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The idea has been nourished by fiction writers for years that when a man goes back to the wilds, back to nature's bosom, as it were, he soon sheds his selfish and conniving ways. There was, for example, nothing greedy or cheap about Robinson Crusoe, nor a mean streak in the whole Swiss Family Robinson. Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, was suckled by a she-ape and ofttimes seized by such a temper that a scar on his forehead lit up like a traffic blinker, but for all that, Tarzan was a law abider, who never bit through a jugular vein without good cause. The woods of fiction are full of good examples, but if the worst offenders in the real woods today had even Tarzan's raw sense of ethics, fish and game wardens everywhere would give a cheer.
The woods are, like Sunday school and pool halls, open to all, and any warden knows he can expect all sorts. But at times lately New Jersey's 34 badgered wardens feel their woods are visited by an unseemly share of the deadbeats and connivers. Though a small state, Jersey has a good variety of fish and game, and, like any state, needs a welter of laws to protect wildlife (you cannot, for example, keep a deer captive in Jersey, and you cannot turn a coyote loose, and it's $25 fine for eating a terrapin egg). However well they are put in mind of these laws, Jersey sadly finds, some hunters and fishermen never lose the old city urge to pull a fast one.
For proof of this urge, one need only look at Jersey's efforts to protect the least of its wildlife wards, the common blue crab. The state forbids taking crabs measuring less than four inches across the shell. Crabbing is not a spectacular sport. Once caught, however, a blue crab shows its spirit, and laying one out for measurement is quite sporty for a beginner. The novice crabber takes the crab firmly with one hand. The crab takes the novice firmly with one claw. And so it goes. After being clawed by a dozen, a man gathers a certain disdain for the law. Crabbers tore down the state's signs, feigned ignorance and generally horse-laughed at the blue-crab law. In August, 1951, the state struck back with a sudden three-week offensive now best remembered for one Sunday when the blue crabs invaded the public offices of Swedesboro. As Warden Jack Graham relates: "We stopped 150 crabbers in the heavy afternoon traffic. We'd lead four cars at a time back to Swedesboro, had 58 violators crammed in jail there at one point. What a mess."
"It was some day," recalls Protector Alfred Jones, head of the south Jersey wardens. "As they drove up, some crabbers caught on to what we were after. They were heaving crabs out the car windows, all over the turnpike. We had to chase the crabs. And back in the Swedesboro town hall, everybody was raising a honk. We'd bring in another violator and the crabbers already in jail would start singing 'If we'd known you were coming we'd have baked a cake.' Judge Conrad Kidd was hammering with a gavel and yelling for quiet. We had the evidence, 50 dozen crabs, in baskets in the council room. We charged every man with only one crab, but if he raised a row, we'd hit him with two, or maybe five, crabs at $20 apiece. The crabs got out of the baskets—crabs crawling all over the floor, under desks and bookcases. The police chief says, 'Do not bring any more crab cases to Swedesboro.' "
"The janitor swore a crab was following him everywhere," Warden Graham remembers. "A week later they still found dead crabs under things. Oh, we had a time, but we made gentlemen out of some crabbers."
Few game violators are as easily trapped as the blue crabbers. For one thing, it's a problem to separate the willful flouters of the law from the ignorant, with whom Jersey believes in being lenient. Hunters have mistakenly taken home billy goats for deer, barnyard ducks for wild ducks, and swans for geese.
DEAD BUZZARDS AND CHOW DOGS
"In Somerville one season," recalls District Protector William Coffin of north Jersey, "this Italian fellow is beaming—I can tell he's from the city. 'Oh, warden,' he says, 'I gotta me a nice turkey.' We open his car trunk. I don't have to see it, I can smell it. There's a dead redheaded buzzard. Now, what should I do to him? I figure he'll learn his best lesson at home, so I say 'Yes, Tony Pasquale, you got a nice turkey.' "
"Admit it," Mrs. William Coffin interrupts her husband. "There's a horrid streak in you. You got a big laugh thinking how a cooking buzzard would smell up his kitchen."
After suggesting to his wife that she go home to mother, Coffin continues, "That same road check, three or four men pull up—obviously from the city. They have a mixed bag in the trunk: a couple of pheasant, rabbits and a red chow dog. 'Shot a fox,' one of them says, 'and I'm gonna have it stuffed.' I let him go—he got his lesson when he took that dead dog to the taxidermist."