The Game Warden's Tales
FROM OUR 2019 Georgia Lake Country's Outdoors magazine.
By Lynn Hobbs
Sitting hours on end in the woods, alone in the dark, was all in a day’s work for Mark Payne. Now retired and operating his own hunting guide outfitting service, Payne was the Putnam County Game Warden from 1974 until 1985. He sat down with Lake Country Outdoors recently and entertained us with some of his memories.
Stuck in a deep hole
Mr. Payne’s very first unforgettable incident was what he thought was a stakeout for night hunters, but it turned out to be an initiation for himself into the “game warden brotherhood.”
For one of his first assignments, Payne said his field sergeant assigned him to a joint stakeout in Hancock County, where he met up with the sergeant and several other game wardens.
“He’s got all these maps on the hood of his car, and he said he wanted me to go to a certain spot where there were night hunters, and it was weird because he was very specific,” Payne recounted. “He said, ‘Mark, you go down this road 1.3 miles and turn to the left, and when you turn, you’ll see this old house, but don’t worry, no one lives there.’”
Payne said the field sergeant told him exactly how to drive around the house and where to park so the night hunters wouldn’t be able to see him. He was given specific instructions to park so close to the house that he wouldn’t be able to open his door. After he did that, Payne said his sergeant radioed him and told him he needed to back up his Dodge pickup truck so the back end of his truck would be over the steps of the house.
“It was really dark and I couldn’t hardly see, but I backed up carefully and, suddenly, my truck was standing nearly straight up, like when you drop a stick in the ground and it gets stuck and stands up,” he described. “So, I tried to move, but realized my wheels were not even on the ground. I couldn’t open my door because of being so close to the house; so, I opened the passenger door, and that was when I saw that they had made me drive into a well. I had to put my feet on the dashboard and lean back or my chest would be laying on the steering wheel. I think to myself, ‘How am I going to explain this? They’ll think I’m the dumbest man in the world.’ Then, he (field sergeant) radioed me and asked if I was ok, and I said ‘10-4.’”
Payne said the sergeant radioed several more times over the period of the next hour, asking if he was ok, and Payne continued to respond that he was fine.
“Then, I see a car coming and I radioed them and said ‘There’s a car coming up the road,’ and sergeant said ‘Yeah, it’s me.’ Then, I see more vehicles coming, and it was all of them and the last vehicle was a wrecker. They all got out and laughed and told me that was the initiation. I tried my best to be the man, but they had done drove me into a well and got me good.”
Chicken fights end long marriage
In the early 1980s, Payne and a Jasper County game warden were patrolling together in Jasper County.
“We parked beside the woods and walked into the woods, and were just walking and all of a sudden, we saw this really nice barn. There was no pasture or fence or anything, just a big barn and it was nice,” he said, recalling they walked around the barn, saw only one double-door and opened the doors, where they found chicken fight rings set up, three rings, and a gambling board on the wall with people’s names on it and wager amounts. They relayed to the Jasper County Sheriff what they had found.
“So, we watched it for about three weeks, but nothing happened,” he said. “Then one night, a crowd started pouring in, so we called the sheriff and (reinforcements arrived), game wardens from Baldwin, Putnam and Jasper, and the sheriff and two of his deputies.” They blocked the door, but some of the people in the crowd kicked the wallboards out and crawl out under them, but the law enforcement officers managed to keep most of them in the barn. Because there were about 130 people, the sheriff arranged for two school buses to come.
“And we start to load ’em up,” he said, “and then up comes this little ole lady and little ole man, and I grabbed her by the arm to arrest her. And she said, ‘Young man, do you know how old I am? I am 73 years old, and I’ve been married to this man for a very long time and he ain’t never took me out, not ever out to eat or anything. But tonight is our anniversary, so he took me out, but he done got me arrested. When we get out of jail, I think I’ll divorce the old coot!’”
Payne said the elderly couple and everyone else in the crowd were charged with illegal gambling and cruelty to animals.
Captured by deer eyes
One Friday, he was assigned to work in Washington County, watching for night hunters on a dirt road. “So, I got my stuff ready to go,” Payne said. “We had nets to cover our vehicles, we were sneaky. So, I take my folding chair and my snacks, and I sit out there just waiting for somebody to come along. I could see them coming down the road, and one of them made a circle, then came right back out.”
Payne knew the driver was looking for deer, so he got out his “deer eyes,” which were a number 6 and a number 9 that were reflective. He said he’d turn the number 9 upside down and put it on a board beside the 6, “to make it look like deer eyes when the headlights or flashlights hit it. And when they see it, they can’t stand it and they start shootin’.”
