When the late Gary Clancy asked me if I wanted his deer, I told him I’d take it. We were hunting whitetails in Saskatchewan with a film crew from Realtree, but the weather was all wrong for a big buck. Instead of cold temps and plenty of snow, it was balmy. The woods were dry, and deer weren’t cooperative. Gary, a well- known outdoor writer who lived in Minnesota, had flown to the hunt. I drove my pickup to Canada from Wyoming. He had taken a modest 6 point buck, the only deer killed on the hunt, and decided not to ship the processed meat home. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to be involved in a profoundly frustrating adventure.
We got the proper tag to export the deer from Canada, and Gary wrote me an affidavit detailing the transfer of the buck to me. I’d need those documents at the border.
I drove to a tiny customs entrance at the Montana border. I’d crossed there many times, and was on a first- name basis with one of the agents. He was on duty that day. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked what kind of critter I was transporting to the US.
“Got a buck deer,” I said.
“You know the drill,” he said. “Fill out the forms.”
While doing so, I told him I hadn’t shot the buck, and that it was donated to me by a friend.
He frowned and asked if I had a special tag that was required for donated animals. I did not, and in fact, I’d never heard of it.
“I’m really sorry,” he said, “but I can’t clear you to cross into the US unless you have that tag.”
“Where do I get one?”
“I suppose at a wildlife office, but I don’t know where you’ll find one. You need to turn around and ask the Canadian customs agents.”
Right away I envisioned a serious problem. I was right.
When I explained the situation to the Canadian agent, he told me I’d need to find a provincial wildlife officer. He had no idea where I could find one, and wished me luck because it was Grey Cup Day in Canada, which is their version of the Super Bowl. Now I’m really worried. My plan was to drive home that day, re-pack and be on a plane the following morning for a hunt in Kansas. Finding a wildlife officer in an unfamiliar place in Canada, on a Sunday, especially Grey Cup Sunday, appeared to be a daunting challenge.
I drove north into Canada, and realized that there were no large towns close by. The small towns seemed closed, no doubt everyone inside watching the game. As I drove, I looked for a place where I could legally donate the deer. Maybe a Senior Citizens place, or a charity organization, but there was no one around to ask. This was ridiculous. I was driving around with a perfectly legal deer, as long as I remained in Canada, but could not leave the country.
Then the little devil bounced up on my shoulder and told me to just get rid of Gary’s tags and put my own tag on it, and drive across the border at a different crossing. Who would know? The little angel on my other shoulder excitedly told me not to do it, and was upset. I didn’t have to think about it and decided the angel was right.
So there I was, driving aimlessly around Canada, looking for a wildlife officer. I headed for a decent sized town whose name I can’t recall, and stopped at the first gas station I saw. I went in, asked the attendant, who was watching the game, if he knew where I might find a warden. I explained the situation.
“You might ask ‘ol Arnie,” he said. “He lives just up the road.”
“He’s probably watching the game,” I said. “I hate to disturb him.”
“Nah, Arnie hates football. I’ll call him for you.”
Amazingly, Arnie answered the phone and the attendant told him my problem. “Arnie says to go on over. Here’s his address.”
I couldn’t believe it. Maybe this all might work out after all. I thanked the man, drove to Arnie’s house and saw him working on his pickup in the driveway. We shook hands and he looked at me kind of funny. “Are you Jim Zumbo,” he asked? “He’s the guy who writes for Outdoor Life. You sure look like him. “
I blushed and said, “Yep, that’s me.”
“Well I’ll be danged,” he said. “I grew up reading that magazine. C’mon in the house. I’ll show you a couple of my trophies. Then we can go to the office and I’ll get your permit.” I looked at his mounts, and then we went to his office. Before I left, he gave me his business card. “This is just in case something goes haywire,” he said. “Feel free to call me if there’s a problem. I thanked him profusely and drove away with a big smile.
A couple hours later I crossed the border, but I entered the US at a different border station than the first one because it was closer. With all the required permits in hand, I was quickly cleared and on my way to Cody.
Two weeks later I received a call at home from the US Fish and Wildlife Service agent who covered the Cody region for his federal agency. He wanted me to come to his office for a little chat.
I went in, sat down, and he asked, “how is it that you tried to enter the US with a buck deer minus the correct tag, turned back into Canada, and a few hours later showed up at another crossing with the right tag— and on their Grey Cup Sunday when all the government offices were closed?”
“Arnie did it,” I said.
“WHAT?” The agent said, obviously confused.
I handed him Arnie’s official business card. “Call this gentleman,” I said, “He’ll explain everything.”
The agent called, spoke to Arnie at length, and poured each of us a cup of coffee. “That’s one hell of a story,” he said. “We couldn’t figure it out. You know, the computer put us on your trail. Glad you found Arnie.”
I finished my coffee, thanked the guy for his agency’s sleuthing which happily ended nowhere, and mentally thanked my little angel. And good ol’ Arnie as well.