officer who decides to make it very clear that the usual rumors about why she got transferred to her new post are not true. The Grady Service entry is a straightforward tale of an animal attack on a human from early in his career, but ends in typical cynical Woods Cop style. I could go on and on, giving you a little hint at each story, but suffice to say that this book is downright fun and a real departure from both the usual fictional fare, and non-fiction as well.

You’ve read in the past how I can get a little bit bored with non-fiction memoirs, as they can tend to get repetitive from book to book. Hard Ground, although technically a work of fiction, is as if someone took a whole bunch of chapters from 29 different memoirs, shook them up, added some U.P. seasoning blend, a pinch of eccentricity, renamed everyone with goofy fictional U.P. names, and then re-strung it all back together.

I have read a couple hundred game warden books in the last ten years, and have yet to read one this unique, yet so familiar. This one is one of the quirkiest and most unconventional, yet it provided me with more smiles, “aha” moments, and sheer pleasure than any book in a long time.

It is clear that Heywood recognizes that the conservation officer’s job is dangerous, stressful, entertaining, rewarding and sometimes just downright bizarre, yet his respect and admiration for the officers he has spent time with over the past twelve years is highly apparent. The only thing that really struck me odd was that he makes mention of almost every one of his heroes smoking at some point. Being a non-smoker, and not even knowing many other officers who smoke, it really jumped out at me. Must be a U.P. thing…

Hard Ground (ISBN 978-0-7627-8126-3) retails for $16.95 US and $18.95 CAD, and is available only in soft cover and eBook formats from the big name online retailers.

Last, but not least, is another memoir of sorts. This time it is out of California and is titled Badges, Bears and Eagles – The True-Life Adventures of a California Fish and Game Warden” by retired Fish & Game Lieutenant Steve Callan. It is soft cover and was released by Coffeetown Press of Seattle in March of this year.

Badges, Bears and Eagles is primarily the memoirs of author Callan, but it includes several stories about other wardens who he either worked with, or supervised, during his career. It’s a bang-up collection of warden stories much like you’d see on the TV series “Wild Justice” albeit 20 or 30 years in the past. The first several autobiographical chapters revolve around Callan’s early career in the south-east area of California along the Colorado River. This is a desert setting and Callan offers up tales that are unlike those found in earlier books from California, or the aforementioned TV series, which primarily take place in more mountainous northern regions. The early stories involving other wardens, and one about Callan and his longtime working partner Dave Szody, take place in those more familiar environs.

Callan was promoted to Patrol Lieutenant quite early in his career, but with this came a move to the more urban environment of San Bernardino County. There are only a few stories from this assignment, which clearly illustrate how different the work of an urban game warden is from his rural counterparts.

The remainder of the book follows the exploits of the author and his co-workers in northern California’s Shasta County. Callan spent the remaining 23 years of his 30 year career there.

Most of the chapters in this terrific book, except for the last one, are fairly short, typical of what is found in most non-fiction memoirs. The final chapter is a much longer and involved story about an undercover bear poaching investigation that took place over the course of three years in the mid 1990s. It is a perfect climax to an already rock-solid collection of stories.

Badges, Bears and Eagles is exceptionally well written and professionally produced, which is certainly not the case with many non-fiction game warden books these days. The involvement of a publishing house very likely aided in elevating this book to a higher caliber. The writing style is almost flawless, and reading this gem is pure effortless joy. The variety of tales that are told keeps the book fresh throughout. Badges, Bears and Eagles certainly ranks up there with some of the best non-fiction game warden fare I have read in a long time.

Badges, Bears and Eagles (ISBN 978-1-60381-158-3) is 240 pages and can be purchased in the usual books stores, as well as some specialty location in California. It can be ordered online from Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, at a discount on the already low price of only $13.95 USD. At that price this book has got to be one of the best values around. It is also available in an eBook format. If you want to learn more about the book and the author, visit his blog at callan.coffeetownpress.com.

And that about wraps it up for this issue. For those of you heading to the NAWEOA conference in Boise, enjoy - I wish I could be there. Happy reading and have a safe summer.

