Trash Can Joe

Featured in Warden Force Season 4

It was cool in the canyon beneath the trees, the still air fragrant with the spicy scent of sage and chamise. Upon arriving at the suspect's tree stand, the wardens found everything as they had left it a few hours earlier. They spent most of an hour studying the lay of the land, planning for their ambush of the bear-killing outlaw, Trash Can Joe. But it was a tough place to work. Due to the steep canyon walls and the heavy brush, there was no good place from which they could watch at a safe distance.

"We're gonna have to be right on top of him," said Conely with concern.

It was true. It was crucial that they see Bass do something to associate himself with the bait pile, but to do so they would have to be but a few feet away. Neither warden was comfortable with the idea, but there was no other way. So they chose their ground with care, and when Lt.Warrington called to alert them that Bass had just arrived and was on his way in, Conely and Ulrich knew exactly what they had to do.

Conely, wearing camo pants and a green, nylon "raid" jacket, quickly lay down amid some low, sparse vegetation beneath a scrub oak, a mere 20 feet from the bait pile. Ulrich then covered him with leaves and leaf mold until little more than his nose and eyes were visible. Ulrich then stood back and regarded his work.

"You'd better not sneeze," he said. ''And if you so much as wiggle, he'll spot you."

He then hurried into thick brush and burrowed into a spot they had selected for him. He would be able to see nothing from there, so they would be relying entirely on Conely's observations.

Now it was time for silence. The wardens ceased all movement and conversation, becoming like statues. And the wildlife in the canyon grew quiet as well, as though sensing the tenseness of the situation. Two large coveys of quail on opposite sides of the canyon had been calling to one another, their clear, melodious little voices ringing back and forth through the evening air. But now, even they were still.

Beneath his covering of leaves, Conely was fighting a battle with himself—his self discipline pitted against his natural reflexes. Insects had discovered him. A pair of large carpenter ants were exploring his face, and something had entered his sleeve near his wrist and was creeping up his arm. Probably a tick, he thought. He gritted his teeth, his eyes squeezed shut as time crawled by.

He sensed the presence of Joe Bass before he saw or heard him. Opening one eye ever so slightly, he saw a sight that chilled his blood. Bass was at a crouch, eyes burning, sneaking toward him, his bow and arrow at the ready. Conely had never experienced such peril, and he knew with certainty that were he to sit up at this moment, Bass would instantly drive a broadhead through his chest. He held his breath.