For responsible hunters and anglers, a game warden is a welcome member in the outdoor community. Most transactions between a warden and a sportsman go something like this: Any luck today? Yea, we got a couple this morning. Can I see your license? Sure it’s right here. Ok, well enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks, you too.
But perhaps in a sign of changing times, a game warden’s job has gotten more dangerous, and even deadly. Last week a routine stop by two game wardens in Washington state ended in a car chase and a shootout. Fish and Wildlife officer Chad McGary was checking anglers at Crab Creek when he ran into 18-year-old Garcia Meraz and Meraz’s father who did not have a fishing license. While talking to the two anglers, the game warden heard a clicking sound coming from Meraz’s pocket and he told Meraz to freeze. Instead of complying, Meraz shoved McGary and drew a .45-caliber handgun, pointing it at the warden’s head.
Meraz ordered McGary to hand over his firearm, and Meraz’s father approached McGary with a knife. But the game warden stayed cool under pressure. He refused to had over his gun, and instead threw it into some bushes. He convinced Meraz not to shoot him, pointing out that there was another officer nearby who would hear the shots. Meraz fled the scene in a vehicle, giving McGary just enough time to recover his gun and apprehend the father who already had a warrant out for his arrest.
Fish and Wildlife Captain Chris Anderson tracked down Meraz’s vehicle and gave chase. During the car chase Meraz shot at Anderson, spraying the warden’s vehicle with bullets on the driver’s side. Anderson fired back and eventually caught Meraz when the suspect’s car stalled. Neither men were hurt in the chase.
“Our officers are quick thinkers and they are good communicators, and that is one of the things that saved Officer McGary’s life,” Mike Cenci deputy chief of field operations for fish and game told the Tri-city Herald. “By all indications these officers operated with cool heads and got themselves out of a dangerous situation and operated with valor.”
Unfortunately, the incident in Washington is only one in a string of recent game warden shootouts. In March, a warden shot and killed a bank robber in Wisconsin, there have been three shootings involving game wardens in California in the last two years and a few months ago, wildlife officers were shot at along the Arizona-Mexico border.
“A police officer who responds to a burglary in progress or a domestic violence incident can go in ready, knowing what’s ahead,” Cenci told the Herald. “But if someone is hunting or fishing and the season’s in progress, how do you know?”