Damn poor decision

By John Ford Sr | Sep 14, 2010

During the course of my career I often dealt with folks who, for one reason or another, made a poor decision involving hunting.

Whether it was simply to kill a deer regardless of what the regulations of the hunt required, or simply the temptation of obtaining a large set of antlers to hang in the trophy room, that led them to resort to their illegal actions, only they could provide an answer.

No matter what the risks for breaking the wildlife rules were, there was never a shortage of folks willing to gamble.

Such was the case when a neighbor placed himself in a precarious situation at midnight Nov. 24,1982. The deer-hunting season was due to end in a week or so and I was working alongside my partner in a remote hiding spot not too far from my residence.

We were waiting for a poacher ignoring the hunting rules to come along. We both were nearly asleep when we observed the headlights of a slowly approaching car.

Within moments, the area was lit up by a beam of a bright light slowly sweeping back and forth. It was obvious the person was searching for the yellow reflective eyes of a deer. It was time to spring into action and I pulled in behind the vehicle after it passed our hiding spot.

The adrenaline rush never varied from one incident to another, and we anxiously anticipated what the next few minutes might entail.

The penalties for a night-hunting offense had recently been substantially increased. A conviction required a minimum $500 fine, three days in jail, and the seizure of all weapons used to commit the offense. These weapons were then sold at a public auction.

If the violation was a second or third offense, the penalties were even more severe.

These new penalty changes were of some concern for those of us working in the field; we wondered if it might increase the flight-or-fight risk.

On this particular night, I fell in behind the vehicle without using any lights. We followed the lone operator while he continued flashing the beam from one end of the area to the other. He was completely oblivious that we were behind him.

It was time for us to make a move — time to see if we were going to be in a chase, a fight, or whatever course of action this person chose to take.

I sounded my blaring siren and lit up the area with my flashing emergency signals and pulsating headlights. The moment I did, I quickly recognized the vehicle as belonging to my nearby neighbor.

“This is going to be a fine predicament I'm about to be in. That's my neighbor's car,” I sputtered to my partner.

But duty and an oath to uphold the laws take precedence over anyone who decided to make a poor decision. If it ended up costing a personal relationship to fall by the wayside, then so be it.

In reality, I wouldn't consider this person to be a true friend for placing me in such a compromising position in the first place, should they hold any animosity for the job I was entrusted to perform.

This particular young man was, for the most part, a real decent, young chap. He was always polite and other than a few hell-raising episodes relative to his youth, he was, in my opinion, a damn good neighbor.

As I approached the vehicle he rather sheepishly said, “Hi John, I'm some surprised to see you out here tonight. I just came by your house and it looked like your car was in the yard.”

“That's my partner's vehicle,” I bluntly explained. He certainly wasn't the first person to check my yard to see if I was home.

We quickly removed the fully loaded high-powered rifle resting barrel down on the seat beside him. It was a new firearm, equipped with a powerful scope and the best of ammunition. It certainly wasn't the old throw-away type that I had seen so many times before.

After reading him his rights, I said, “What the devil are you doing out here, bud, don't you know how serious the state is taking these night hunting offenses today? I'm going to have to summons you to court, seize your equipment and you'll be held accountable for your actions,” I sympathetically muttered.

“I know! I know,” he meekly replied. “You wanna know the worst thing about all of this John?”

“What's that,” I politely inquired.

“I just picked up this rifle today at the local hardware store. I had it custom made to fit me. I've been waiting for weeks for it to be finished. I just made my first payment this afternoon, and I still owe about $700 more on it,” he sniffled.

“You got to be kidding me! What in the hell were you thinking,” I bluntly asked. “You do realize that it is now property of the state of Maine and will be sold at a public auction if you're found guilty,” I calmly informed my sick friend.

“I know! And I'm guilty as hell. How to hell can I even possibly think of getting out of this? I wanted to try out my new rifle and it's one of the poorest decisions I've ever made,” he humbly sputtered.

A few days later he pleaded guilty to the night-hunting charge and quickly put the three days of incarceration behind him. He appeared not to be holding any grudges. At least I don't think he did, seeing as how I always got the same smile and a five-fingered salute whenever we met — which was quite unlike some of the one-fingered salutes I received from some clients I'd dealt with.

Once the case was adjudicated, I turned the rifle into the department for storage, awaiting the state auction.

My neighbor and I quickly put the past behind us and the matter was forgotten as far as I was concerned.

However a few days later, I received an irate phone call from the owner of the local hardware store where the rifle had been purchased. He defiantly demanded I come to his store to pay the debt owed for the rifle or else return it. “You've got no *#*%damned right to seize it,” he yelled, in a voice that all but blew the wax out of in my ears.

Needless to say, that conversation didn't end with us having a very friendly relationship. When all was said and done, I think he was left holding the bill for the debt and the loss of a customer from his establishment — me!

None of his private business dealings had anything to do with me. The store owner and my neighbor would simply have to work it out between themselves.

The next night, I was parked in another area waiting to see if anyone else would make a poor decision. It was simply the nature of my job. As we sat in the cruiser patiently watching and observing the splendor of the heavens above, I could only wonder what this night would have in store.

The marvels of the awesome job I had chosen left me wondering what kind of fiasco would come our way. No two events were ever the same. Life was great underneath the nighttime sky, anticipating what memory would fill the diaries next.

I wouldn't have to worry – there'd be others who made damned poor decisions in their activities. That I knew for sure.

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