Cowboy in the Woods
Caleb Ritenour, Assistant Editor
Feeling nostalgic for our brave military in recent times, a reader’s roll call saluted a collection of Tim O’ Brien short stories of the Vietnam War – The Things They Carried. It is an excellent read I fervently recommend to any fellow patriotic American. In addition to a swelling sense of pride and patriotism for my country, the evocative work made me reflect back on my decade of duty as a game warden.
Across the thousands of hours and scores of opening days, only one partner served by my side each and every time I patrolled. This ally was there for me well before I put on the badge and stayed long after the uniform retired. In the face of danger, the trusted friend did not fearfully lag behind, nor foolishly forge ahead. At all times, the sidekick was positioned tactically and tactfully by my side. My reliable partner and sidekick was my sidearm. In the right hands, an issued sidearm is an extension of an officer’s bravery and success. A symbol of patience, practice, and protection. In contrast, a mishandled firearm could sound the loud report of failure.
Stamped across such steady sidekicks are varieties of brands, calibers, and models. From east to west and north to south, issued firearms vary as much as each agency’s wildlife and geography. Maine northern woods and pristine waters are protected by a Smith & Wesson M&P45. Texas, boasting more licensed hunters than any other state, issues its wardens a .40-caliber semi-automatic Glock. Personally and professionally, the Pennsylvania Game Commission trusts a Glock 31 .357 semi-automatic.
Every branch of the law enforcement family tree would agree on the importance of getting to know one’s partner. While this typically refers to human interaction, spouse’s name, how many children and personal interests, so too should the game warden get to know their sidearm on a deeper level, learning what makes it tick. This skill includes the ability to break down, clean and, in some cases, fix a firearm. Wardens should handle their firearm frequently enough it has become part of instinctual reactions. It should fit the hand as natural as a glove.
Outside of game wardens, I have yet to meet a profession that embodies the standards and ideals associated with stewards of the land. By nature, conservation officers pick up shell casings. This prevention of litter can lead to a delightful hobby. This lofty call summoning wardens above and beyond is just my two cents, but most game wardens save a penny where others spend a buck. Why not recycle brass by reloading?
First and foremost, only factory loads should be in the chamber and magazine during patrol and official law enforcement duties. However, reloads could prove invaluable for target practice, simulated training, and home protection. Tinkering with grains and bullets for optimum performance is another enjoyable facet to owning a firearm.