nine lives of cats... and game wardens
Steven K. Cross
I am in
my 11th year as a game warden and have been in some near misses and quasi-wrecks.
When working in adverse conditions and with an array of equipment, virtually
anything can happen. Here are a few stories that make my hair stand on
end thinking of what might have happened if we didn't have the luck of
Mother Nature watching over us.
not Mario Andretti
We had planned
a decoy operation (a deer mount used to capture night hunters) in the
Fairview country. It was late November and about -20C.
A crew of
six officers and three vehicles were en route to the field where suspected
night hunting activities were taking place when the District Officer,
whom we figured knew the roads, missed a turn. In a dazzling cloud of
snow, the next thing we knew Joe's truck, (oops, no names mentioned) was
buried in a four-foot snowdrift and Joe was attempting to exit through
little ribbing we figured we had better get this operation back on track.
We started by hooking one winch to the stuck truck. No budge. The second
truck was hooked on and still very little movement. Three officers operated
vehicles and the other three spectated from the road, monitoring the profanity.
The next step was erroneous, as the two trucks started jerking with the
winch cables. After about the third jerk a "snap" was heard over the roaring
engines and profanity. A sparkling glitter whizzed past one of the observing
officer's heads at the speed of a .22 Swift bullet. Everything stopped
abruptly and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. One of the hooks attached
to the winch cable had disconnected (later discovered as an installation
error) and nearly decapitated one of the officers.
wisdom to those who operate winches: don't jerk with them and ensure the
"C" clamp is installed properly.
Dollar Wood Splitter
4 1/2 years in Grande Cache, we worked very closely with the RCMP members
of the detachment. I had planned a helicopter patrol with the RCMP in
October. The morning arrived and we met at the helipad at the Forest Service
compound. The pad was on the northeast corner of town, with a view to
the southwest straight down the Smoky River valley. The pilot sparked
up the helicopter to let it warm up and we reviewed maps for the tentative
was clear the two RCMP members, the pilot and I climbed in. I could hear
the rotor speed pick up as the pilot explained the push-to-talk-button
on the headphone set. The helicopter gently lifted off the ground and
slid sideways, one way and then back the other. We pivoted and hovered
in several spots around the fenced enclosure. However, we never got more
that five or six feet off the ground.
then commented he was unsure of where the wind was from and if he could
get enough lift for take-off. I pushed the button and informed the pilot
that the wind virtually always blew from the southwest, straight up the
river valley. He replied he didn't think it was from that direction on
this particular day. I didn't argue. He was at the helm. That was my error.
Maybe I should have been a little concerned when he added, "Let me know
if we are getting too close to the trees."
into the northwest corner and the pilot pinned it for the southeast corner.
Too late to turn back now. I could see the two pine trees approximately
50 feet tall between the two front seats and they didn't seem to be getting
much shorter as we raced toward them. I didn't think my palms could get
sweaty that quick, but by the time I reached for the push-to-talk-button
to inform him we weren't going to clear, my finger nearly slipped off.
Not that it would have made any difference. Leaking profusely, I stared
in amazement as this million dollar wood splitter I was riding in, went
to work on the top eight or 10 feet of the two pines, one on either side.
I thought this couldn't be good. That was about the last stable thing
I saw as the helicopter began to vibrate like the wildest carnival ride
I had ever been on. As my head rapped off the window I saw the pilot gripping
the stick with both hands. We hung a hard right, tilted nearly on our
side, the helicopter made an about turn and we were on a rapid descent
back into the fenced pad. We went back into the pad nearly as fast as
we had went out and bounced about four times before screeching to a shuddering
halt some distance from where we had touched down. But the good thing
was, we were still right side up!
I must say
that it was the shortest, but most exciting helicopter ride I had ever
been on. After we could stand on our gelatinous legs we walked around
to discover two piles of neatly stacked, sliced and diced pine tree. I
called it a day. The next day a semi came to town to haul the wood splitter
back for some costly repairs.
not so Beauty
and I have been doing horseback patrols in the Willmore Wilderness
for about three years now. It was early September and we had been
on the trail for three days when we rolled into the Sheep Creek
cabin at about 8 p.m. We were tired, as we had ridden nearly 12
hours that day. The ponies were tired too and had no qualms about
standing quietly at the hitchin' rail after a few bites of grass
and a drink of water.
myself at being a superb trail chef and do most of the cooking.
After chowing down on a deep-dish pizza from a wood stove oven that
would put Panagopoulos to shame, Bill and I sat down to refreshments
and a game of crib by Coleman lantern light. We sat at the old wooden
table looking out the window, and could see the outline of the four
horses (Dunn, Burt, Penny I and Penny II) resting quietly tied to
the hitchin' rail. All I could think about was falling into my spring
cot to get some shuteye. Wrong.
glance I made out the window was to watch Penny II tip over and start
thrashing. Bill and I rushed out of the cabin and with some effort got
her back on her feet. A quick assessment revealed signs of colic. She
was lathered in sweat, her pasterns (ankle area above front hooves) were
smoking hot and she didn't look good at all. For those who are not familiar
with horses, but possibly with babies, colic is like the nastiest case
of upset tummy or heartburn you could imagine. The only cure is to keep
them moving until it breaks loose.
I took turns walking Penny II around and around and around and around
(you get the picture) the cabin. Next, we tried purging her with the sun
shower and with every spice we could dig out of the cabin and pack boxes.
Anyhow, about 5 a.m. she came out of it and started to eat a little grass.
Bill and I could finally hit the bunks and get some shuteye. I awoke about
9:30 a.m. to see Bill's bunk empty and the other horses gone. I figured
he must have taken them for a drink. I stretched, threw on my gun belt
and headed for the creek. I checked the regular watering spots and no
Bill or horses. I went back to the cabin. Ah ha, they were on the airstrip
having something to eat. So off I went again.
As I cleared
the trees I could see all four horses standing abroad looking over the
creek bank. I figured that maybe Bill was doing a little fishing. As I
approached, I could see a large brown colored figure approximately 50
yards from the horses. As I got closer the figure took the form of about
a three hundred pound grizzly in a staring contest with the four hobbled
horses. As I approached I drew my pistol and expected the worst. Then
things even looked worse when a glance to my left revealed a silhouette
of Bill laying in the grass along the creek bank. My worst nightmare:
Bill mauled by a grizzly, three days' ride into the Willmore backcountry,
no radio communications - but as long as the bear didn't charge the horses
I would have a way out of there. I crouched next to Dunn and undid the
hobbles with one hand, keeping one eye on my grizzled friend. As I led
the horses back to what I thought was a safe distance, I sighed a sigh
of relief as the bear turned and started on his leisurely way up the creek.
As I sprinted
over to the molten pile of Bill, I saw no sign of blood, just the roaring
chainsaw-like snore from his snout. I gave him a swift kick in the backside
and in kind enough words asked what he was doing. He sleepily replied,
"Having a nap." His attention was somewhat aroused when I pointed out
the fur ball now about 100 yards up the creek and went on to explain the
earlier situation. A closer survey over the creek bank revealed the grizzly
had wandered about 25 yards from Bill as he lay in his siesta state. After
a few chuckles, we returned to the cabin for some left over pizza and
a relaxing game of crib.
been in the outfit for as long as some of our old crusties, but have
had the opportunity to sit in on a few bear pit sessions to hear some
of the hair-raising stories of narrow escapes. I swear there is some
old archaic angel watching over us, as to my knowledge there has never
been an officer killed in the line of duty in the Province of Alberta
from the time of their creation (knock on wood).
Steven K. Cross is a member of
the Conservation Officers Association
of Alberta in High Prairie