(Carlos Gomez photo)
I recently caught a spotlighter who had hidden his rifle and light off in the weeds just before I encountered him. He was a young man about to get married and with his first child on the way. Embarking on a budding career, the young man – I'll call, David – was starting to make decent money and had everything going his way.
I always like to try to understand my adversaries, so while interviewing and writing up citations to someone, I'll often quiz them about peripheral details in their life. It seems to help keep emotions suppressed while allowing us both to realize the humanity within us all, though our sportsman philosophies may differ significantly.
I learned that David came from top-shelf lineage; I had met his grandpa once before, and knew his late, great grandpa. Both men had super outdoor ethics. David commented with a disappointing tone, "They would disown me if they knew about this (getting caught poaching).”
David went on to reveal that he came from an area of the state where poaching was rampant and that his old high school running buddies usually drove around at night just looking for big racks and didn't typically use the meat. The wardens there have confirmed that fact to me on numerous occasions. But, David seemed sincere when stating he thought that behavior was just wrong and that he was only craving some delicious venison back strap.
Work had him tied up and on the go so much, he hadn't hunted much in years and only got to eat deer steaks when he got back to his parents’ home for visits. While texting his dad about his current circumstances (with me), David and I learned that his dad had been related to their local game warden before a divorce removed the connection. We both laughed about how small the world was and briefly discussed my concerns for the future of hunting and the pitfalls of poaching.
Ironically, I had a small road-kill buck in the back of my truck at the time of David's apprehension. I told him, "You know, you don't need to be poaching for venison; we get these car-hit deer all the time."
He wanted to take the one I had in my truck, but I explained how it was already promised to a family whose breadwinner was battling cancer. But, I assured him, if he really wanted one, I could fix him up.
That night after David's citations were completed, I took the road-kill deer to the family with a member struggling with cancer. Medical expenses from the fight with the dreaded disease had ravaged the family's financial resources. Most of the family had moved back home to help out, but groceries and the need for healthy protein for the clan, including grandkids, were depleted. I watched how the whole family went to work on the deer … skinning, cutting and separating while kids held onto the legs of the carcass. It was suddenly a festive time among the group with the ailing grandpa giving advice from his nearby leaning place.
It sure made me think about the blessings of the season, how the white-tailed deer had sustained our ancestors to present day, and how this God-given provision could continue on in the lives of future generations, assuming we maintain and practice good wildlife conservation.
I considered how it might not be a coincidence that “deer season” and our “season of thankfulness” was so perfectly synchronized and how we're all so lucky in our own personal ways.
A few days after I caught David violating some wildlife laws, he paid a sizable fine. A while later after all the legal paperwork was clear; I met up with him to release his seized weapon and light.
True to my word, I gave him a road-kill deer.