GW


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Fall 2013


Yet another summer is come and gone and hunting seasons are now upon us.  Wow, where does the time go?  I hope everyone had an enjoyable summer and got to spend some quality time with their loved ones. 

This past summer a friend of mine gave me a copy of Fish, Fur & Feathers – Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Alberta: 1905-2005.  I started writing this column in the fall of 2005, so was previously unaware of this remarkable book that had been published that year.  This is what might be referred to as a “coffee-table” book – hardcover, large format   (9 x 12 inches and over 400 pages) and full of photographs.  It is an extremely well laid-out and attractive book.  Although most of the book has little to do with the work of game wardens, and it is very region specific, there is a 38 page chapter titled The Enforcers, which discusses the history of the Alberta game laws and the people who uphold them.  Although a bit out of date eight years later, the chapter is still a terrific look at the history of Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers, complete with some great photographs.

I did some checking and Fish, Fur & Feathers is still available through Nature Alberta for the unbelievably low price of only $19.95.  Check out their website at http://store.naturealberta.ca/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=60 if you are interested.

As I’m now in the mode of catching up on loose ends, I should make mention of a couple other books that have been collecting dust on my desk, as they didn’t quite fit in with the type of books I generally discuss here.  Bear in mind that I only skimmed through them and am not prepared to provide actual reviews, but I thought it worthwhile to at least make readers aware of them.

The first is from back in 2008 and is titled Attending Alaska’s Birds – A Wildlife Pilot’s Story (ISBN 978-1425142438) and was written by James Gore King.  The author spent the early part of his career in Alaska as a “territorial game warden” for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, but only a very small part of the book discusses this aspect of his work.  He later completed his university degree in biology and moved on to become a refuge manager and wildlife biologist.  Although the content of the book is probably interesting to many, I quickly read through the less than exhilarating paragraphs about game warden work and then lost interest.  It is available from Amazon.com in softcover for $24.33.

Next, is The Case of the Indian Trader – Billy Malone and the National Park Service Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post (ISBN 978-0826348593), written by Paul Berkowitz and published in 2011.  I have reviewed several national parks related books in the past, but they all had something to do with resource law enforcement or the great outdoors.  My time is at a premium and although I made it through the first six chapters, I finally had to throw in the towel on this one.  The story involves the National Parks Service, but that’s where its relationship with this column ends.   This non-fiction book is about an Indian trading post that is national historic site and a flawed fraud investigation involving the operator of the post.  It is rated an average of almost 5 stars based on 18 reviews on Amazon.com, so if the subject matter interests you, it is probably a safe bet.  It might very well be a wonderful book and interesting reading for the right audience, but not this game warden.  It is available in Kindle format for $20.88, and paperback or hardcover for under $20.

Finally, I was sent a copy of Seldom Was Heard an Encouraging Word – A History of Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement (ISBN 978-1478273271), written by Dennis McLane and published in 2012.  I have to admit that I misread the original email and thought this was a book about the US Refuge System law enforcement program.  When the book arrived, I knew it was not appropriate for this column.  There is very little about wildlife or fisheries enforcement in this book, but it is about forest and land resource law enforcement and may have some appeal to my readers.  It appears to be a well researched book and is quite lengthy, topping out at well over 500 pages.  It covers the very early days of the Special Agents of the General Land Office and the Forest Reserve Rangers, through a discussion of legislation, investigations and politics.  It then goes on to discuss the establishment of the Bureau of Land Management in the 1940s and the BLM Rangers in the late 1970’s.  There is some very interesting history in this book, despite it not being game warden oriented.  However, a book such as this always benefits from the inclusion of some historical photographs, and unfortunately there are none in this work.  This softcover book is available from Amazon for $27.

By complete coincidence the two books I am reviewing in this issue are both out of Florida.  The first was one that had slipped through the cracks and was missed when it was released, and the second was recommended to me by a regular reader and author who I have reviewed in this column.  Although both books are non-fiction, they are vastly different in how their subject matter is tackled.

The first book is a self-published softcover titled Working on the Wild Side (ISBN 978-0986013508) by former Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Jeff Gager.  It was published in July of 2012.  There was a half page advertisement for it in the Summer and Fall 2012 issues of this magazine, but I was not provided with a copy of it at that time, so did not provide a companion review.  It actually appeared again on my radar this past spring when I was doing some internet research, so I contacted Gager and offered to do a review.

