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Forest Service Outgunned By “Rambo” Deer Hunters

November 11, 1988

NEW WAVERLY, Texas (AP) _ Swelling troops of deer hunters in east Texas, including ″Rambo″ types in military dress armed with semi-automatic weapons, are outmanning and outgunning U.S. Forest Service agents on public lands, officials say.

″It’s scary as hell,″ Billy Ball, special agent for the Forest Service, said Thursday. ″These guys are carrying cannons and we’re regulated by policy with six-shooting pop pistols.″

Last year, Texas moved past Pennsylvania to become the state issuing the most hunting licenses. But as the ranks of hunters have grown and become unruly, a situation aggravated by alcohol and drug use, some private land owners have been restricting access to their property, officials say.

All of which has put increased pressure on east Texas’ four national forests - Sabine, Davy Crockett, Angelina and Sam Houston - during the firearms deer season that began last weekend.

″I wouldn’t go out there myself nor take my family,″ said Carl Gidlund, a U.S. Forest Service public information officer. ″It’s turning into an arsenal out there.″

″What’s changed on the forest is that we’re seeing a lot of military weapons,″ or semi-automatic weapons, instead of rifles, Ball said.

″We seeing people moving away from the traditional weapons to a military look, dress, weapons. We call it ‘the Rambo syndrome.’ They get their faces painted up and they’re wild-looking.″

In the deer season’s first weekend, law enforcement officers received death threats from hunters, a 14-year-old boy was wounded by a hunter firing at a wounded deer, and another hunter was found unconscious after falling 30 feet from an illegal deer blind, or a platform devised to hide hunters from deer.

Officers also were investigating illegal blockades set up by some hunters to keep others off public land and incidents in which nails were spread over some federal forest roads.

″We presume it’s people trying to keep other people out of their ‘exclusive’ hunting areas,″ Gidlund said. ″One witness said he picked up 20 pounds of nails.″

On Wednesday night, three hunters told authorities they were ordered at gunpoint from national forest land by other hunters.

″It’s locals who say ’My daddy and my granddaddy hunted here and you city slickers aren’t hunting here,‴ Ball said. ″And we have to referee these things.

″I’m not classifying all hunters like this. But you got a crowd of people getting together with adrenalin pumping and some alcohol and drug use. And you’re going to have trouble.″

Ball is one of seven federal law enforcement officers patrolling 700,000 acres in 15 counties. The agents are equipped with six-shot, .357-caliber Magnum pistols.

Officials say the Sam Houston National Forest, about 50 miles north of Houston, has the most hunting pressure, followed by the Davy Crockett, about another 50 miles farther north.

Rich Glodowski, district law officer for the Sam Houston forest, said he wears a bullet-proof vest to protect himself while on patrol.

″But with the firepower out there, there’s no way it’s going to stop it,″ he said. ″I’m not sure what the answer is.″

In addition to semi-automatics, officials are finding greater use of handguns.

″They’ve got two or more handguns and bandoleers (ammunition belts) with 90 rounds. You can kill all the damn deer in East Texas with those,″ Ball said.

Although no statistics were available on the number of hunters in the forests, all of the Forest Service campgrounds for hunters are filled, Gidlund said.

Jerry McCrae, of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional office in Rusk, said some private land owners are charging hunters $400 per gun to hunt, and many won’t tolerate ″Rambo″ types on their land.

″The national forest is a natural attraction for those individuals,″ McCrae said. ″It is open and the fact it is free, it does attract a crowd.″

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