Hunting waterfowl brings a steady share of dummies to game wardens

Len Lisenbee

Dumb outdoor crooks seem to be the most popular topic that I cover in this space. They are some really dumb actions by some really dumb yahoos.

The fact they are stealing fish or wildlife that belongs to everyone doesn’t even enter into their feeble brains, at least as long as there are “sports” willing to pay for their services.

This story, like all of the individuals mentioned here, are real-life characters that a visit to my official diaries actually occurred while I was employed as a federal game warden, just a few years ago.

Hunting waterfowl is a great challenge, especially if you're on the wrong side of the law.

Bo Bo Hanson was no run-of-the-mill waterfowl guide. He was a legend among all of the guides and hunters in his part of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. And boy, did he ever like to kill Canada geese!

He took out one party of two men on a cold, snowy December day. They hunted in a hedgerow blind at the edge of a cut cornfield. There were a hundred or so decoys set out, and Bo Bo brought along an assistant guide, “Chalk-eye” Brown, to help him call in the birds. The four individuals began hunting around mid-morning.

Before the hunt, Bo Bo met his clients and they had breakfast together in a local restaurant. They were both eager for a good hunt, and asked him all sorts of questions. And soon the conversation turned to his past encounters with the law.

It seems that he had been busted by some federal game wardens a few years earlier, and had only recently got his hunting license back.

But Bo Bo was not to be deterred from his primary love in life. He assured both clients that he now had a method that assured he would never get caught again. The federal judge had warned him that he should bring his toothbrush, not his checkbook, the next time he appeared in that courtroom, so he was very careful about selecting his clients.

He told them he relied on his gut feelings to tell him whether a perspective client was an undercover game warden or an “honest” sportsmen. And, he told the two anxious nimrods, he would never again be caught with an over-limit of geese in his possession.

Once in the blind, those two guides made some beautiful music on their goose calls. The geese began flying out to feed just a few minutes after they got set up in the blind, and they managed to turn flock after flock with their “flagging” and calling.

Len Lisenbee

The shooting was hot and heavy, and soon the daily limit of eight geese had been reached by the four hunters. When one of the clients asked him if they should pick up the decoys he told them to hide all of the dead birds in the hedgerow some distance from the blind and then keep on hunting.

More geese dropped from the sky. Another limit was reached, and those birds were also hidden in the nearby bushes. And still the four men kept on hunting at the guide’s insistence.

Finally the clients declared that they had enough birds, and the hunting ended. After the equipment was stored in the trucks, Chalk-eye pulled out a sheet of paper from his wallet and began making out tags for the geese. The paper contained names and license numbers from past clients, so the tags appeared legitimate when the geese were taken to a nearby picking house.

Well, as you might have guessed, those two clients were a little bit more than they appeared to be. Yup, they were both undercover federal game wardens. In fact, one of them was me. And Bo Bo got the bad news via a registered letter.

They say he stayed drunk for five days after reading that he had to appear before the same federal judge to answer to the charges of taking an over-limit of geese and about a half-dozen other violations.

He showed up at the courthouse and came face to face with the two feds. He got a sheepish grin on his face and admitted they sure fooled him in a big way. Then he assured them that he had come prepared, pulling out a brand new tooth brush from his coat pocket.

With that he entered the courtroom to face the music. I can only wonder if he wore that toothbrush out during the next six months?  

***

Tom Willett was another old-time waterfowl guide in the central part of the Eastern Shore. He swore he would never be caught in a serious violation of the waterfowl regs again because he faced total revocation of all of his hunting privileges if he was.

And he was totally unaware that his two clients were the same two that Bo Bo had taken out.

When they reached the goose blind set on the shore of the Choptank River, the geese could be seen sitting on the water 500 yards out. There were at least 20,000 of them, and they were making a loud racket as they talked back and forth with each other. What was even worse, they made no effort to fly out to feed.

When they reached the blind, the two clients watched Tom fill his shotgun with lead (toxic) shot. They were using steel shot, and he informed them to bring along some lead the next time. Then he began calling and flagging in an attempt to attract any geese that might fly to the blind.

Two hours later none of the three men had fired a shot. That’s when a Maryland State Game Warden stepped out of the bushed and walked to the blind. He found the lead shot in Tom’s gun real quick, and took him back to the state vehicle so a citation could be issued.

Tom returned a half-hour later, grumbling about the $275 those three lead shot shells had just cost him.  He then picked up his shotgun and reloaded it with ... three more lead shot shells.

By the end of that long day the three men, assisted by some other guides and clients of the outfitter that Tom worked for, had managed to kill an over-limit of geese. All of those other hunters were using lead shot, too. And, the blind where they finished the day’s hunt had been baited with whole kernel corn.

Tom Willett appeared in federal court to answer to the charges placed against him. And, as he told the two agents just before court began, he couldn’t figure out who among the hunters he guided was the fed. He told us he never suspected us for an instant.

When the magistrate-judge heard that Tom had reloaded his shotgun with lead shot after just being caught using it by the state officer, he was not a happy person. In fact, I hope I never receive a look like the one he gave Tom at that moment.

And, when the gavel fell, Willett probably felt the same way. He had to pay a pretty steep fine. And he had to be a guest of the federal government for a while, too. And, (worst of all) he lost all of his hunting privileges for five years, the longest such suspension ever given in that courtroom up to that time.

***

One of the funniest of the dumb outlaws I had the opportunity to meet had to be Willie Bower. Old Willie enjoyed bragging about just about anything, and he always had a better story than any his clients might tell him. He was sure funny that way.

When one of his clients happened to mention that they had just barely escaped being caught in a baited area on the Choptank River the previous season, old Willie told them that they were currently hunting in a baited area at that moment.

But, he quickly cautioned, there was no chance the game wardens would ever catch them because he was far too smart for that.

They had a heck of a hunt that morning and the next, taking a double limit of geese and a number of out-of-season ducks. And the clients enjoyed watching Willie put out his bait, a plastic baggie of corn he carried to the blind in the game pocket of his jacket.

“The birds eat it all up before the wardens can get a sample,” he told me over a hot cup of coffee after the first hunt. “And I stay right here to make sure that they do.”

To this day I still believe he was the smartest of all of my dumb outdoor crooks. I actually miss old Willie.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet.net