I need to come up with a simple name to describe this style of book that I run across quite frequently.  It isn’t really a memoir, because it isn’t a chronological account of the author’s career, and the authors generally do not try and provoke deep thoughts on social or environmental issues.  These books are generally short, not only in length, but on details about investigations as well.  The point of these books it to show the human side of wildlife officers, some of the humorous or ordinary events that they encounter, and to promote our profession in a way that is entertaining and relatable to the general public.  As a result the books end up having a broader appeal, but at the same time less appeal to actual working officers.  I say this because we officers have all been involved in unique, scary, humorous, strange and complex cases and events.  Change the species, the location and a couple other details and many of the stories in these books are quite similar to events we have experienced ourselves.   While the general public will certainly find the stories fresh and entertaining, because most of them do not really know what it is we do on a day to day basis, those of us who experience similar trials and tribulations regularly may find the material a bit run-of –the-mill.

That is the predicament I experience with this column.  Our magazine is not generally distributed to the non-professionals.  It is a “trade publication,” so when I review a book, I am looking at how other game wardens will perceive it, not how the general public will see it.  Consequently, in the field of book reviews, mine are unique, as this is the only publication that targets our profession.  If twenty-four civilian readers and one game warden read the same book, the game warden will likely be the only one who wants the book to be something just a little more provocative or informative.

That’s basically where I sit with Working on the Wild Side.  It is 152 pages long and contains 59 different stories, which means that they are each quite short and straight to the point.  That being the case, there aren’t really any stories detailing lengthy or complex investigations to really get the old game warden mind working and maybe learning a new trick or two.  But that’s because the book is not geared toward us – it’s geared toward civilians, so that they can see that Officer Gager and most of his fellow officers are regular guys with a pretty interesting and entertaining job.

Don’t get me wrong, Working on the Wild Side is well written and easy to read.  Officer Gager accomplishes what he sets out to do in providing a look inside the day to day work and antics of a Marine Patrol/Fish and Wildlife Officer.   Some of the stories are down-right hilarious, particularly those about decoy deer operations, and the final chapter illustrates how Gager viewed his role as being more than just a ticket writer.

 Working on the Wild Side is the kind of book that anyone, of any age, with even a passing interest in our profession, can pick up and find very enjoyable.  With the short length of the stories, it’s the type of book that can sit beside your chair, or (I almost hate to say) in your bathroom, and when you have a few spare moments you can zip through a couple of stories and have a chuckle.

I think the general public, not just in Florida but anywhere folks have an interest in wildlife resource protection and enforcement will truly get a kick out of this book.  It’s the kind of book that a game warden might want to pick up and give as a gift to friends  he or she thinks might want to know a little bit more about the human, and slightly wacky, side of our chosen career.  The cover price of this softcover book is only $14.95, so it’s certainly affordable to do so.  It is available from a variety of online booksellers, including Jeff’s website at http://www.gamewardenstories.com/book.html  in both paper and eBook formats. 

Next up is Everglades Patrol (ISBN 978-0813041919) written by Patsy West as told to her by Tom Shirley, and published by the University Press of Florida in 2012.  This book is exactly the type of non-fiction game warden book I find enjoyable, because not only would it appeal to the public, but it is chock-full of historical information and out-of-the-ordinary events.  It is not only the memoirs of Tom Shirley, an Everglades warden whose 30 career (1955-85) spanned a period of great development and change in southern Florida, but also an educational primer on the significance and importance of the Everglades ecosystems.   Shirley grew up on the edge of the Everglades and the book begins during his formative years as his bond with this unique area develops.

As a history buff, I particularly enjoyed reading about a simpler time, before the widespread development of the adjacent cities that have negatively impacted the Everglades.   I found myself immersed in that period, where wardens roamed the ‘Glades in home-built airboats, and wildlife was more abundant than people.  Shirley regales us with numerous detailed and interesting tales of his adventures as his career as a wildlife officer evolves.  As the book progressed I completely empathized with Shirley’s frustrations with Flood Control and Water Management’s ignorance of, and disregard for, the fragile ecology of the Everglades, because I felt like I had been right there with him the whole time. 

