In February, Department of Fish and Game warden Erick Elliott was named the National Wild Turkey Federation's California Officer of the Year. Nominated by his supervisor, Lt. Mike Ference, Elliott issued 15 citations last year during the spring turkey hunting season, most of them in the first few days.
"(Elliott) came to mind immediately," said Ference. "He speaks at public engagements, giving tips on hunting deer and turkeys. Most wardens don't do that."
Capitol Weekly caught up with Elliott to talk about the ceremony, and the values that create a superior warden.
Tell me about being honored as NWTF's California Officer of the Year.
It was outstanding. The highlight was getting together with the award wardens of the other states. In a closed-door session we talked about the similarities and differences where we worked.
It was neat to see thousands of people all together. In our job you get tunnel vision; you don't get to see people all throughout the nation doing what you're doing, facing the same challenges.
What were some of the universal challenges?
We talked about the recurrent poacher knowingly taking more than his fair share. We talked about the wildlife violator compact, which most of the states are now a part of. It basically says that if I catch a guy in California, I can share that info with people from other states so the poacher can't hunt in their state.
There are different tricks of the trade that poachers use to evade arrest. Some of the stories (the other officers) were telling kind of hit home. Game wardens in Florida are doing the same things that we are doing here. We're all kind of marching to the same beat.
Where do you work?
I work in Eastern San Diego County, in a town called Julian.
What's the most fulfilling part of your job?
To have somebody who thinks they have gotten away with a wildlife crime and have a game warden knock on their door three months later and have them prosecuted. … I like finding something out in the field, working a tip from an informant and not only collecting evidence but connecting with suspects, interviewing suspects and getting a confession.
We get to not only be crime scene investigators but also do some detective work as well.
Your father was also a game warden. What values did he instill in you?
Back when I was growing up, I was allowed to ride around with my dad. We would release wild turkeys into the woods. I remember thinking, this guy has a good job.
He made good cases against guys who needed to be prosecuted. He treated people with respect. I describe it as a silver tongue. He was able to talk with a pretty rough-and-tumble crowd. He could write a ticket, and often the rowdy outlaw would want to shake his hand afterward. I remember thinking, "This guy has a big knife on his hip – he's going to give my dad a hard time." But Dad could always carry it out professionally.
He taught me to be honest in what I write down. I remember him saying, "Even if you do make a mistake, be honest and the department will back you up." I really think that's true.
When you look back on your 11 years at the Department of Fish and Game, what are the highlights?
Some of the highlights off the top of my head are the relationships I've built with sportsmen. Some of my closest friends are people I met out in the field.
(I appreciate) the diversity of the job, being able to work the mountains on one day and taking a boat out on the ocean the next day. That's something most people don't get in their job.
Another highlight would be just seeing my kids grow up. I appreciate them being involved in the outdoors. My daughter just killed her first deer and her first turkey this last year. To be there was real special, spending time with her in the woods.