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Never a Slow Day: Hunting Season Is Busy Season for West Windsor Warden

  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, checks the hunting licenses of (l to right) Dennis Dimik and his daughters Ashlee and Rebekka of Windsor, Vt., in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, checks the hunting licenses of (l to right) Dennis Dimik and his daughters Ashlee and Rebekka of Windsor, Vt., in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & WIldlife game warden from West Windsor, puts the antlers on the head of a decoy deer he uses to catch hunters who are illegally hunting from their vehicles on roads in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & WIldlife game warden from West Windsor, puts the antlers on the head of a decoy deer he uses to catch hunters who are illegally hunting from their vehicles on roads in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, hands back a rifle after checking that it was not loaded while making the rounds in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. Majeski spends hunting season checking licenses, guns, and deer, among many other tasks, such as arresting lawbreakers. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, hands back a rifle after checking that it was not loaded while making the rounds in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. Majeski spends hunting season checking licenses, guns, and deer, among many other tasks, such as arresting lawbreakers.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, checks the hunting licenses of (l to right) Dennis Dimik and his daughters Ashlee and Rebekka of Windsor, Vt., in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & WIldlife game warden from West Windsor, puts the antlers on the head of a decoy deer he uses to catch hunters who are illegally hunting from their vehicles on roads in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Stephen Majeski, a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, hands back a rifle after checking that it was not loaded while making the rounds in Brownsville, Vt., on Nov. 23, 2013. Majeski spends hunting season checking licenses, guns, and deer, among many other tasks, such as arresting lawbreakers. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

It’s 9 a.m., and Vermont Fish & Wildlife Senior Warden Stephen Majeski is starting his workday the way he often does, by chewing the fat with a fellow West Windsor resident over coffee outside the Brownsville General Store. While it may appear like a leisurely conversation, Majeski is actually engaged in an important aspect of his job — building relationships.

“Some guys are on the force for 10 years and they barley know anybody (in town),” says Majeski, who last spring was named Vermont’s Warden of the Year for outstanding law enforcement and public service. “I like to get to know people, first to be friendly, and also because some day those people might be your witness. You might need a comment during an investigation and they might be the person that leads you to what you’re looking for.”

Majeski was recently involved in an investigation that needed more than his own authority. Windsor resident Daniel Parry pleaded guilty to two charges of animal cruelty after one of Majeski’s goats was killed and another badly wounded in an October 2011 incident. But another man was acquitted earlier this year in a trial where Parry testified that the defendant had paid him to kill the goats to get back at Majeski for investigating allegations of illegal hunting.

Majeski, who led several successful search-and-rescue efforts in 2012, was named Vermont’s State Game Warden of the Year in May. He received the award from Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin at a ceremony at the State House in Montpelier.

“That was humbling, because there are a lot of guys I work with who I consider some of the best law enforcement officers in the state,” Majeski says as his morning patrol begins.

After more than 13 years as U.S. Coast Guard officer, Majeski, a Boston-area native, came to the Green Mountain State because he wanted a place to settle his family. Yet he wanted to maintain a career of adventure, and being a Vermont game warden provides plenty of that. That’s never truer than this time of year — big-game hunting season and, particularly, deer rifle time.

Whether it’s people illegally shooting from the road or at night, baiting animals or hunting without permits, Majeski copes with a barrage of calls from Friday to Sunday.

“It’s really just a triage, you have to arrange things in terms of priority,” Majeski says. “There’s just so much stuff going on.”

On this chilly weekday, though, Majeski has a bit more time to be selective. His itinerary will include scoping out an area where he received a tip for possible baiting, checking out a deceased moose in the middle of a Springfield, Vt., brook, and joining a colleague in hopes of catching a hunter whose license has been revoked.

First, though, Majeski makes his daily rounds, driving his marked pickup truck high into the bumpy Windsor back roads, to a secluded field on the property of the Southeast State Correctional Facility. There are a pair of trucks there, but one of them departs as soon as Majeski’s truck enters the scene, past a sign saying “No unauthorized motor vehicles.”

“We’re going to have to have a little chat,” Majeski says.

The hunter is already driving his way back toward the exit, along the field’s single lane of tire tread, when he sees Majeski’s oncoming vehicle. His vehicle freezes like a deer in headlights.

Majeski makes sure his paperwork is legal and tells him to stay out of the field. What he’s more concerned with is that the man appears poised to shoot illegally from his truck.

“It’s 15 degrees out and he’s riding around fields with his window rolled down and the rifle in the front seat,” Majeski says. “Unfortunately, there’s a subculture of this kind of thing, where guys think it’s OK to shoot deer from their trucks. To me, it’s cheap. It’s not hunting. If you think about it, there’s no real hunting involved.”

Next stop is a pit area off of Route 44A in Windsor, where Majeski unloads a deer cadaver he’s been keeping in the bed of the truck. He wants to inspect it for a bullet wound, to see if someone may have shot it and left it because it was an illegal kill. (In Vermont, a legally killed deer has at least three points on each antler, with the third not being shorter than one inch.)

This deer is legal, and Majeski doesn’t suspect it was left by a hunter because of several strange cysts surrounding one of its eyes.

“There’s no bullet wound, and it might have been diseased,” Majeski theorizes. “Sometimes (hunters) will shoot deer and leave them there when they see that it’s illegal. Some of them self-report, in which case they get a civil fine and lose their license for the rest of the season.”

At 10:15, Majeski heads to Springfield, another of the nine towns in his jurisdiction. He’d received a tip that someone may be planting bait — oftentimes apples or grain — illegally in order to attract deer onto a property. The person is home, so Majeski stealthily enters from a side road. Stepping quietly uphill through the brush, Majeski turns around periodically to glance back at where he’s already walked passed. “A lot of times, (the bait) will be sitting behind a tree or a rock, and you can’t see it on the way up,” the warden says.

He finds an old deer stand near a stone wall and some beech trees, but no sign of bait. Through the trees, there’s an open field tucked behind the house. Any bait planted may very well situated there, but Majeski will bide his time.

“If (the property owner) sees me, it’s ‘game over,’ ” he says. “I don’t want to go into the field while he’s home.”

The morning’s final stop is behind a residential neighborhood in Springfield, where the dead moose was spotted by a hunter the previous day. Majeski joins the tipster, Matt Aiello, and property owner Betsy Owen on a half-mile walk to the small brook .

Once again, there is no discernible bullet wound, but unlike when he inspected the deer earlier, Majeski can find no sign of disease in this two-year old cow.

“This looks like a healthy moose,” he says after flipping the moose over to inspect its underside. “It’s got plenty of fat. If it were diseased, a lot of times they stop eating and you’d be able to see some ribs.

“This one’s going into the book of the unexplained.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.