At one point in the book the author recounts his adventures with the TV series “Wild Kingdom” and unintentionally corroborates that an event a Canadian newsmagazine show of the 1980s had alleged was fake, was indeed staged.  Shirley is witness to it as he was there helping them put the episode together.  I took a break from reading and located the episode he referred to online and I found it a very fascinating to enjoy this “bonus content.”  The video not only shows Marlon Perkins and his co-host involved in the staged event, but also Tom Shirley and several of his coworkers operating the airboats that he writes about - pretty captivating stuff.  It’s not often that one is able to view video of the subjects of a game warden book, and thus have clear images of what the characters and their surroundings looked like at the time of the events that are chronicled.  Here’s the link to the episode, so you can get a little video preview of the book- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMcWRt0KL88.

Everglades Patrol is very well written and supremely engaging, yet informative at the same time.  To further enhance this excellent book, the publisher has interspersed it with numerous black and white photographs to aid the reader in truly getting the feel of the time period and the locales.    Everglades Patrol is 258 pages and I never got bogged down at any point.  It was an absorbing read from start to finish, and my little distraction to locate the video clip and do a bit of side research, only enhanced my enjoyment of what I consider to be one of the superlative game warden books of the past few years.

A hardcover copy of Everglades Patrol can of course be obtained directly from the publisher’s website at http://upf.com/book.asp?id=SHIRL001 for $29.95.  However, I would be remiss in not mentioning that it can be obtained from the various online booksellers at discounted prices, and in electronic versions for your eReader.  Either way, if you are looking for a truly outstanding game warden memoir I guarantee you will not be disappointed in this one.  The University Press of Florida has another winner on their hands.  However, if I have just one criticism, it is that this book is not part of their Florida History and Culture Series, because it certainly deserves to be.

Finally, I have updated the master list of every book ever reviewed in this magazine since its inception.  The list is separated by reviewer (IGW editor or guest, my predecessor Bob Mullen, and myself).   It is then sorted alphabetically by book title and there are literally hundreds of game warden related books listed.  It is saved in Adobe Acrobat and anyone who wishes to have a copy for reference can download it by going to this web address - http://books.moosecop.net/IGW_Book_Reviews_List.pdf .  Best of all it is FREE!!

Until next time, happy reading and have a safe hunting season. 

GW


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Winter 2014


Our fall hunting seasons are done, and other year has come and gone. I accomplished several things that I wanted to this year, received some recognition, and saw a project I initiated four years ago finally come to fruition. However a lot of other things have gone uncompleted or untouched again. On the creative and artistic side of my life there just never seems to be enough time to do all the research and writing that I want to. Maybe this year will be the one…

I also recently discovered the TV series North Woods Law on Animal Planet and have found this show about the Maine Game Wardens to be quite entertaining. I now have a backlog of episodes on PVR that are also distracting me from all my other obligations.

One other thing before I get to the raison d’être for this column. Apparently my supervisor found out several years ago that I was not always complimentary to my agency, or was poking fun at the occasional coworker in this column. Normally he wouldn’t even read my column, probably because he doesn’t understand the big words. He also has to put up with me and my genius mind at work, and I’m sure the last thing he wants to do is be even more amazed by it in his time off. However, he has now told me he reads this preamble of the column to see if I make any disparaging remarks about him. He’s been rather disappointed because I haven’t yet. So not wanting to let him down, I’ve written this paragraph in his honor. He even suggested to me recently that maybe he will write a book about his exploits as a CO. I’d love to read it and boy would I love to do the review. I do have a few suggestions for a title too, but I have a performance appraisal coming up and although he says he doesn’t hold a grudge, I’m not taking any chances.

So, as seems to be the norm these days, I have three books to give you the lowdown on. The first is the third in a series I’ve been reviewing, and the other two are freshman entries.

