Legal Issue

Midday has passed, it’s cold as a witch’s heart, wind blowing, ice getting harder and slicker by the second.

The phone rings. The caller-ID informs me it’s old pal Killer, a hunting buddy who spent many a day with me chasing pheasants and deer, more of the former than the latter but plenty of both. I gotta give the man credit: he consistently displayed the uncanny ability to bring down faraway ringneck roosters with his 12-gauge howitzer … on his third shot. Perseverance pays.

Ole Killer, now 70, is a throwback from way back, a hunter/gatherer of sorts who’s always out there collecting something to supplement daily table fare. Be it fiddleheads or wild leeks, mushrooms, berries or nuts, fish, fowl or game, the man is “out there,” so to speak. A rare breed these days, he even padded his income back in the day as a trapper, one whose life revolved around dawn trap lines, pelt-preparation and fur auctions during a long, arduous fall/winter season. Where he wanders from the hunter/gatherer mode is gardening, just another way to make ends meet when you drop out of the clock-punching 9-to-5 he endured and abhorred. No, he doesn’t live in the lap of luxury, but he’s not saddled in debt, either, and, most importantly, he’s a happy camper. What else can a man ask of life?

Anyway, Ole Killer was all wound up for the recent phone call. The thorn in his paw is what would appear on the surface to be a simple question related to borderline ice-fishing that’s been bugging him for a couple years now. You see, he and his buddy have taken quite a liking to ice-fishing on the Sherman Reservoir, a Deerfield-River power-station that straddles the Massachusetts border in Rowe, touching the towns of Readsboro and Whitingham in Vermont. Many years ago, I wrote a story about a Vermont man who caught what I believe still stands as the state-record brown trout there, but I can’t say I can recall all the details. Must be getting old, I guess.

The problem tormenting Killer and his buddy is that they’re parking at a public-access in Vermont and hoofing it to the Massachusetts side to set their tip-ups and jigging stools with their Massachusetts licenses. Ole Killer is a stickler who, of course, goes by the letter of the law when it comes to hunting and fishing regulations. So he’s afraid he could get pinched by Vermont game wardens for possessing fish he’s caught in Massachusetts, then walked across the state line to his vehicle without holding a Vermont fishing license. No siree, let’s just say that Ole Killer isn’t one bit interested in getting nailed for illegal possession of fish without a Vermont license in that neighboring state’s parking lot.

After asking around last year without a satisfactory answer, he went searching for “clarification” at the recent Springfield Sportsmen’s Show’s MassWildlife booth manned by environmental police officers and came away befuddled, if not a tad irked and impatient.

“They told me they weren’t sure what to tell me, that they’d have to look into it but didn’t think anyone would bother me,” he groused. “I wasn’t happy with that answer. If wardens don’t know laws, who does? I looked and couldn’t find anything in the abstracts.”

Determined to find an answer, my buddy’s next step was a call to MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough, where he was patched through to a woman whose name he couldn’t remember, then to another source, neither of whom could provide a quick, easy answer. Supposedly, they’ll research it and call him back or send snail- or email clarification of this troubling legal dilemma. Perhaps they’ll even consult with Vermont authorities first. My buddy subsequently bumped into a game warden on Ashfield Lake and again got a blank look and no answer. So, in the meantime, I guess my old hunter/gatherer buddy will just have to take his chances, because the ice is right and the fish are biting.

“Who knows? Maybe if you throw something out there in your column, you can get an answer,” Killer speculated. “You know, maybe you’ll hear from a game warden or someone who’s been checked by wardens on the Vermont side without getting cited. I still can’t understand why I can’t get this question answered.”

You gotta feel for the guy because, remember, this is also a relevant question for open-water anglers who fish Sherman Reservoir from the shore or boats, either of which would seem to present potential border “technicalities” for those parking in Vermont and fishing Massachusetts.

Apparently, my buddy Killer isn’t the least bit interested in becoming a media-darling precedent-setter, regardless of the outcome. Can you blame him? He’s trying his best to be legal.

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