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Doug Leier, Published September 14 2011

Leier: Game wardens are a big part of the outdoors

Fargo - Over the course of a career, a game warden interacts with thousands of hunters, anglers, trappers and other outdoor participants.

Most of these interactions are positive experiences, with the warden verifying that people have the proper licenses and equipment, and haven’t taken more game or fish than the law allows.

Realistically, however, most legal hunters and anglers may go years without a check by a warden. North Dakota has only 36 full-time wardens for something like 100,000 individual resident and more than 30,000 nonresident hunters each year, plus more than 150,000 resident and nonresident anglers.

Do the math and that amounts to more than 3,600 hunters per warden, in warden districts that average more than 2,000 square miles in size.

Most people I know appreciate a field check from a warden. We like knowing wardens are out there, making sure others aren’t taking more than their share. Most of us also like to visit with wardens, hoping we might learn some sort of inside advantage, like where the fish might bite better, or what part of the county is producing more pheasants.

It stands to reason, however, that not every interaction produces a satisfied customer. Sometimes people don’t follow the law. Recipients seldom welcome citations, but they are usually well deserved and avoidable.

One deer season during my five years as a game warden, I observed two young hunters walking in a field as daylight was fading into sunset. Normally I would have waited until the hunters were finished with their walk before checking their licenses and firearms, but one of the hunters did not have a blaze orange hat or vest.

Wardens learn early on that safety issues like having enough life jackets on a boat, or wearing the correct amount of orange during deer season, are a priority. These hunters were working an area adjacent to a popular public hunting ground, and the thought of other hunters or even his partner not realizing his position was downright scary for me.

The last thing I wanted to occur was a tragedy taking place as I watched through the lens of my spotting scope. So, instead of waiting for them to finish their drive, I caught their attention and brought them out of the field. They weren’t exactly happy to give up their hunt midway through the push, but I didn’t care.

After explaining my concern and issuing a citation, the young hunters eventually understood the risky situation they put themselves in, and before they continued on they actually thanked me.

I never ran into those two hunters again, but I’m hoping they’ll remember that chance meeting in the same positive way that most people who spend time outdoors recall their game warden experiences.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com