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Home for the Holidays

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A Possum Cop Chronicles Tale

It’s Thanksgiving week. All the kids are home from school and preparations are being made for the big day. It’s a time when we all get together with family, eat way too much food, watch football, and, in some cases, do our best to keep that weird uncle from frightening the children too much. You know the guy – every family has one. Mine has several, if I include cousins. If you don’t know who “that guy” is in your family, it’s probably YOU.

Yep, the holiday season if nigh upon us, and even though many folks started decorating for Christmas before the jack-o-lanterns from Halloween started to rot, I’m still going to go with Thanksgiving as the official start to the holiday season. I get pretty geeked up about the holidays now, because I don’t have to work them anymore. For 30 years, I was expected to work either Thanksgiving or Christmas and sometimes both. Game wardens, and first responders in general, are required to work on the days when most people are off and spending time with their families. For game wardens, weekends and holidays are relegated to just another day at work.

I’m not going to complain about it too much. You see, game wardens like catching people – especially those who make a hobby out of breaking the law and pride themselves on not getting caught. I’m not talking about the guy who didn’t buy his fishing license or hasn’t taken his hunter ed yet. It’s the guy that hunts off the road or kills a deer just for the antlers and leaves the rest for the coyotes. I’ve made the remark in the past that the hardcore violators who get caught are either unlucky or stupid. That is true, but game wardens go to great lengths to increase the odds that the luckless simpletons of the world get their just due.

Holidays have always been a prime time for catching poachers – especially Christmas. It’s not as common nowadays, but before penalties and restitution increased in the early 90’s, you could get caught poaching a deer off the road and pay less than you would for a deer lease. Hence, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to drive down a desolate highway looking for a deer to go break in that new .22 magnum that Santa left under the Christmas tree. Surely, the game warden wouldn’t be out.

But many of the game wardens I knew and worked with made it a point to be out at such times. They spent many cold holiday nights on the hood of their vehicle, or inside with the windows rolled down, watching and waiting. In the daytime, when it was harder to conceal a vehicle, they might be in a pre-dug hole just inside a ranch fence line alongside a county road or highway where poaching was a problem. They would climb trees, tank batteries and whatever else they could find that could maximize their patrol efforts. I did that stuff too. It was fun, but it came with a price. With age comes wisdom, hopefully. I know of at least one retiree who openly apologized to his family at his retirement party for not being around on those weekends and holidays. I’m sure there are many more retirees that have left that sentiment unsaid.

So, this Thanksgiving I am thankful that I am retired and have just one phone that I answer only if I feel like it. I am also thankful that there are still those game wardens, troopers, deputies, police officers, firemen, paramedics, and other first responders who won’t be home for the holidays and are out there working and keeping us all safe and in line. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

John Brauchle spent 29 years as a Game Warden.