After a perfunctory license check, I engaged the persons in conversation. It soon became apparent that one, Jim Stallings, was an excellent raconteur. He also loved to hear a good story and encouraged his companion to tell several hunting tales. Jim was likely in his middle 50s to early 60s, while the others were perhaps 70 years old. Jim’s eyes shone as the tales were recounted and he repeatedly stated that this was what hunting was all about. The kill was not important, but rather the ethical pursuit of the bird or animal and remembering, and sharing the great experiences that one had during the hunt. I left the encounter believing that this was one of the finest sportsmen I had met during my career.
Time passed, perhaps several years. At that time Pennsylvania had a three-day antlerless deer season. Rifle buck season came in the Monday after Thanksgiving and lasted for two weeks. On the following Monday, doe season, as it was commonly called came in and it was usually a blood bath on the first morning. It was quite effective for an officer to patrol the back roads on that day as they were continually checking deer after the hunters had time to drag them from the woods. Many hunters followed the old principle of “making hay while the sun shines”, and it was common to find untagged deer, hunters with more than the legal limit, hunters without licenses for antlerless deer and other lesser violations.
Deer hunting sometimes brings out the worst in a certain type of individual and it seems that antlerless deer are often victims to some of the worst depredations!
At that time one was required to have an Antlerless license, which was good only for the county in which it was issued. According to the informant, it was common for these people to use licenses issued to the county they were from and not Fulton County, where they were hunting. They were also known to kill more deer than they had tags for.
With the passing of the years, many details have become hazy, but I recall that we checked some other area at dawn and then headed for the area where the Stallings gang was hunting. We arrived about 8:30 in the morning and the rifles were still thundering about us. Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, Anthony “Andy” Carbaugh, was with us, and he and I circled the killing zone while Salty approached from another angle. At the appointed time we converged on the spot where the shooting had come from and the carnage we discovered was disgusting. At this point I cannot remember how many deer were killed or the exact description of the violations, but they were numerous. I do recall that one hunter was still carrying a loaded weapon, and trying to kill another deer in excess of the legal limit.
We seized the rifles and other pertinent evidence and told the violators to meet us at the vehicles, which were at the same spot where we had the wonderful conversation in spring gobbler season. We arrived there before the violators and there was Jim Stallings. He was still quite a talker, but he wasn’t telling wonderful hunting stories now. Instead he was protesting that he just couldn’t believe the boys would do a thing like that, and he had no idea they were outlaws. We actually had nothing on Jim, but the rest of his group was a different story and it doesn’t seem possible that the illegal activity was done without his knowledge or approval, especially since our informant said that Jim was involved and in fact bragged openly on how he had the wardens fooled.
This incident and many more like it were to eventually have a major impact on reshaping my views toward wildlife conservation and management.
*Jim Stallings is a fictitous name, but the character is very real and described accurately to the best of my ability. The officer’s names are real with the exception that my brother was not known as “Salty” at the time, but currently uses that nickname on his blog, Country Captures, and the name has caught on around home as well.