On March 15, Dr. George Dugal passed away at his home in Lafayette. He was 84, a retired dentist, a good husband, father, grandfather and so much more.
He was a hunter and outdoorsman of the highest order and a true sportsman.
In 1984, reward programs for anonymous tips leading to the apprehension of fish and wildlife offenders were getting off the ground in a number of states, including Louisiana.
“Dr. George” was one of the earliest members of Louisiana’s Operation Game Thief. He was a strong and enthusiastic supporter of OGT, and served as president in 1994-95.
While serving as OGT coordinator for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, I met Dr. George and we became good friends.
He was determined to see the reward program succeed and worked hard in the endeavor. Initially, the job was fundraising, and Dr. George sold raffle tickets, solicited donations and did whatever he could to raise funds.
But his most-valuable contribution to OGT and wildlife conservation in general came from his own inspiration.
When violators were caught as a result of an OGT tip, details of the case were reported to Dr. George and the other board members. The board would consider the value of the information provided by the person reporting the crime and determine the cash amount to be awarded.
But Dr. George’s interest in the case went a little deeper. He wanted to know the disposition of the case. Was the violator found guilty? Was he given a stiff penalty? Were hunting and fishing privileges revoked? Did the offender pay restitution for illegally taken wildlife?
Unfortunately, in some cases the answers to those questions were disappointing, and on occasion violators were getting off with little or no penalties.
Dr. George began writing letters to the district attorneys and judges thanking them for vigorous prosecution.
Before long he had a very effective system underway. He monitored news releases from LDWF; when a news release publicized a good penalty he would send letters of appreciation.
The news release/letter-writing system was very successful. The district attorneys and judges were pleased at being commended for doing a good job in wildlife cases. They also liked the favorable press and took more interest in wildlife cases.
Other judges and DA’s came onboard.
True to form, Dr. George did not sit around waiting for a good news release. He did not hesitate to call and inquire as to when he would see another one, and jokingly admonish me about getting lazy.
Not a chance with Dr. George watching.
The Louisiana Wildlife Federation recognized his efforts in 2012, naming him as Conservationist of the Year.
In addition to being a big supporter of conservation law enforcement, Dr. George worked hard at improving wildlife habitat. One of his most-enjoyable hobbies was building and maintaining wood duck nesting boxes. Several are visible from the back porch where he and his wife Betty spent many enjoyable hours each spring watching the nesting activity.
In the days just prior to his passing, wood ducks were busily working the nest boxes to Dr. George’s delight.
He was an avid hunter, and for many years he had a hunting camp deep in the woods near Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Area in Avoyelles Parish. He loved hunting on horseback with a good pack of hounds in search of the huge swamp bucks still to be found in that country.
His stories about big deer, hound music and clear, frosty morning sunrises seen from the back of a horse could take you there.
We shared a keen interest in hunting out west in the Rocky Mountains, and he told great stories about elk hunting in Wyoming with an old-time outfitter named Snook Moore. You didn’t have to listen to a Snook story very long to know Dr. George respected and admired the old mountain man.
It was fascinating to hear about how Snook cut and stored hay by hand to feed his horses through the harsh Wyoming winter. And how running water was just that — a clear, cold mountain stream by Snook’s cabin with a cleverly engineered pipe system that brought water to the kitchen. At least until freeze-up.
Dr. George liked to tell the story about how on one hunt Snook was sick but a hunter had killed a bear and it needed to be packed out. Snook asked Dr. George to take a saddle horse and packhorse to go retrieve the bear head and hide.
With detailed instructions from Snook on how to bundle and tie the bearskin on the packhorse, Dr. George rode out to do the job. He said it didn’t take long to figure our why Snook was so specific about how to tie up the bearskin. The darn thing was so greasy and slippery it was nearly impossible to keep it on the packsaddle.
On one trip out west, I met a Wyoming game warden and author of a book about some of the old ranchers, outfitters and mountain men of the local area. He gave me a copy of the book, and to my surprise it included a chapter on Snook Moore.
As soon as I got home I gave the book to Dr. George, knowing how much he would love reading about his old friend. In return he gave me a great book on how to load and tie packs and care for packhorses in the backcountry that I treasure.
Dr. George was also a very knowledgeable rifleman and hand loader. I came across a beautiful bolt-action rifle at a bargain price at an estate sale. The caliber was .35 Whelen Improved, a great elk rifle, and I bought it without hesitation.
The only problem is the improved version is a wildcat round requiring hand loading. So off to Dr. George I went for assistance. He was happy to help, and went to great effort researching and working up loads until we found just the right one.
He gave me all his notes and data on the load, and then went on to load up a generous supply of ammunition, refusing to take a penny in return.
I took a bull elk with that rifle in 2011, not to mention several deer.
When this process sparked my interest in hand loading, Dr. George told me what equipment I needed, and then came over and spent many hours teaching me the art.
That was Dr. George.
Wildlife enforcement Capt. Bobby Buatt is another long-time friend of Dr. George’s. Bobby’s father, Dr. Robert Buatt is also a dentist, and was Dr. George’s friend and hunting partner, so Bobby grew up with two good role models.
When Dr. George learned Bobby and I were going elk hunting together a couple of years ago, he gave Bobby his favorite elk rifle — an 8mm Magnum — to take on the hunt. Dr. George said that rifle shouldn’t be just sitting in the safe and deserved to be used.
Bobby and I will be going out west again this fall for elk. We have already agreed to carry the 8mm Magnum and the .35 Whelen, and do our best to get our elk with them as a tribute to Dr. George.
And we know he will be watching.