Game warden gets dose of humility

Glenda Price

One summer we managed a guest ranch in the New Mexico mountains. Besides taking reservations, cleaning cabins and doing laundry, we had a string of dude horses. We took care of the horses and accompanied guests on trail rides in the nearby forest.

We had one other duty — trash. The cabins were built around a square, and the middle space had firewood for the fireplaces, children’s swings — and trash cans. Those were the days before bear-proof trash receptacles, and most of our guests LOVED watermelon. Bears loved it, too.

Most mornings began with watermelon leftover cleanup, because during the night the bears would dump the trash and help themselves, making a huge, sticky mess in the process.

The guests, of course, wanted to “see a bear.” They often did, but we worried about their safety. They paid no attention to our insistence that wild bears are NOT gentle, cuddly animals.

We got along all right, though, until one night a bear got in the horse pen. The horses, being for the most part smarter than people, knew the bear was not their friend. They ran over the fences, majorly wrecking the pens, and scattered into the woods. A couple of horses met the sharp end of the bear’s claws during their getaway.

After we fixed the damage, gathered and doctored the horses, we called the local game warden, Clifford, although we hesitated because he was one of those guys who’s “proud of themselves.”

He brought a culvert trap and set it up by the barn. The idea is for the bear to crawl into the culvert to get to the bait in the back. When he pulls on the bait, a door slams shut behind him. It’s mounted on a trailer so the problem bear can easily be hauled farther into the wilderness and released.

The bear we caught turned out to be a “she” – and she had a cub.

When we showed up, Mom grunted to her baby. He minded Mom as good little young’uns do, and shinnied up a nearby scrawny pine tree.

We called game warden Clifford again. After surveying the situation, he hitched onto the trap and moved it a bit. The baby cried and started down the tree, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it. She REALLY grunted at him that time, and he climbed almost to the top of the tree – at least 40 feet.

What to do. He couldn’t shoot it with a tranquilizer dart because the fall would be too far. We sorta enjoyed big ego Clifford’s dilemma.

Finally, Clifford put on heavy gloves and a long-sleeved jacket, tied a rope around himself and a fairly stout branch and started climbing.

The baby cried, Mama grunted, the tree swayed, Clifford climbed. At last he was just under the baby, within reach, and we all learned that people aren’t the only mammals that lose control of bodily functions when they’re really scared.

Whatever that baby ate the night before gave “stink” a whole new dimension. Clifford was covered in it. He bravely held on, though, and they made it down in a crumpled, smelly heap.

Poor Clifford got no sympathy at all.