Up first is Big River, Big Woods, Big Games (ISBN 978-1482539417) by Joe Schwab. I’m not going to pull any punches here so I’ll cut right to the chase. Of the three books I read in preparation for my column, this is the one I would give the lowest recommendation. Of Joe Schwab’s three books, it was also my least favorite. I reviewed his first book Outlaws on the Big River in 2010 and the sequel Outlaws in the Big Woods the following year. The stories in both those books were bare-bones and straightforward, and I pointed this out, as did some other readers. Schwab listened and the stories in this latest outing tend to be a bit more detailed and embellished.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t find a lot of fault with the majority of the stories. They are well written and entertaining for the most part. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that left me feeling less than satisfied. I did notice in some of the stories I couldn’t quite follow the storyline or determine exactly what the author was trying to say, especially when he was talking about the internal policy or politics of the Oregon State Police Wildlife Division. Perhaps even more detail or background would have helped.

The author has again illustrated the book with a few black and white photographs, which is never a bad thing, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Sure, many of the books I review don’t have any, but I think if you are going to tease us with only a few, that’s just not fair. Give us a bunch, or don’t give us any.

The author also has experimented with poetry in this book, and has strategically placed these “verses” in the book. The jury is still out in this case. I’m not a poetry expert, and despite being “artistic and creative” as I stated earlier, poetry is not my thing. All I will say is that this is Joe Schwab’s book and he’s a great big guy, so if he wants to bust a rhyme that’s his prerogative.

Lately I have refrained from commenting too much on grammatical and typographical errors in the books I am reading. I am not writing a high school book report. However, I did see some editing misses in this book that were a bit frustrating. One in particular appears in the second to last chapter called the Great Gillnet War, which is actually about the author’s post-retirement involvement with trying to prohibit gillnetting on the Columbia River. He reprints a letter to the Fish Commissions of Washington and Oregon, however almost a page and a half is taken up with a portion of the letter being repeated verbatim.

One part of the book resonated loud and clear with me. In Chapter X, titled The Feather, the author states that the “career Wildlife Officer appears to be a thing of the past…The driven individuals see the position as no more than a stepping stone to something higher. I had occasion to supervise several officers …who readily admitted that they considered Wildlife Enforcement to be nothing more than “just a job”. They performed adequately and moved on.” I have heard the same thing in my own agency recently and it does not sit well with me, or most of the other “veteran” officers who sacrificed so much for the resources. I certainly tip my hat to Officer Schwab for his years of dedicated service, above and beyond the call of duty. If one thing is certain, and clear from all his books, he did not consider being a game warden a job – it was a calling.

Big River, Big Woods, Big Games is a 175 page softcover with a list price is $15.95. It can be ordered through Amazon, and Barnes and Noble for under $13. Unfortunately, it is cost prohibitive for Joe to ship individual books so he’s decided not to go that route. However he’s supplied a dozen outlets along the Columbia River and in Portland with copies, so if you are planning to be in that area, you can contact Joe at jrschwab1@msn.com for information on where to find a book.

 

Rob Dougherty worked as a Tennessee game warden for 24 years, and now gives us The Real Game Warden (ISBN 978-0982978313) a collection of stories from his tenure in that state. The book is self-published by Rob in association with Wildlife Publishing LLC of Auburn, Kentucky. The book was actually released in December 2012 but I was not aware of it until the author sent me a copy this past fall and I’m sure glad he did. I am really excited to tell you about this book.

Rob has opted to tell his stories from a couple of different perspectives than most of the non-fiction game warden books I’ve read. First, the majority of the stories are told in the third person, with Rob and his buddies acting as characters in the story. What the author also does is tells the story from the perspective of the poacher. So not only do we know what Rob and crew are thinking and doing, but also what’s motivating the bad guys. Rob tells the stories in a relaxed and very amusing style and it makes for some really fun reading.

Only three stories are told in the first person. One is not work related and involves Rob regaling us with a tale of a turkey hunt gone a bit wrong. Rob certainly felt there was some personal danger to himself during this hunt, so I thought that perhaps he reverts to this more personal style when the stories are more serious in nature. This belief holds true with the final chapter of the book as well, which involves a night operation and a situation that could have gone very bad. However, the remaining first person story is simply a short little tale about a tag violation. I guess because there was no really nefarious back-story, the third person style would not have worked well. However, I would have been tempted to give it a try to keep the style of the book consistent.

