The idea has been nourished by fiction writers for years that when a man goes back to the wilds, back to nature's bosom, as it were, he soon sheds his selfish and conniving ways. There was, for example, nothing greedy or cheap about Robinson Crusoe, nor a mean streak in the whole Swiss Family Robinson. Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, was suckled by a she-ape and ofttimes seized by such a temper that a scar on his forehead lit up like a traffic blinker, but for all that, Tarzan was a law abider, who never bit through a jugular vein without good cause. The woods of fiction are full of good examples, but if the worst offenders in the real woods today had even Tarzan's raw sense of ethics, fish and game wardens everywhere would give a cheer.
The woods are, like Sunday school and pool halls, open to all, and any warden knows he can expect all sorts. But at times lately New Jersey's 34 badgered wardens feel their woods are visited by an unseemly share of the deadbeats and connivers. Though a small state, Jersey has a good variety of fish and game, and, like any state, needs a welter of laws to protect wildlife (you cannot, for example, keep a deer captive in Jersey, and you cannot turn a coyote loose, and it's $25 fine for eating a terrapin egg). However well they are put in mind of these laws, Jersey sadly finds, some hunters and fishermen never lose the old city urge to pull a fast one.
For proof of this urge, one need only look at Jersey's efforts to protect the least of its wildlife wards, the common blue crab. The state forbids taking crabs measuring less than four inches across the shell. Crabbing is not a spectacular sport. Once caught, however, a blue crab shows its spirit, and laying one out for measurement is quite sporty for a beginner. The novice crabber takes the crab firmly with one hand. The crab takes the novice firmly with one claw. And so it goes. After being clawed by a dozen, a man gathers a certain disdain for the law. Crabbers tore down the state's signs, feigned ignorance and generally horse-laughed at the blue-crab law. In August, 1951, the state struck back with a sudden three-week offensive now best remembered for one Sunday when the blue crabs invaded the public offices of Swedesboro. As Warden Jack Graham relates: "We stopped 150 crabbers in the heavy afternoon traffic. We'd lead four cars at a time back to Swedesboro, had 58 violators crammed in jail there at one point. What a mess."
"It was some day," recalls Protector Alfred Jones, head of the south Jersey wardens. "As they drove up, some crabbers caught on to what we were after. They were heaving crabs out the car windows, all over the turnpike. We had to chase the crabs. And back in the Swedesboro town hall, everybody was raising a honk. We'd bring in another violator and the crabbers already in jail would start singing 'If we'd known you were coming we'd have baked a cake.' Judge Conrad Kidd was hammering with a gavel and yelling for quiet. We had the evidence, 50 dozen crabs, in baskets in the council room. We charged every man with only one crab, but if he raised a row, we'd hit him with two, or maybe five, crabs at $20 apiece. The crabs got out of the baskets—crabs crawling all over the floor, under desks and bookcases. The police chief says, 'Do not bring any more crab cases to Swedesboro.' "
December 27, 1954
"The janitor swore a crab was following him everywhere," Warden Graham remembers. "A week later they still found dead crabs under things. Oh, we had a time, but we made gentlemen out of some crabbers."
Few game violators are as easily trapped as the blue crabbers. For one thing, it's a problem to separate the willful flouters of the law from the ignorant, with whom Jersey believes in being lenient. Hunters have mistakenly taken home billy goats for deer, barnyard ducks for wild ducks, and swans for geese.
DEAD BUZZARDS AND CHOW DOGS
"In Somerville one season," recalls District Protector William Coffin of north Jersey, "this Italian fellow is beaming—I can tell he's from the city. 'Oh, warden,' he says, 'I gotta me a nice turkey.' We open his car trunk. I don't have to see it, I can smell it. There's a dead redheaded buzzard. Now, what should I do to him? I figure he'll learn his best lesson at home, so I say 'Yes, Tony Pasquale, you got a nice turkey.' "
"Admit it," Mrs. William Coffin interrupts her husband. "There's a horrid streak in you. You got a big laugh thinking how a cooking buzzard would smell up his kitchen."
After suggesting to his wife that she go home to mother, Coffin continues, "That same road check, three or four men pull up—obviously from the city. They have a mixed bag in the trunk: a couple of pheasant, rabbits and a red chow dog. 'Shot a fox,' one of them says, 'and I'm gonna have it stuffed.' I let him go—he got his lesson when he took that dead dog to the taxidermist."
