There are also natural dangers, but nowadays they are less of a problem. Wardens generally work now in pairs, and automobiles, planes, airboats and walkie-talkies have put today's warden somewhat up on his predecessor in snow-shoes. Still, the warden's most effective enforcement weapons are his own knowledge of the territory and habitual violators, plus the willingness to follow up every lead he gets, regardless of the hour. As Mazza, in New York, observed, "You never know, if you go back to bed, that it wasn't the clue you needed."
This conscientiousness is abused in a number of ways. A warden in Louisiana is called out time after time by tips on "violators" in certain areas, only to find that the telephoners are merely making sure that their own favorite hunting grounds arc minutely patrolled; no violators will be within miles. And violators themselves are apt to call in and send a warden on a search miles from where they intend to poach. But the good warden is not often duped. Harry Chase, a Vermont warden, wrote in 1910: "The poachers may watch [the warden], but owing to his familiarity with the country and his acquaintance with the offenders there are hundreds of ways in which he can outwit them. May he not let it be known that he is going to such and such a place, and then in a circuitous manner return to his old territory?...Can he not go out under cover of darkness and return in the same manner? Can he not lay a few traps for the poachers as well as they can? Can he not guard a certain territory so faithfully that even though he does not apprehend a poacher, yet he will prevent the commission of their crimes?" Well, he can, but it is tiring.
Game wardens do take time off, but it is hard to tell where the work stops and the fun begins. Mazza is fond of sneaking up to the Museum of Natural History to study feathers. "I'll get something that sort of stumps me, a little breast feather that's old and tarnished. You compare it with bodies. You go up to the Museum of Natural History; they've got a lot of bodies up there, and you can nail it down. It's a great satisfaction." Laurel Van Camp, of Genoa, Ohio has banded and studied more than 35,000 birds in his time off; in Texas one warden has been carrying on a carcass-temperature study to help wardens determine how long a deer has been dead. A former Pennsylvania warden raised angelfish, sold them all over the country, and kept a boa constrictor in his cellar. Several men in Wyoming are engaged in a wildlife hair and fur study. And in Louisiana, Dewey Farrar takes people out to look at deer. "You have people who never saw a deer, and you like to take them out and show them. I'm around fish, looking at them all the time during fishing season, and the same with deer during hunting season. I don't care any more about killing game. You get to where you like it so well you wouldn't want to kill it."
Until the middle of the 19th century all criminal law in this country, including what game laws there were, was enforced by sheriffs, constables and the police. By about the 1860s, game laws in many states had become more stringent, too complex to be handled by the local constabulary, and enforcement was put into the hands of special officials, generally called game wardens. The game warden in 1962 is often called a conservation officer, a wildlife protector, a wildlife manager—partly in recognition of the wider and subtler scope of his duties and partly, it has been explained, because the term "warden" carries with it some old and not reputable aura from the days when the job was a patronage handout and each new administration sent in a whole new team. In point of fact, no really disreputable aura ever firmly attached itself to wardens as a group, simply because the character of the men who have wanted this job has been too consistently and unassailably excellent. But then, as now, such men were hard to find.
In 1906 Fish and Game Commissioner John Woodard of Colorado observed in his annual report to the governor, "Good game wardens are hard to secure, as not everyone will make a good game warden, and politics should be left out of that part of the business. Generally, when you get a good game warden, he does not suit the politicians in his part of the state, and the Commissioner is asked to put in some man under pay as game warden in order to pay some political department. This is always detrimental to the protection of the game and fish of the state."
John Woodard didn't do it. The devotion of the fish-and-game protectors to protecting the fish and game has always been single-minded and complete, and utterly specific and literal. These annual reports by commissioners to the governors of their states always have arrived filled with detailed word on the number of every species offish and game, their well-being and what was being done to promote it; they contained dissertations on the beauty and usefulness of the fox squirrel and the pheasant and whether they had enough to eat; accounts of drainage systems put in with pipes of a new diameter; directions for the artificial raising of gamefish down to instructions (for the governor, seemingly) about stirring pans of fertilized eggs with a feather.
One wonders what the governors thought of them: lengthy, earnest, filled with detail and philosophy, breathing more passion than probably all the love letters mailed to the young ladies of the state in the same year. Did the governor of Georgia nod agreement when he read, "No more interesting question will come before the legislature than the subject of proper legislation for the oysters of this state"? Was the governor of Wyoming attentive through the report of his commissioner, W. H. Seebohm, which read, in part (and very small part): "Upon a recent visit to Jackson I bought 482 tons of hay ranging in price from $6 a ton to $8 a ton, to be fed to elk...this makes a total of 607 tons which will be available in case of emergency during the coming winter months. As stated above, the Biological Survey Department has purchased hay every year for the past three years, for the feeding of elk, but owing to a deal now pending between that department and Robt. E. Miller, for Mr. Miller's ranch, located near Jackson, which the department desires to purchase for a game refuge, no hay has been purchased by it for the feeding of elk during the coming winter and, therefore, I thought it advisable to purchase the hay while available, owing to the fact that the coming winter may be severe and require the feeding of elk." Seebohm also told the governor more than the governor could conceivably have wanted to know about moving the Wyoming elk around on sleighs—and it might compare with what John B. Lubbock of Texas confided to his governor about shipping carp around in barrels.
Every warden in history, of course, has not turned out true blue. The commission reports reveal a few incompetents, and there must be other non-Rover Boys like the Maryland warden who was convicted in 1959 and fined for shooting over a baited field. But as a New York warden has pointed out, slackness in a man, let alone dishonesty, shows up fast. "You can pinpoint an area where he doesn't do his job. Complaints pour into the main office in Albany. But a man doesn't do a bad job if he's interested, and you aren't in this if you're not interested."
The old fish-and-game protectors, like their modern counterparts, were not in business for the money. Americans are proud of their geographical inheritance. They go hunting and fishing and return to the cities restored and grateful. They take trips into their geographical inheritance, and sit down on it periodically. An American may look at the Grand Canyon, and tears come to his eyes—but this is an infatuation. The game warden loves the land to the extent of working for it those 12 hours a day. Go to Pennsylvania and watch him counting night crawlers in a bucket.