SI Vault
Coles Phinizy
December 27, 1954
Between game wardens and the citizen impatient of the game laws there goes on a never-ending struggle of ingenuities
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December 27, 1954

Peekaboo War In The Woods

Between game wardens and the citizen impatient of the game laws there goes on a never-ending struggle of ingenuities

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Not one to let the north Jersey district outdo his south Jersey district even on a point of ignorance, at the mention of chow dogs Protector Alfred Jones speaks up. "Dumb hunters? Listen. By the Delaware Bridge we caught a man with two roosters—pheasants, he thought—and a chow dog."

The willful violators, Jersey wardens find, have a tremendous imagination both for alibiing and for scheming up ways to beat the law. Some caught without licenses claim they are half Indian and not bound by white men's hunting laws. Find a man hunting at night ($20 fine) with a flashlight ($20) for deer out of season ($100)—well, he's looking for a dog. Find illegal shot in a hunter's jacket, he'll blame his wife for not emptying the pockets. "I tell you," comments Atlantic County Warden Joe Gallo, "I don't think some of these guys have all their marbles." Warden Gallo arrested a Hammonton man in 1950 for illegal killing and possession of deer. It cost him $300 and license privileges for two years. The next year Gallo caught the same man hunting deer with an illegally purchased license—another $100 fine. "Then February a year ago," relates Gallo, "again I find the fellow. This time he's up in a tree with a gun. He's hunting deer out of season, he has sweet potatoes piled around the tree to bait deer and he tells me he's up there checking forest fires."

Wardens have found ducks hidden in automobile seat cushions, hen pheasants stuffed in spare tires, and illegal buckshot in hub caps. One hunter beheaded a doe and carried a buck's head in the car trunk, hoping that the illegal doe carcass, by inference, would pass as a buck. Another hunter bolted antlers on a doe. He just might have got away with it, had he not foolishly put one antler on backwards.


It is a two-way peekaboo war—the warden trying to watch the suspected violators and the violators spying on the warden. "It gets so you live in a goldfish bowl," complains Sussex County Warden Hudson Amory. "They look in the garage to see if your car is there. They phone to ask if the warden is home or where he is, and the word gets around at the local tavern." Someone sprinkled tacks on the Amory driveway. He had 17 flat tires and his milkman had ten. Against "jackers," the violators who hunt with lights at night, Amory finds a warden never knows how his luck will break. At home one night watching television in his undershorts, Amory heard a shot, grabbed his pants and his gun, took a header over a bicycle on the lawn, and caught two deer jackers in his own driveway. In contrast, in one remote field Amory has watched 15 nights in the past month, his car camouflaged by a discarded grass carpet from a funeral parlor. He has seen 14 deer jackers' cars flash spotlights over the area, chased two cars 40 miles an hour without lights on a rutty mountain road and caught no one. He would have had a sure pinch one night, but the deer jacker's buckshot crashed into an apple tree, flushing two lovers parked below. The deer jacker went one way, the lovers the other, and Amory chased the wrong car.

While there would appear to be considerable genius, of an odd sort, among the connivers, Jersey's records indicate they are no special class of men. "I have caught lawyers, doctors, policemen, butchers, and bakers," recites Protector Coffin. One north Jersey clergyman has been caught three times in four years: 1) for fishing while leaning against a no-fishing sign, 2) for hiding illegal buckshot in his pants knee and 3) for hunting rabbits out of season. "Some you catch," adds Coffin, "think who they are is important. They pull out the wallet and flash lodge cards, membership in benevolent societies, silver badges and a lot of garbage. There are no kingfish in the ancient order of the woods." This prompts Coffin to point out that while willful violators are a scant percent of all the hunters and fishermen (but for all their minority killed as many deer as the honest hunters last year), you can never tell an honest woodsman by the way he bleats about the great sport of the woods. Last January the heads and hoofs of three deer were found beside a road wrapped in newspaper. The violator, from a small town in north Jersey, was easily caught by a mailing address on the newspaper. The number of deer made it fairly obvious that the hunter had accomplices, but he claimed he could not reveal their names. The accused took the total fine of $600 for illegal possession and butchering, though the wardens found only one small venison cut in his house. "The judge tried to reason with him," Protector Coffin recalls, "but he would not say anything. Shortly after we caught him he was reinstalled as recording secretary of his rod and gun club—at a venison dinner."

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