“So, I noticed an old truck come through several times real slow, and I put out the deer eyes, and when he comes around the curve, his lights hit the deer eyes and his brake lights come on.
“Then, his cab light comes on and then back off and I wondered what was going on, because I thought he was going to get out, but he didn’t.
“Then, I heard a loud ‘POP’, but it didn’t sound like a gun.”
Payne went to investigate and found a man sitting in front of the pickup truck, rubbing his ears.
“And I ask, ‘What are you up to?’ and he says, ‘What?’ and I say louder, ‘What are you up to?’ and he yells, ‘I can’t hear.’ And I yelled, ‘I’m trying to catch night hunters,’ and he said, ‘Well, you caught one.’”
The man told Payne he had tried to shoot the deer from inside his truck, but he forgot to roll the window down and he had shot his .44 Magnum inside the cab of the truck. He said it was cold outside and he was trying to stay warm, but he ended up shooting his driver’s side window out. “So, he couldn’t hear for quite a while,”
Payne said with a laugh.
Robbing the bank
The former game warden said when his sons were young, a frequent question they had when he came home from work was, “Dad, did you catch any bad guys today?”
“And one time, I said, ‘I did, I caught some bank robbers today.’ And they said, ‘Bank robbers? You really caught bank robbers? How did you do that?’ And I told them some folks were over on Oconee Springs picking flowers off the bank, and I had to tell them they couldn’t pick flowers off the bank,” he quipped.
There was no space in the magazine to include the following stories told by Mark Payne, so they are offered here:
Keeping carp under control
Payne kept a straight face while telling this story:
“There was a game warden in Baldwin County -- this was years and years ago -- he had gone to the courthouse and parked his truck there in the parking lot. While he was inside the courthouse, someone messed with the passenger side of his truck, but he didn’t know it.
“And he came back out and got in his truck, and while he was driving down the road, people kept pointing to his truck and waving at him. He thought ‘everybody sure is being friendly all day.’ Then, when he got home and got out of his truck and was walking to the house, he saw that on the passenger door of his truck was a sign that said ‘carp patrol.’”
Mark’s straight face immediately broke into laughter, causing suspicion on my part; but I was unable to get him to admit he was the one who put the sign on the truck.
Stumping coworkers with stamp quackery
When one of Payne’s fellow Putnam County game wardens, a rookie, was assigned to work a dove shoot in the BF Grant Management Area, Payne offered some quick advice:
“I told him ‘don’t forget you’ve got to check everybody’s dove stamp,’” he said. “And when he asked what was a dove stamp, I told him it was 'a new law, similar to duck stamps, but we have to do it for doves, also.' And he said ‘You’re crazy,’ and I told him to ask his boss, who was standing next to us listening. So, he asked his boss and his boss said, ‘Mark’s right.’ So, the next Saturday, dove season opened up, and we were all out checking and writing tickets and the day rocked on until about 4:30 or 5:00, and people are getting ready to go home. And I got a radio call from Sheriff (Gene) Resseau asking me to come to the jailhouse. I said ‘when I get finished, I will,’ and he said ‘you need to come right now. I need your help.’ He told me he had a crowd waiting to pay tickets and he couldn’t find the price for this particular violation. So, I get there and there are 8-10 men waiting to pay their fine for no dove stamp. Resseau said ‘when did they put the dove stamp in?’ And I said ‘Oh, no,” and explained to him that we played a joke.
“So, we told the men they didn’t have to pay a fine and they went home; and I got punished. I was sent to Coastal Georgia and work shrimp boats. I had to work on the salt water for two to three weeks. It was terrible. Game wardens don’t want to go work the shrimp boats because we don’t know a thing about salt water, don’t know the tide, so we get stuck out there for hours.
“So, that’s what happened to me because of that joke.”
Cussed out for saving lives
Payne said he was patrolling in a boat on Lake Sinclair one day and saw four boys in a boat out on the main part of the lake who weren’t wearing life jackets.
“So, I threw them a rope and pulled them back to their dock and told them to go get their license because I was writing them a ticket.
“And their mama asked me what was I doing, and I told her I just saved their lives. She said, ‘You’re just working to meet your quota.’ I told her, ‘Ma’am, we used to work the quota system, but now we can write as many tickets as we want, and I’m writing your sons up.’
“She called me every name but the ‘dear Lord.’”