The good old days? Perhaps, but Y.D. Whitehurst likes today and the way hunting, fishing and wildlife are flourishing in his highly familiar Izard County.
Whitehurst lives in Melbourne and is retiring after 39 years as a wildlife officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. All his work as a wildlife officer has been in Izard County.
His retirement also closes a three-generation chapter for the AGFC. Curtis O'Neal, Whitehurst's father-in-law, was a wildlife officer in Izard County for 21 years. Whitehurst's daughter, Theresa Whitehurst Campbell, was a wildlife officer for more than 15 years before moving to other fields.
At age 69, Whitehurst smiles as he looks back over the long service enforcing hunting and fishing rules in Arkansas mountain country. His job, like those of all other wildlife officers, includes much more than policing the ranks of hunters and fishermen. "Other duties as assigned" is the bureaucratic phrase, but for Whitehurst, it meant doing anything and everything that came along. He was the representative of the Game and Fish Commission in his county, much of the time the only representative.
Whitehurst said, "In the 1960s, people were still hunting to get food like they did in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s." Today, hunting and fishing are for sport, although many participants certainly make use of harvested game for enjoyable meals obtained by their endeavors.
"The job is so much easier to do these days," Whitehurst said. When he began in 1965, he had to provide his own vehicle, a Ford Galaxie sedan. He had a 14-foot flatbottom boat with a 10-horsepower motor to work the White River, Izard's western boundary and a heavily fished and highly popular trout area.
Whitehurst said, "For example, now we have aircraft to help locate night hunters. They can spot the illegal hunters' lights, radio us on the ground the GPS coordinates, and we can go right to them before the folks know anyone is anywhere close."
It was 1957 when Whitehurst first went to work for the Game and Fish Commission. He was employed in the agency's radio shop at Little Rock. A year later he went into military service then worked in construction until 1965. O'Neal, his father-in-law, was ready to retire as Izard's lone wildlife officer, so Whitehurst sought and got the job. "I went out with my father-in-law a good bit before that," he said.
He added, "I guess being a game warden was just cut out for me. I loved the job."
But there were trying moments, he said.
"People were accustomed to hunting when and how they wanted to. It was hard for them to change. I was aggressive when I started, and I worked day and night. I owe a lot to my wife Nell. When I would get discouraged about something, she was there to get me settled down and back on track."
There were conflicts, a few involving physical confrontations -- fights. Whitehurst said, "I had to draw my sidearm a few times, but I never had to fire at anyone, and I was never shot at -- that I was aware of."
Changes came, he said. "Over the last 20 years, people in Izard County have become more conservation minded. The schools have helped. Hunter education has helped. A lot of the younger folks are friendlier than some of those old-timers were. Our courts hit violators heavy and sometimes take their equipment."
Whitehurst said, "Things in general (in hunting and fishing) are better today. In 1965 when I started as a wildlife officer, everybody was mad about (AGFC) opening doe season. Now we've got so much more deer and turkey. We've got more trout in the (White) river. The dog issue (use of dogs for deer hunting) is quiet. People just have more confidence in the Game and Fish Commission." With his retirement, Y.D. and Nell are planning some travel, and they'll be in close contact with daughter Theresa and son Timothy. Y.D. and Nell have been married 51 years.