Nighttime is the realm of both the poacher and the game warden. Fifty percent or more of an enforcement agent’s time is spent working at night. Few people realize just how much illegal activity takes place after the sun goes down, particularly when hunting seasons are open.
Early in my own career, night hunting was really bad, and the regular work shift began at dark and went eight hours into the night — longer if we got a hot case going.
The local school bus driver whose route went by my home once commented to me that I must have an easy job and did not work much, since every morning when he ran the bus route, my patrol truck was sitting parked in the barn. I kept my temper and explained that on most days when he was getting up to drive the bus, I was just going to bed after a long night’s work.
Not sure if he believed it, but it was certainly the truth.
Naturally, some areas have more poaching activity than others, due in large part to whether poachers live in the vicinity or if game is plentiful.
One such area was in Avoyelles Parish between Hessmer and Bunkie. We frequently received reports of night hunting on or around the Luke Martin Road, a winding little country lane. The few homes clustered near its beginning at LA 115 gave way to pastures with clusters of trees and little briar patches as the road ran west to sprawling crop fields and Bayou Dulac.
Bayou Dulac ran through the area near the road, and drainage ditches from the crop fields spilled into the bayou. Game was plentiful in the area, with cottontails and swamp rabbits along the road and deer, ducks and geese frequenting the crop fields.
One night, in the fall and in response to regular reports of night hunting, I decided to set up surveillance on Luke Martin Road. After driving past the houses and going a little farther along the road, I turned in on a small side road in one of the pastures.
The place was perfect. The truck was set well back from the main road and concealed by cedar trees and brush. Visibility was good, and any approaching vehicle could be watched from the darkness unseen by the occupants of said vehicle.
With the truck backed into my perfect blind, I switched the engine off and settled in to wait.
A sliver of moon gave off just enough light to distinguish objects in the dark. It was very quiet, and so far no vehicles had driven past. I was thinking about how much time to spend sitting here when I caught a glimpse of movement in the driver’s door rear-view mirror. It wasn’t enough to convince me I had actually seen anything, but with eyes on the mirror I waited.
Within a few seconds, I saw the silhouette of someone hurriedly crossing the road behind the truck. Startled, I snapped bolt upright in the seat. It was like thinking you are the only person in a room and suddenly realizing someone is standing right behind you.
The truck was equipped with cutoff switches so we could drive “blacked out” and open doors without dome lights coming on. I opened the door and stepped out — hand on my sidearm, now fully alert for any sound or movement.
I stood there for several minutes, not sure what to do and wondering just what was going on here.
It was not long before I heard an approaching vehicle and saw the headlights. The vehicle, a pickup, turned in and drove right up to me and stopped. I switched on headlights and a flashlight, while two men got out of the truck and walked up.
The older of the two said, “Oh, a game warden. We knew somebody was back here. What are you doing?”
I told him reports of illegal night hunting had brought me here. We had a few more minutes of conversation during which I learned they were father and son, and lived just up the road. The father did all the talking and had an arrogant attitude, but they soon got back in the truck and drove away.
What had happened was now obvious. These two had been night hunting on foot when they heard me drive in. They stood in the dark and watched as I parked, slipped up for a close look, and then hightailed it for home.
Once they got there, Mr. Arrogant couldn’t resist driving over to let this game warden know he had gotten away. “Another time,” I thought. “There will be another time.”
Later that year, on a winter night, we were once again working in that area. It was cold and misting rain, with very little wind.
In other words, a poacher’s dream night.
This time, several agents were working, and we were scattered out around the Bunkie area. To the best of my recollection, the crew included Ronald Hill, Joe Lemoine, Ed Walker, Charlie and Burton Wiley and me. If I left anyone out, forgive me.
Around 9 p.m. someone — and I can’t remember who — started hearing shots from way back in those crop fields where the Luke Martin Road ended. The shots were shotgun blasts, and the gun pounded away, with shot after shot roaring through the soggy air.
We converged on the area and tried to get a fix on the exact location, but no one could see a spotlight or vehicle lights.
Someone suggested trying to get into the crop fields from Highway 71 just north of Bunkie almost on the Rapides/Avoyelles parish line. I went for it, and drove in near an equipment barn on the east side of 71, parked the truck and walked farther in the direction of the shots.
I could hear them now, along with the calling of wild geese in the field. I arrived at an airstrip, and there sat a crop duster airplane. Taking shelter under a wing and using binoculars I scanned the distant fields, hoping to spot a vehicle or spotlight. Binoculars are very effective at magnifying dim light and will sometimes let you see a glow undetectable with the naked eye.
The glow or beam of a light is also very visible in foggy or misty conditions, and sure enough, I picked up the dim glow of a light working back and forth way back in those crop fields. The gun continued to roar and the light continued to work.
The strange thing was I could not see the source of the light, only an occasional dim glow. It did not make sense. It was far but certainly not so far as to be under the horizon, and this land was flat as could be. A light on a vehicle or even a headlight on a man walking on foot should be visible and it just was not.
After a while it hit me: Could this poacher be in a boat? It made sense. If the hunting was by boat in the drainage ditches or a canal, we would not see the light source because it would be below ground level.
Returning to the truck, I got on the radio and suggested the possibility of a boat. The agents on Luke Martin Road began checking along Bayou Dulac, and by a stroke of luck found a pickup tucked back in the brush near the water. They staked out the truck while the rest of us held positions along Highway 71 in case the poachers did the unexpected and exited the fields in our direction or by Bayou Dulac Road leading to Bunkie.
It was approaching 2 in the morning when the agents at the pickup truck got on the radio and announced they had the poachers. The boat had returned along Bayou Dulac to the waiting pickup.
Burton got on the radio and told us to get over there. “Y’all have got to see this,” he said.
I got there in a hurry, got out of the truck and went to take a look at the boat. What I saw was unbelievable: It was a 14-foot bateau so heavily loaded that water was almost coming over the gunnels.
The boat was a post-mortem Noah’s Ark, filled with raccoons, rabbits, ducks, geese and ibis. We even found a mink and an otter.
After taking all that in, I shined my flashlight over to where the two poachers were sitting wearing handcuffs and sullen looks.
And got the biggest surprise of the night: There sat Mr. Arrogant and son glaring back at me.
Burton walked over and, in a low voice said, “That older one hopped out of the boat and began telling us how he was a better man than any of us and we weren’t going to arrest him! What a (expletive).”
I just smiled and said, “I know. We’ve met.”
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