John Ford was an exceptional game warden. After he retired he served as sheriff in Waldo County for a while.

During that time he produced annual calendars that we sold at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. And then he became an author writing several great books full of amazing and entertaining warden stories.

I think even John was surprised that he became a very popular public speaker, giving book talks all over the state, some of which drew hundreds of people. He often did those talks with his friend, retired state trooper Mark Nickerson.

I have been a great admirer of John Ford for decades. He was the kind of warden who treated everyone, including poachers, with respect. Surprisingly, many of those poachers he arrested became friends of his. He had lots of informants, all of whom’s identity he protected. Integrity and fairness were very important to him.

A lot of his stories are about trappers, and I was very amused to learn that trapper poachers oftentimes told John about other trappers who were poaching.

And John was relentless — sometimes it took him years to catch the poacher, but he always did eventually.

John was a warden during a time when wardens often worked 24 hours a day without being paid overtime. That was the job, and John loved it. He retired after 20 years as a game warden because the job was changing dramatically, with warden’s work hours limited to specific shifts and the job expanding to include lots of duties that took them away from the main goal of protecting our wildlife. John found that to be very frustrating.

The job of Maine game wardens has certainly changed from John’s day. As he wrote, “Today’s training is much more professional, and the issued equipment of today is far better than anything we ever could have imagined. There were no cellphones, computers, game cameras, pagers, night scopes, airboats, jet skis, high-powered snowmobiles, ATVs, GPSs, and the list goes on.”

John was able to share so many of his stories because he recorded them all in the daily diary, something his stepfather, game warden Vernon Walker, encouraged him to do.

Sadly, John passed away about a month ago, and he will be missed by many of us. I am especially grateful to him for leaving us with one final new book, titled “Living the Dream” and published by North Country Press.

This book is a little different than his previous books.

In the introduction John writes, “My story begins with what life was like as a youngster, living in a house filled with a wide variety of wild critters. All of them in need of a little special care if they were to survive. Being raised within their lifestyle is what prompted me to pursue the career I did. Eventually, that career brought me to where I was truly Living the Dream.”

I really enjoyed the stories about his mom caring for lots of abandoned and injured wild critters, from fishers and foxes to owls. John inherited that sense of caring as an adult and took many wild critters into his home. His story about Fritzi the fisher was one of my favorites, and there’s a delightful photo on the cover of the book of Wiley, an adorable fox that John originally thought was a coyote when it was delivered to his house as a tiny baby.

I ended up with many favorite stories in this book, from the times John ran after night hunters sprinting away, to the amazing trap some hunters set to catch and later kill a deer. And he would sometimes sit hidden in the cold woods all night for several days to catch a poacher.

Yes, John saw it all.

Towards the end of the book, John shares a series of stories about a fellow he called Grover, a notorious poacher who John arrested — along with his poaching buddies — many times. Incredibly, John and Grover became great friends and would get together after every hunting season is over. There’s even a photo of the two of them laughing and smiling at a public event.

You do not have to be a hunter or angler to enjoy Living the Dream. And I am so grateful that John shared his dream with us.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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