That’s about all I could find to criticize in this quite exceptional book. The author’s sharp wit, dedication and ability to see the entertainment value in each situation makes for a really enjoyable read. In the cover letter that Rob sent with the book he states that his stories are no better than anyone else’s. Perhaps he meant that the content of the stories is just standard game warden fare, but I’m here to tell you that the way the story is told is often more important than the story itself. Rob is a very talented and skilled story teller. This does make his stories better than many others, because they are easy to read, humorous, intelligent and real. Not every story has a successful outcome, but that’s the reality of being a game warden. The stories are not boastful, and they are anything but mundane or run of the mill. From this reviewer’s perspective, The Real Game Warden is the Real Deal.

There are a couple of minor references that I really got a kick out of as well, so I thought I should mention them. In one story Rob relates his situation to one that only popular fictional game warden Joe Pickett would get himself into. In another story he tells us about settling in to wait for a turtle poacher and reading an entire issue of International Game Warden magazine. I love these references, as again they depict Rob as a real person who reads game warden books and this magazine.

The cover price for The Real Game Warden is $15.99 and that’s a steal. I don’t have any specific ordering information from Rob, but he can be reached by phone at (731) 442-0885 and by email at yourgamewarden@gmail.com if you are looking to get a signed copy of this really terrific 187 page book. It does not appear that the book is available through the big box and online booksellers.

Retired Washington Fish & Wildlife detective Todd Vandivert has published a book recounting the trials and tribulations of one of the first major undercover wildlife investigations in Washington State. Operation Cody (ISBN 978-1484148372) was published by Todd in September 2013, and is his first book.

When Todd joined the Statewide Investigation Unit (SIU) in 2005, it had a reputation for only working high-value commercial geoduck cases. The administrators of this unit were all “fish cops” from the former Department of Fisheries (DOF), which had merged with the Department of Wildlife (DOW) in 1994, to create the present Department of Fish and Wildlife. The two former agencies had very different philosophies – the DOF dealt primarily with commercial marine species and referred to their wards as “product”, while the DOW valued their animals by their natural and recreational value.

When Todd approached his bosses in 2010 with a proposal to conduct a large scale wildlife undercover operation, with the goal of apprehending violators who were commercializing wildlife, he was told to focus on shellfish, geoduck, crabs and prawns instead. Todd argued his case and by agreeing to include sturgeon, he was granted approval in principal, but the plan still had to be approved by the Deputy Chief. The Deputy Chief shot the plan down because it did not involve shellfish. Vandivert then went over his head and got approval from the Chief of the agency. Not exactly how you would endear yourself to your boss, but certainly how you can get the ball rolling.

What follows next is the chronological development and operation of the investigation. Todd has obviously made good use of his case notes to set the basic framework of the story, and occasionally the story reads like a case report. However, he balances what could have become a very technical account of the case with what was going on behind the scenes within the SIU. His first supervisor was ineffective, the Deputy Chief was vengeful, self obsessed and ignorant to the needs of the investigation, and some of his team (on the occasions when he actually had a team) often dropped the ball, not necessarily because they were incompetent, but because they were not being supported by the administration.

I ran the gamut of emotions reading this book. I felt elation for the hard work and dedication of Todd and his partner and anger towards the multitude of poachers abusing Washington’s wildlife resources. I felt loathing towards the Deputy Chief who not only stymied the operation whenever he could, but also used the statewide takedown to glorify himself in the media, despite being cautioned that it could affect the arrest of suspects.

Todd has done a wonderful job of telling his story, because that’s what this is. He came up with the original concept for the investigation, and despite all the obstacles and roadblocks thrown up in his way, he persevered and brought it to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately the frustration of battling his own administration in order to get the job done took its toll on Todd, and he had already made up his mind to retire from the job he loved before the operation was even concluded. It’s truly unfortunate when the people who should be supporting the officers in the field forget that we are on the same team and are only interested in their own selfish agenda.

Fortunately for us, retirement allowed Todd the opportunity and the freedom to tell the story, something he would not have been able to do with so much candor if he was still employed by the department.

