In January, I came in to load my boat after dark and was surprised by a man standing there in the darkness. He identified himself as a Missouri Conservation agent. “Now what?” I thought to myself.
He was young, he was alone, and his vehicle was nowhere to be seen. And everything he did was exactly what he should have done to do his job. If I had been a violator, he would have caught one. That is something today’s MDC enforcement agents seldom do – catch actual violators.
The young man wasn’t belligerent at all, but there to be sure I had my appropriate federal stamp, a hunting license, steel shot, a plugged shotgun and a legal limit only. I couldn’t believe it. He thanked me and proceeded to talk to me as one man would talk to another, with respect. I’ll bet he wasn’t 25 yet.
I thought of the time when an old-time agent by the name of Bland Wilson showed me again and again how a “game-warden” should do his job. I was about 11 or 12 and he was one of my idols. I went with him on occasion because I wanted to be in the outdoors all I could, and wanted to be a game warden someday myself. My grandfather was his friend and adversary. Grandpa never knew about the times I paddled Mr. Wilson down the river in one of his hand-made johnboats.
Bland Wilson told me that my grandfather was the best riverman, trapper and outdoorsman he knew. Grandpa grudgingly admitted that Bland Wilson was his equal, when it came to knowledge and ability in the outdoors. “He’s like a %@#& Indian,” Grandpa said, “and he’s liable to be anywhere.”
Grandpa was a conservationist too, in a different way. He took what his family needed, in a day before I was born. And when I was young, and we hunted ducks, we stopped when we had all the ducks he felt was needed. But we picked the feathers up to the base of the skull and to the feet and to the first joint of the wings. That whole duck was eaten and the downy feathers saved for mattresses or pillows. But if we hunted ducks and the limit was six apiece and we only got five apiece. Grandpa figured we should get that extra duck on our next hunt. With Bland Wilson out there, it became a contest that grandpa looked forward to. If he got a couple of ducks too many, he would stash them along the river and come back in the middle of the night, walk in to where he left them, and bring them home, figuring Bland was asleep.
I remember once when we were floating down the lower Piney River and grandpa stopped on a gravel bar to count our squirrels and ducks. He looked up toward a towering bluff and said, “That ______ Bland Wilson is probably up there on that bluff watching me right now with his lookin’ glass.” His respect for Bland Wilson was great, his thinking bordered on paranoia. But never, ever, did grandpa or dad ever waste anything. Thinking about it today, I remember grandpa butchering hogs for neighbors just for the head and hide.
Bland told me about several times when he could have arrested my grandfather for little things, and my Uncle Norten was constantly telling the story about how Bland Wilson showed up on the river bank asking for a ride downstream when he and his pop had an illegal bass, by only one day, in the live-well. If you haven’t heard that story, you can read it all in the book about Uncle Norten’s life, entitled “Ridge-Runner… From the Big Piney to the Battle of the Bulge”.
Bland retired when I was still young and replaced by the best conservation agent I ever knew… a man by the name of Ron Roellig. I related a story about him and the kind of man he was in my book, “The Prince of Pt. Lookout.” Roellig was what every agent should be, he worked alone, and he was after one kind of person, intentional violators of hunting and fishing laws. I will write more about him in the future.
The Big Piney, after Roellig, was plagued by a couple of rogue agents. They broke the law big time, because they made money by doing it. Law Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz told be that as a young agent in Cabool Missouri, he rode with one of them when he conducted a private business in a state vehicle in his uniform on state time.
Yamnitz apparently went along with it because he feared that if he reported it he would be fired. About 10 or 12 years ago, agent Kyle Carroll reported two other agents who broke the law while on duty, and sure enough, Carroll was fired while the other two kept their jobs. It all backfired on the MDC though, as Kyle hired a lawyer, it all came out in court and the MDC had to pay him a million dollars when the truth came out.
I hope to finish several books in the next couple of years. One is entitled, “The Demise of Conservation… the truth about the Missouri Department of Conservation.” The other is the story of my boyhood entitled, “The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid.” Another that is nearly ready to publish is “Recollections of an Old Fashioned Angler” and after that… “Memoirs From the Big Piney.” I have 10 books finished and for sale now… I hope I live long enough to finish 10 or 20 more. Call my office if you need to talk with me…. 417/777-5227. Our new summer issue of my magazine is available now. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613