Milligan later found the number of trout in the bag to be about 18.
“I think it’s like a game,” Linda Milligan, his wife, said about the job. “They are trying to catch the people who are trying not to get caught.”
Game wardens do even more than protect wildlife. “Our initial mission is to protect inland fisheries and wildlife,” Milligan said. “However, there are some things that trump that. And probably the most important thing that we did was search and rescue missions.”
He told a story about a search for some snowmobilers one winter. They were on their way to Fort Kent in deep snow. Instead of the normal snowmobile trails, they took the forest trails. A blizzard came that night. “Four of us responded. Four wardens,” Milligan said. “What had happened was they had one of those little beacon things that sent off an SOS to a satellite and gave their GPS location. And we found out that there were three people.”
Milligan and the team found their snowmobile tracks. Two wardens went one way and Milligan and another went the other way. “We ended up finding the guy. His snowmobile broke down. And he was cold, but he did have a little fire going. I don’t know if he would have made it through the whole night. You know, because there wasn’t a lot of firewood really.”
The wardens who went the other way found the other two. The two snowmobilers went to get help. The snow was so deep the snowmobilers had to leave their snowmobiles. “They literally were like, right on end. They (their snow mobiles) sunk right down in the backs and they were stuck,” Milligan said. The snowmobilers were a mile from the plowed road. They decided to crawl in the snow because it was too deep to walk without snowshoes. “Literally it was like five or six feet of snow,” Milligan said.
The two snowmobilers made it onto the road. About a mile down they found the game warden truck. “Well, luckily when we unloaded our snowmobiles about a mile down the road, instead of locking my truck, I said, ‘Just in case somebody comes out I’m going to keep the truck running, the doors unlocked and the heater on.’ And ‘lucky for them’ that I did, because they were about froze to death and they went down and they found our truck and got in it to warm up.”
“By the time it took us to get all the way back around to where we started, to where those guys were in the truck,” Milligan said, “I think they would have been probably dead or hypothermic. At the least they would have been very hypothermic…. They all survived.”
The search and rescue missions were the most meaningful part to Milligan. “I can think of a lot of times, like, in the winter, there would be a snowmobiler missing in the middle of the night. And it’s 30 below zero and you go all night looking for them on the trail and you finally find them. And you know if you didn’t find them, they probably wouldn’t be alive in the morning. And you know you did something right,” he said.
Being a game warden required Milligan to always stay on his toes. On the days he didn’t have off, he always had to stay around his phone. That, he said, was one of the hardest things about the job. Linda Milligan said, “It entails, you know, being willing to go out whenever you get called.”
Malcolm Milligan, David Milligan’s son, shared some interesting details about the job. “All game wardens are trained in case there are attacks on schools or anything like that. So, that way, they can back up the state police. And that’s why they have the semi-automatic rifles, to help with protecting against school shootings,” Malcolm Milligan said.
Malcom Milligan also described an issue with moose that game wardens dealt with. Moose sometimes get brain worms. It makes them wander aimlessly on the road. Game wardens drive up and kill such moose to swiftly end their suffering.
“Sometimes we would have like four feet of snow and the deer would get stuck and he would try to help them get unstuck,” Malcolm Milligan said. “Or, if they fall through the ice, in the water, like on a lake, they actually would lasso the deer and pull it out of the water to save it. So, they were constantly trying to, like, save wildlife.”
“I wanted to protect the fish and wildlife,” David Milligan said. “That was my main reason for getting into law enforcement.”
Last year, David Milligan retired from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Now, he works for the Ashland Police Department. Since all game wardens train at a police academy, he knows how to do the job. He said he enjoys working in a small town.
Looking back, David Milligan remembered many hard things about working as a game warden. He told the story of how he lost a friend who worked with him. His friend was a pilot for the game warden service. His name was Daryl Gordon. One night, Gordon planned to meet Milligan and some other game wardens who were fishing. The pilot detoured, however, to help a game warden who got stuck. Afterward, Gordon headed home. He got caught in a snow squall and flew toward Milligan’s location to wait it out. Gordon crashed and died on the way. “Who really knows for sure, but we think he couldn’t see the land and he thought he was higher than he was and he crashed. It was very sad,” Milligan said.
Milligan shared a story of working with Gordon. Milligan and another warden set up a decoy deer. They set it up so that they could catch illegal night hunters. Gordon flew a plane overhead to watch from the sky. The lights on the plane were kept off to keep the plane out of sight of criminals. A man drove by in a truck and shot the decoy deer. The other warden ran up to the truck, but the truck took off.
Milligan picked up his partner in their vehicle and began the chase. Their tires weren’t studded, and freezing rain covered the ground. “The guy that shot the deer, not only did he have his studded tires on, but he also had a whole bunch of weight in the back of his truck. So, long story short, I was losing him,” Milligan said. Gordon flew overhead and kept track of the truck, which took the logging roads. Gordon communicated with Milligan’s partner to tell Milligan which turns to take. After about 38 miles, the criminal parked his truck. So, Gordon guided the wardens in.
The wardens found and walked up to the guy who shot the decoy deer. He asked how they caught him. “At about that time,” Milligan said, “Daryl, our pilot, did a low fly right over the top, put on his landing lights.” Milligan mimicked the loud noise the plane made and laughed.
Game wardens do so much to protect the wildlife and the people in the outdoors. The job has many sacrifices. “It is a life more than a job,” Linda Milligan said. It is not a life for everyone, but it is a gift for those who are meant for it. At the end of his recalling, David Milligan said, “I would encourage anybody who’s interested in it to go for it. It is the greatest adventure that I think a person could ever have, living in Maine.”