Not one to let the north Jersey district outdo his south Jersey district even on a point of ignorance, at the mention of chow dogs Protector Alfred Jones speaks up. "Dumb hunters? Listen. By the Delaware Bridge we caught a man with two roosters—pheasants, he thought—and a chow dog."
The willful violators, Jersey wardens find, have a tremendous imagination both for alibiing and for scheming up ways to beat the law. Some caught without licenses claim they are half Indian and not bound by white men's hunting laws. Find a man hunting at night ($20 fine) with a flashlight ($20) for deer out of season ($100)—well, he's looking for a dog. Find illegal shot in a hunter's jacket, he'll blame his wife for not emptying the pockets. "I tell you," comments Atlantic County Warden Joe Gallo, "I don't think some of these guys have all their marbles." Warden Gallo arrested a Hammonton man in 1950 for illegal killing and possession of deer. It cost him $300 and license privileges for two years. The next year Gallo caught the same man hunting deer with an illegally purchased license—another $100 fine. "Then February a year ago," relates Gallo, "again I find the fellow. This time he's up in a tree with a gun. He's hunting deer out of season, he has sweet potatoes piled around the tree to bait deer and he tells me he's up there checking forest fires."
Wardens have found ducks hidden in automobile seat cushions, hen pheasants stuffed in spare tires, and illegal buckshot in hub caps. One hunter beheaded a doe and carried a buck's head in the car trunk, hoping that the illegal doe carcass, by inference, would pass as a buck. Another hunter bolted antlers on a doe. He just might have got away with it, had he not foolishly put one antler on backwards.
TACKS ON THE DRIVEWAY
It is a two-way peekaboo war—the warden trying to watch the suspected violators and the violators spying on the warden. "It gets so you live in a goldfish bowl," complains Sussex County Warden Hudson Amory. "They look in the garage to see if your car is there. They phone to ask if the warden is home or where he is, and the word gets around at the local tavern." Someone sprinkled tacks on the Amory driveway. He had 17 flat tires and his milkman had ten. Against "jackers," the violators who hunt with lights at night, Amory finds a warden never knows how his luck will break. At home one night watching television in his undershorts, Amory heard a shot, grabbed his pants and his gun, took a header over a bicycle on the lawn, and caught two deer jackers in his own driveway. In contrast, in one remote field Amory has watched 15 nights in the past month, his car camouflaged by a discarded grass carpet from a funeral parlor. He has seen 14 deer jackers' cars flash spotlights over the area, chased two cars 40 miles an hour without lights on a rutty mountain road and caught no one. He would have had a sure pinch one night, but the deer jacker's buckshot crashed into an apple tree, flushing two lovers parked below. The deer jacker went one way, the lovers the other, and Amory chased the wrong car.
While there would appear to be considerable genius, of an odd sort, among the connivers, Jersey's records indicate they are no special class of men. "I have caught lawyers, doctors, policemen, butchers, and bakers," recites Protector Coffin. One north Jersey clergyman has been caught three times in four years: 1) for fishing while leaning against a no-fishing sign, 2) for hiding illegal buckshot in his pants knee and 3) for hunting rabbits out of season. "Some you catch," adds Coffin, "think who they are is important. They pull out the wallet and flash lodge cards, membership in benevolent societies, silver badges and a lot of garbage. There are no kingfish in the ancient order of the woods." This prompts Coffin to point out that while willful violators are a scant percent of all the hunters and fishermen (but for all their minority killed as many deer as the honest hunters last year), you can never tell an honest woodsman by the way he bleats about the great sport of the woods. Last January the heads and hoofs of three deer were found beside a road wrapped in newspaper. The violator, from a small town in north Jersey, was easily caught by a mailing address on the newspaper. The number of deer made it fairly obvious that the hunter had accomplices, but he claimed he could not reveal their names. The accused took the total fine of $600 for illegal possession and butchering, though the wardens found only one small venison cut in his house. "The judge tried to reason with him," Protector Coffin recalls, "but he would not say anything. Shortly after we caught him he was reinstalled as recording secretary of his rod and gun club—at a venison dinner."