Operation Cody is a 6” x 9” trade paperback and is 358 pages long. It is available on Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. or directly from the author. Todd will sell you a signed copy for $15.50 (with free shipping in the US) from his website: www.operationcody.com. Outside the US he recommends the Amazon route. There is also a Kindle option available for $7.89 US.

BONUS - UNPUBLISHED REVIEW:

Retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer Murray Bates has released a compilation of his three fine Game Warden books, with some new material added. I originally reviewed those three books in my Spring 2007 column in International Game Warden magazine. This new book clearly retains the formats of the three original books, so for the sake of simplicity that’s how they are referred to in this article.

Murray’s first book, written in 2002 is titled Game Warden – the Career of an Alberta Game Warden 1974-1999 and is for the most part a collection of game warden tales and memorable events from his career, much like many other warden autobiographies, although this book is entirely about the law enforcement side of the occupation. Over the course of 205 pages Bates discusses 18 cases in explicit detail. I noticed very early that there are a lot of references to legal procedures and usage of technical terms that are not found in most books intended for the general public. This could make the book somewhat unappealing to the lay-person who just wants action, although it provides some great insight into the profession. Murray was also a guest lecturer and instructor in resource law enforcement at Lethbridge College and it becomes apparent that he hopes this book will become required reading for the students. Murray finishes this book off with a brief explanation of his final case, some history of the near demise of the Fish and Wildlife Division in Alberta, and of his early retirement for medical reasons. It is a very well written book.

Murray Bates threw us another curve in his 129 page follow up from 2003 entitled Game Warden II – Cases from the files of an Alberta Game Warden 1974-1999. It is clear that Murray is not just telling stories for entertainment. He is on a mission to delve a bit deeper into the psyches of the poachers and to discuss the finer details of his investigations. Murray begins the book by providing some background on his classification system for violators and then discusses four cases that illustrate these categories. That portion of the book, although informative and entertaining by virtue of the bad guys getting caught, is clearly designed to act as a sort of training manual. The final chapter is a departure from this technical training as Murray discusses the changes to the Fish and Wildlife Division in greater detail than his first book. He explains how those changes resulted in his demotion and the cover-up of a poaching incident Murray was attempting to investigate involving his replacement (who had come from Alberta Parks). It’s very clear that Murray was dedicated to his profession and made catching poachers his number one priority. Although he is clearly bitter about his own treatment, he is also bitter about the near demise of an agency that he was so proud to be a part of and the near erasure of the identity of the “Game Warden” in Alberta.

As we know, the Fish and Wildlife Officer title was reestablished in 2001 within the Department of Sustainable Resource Development, a move that closed some large wounds in Alberta. However it was too late to repair the damage done to the author’s reputation, his pension and his health. As of November 2012 both Fish and Wildlife Officers, and Conservation Officers (formerly park rangers) are within the Public Security Division of the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, but they are in separate branches. Bates feels that this recognition of the true law enforcement role will prove beneficial in the long run.

The third installment in the book was originally published in 2004 as Game Warden III - the Profile of a Poacher. This is another unique book because Murray tells about a number of cases that were never solved – how often do we see that? He takes several different cases, involving several different violators and informants, and strings them together as if they all involved the same individuals. In this way he gives the reader some understanding into the mindset of a hard-core poacher. The book illustrates the importance of confidential informants and reveals how much will go undetected in an officer’s patrol area if he doesn’t utilize them. It is made quite obvious that general “deterrence” patrols will most times barely scratch the surface of what is truly taking place. My only real criticism of this book is that it was too short – only 90 pages.

These are really good, well written, thought provoking books. They are full of insight and information. By putting them all together in one volume the author has made it cost effective for both him and the reader. It also makes it a simple process to add them to your collection or reference library. If you have an interest in the work of Alberta’s Fish & Wildlife Officers, and want to know more about how they get the job done, then this book is a must have.

Game Warden IV is available directly from Murray Bates for $32 plus $10 for shipping and handling unless you are a serving or retired conservation officer which will earn you a $5 discount. Murray can be contacted by email at pcwilb@xplornet.ca, by phone at (403) 638-8066 or by mail at Murray E. Bates Publishing, RR 2, Sundre Alberta T0M 1X0.

Until next time, happy reading and enjoy some well deserved downtime if you can.

GW


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