What do deputies do? "Don't let my wife find out about this or she'll kill me," is what Tom Shippey, a deputy Wildlife Officer under Bedford County WCO Tim Flanigan, says game law violators most often say as soon as they are apprehended. More than having firearms confiscated, hunting licenses revoked or hefty fines for hunting violations, these outdoor lowlifes are worried about what their wives will say. That astounds me.
Deputy Steve Reed, a deputy in Blair County for many years,was honored by the Pennsylvania Game commission recently as "Deputy of the Year." The deputies of the Pennsylvania Game Commission are the most unheralded yet most important facets of wildlife law enforcement.
To hear some folks talk about it, Deputy WCOs simply ride around in a Game Commission vehicle, hoping to nab people along a road for some loophole or minor violation. Actually, the hunting public and certainly, the general public, have very little idea just what all a deputy does.
It is often a dangerous job. As you can imagine, poachers and other law violators are not happy to have deputies show up. It's common to be shot at, have dogs sicced on them or have someone try to run them down.
Some report having windows shot out of trucks, mailboxes at home blown up and other forms of mayhem. All for little or no pay, little recognition and because of the nature of the job, precious little personal hunting time.
Then, of course, deputies pick up road killed deer, cut them open to examine embryos (ugh!), night patrols for poachers and jacklighters, which adds up to countless hours of boring night watches in all kinds of weather, checking trap lines, investigating violations, climbing into culverts to loose beaver dams and spending countless boring and frustrating hours in court testifying.
Deputies present countless programs to all kinds of groups, answer thousands of phone calls, file scores of reports, keep qualified at the pistol firing range, uniforms pressed, boots polished, run surveys. I remember some deputies telling me how they had to milk cows one time to help another deputy be free for some pressing duty. There's hours on end at bait sites when trying to trap and transfer wild turkeys.
I once attended a deputy training session and was appalled to hear of the various innocent looking items that can be and have been turned into weapons used to injure deputies.
Rat-tail combs that have a razor sharp steel shaft for the "tail," an ordinary looking cigarette lighter that is actually a small pistol, a dagger that has been converted into be concealed in the gas tank of a motorcycle, a knife disguised as a ball-point pen, a tube of lipstick converted into a knife, a homemade hand grenade made from a 12-gauge shotgun shell; a keyholder that looks ordinary but when inserted over the knuckles just so has two projections sticking out like sharp claws, an altered luggage key that fits standard handcuffs and a pocketknife that is altered to shoot a .22 caliber bullet. Whew!
One of a deputies' pet peeves are those folks who build a new home in the country, smack in the middle of wildlife habitat and then expect that the wildlife is just going to leave. They actually act as if the wildlife is the intruder. But bears, raccoons, skunks etc. just help themselves to the contents of bird feeders, garbage cans, and dog dishes and call the Game Commission every time a critter walks through their yard.
Trapping and relocating nuisance black bears takes up a big chunk of any deputies times and effort. Not to mention the ongoing research on bears which entails going to a bear's den in the middle of winter and tranquilizing the bear, pulling it outside for weighing and measuring, pulling a tooth and taking a blood sample for analyzing, putting on a new radio collar if needed, banding and examining the cubs. Hours worth of work on days when we are at home hovering by the fireplace.
One deputy told me the tale of having to build a shelter of hay bales piled on one another where he lay concealed waiting for turkeys to come to the bait so he could fire the rocket net over them.
It was a warm days and pretty soon insects were crawling all over him and the hay blending with his own perspiration made him itch all over his body. When the turkeys finally got almost within range, the hay bales collapsed on top of him spooking the turkeys and just making a mess of everything. I know another deputy whose vehicle got mired in the mud while he was out rearranging a beaver dam.
This will give you a general idea of the "glamour" attached to being a wildlife deputy. These are a dedicated lot of men and women not cut from common cloth. They do a bunch of dirty details that the hunting public seldom hears about. 100 years of deputy service was celebrated in 2003. Here's to 100 more!