New book shares stories of local retired Game Warden
RENOVO — If it weren’t for the constant shadow of danger revolving around encounters, John Wasserman’s book about his 34-year career as a Pennsylvania Game Warden would be considered comical at times.
Wasserman details some of his most memorable cases in his new book “Woods Cop,” — most of which took place in the late 1970s and 1980s — and it often finds him matching wits with repeat offenders, a cat-and-mouse scenario in many instances.
Local poachers often knew Wasserman was on their trail, even having been caught before. But they still proceeded to illegally hunt and trap game, putting the ball in play for the officer to try and catch them in the act or to try to gather enough evidence after the fact to get a conviction.
The author drops many tricks of his trade to get people to confess to crimes they may have otherwise gotten away with — such as showing up with a blank search warrant with only the “search warrant” part sticking out of his pocket.
He’d often even antagonize an illegal doer into making mistakes. The most notable of which was finding an illicit hunter passed out in a hunting blind, in which the Game Warden snipped four inches off of the man’s ponytail, before hanging it outside of the blind, even offering a photo of the cut hair in the pages of his book.
Still, it was the 70s and 80s and simply put, a Game Warden by nature isn’t typically beloved in a small town community in which hunting is a way of life. Nearly every one of the author’s encounters involve angry individuals — some downright unstable — all of whom were armed.
Those decades were also well before smart phones.
Wasserman patrolled 450 square miles of rugged mountainous terrain. Many roads weren’t marked, ice was typical in winter months and help was rarely close. Early in the book, Wasserman recalls the fall of 1982 after Berwick and Piper Aircraft had closed their doors, skyrocketing Renovo unemployment to 85%. Illegal kills were much more than a thrilling rush for the actor. Often times it was to put food on the table for their families.
Going against Wasserman in a close-knit community was he was not from the area. After being raised in Bucks County, Wasserman moved to the Renovo area in 1976 to accept his first position as a wildlife officer.
With all of that as a backdrop, Wasserman took to the woods for over three decades. Therein lies the stories he recalls.
“Woods Cop” recounts some most memorable encounters, and often arrests, which Wasserman made in the hundreds of miles of woods he patrolled. Many stories come off with outrageous acts that now seem humorous. But there was certainly a constant threat by nature of the job.
One story which combines danger and humor involves rescuing a hypothermic male off of Fork Hill Road in Chapman Township. Wasserman writes after successfully using chains on his tires and finding the individual in time, saving his life, the trip back down the steep mountain road with a precipitous drop to his left made him realize “all you have is your religion” when you’re up against ice covered roads in the mountains of central PA.
The hazards of the job were not lost in the author’s reflections.
“It was as I explained in the book, I was like a referee in a sport and it had some danger to it, particularly depending upon the individual,” Wasserman said. “I just always tried to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated and to treat everybody the same.”
Despite the perils of arresting people with guns, there does remain plenty of wit in many of the tales. Wasserman explains in one story he took a case he was working to a local newspaper with pictures of deer carcasses someone shot and left lay. He carefully crafted a cutline that tried to get anyone who knew the culprit to turn on them by adding that the deer were nursing fawns. He took it a step further by referring to them as “baby” rather than fawn, knowing blatant waste of life would infuriate many in town. He also added the shots “were not very well placed, which indicates that this person is not a proficient marksman,” trying to provoke the shooters into opening their mouths to friends.
John published some of the stories previously in 1990 in PA Game News, writing a monthly feature for a year and then occasional ones after that. Readers to this day remember those stories, which proved a big inspiration to write the book. John’s twin brother Bill, also a retired Game Warden, has written 11 books, mostly revolving around his career and he, along with Wasserman’s wife Denise, encouraged the book.
Wasserman admits to taking some liberties with the stories and using false names.
“So much time has passed, many of the people that the stories are based on are good people now. I made an effort to be sure to add and change the stories up the best that I could so as not to offend anyone so many years later. I tried to make it difficult for anyone to know who I was referring to,” he said.
With the release of “Woods Cop,” those stories from a generation ago can now be revisited, in a book that will undoubtedly have readers shaking their heads and laughing at the absurdity of at least a few sportsmen and their ways of hunting 40 and 50 years ago.
The book can be purchased at www.johnwasserman.com as well as www.woodscop.com.