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Retired N.D. game warden tells his story

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The warden’s job is more than running around catching “bad guys.” It’s selling what we stand for, integrity and the value of our outdoor heritage. We each need to do this by being the best we can in each aspect of the job.

— Bruce Burkett, retired North Dakota game warden and author of “I Didn’t Know Game Wardens Did That!”

In his 40-plus-year career as a game warden, supervisor and investigator with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Bruce Burkett was run over by a vehicle, twice assaulted by fists and shot at once.

A certified pilot and diver, Burkett was involved in about 65 drowning incidents, either in recovering bodies or investigating what happened, and his dogged approach to his game warden job led to unhappy endings for dozens of poachers.

Needless to say, Burkett’s years as a game warden resulted in some memorable — and not so memorable — encounters.

The retired warden, who spent much of his career in Devils Lake, recently released a book highlighting his career. “I Didn’t Know Game Wardens Did That!” features nearly 50 stories Burkett assembled from his years as a protector of the state’s natural resources.

The stories have been brewing for years, he said.

“I think the idea has been there a long time,” said Burkett, who has lived in Bismarck since 2003, when he left Devils Lake to become the Game and Fish Department’s commercial operations investigator. “This job has allowed me to experience things that the average person never gets a chance to, and it’s led me in a lot of different directions.

“I think that anybody who is in law enforcement for any time will be experiencing a lot of things the average person doesn’t get to see firsthand.”

Burkett, who retired in 2013, said he spent about two years writing the book, which he self-published through CreateSpace, an affiliate of Coming up with the stories wasn’t difficult, Burkett said.

“I’ve always been a packrat,” he said. “I’m a gadget guy, so I always had a camera, I always had video. When videos came out, I got the first one, and when I was warden supervisor, I tried to get everybody up on the latest technology.

“And I kept most of my case reports. I still had case reports from the 1970s.”

A Jamestown, N.D., native, Burkett started his law enforcement career in 1971 as police chief in Steele, N.D. He became a Game and Fish Department warden in 1972, working in Beulah and Hazen, N.D., until 1978, when he transferred to Devils Lake. He spent the bulk of his career there, first as a district game warden and later as warden supervisor for northeast North Dakota, a position he held from 1990 until 2003.

The book has plenty of stories that took place in northeast North Dakota, including an undercover operation that led to a massive poaching sting involving catfish and saugers on the Red River near Drayton, N.D., and an early ’80s deer poaching case in Grand Forks County.

Burkett also writes about close friend and fellow game warden Chuck Pulver, who died from a heart attack while on the job in November 1995 in Cavalier County. Burkett found his friend and fellow warden lying dead in a snow-covered field while part of a search team assembled after Pulver was reported missing.

The story of that incident is one of the book’s most personal moments, Burkett said.

“That story is a culmination of a lot of other stories that lead up to it,” Burkett said. “Where we worked on cases and conducted investigations to apprehend somebody violating game and fish rules.”

At 250 pages, the book is divided into 12 chapters ranging from “Warden Days from Devils Lake” and “It’s About Airplanes — Live Fully Alive,” to “Covert Operations.”

 Burkett said he tried to write the book not only for average readers, but for divers, pilots and others with an interest in the game warden profession.

“A lot of these stories are law enforcement responses to serious emergencies involving multiple agencies, federal and state, responding to serious offenders, not just game and fish offenders,” Burkett said. “And then there are some stories that are just interesting things that happened to me, and some of the other wardens I worked with.”

With the book now in print, Burkett begins the next chapter in the writing process: Promoting the book through media, eventually a website and personal appearances to sportsmen’s clubs or other organizations.

“I’ll go anywhere they invite me,” he said.

To buy: “I Didn’t Know Game Wardens Did That!” is available through for about $15.99 paperback, while the Kindle version costs $7.99.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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