Wy­oming Game War­dens Com­bine Train­ing, With Their Sum­mer Va­ca­tion

Riverbank News - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES -

LARAMIE, Wyo. — A stiff breeze pushed two float­ing hoops around one of Gran­ite Springs Reser­voir’s small coves at Curt Gowdy State Park.

Hid­ing in what lit­tle shade could be found, spec­ta­tors anx­iously watched Ne­braska game war­den Jeff Jones wind up his first cast.

With a rod and spin­ning reel, Jones aimed to pitch his fish­ing rig into the far­ther of the two hoops, about 60 feet from the bank. Be­side him, his team hov­ered over a ca­noe, wait­ing to shoot out into the lake, weave around buoys, col­lect duck de­coys and set a bear trap.

The elab­o­rate course was but one of four events in the Game War­den Games, a sport­ing event hosted an­nu­ally dur­ing the North Amer­i­can Wildlife En­force­ment Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence.

“About half the of­fi­cers are pay­ing their own way at the con­fer­ence,” said Jason Sher­wood, Wy­oming Game and Fish Laramie Re­gional ac­cess co­or­di­na­tor and Wy­oming Game War­dens As­so­ci­a­tion host com­mit­tee chair. “Most agen­cies don’t have the fund­ing to send an of­fi­cer for an en­tire week to the con­fer­ence, even if there is train­ing in­volved. So for many of them, this is their sum­mer va­ca­tion, and the games are nice way to make sure every­one gets to en­joy it.”

With only 15 min­utes to com­plete all the tasks laid out in the event, Jones was un­der pres­sure to hit his mark as quickly as pos­si­ble. Thirty-seven sec­onds later, a judge in a kayak called Jones cast good and the five-man team scram­bled to get Ne­braska game war­den Ray Dierk­ing and re­tired Cana­dian game war­den Randy Nel­son into their life jack­ets and out onto the wa­ter as quickly as pos­si­ble.

At 4 min­utes and 24 sec­onds, Dierk­ing and Nel­son re­turned with the ducks in hand, switch­ing out of their vests as Jones spun the ca­noe and Ne­braska game war­dens Mitch John­son and Alex Hase­nauer hopped in and headed for the bear trap churn­ing the lake with their pad­dles and chant­ing “stroke” in uni­son.

The duo re­turned tri­umphant to cheer­ing from their team­mates and the crowd, fin­ish­ing the event in 8 min­utes and 8 sec­onds.

“I was try­ing to tell (Hase­nauer) the pad­dle is sup­posed to be in the wa­ter, not pour­ing the lake on the guy be­hind him,” John­son said, laugh­ing. “Com­ing back, my bi­cep nearly gave out.”

‘PUH PO SHUH’

The Game War­den Games dif­fer year to year and are de­signed by the host as­so­ci­a­tion, which ab­stains from par­tic­i­pa­tion to en­sure no team has the home ad­van­tage, Sher­wood ex­plained.

“We try to think up events that com­bine wildlife skills as well as team­work,” he said. “But of the more than 400 peo­ple at the con­fer­ence, only about 80 are com­pet­ing, so we also have to come up with stuff that’s fun to watch.”

Dubbed “Ne­braska Eh” in honor of the team’s Cana­dian mem­ber, Dierk­ing’s team was one of 17 trudg­ing across the moun­tains shoot­ing sling­shots and blind­fold­ing deer de­coys.

“I like the games, be­cause they are re­al­is­tic,” said Nel­son, who’s at­tended about 14 con­fer­ences across North Amer­ica. “They in­cor­po­rate a lot of things we do on the job.”

Hase­nauer smiled and shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he said, smirk­ing. “I haven’t roped many deer.”

Silent in agree­ment, the two said no more about the day’s first event, which re­quired the team to find a GPS cache, then lasso a deer de­coy, blind­fold it and load it into a horse trailer.

“We even parked the trailer on a hill to en­sure it was an ac­cu­rate sim­u­la­tion and add a bit more chal­lenge to it,” Sher­wood said, watch­ing another team wres­tle with the bent trailer latch.

The teams also tested their marks­man­ship skills with sling­shots, bows and air ri­fles at one event, and the fi­nal event for Ne­braska Eh was the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tent.

“That’s the trick­i­est part,” Wy­oming Game and Fish Se­nior Game War­den Bill Brine­gar said. “We put a lot of stan­dard things on the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion list, but we also add unique species spe­cific to the state.”

In­side the tent, var­i­ous items lined two ta­bles, in­clud­ing a big horn sheep skull.

“They have to try to de­ter­mine the age based off the an­nuli rings on its horns,” Brine­gar ex­plained.

When all is said and done, the fi­nal test is pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the popo agie flower.

“Most peo­ple try to sound it out enun­ci­at­ing the agie,” Brine­gar said. “But, it’s ac­tu­ally pro­nounced like puh po shuh.”

NEW SO­LU­TIONS, OLD PROB­LEMS

Bussed in from Lit­tle Amer­ica, game war­dens and their fam­i­lies spent most the day in Curt Gowdy.

While many fol­lowed the teams from event to event, oth­ers used the day to go hik­ing or moun­tain bik­ing.

Hay bales were set out with steer heads for chil­dren to prac­tice rop­ing, a bounce house was brought out and through­out the day, fam­i­lies and vol­un­teers hosted smaller events.

“Be­cause we’re not par- tic­i­pat­ing in the games, many of our lo­cal guys are vol­un­teer­ing,” Brine­gar said. “We sup­ply wa­ter and Ga­torade at the events, make sure there’s enough ice in the cool­ers, judge events and check in on every­one to make sure ev­ery­thing is safe, and every­one is taken care of.”

As the sun neared the west­ern hori­zon, par­tic­i­pants, at­ten­dees and vol­un­teers de­scended upon a large tent in an open field.

Live mu­sic was piped through a sound sys­tem and the mood was re­laxed as the Al­bany County Cat­tle-Women grilled sir­loin steaks for din­ner.

Later that evening, the 37th an­nual North Amer­i­can Wildlife En­force­ment Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence Game War­den Games win­ners were an­nounced.

Ne­braska Eh placed fourth.

“Game war­dens have a dif­fer­ent life­style than most,” Dierk­ing said, re­flect­ing on the day. “It can be chal­leng­ing for spouses, so com­ing to these events help fam­i­lies make friends that can re­late to those is­sues.”

Nel­son leaned over a truck bed and watched two chil­dren chase each other to­ward the bounce house.

“You watch kids grow up at these events, and I think we build life­long friend­ships,” he said with a hint of a Cana­dian ac­cent. “The train­ing is real good, but even bet­ter is the B-Sing. Talk­ing to guys from all over North Amer­ica, you learn new ways to solve old prob­lems.”

Ray Dierk­ing, far left, and Jeff Jones, sec­ond from right, help push a ca­noe into the wa­ter as Mitch John­son, sec­ond from left, and Alex Hase­nauer, right, pad­dle dur­ing the Game War­den games Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at Curt Gowdy State Park.

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