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The Green Line

Warden’s memoir recalls forays and follies in the wilderness

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If you have ever hunted or fished, chances are that you have been tempted to cross what former game warden Terry Grosz , author of For Love of Wildness, refers to frequently as “the green line.”

Just this fall, returning from a day in the woods that was unsuccessful insofar as I had not, euphemistically speaking, “filled my tag,” I spotted a likely candidate. The only problems were that it was dark, I was on a road, and the deer was on the wrong side of the road, probably private property. But it stood looking at me long enough for my mind to go through the motions. Rifle on seat beside me. Shells in pants pocket. Deserted road, no cars. It was a deed of no more than ten minutes’ quick dirty work. Quickly and easily I could accomplish the end I had legitimately but fruitlessly sought all day. Never mind for a minute that I had had a fine day in the woods full of many other gifts other than the end I was seeking. Disregard the fact that I would be breaking at least four hunting rules, and abandoning any sort of hunting ethos. The quarry I sought was standing there looking at me, and I was all alone.

Although I continued on my way home empty-handed, I don’t think that this reaction is particularly unusual. Hunting requires time that few are willing or always able to invest in to achieve the same result that could be had with less savory means. For Grosz, violations of hunting ethics and/or laws stem practically from our fallen nature. “Because of the isolation of the marsh and the opportunity to kill to one’s heart’s content on a prime hunting area, hunters were ethically challenged, and many succumbed to that clarion call of blood lust that perpetually runs barely under the surface in all our veins. That urge to kill in a field of plenty …often without warning, overtook many a good man. … They just couldn’t control one of their most primitive and basic urges: the compulsion to kill.”

Although this is Grosz’s second book, his stories are straightforward if not blunt yarns. But these stories are not to be read for style. They are wild and some are so remarkable that they might seem contrived if slickly written.

Take the time when Grosz and his fellow wardens are winding down after a long weekend of patrolling abalone divers along the Northern California coast. Having polished off a gallon of wine apiece, the rangers hear the sounds of large ship idling in a cove nearby. Sneaking through the night they discover that it is a Russian fishing trawler that has slipped in under the cover of night to take advantage of the good abalone pickings. Feeling patriotic, indignant and well-oiled—it was 1970 and these were Rooskies!—Grosz proceeds to rain down 10-inch SCRAM waterfowl herding rockets onto their ship. The bad guys scramble for cover and quickly depart unfriendly waters.

Much of the book concerns Grosz’s time as a federal game management agent in California. And most of the stories in this book are about “ethically challenged” waterfowl hunters in the rice paddies and flooded corn fields that comprise the famous wintering grounds of the Sacramento Valley, where “ducks really did blacken the skies—and I … [mean] day after day during the fall and winter seasons.” So we get Grosz, night after night laying in the mud for hours documenting violations, sprinting through the night in his hip waders trying to catch someone who is armed (often with a 15-shot magazine), or even offering to lend a helping hand stashing illegally shot birds when the exclusive duck club members hear that a warden is in the area.

Grosz unequivocally loves the wildlife he protects and often waxes religio-philosophical about the values and marvels of God’s creations—saving his anger for the poachers who disregard the creations but also exhibit “man’s inhumanity to man through sheer destructive practices against the ever-changing world of wildlife and against humankind as well.” But ultimately Grosz sympathizes with hunters because he is one himself. He says: “There is no greater thrill than stalking your fellow human.” And throughout the book, the reader is carried along by Grosz’s sheer delight in the hunting that ends not in a kill, or even in the payment of a fine but in the poacher’s realization that there is a 300-pound, 6-foot-4-inch madman out there ensuring that crime doesn’t pay.

It is providential that over the years Terry Grosz filled up a box in his basement with notes about these bizarre cases and that he was encouraged to write them up; furthermore, the thought of this wild gorilla of a man for 30 years busting his ass as a sort of catcher in the wildlife rye should be enough to keep any hunter on the honest side of the “green line.”

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