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Behind the Badge

The Lighter Side of the Wildlife Box

District Game Warden Art Cox

Public outreach. Game Wardens do it every day. When the public has questions about wildlife, who’s usually the first person they contact? You guess it, the local game warden.

From talking with someone individually to addressing a group, the warden does it all. A large part of public outreach is public speaking. This goes from speaking off a structured outline, or what the young wardens call, a power point, to, which in my case, just winging it.

Well, I’ve been winging it for over 25 years and the most important tool that I come to rely on is the visual aid. My visual aids do not include power points since that involves computers. The most important visual aid I’ve come across is the wildlife box, especially when speaking to… kids.


So, what is the wildlife box? The wildlife box is a large plastic container on wheels that contains a wide variety of wildlife items. This ranges from fox skulls to hawk talons; from Canada Goose wings to pheasant wings. You got patches of tanned deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep hides to full pelts of weasel, mink, badger, fox, coyote, bobcat, and last, but not least, mountain lion. Don’t forget the antlers either, deer, moose, elk, along with antelope horns.

Take these out of the box and start passing them around to the kids, along with other skulls and hooves, and the biggest problem a warden will have is keeping the presentation to an hour.

Now let’s get into the structure of the talk. Teachers worry about two things, and they hammer these into me and their students. The two things when giving a talk to kids is 1) keep to the time limit and, 2) no stories.

But number one almost never happens due to the fact you can’t eliminate number two. The teacher’s instruction to the class is always the same, questions are encouraged, but NO STORIES.

I’ve heard it at every talk I’ve given, the teacher emphasizes the part of no stories, but about halfway through the talk among all the questions, some brave soul can’t restrain themselves and before you know it out comes the story, and it’s usually about… Dad. Once that happens the flood gates are open, and the stories come flying in from all directions and there goes the hour.

Now the rest of my article is going to touch on two of those talks I gave to elementary kids and will show you the devious nature of elementary teachers.

The first one happened years ago right here in Bowman. The elementary teacher is a good friend of mine and asked if I could talk with her first graders. She also asked if I could get any “visual aids.” I told her I’d see what I could do, thus starting my career with the wildlife box.

Now after one of these talks with her first graders, my “friend the elementary teacher” asked me if her class could sing me a song to show their appreciation.

A song? You’re kidding right? You’re serious?

Now I can stand up in front of room of practically anybody but the thought of standing in front of a classroom of first graders singing to me about did me in.

So, I very politely told her “not on your life” and started inching toward the door. She just laughed and we agreed to do more talks, but no singing.

The second story involves family. My niece is a teacher at a public school in eastern North Dakota. She was wondering if I could come over and give a series of 20-minute presentations to the kids, grades K-6, then talk with the interested high schoolers about job opportunities with Game and Fish. I told her it shouldn’t be a problem, but I would have to check with my supervisor.

She then said, “We would like you to read to them.” “Read?” Yes, we’ve got the book already picked out for you. That was a curve I wasn’t expecting. I hadn’t read to anyone for over 30 years, the last time was to my youngest, who is now 33. The grandkids preferred Grandma’s reading to mine so I knew I was going to be rusty.

My niece said it would be only to the kindergarteners and first graders.

Well, I thought I could handle it, so I agreed. I talked with my niece again just before heading east. She told me that everyone (the elementary teachers), thought it would be a good idea to have me read to all the grades.

All the grades? I thought no sixth grader is going to want to listen to me read, so I had to think quick, and the wildlife box came to the rescue.

So, my wife and I headed to eastern North Dakota.

Muddy bull elk bugling

At the school we were escorted in by my niece and grandniece. Entering the classroom, I saw around 20 to 30 kids waiting as kids do, impatiently, eying the box and the elk antler on top of it.

The teacher walked over and handed me the book. Looking at the book, then the kids, I asked “Do you want me to read this book to you or do you want to see what’s in the box?”

The room erupted into a yell “The Box!!” Thus ended my reading career and I proceeded to overshoot the time limit for every grade.

I could go on with other stories because each talk I give is an adventure in itself, but I see the teacher in the back of the room giving me “time to stop and let’s wrap this up.”

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