SI Vault
Edited by Ed Zern and Tom Lineaweaver
April 30, 1956
A government undercover agent in the wealthy Houston area risks his life to gather evidence on the illegal slaughter and sale of more than 200,000 wildfowl
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April 30, 1956

The Outdoor Week

A government undercover agent in the wealthy Houston area risks his life to gather evidence on the illegal slaughter and sale of more than 200,000 wildfowl

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Stefano systematically continued to work his way into the confidence of Berwick and other hunters. Like Berwick, they hunted for the most part at night, concentrating on localities where ducks and geese rested or fed. Some gunners baited and shot from blinds. Others would stalk the birds and fire point-blank into grounded flocks. All used illegal "Long Toms," shotguns fitted with special magazines that could hold a dozen or more shells. None of the men were much concerned about game wardens. "Never mind the wardens," Stefano was told, "we know what they're doing every minute. We keep a tail on them whenever we are working."

Stefano slowly built his case. He bought ducks from as many hunters as he could, carefully tagged them and stowed them in a freezer. On a New Year's Eve at the Top Hat he was offered the best duck dinner in the house, gratefully ate it and then slipped the bones in his pocket to add one more item to a growing body of evidence.

One night at the Top Hat, according to Stefano, he was challenged to prove his bogus profession. Boortz dropped by his table and flashed a diamond ring. "What about it?" he asked. "You're supposed to be an expert."

Stefano pulled out his "loop," the traditional jeweler's eyepiece, and studied the ring for a long five minutes.

"I told him the stone was one carat and 32 points," Stefano reports, "but that it probably wasn't too valuable because it had a tiny fissure and a carbon deposit on it. Boortz just laughed and told me I was right, that he'd been told the same thing by another jeweler."

With his case almost complete, Stefano was confronted a fortnight ago by Constable Franks who accused him of being an FBI agent, and reported rumors that a mass raid was in the making. Stefano stoutly denied everything, was backed up by Boortz and survived unscathed. Still, there had been a leak, and it is a testament to Stefano's courage that he made one more buy. Unarmed as usual, he met his contact in a deserted field near Liberty, paid for the ducks and walked away. This hunter, when arrested, had a revolver in his pocket and, it developed, had once beaten a man almost to death.

No one, least of all Supervisor Merovka, was naive enough to believe that the arrest of the 53 hunters and accused buyers would permanently solve the market hunting problem in Texas. Sportsmen, however, could concur with Merovka's restrainedly triumphant post-arraignment comment: "Too many people find this an easy way to make a fast buck. This may help take the dollar signs off geese and ducks...."


It started a year ago when Mrs. Joyce Wood, 46-year-old wife of a Salem, Ore. dentist, decided to go fishing and couldn't locate any worms. Piqued, she ordered 20 fine breeding worms from California and started to ranch her own.

At last count Mrs. Wood's worm herd numbered 18,362 and she is firmly in the business of selling them. "Everything I can find to put them in is full of worms," she remarked recently. "My husband, who doesn't know much about them, pretends they're not around."

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