There are two sides to every story. Sometimes more. Different perspectives in every he-said-she-said. Over the years, I have occasionally written things that, had I reached one more source and gotten that one more perspective, might have been written very differently.

And it’s in that light I offer this: one man’s perspective on a game-check situation that clearly riled the feathers of a couple of hunters, so much so that it led to letters to the editor, emails to columnists and, in the next few days, publication in an outdoors magazine.

Disclaimer: I wasn’t there, but I’ve talked to nearly everybody that was. So, essentially, I have gathered the perspectives of others to generate my own. Take that for what it’s worth — which, provided you also have a buck and a quarter, will get you a cup of coffee.

Here’s what happened.

Two hunters, a Western Washington resident named Terry Sheely and his son, Brandon Sheely of Okanogan County, were on their way out of the Little Naches, each in his own rig. As for what happened next, well, I’ll let you first hear it from the perspective of the hunters. This was the letter the Sheelys sent to both the Herald-Republic and to columnist Rob Phillips, who forwarded it on to me. It, or a version like it, was also sent The Reel News, a Lake Stevens-based outdoor publication which will run the letter in its December edition:

Letter to the editor:

What’s going on with the road blocks and heavy-handed law enforcement on public roads in elk hunting areas of Yakima County?

A great elk hunt and father/son experience was tarnished on the last Saturday of the season when we ran into a six-car road block of Yakima County Sheriff Deputies (three by my count, all with separate cruisers), Wenatchee National Forest enforcement officers and just one state fish and game officer at a posted mandatory “game check” on the Little Naches River Road.

Of the six police cars and enforcement officers at the WDFW game check, only one was WDFW. That’s just wrong—that’s not a game check it’s a police action.

Hunters are required to stop at WDFW game check stations and that’s reasonable. But we were ordered to stop and accosted, not by a state fish and game officer, but by a Yakima County deputy sheriff. He was not familiar with game transport laws, hunting gun laws or several other points, never asked to see our hunting license, to check if our rifles were unloaded, and seemed more concerned with finding the possible violation of some county or state law than in “checking” for game and firearm safety. He asked me why I was hunting in Yakima County instead of Okanogan County where I live and had the audacity to suggest that I “stay home to hunt.” Is that what WDFW and Yakima County businesses want, to keep grocery, hotel, motel, lodge, gasoline and restaurant money in our home towns instead of spending it in Yakima County? The deputy’s remark was pure and simple bullying with a badge and is intolerable. That such behavior is being sanctioned by WDFW at a WDFW game check is not something that hunters should have to tolerate.

That deputy was followed by another Yakima deputy who asked about driver licenses appeared to check our vehicle license plates and that encounter was then followed by an enforcement officer for the National Forests, a woods cop. He wanted to know if we were stealing firewood. It came across as an accusation. He said he’d already cited several hunters for taking home left-over campfire wood and forced them to dump the wood in a campground—a campground that ironically was closed by the NFS during the hunting season. What gall! It appeared suspiciously, based on the lack of game check questions, that the whole roadblock situation wasn’t a game check at all but a pretense to coerce hunters into forfeiting their campfire wood and a way to find bad guys without probable cause for a legal stop. I wonder what happens to all that wood? In the Methow it’s re-scattered in the forest. In the Naches it’s suspiciously carted off “somewhere” to be used for what?

As hunters, we expect to be questioned by WDFW, and rightly so, about our hunt, our success and firearm safety. We expected to have my elk tag examined because it was on an elk. All legitimate at a WDFW game check.

We didn’t expect to be grilled by county cops, woods cops and who know what other badge agency was in the wings, taking advantage of the fact that hunters are mandated to stop at WDFW’s game checks. Game checks should be just that--a check for game. If WDFW wants to invite other agencies to take advantage of WDFW’s power to legally stop traffic—on a public road—then shame on WDFW. If those agencies are using WDFW’s right to stop traffic for their agencies’ enforcement purposes I think WDFW should tell them to go home and learn to do their own work.

Yakima county deputies and the federal woods cops have no more right to stop and question me or other hunters on the Little Naches River Road than they do on Fruitvale Avenue in Yakima. The law says they have to have legitimate reason for a traffic stop. They have no legal right to willy-nilly stop and grill us hunters without probable cause or evidence of a crime. Letting WDFW make the stop for them is circumventing the law and borderline criminal. That WDFW is allowing its check stations to—dare I say it—be used by local authorities as Gestapo road blocks is inexcusable and a sad use of our tax and license dollars.

Game checks are WDFW functions—not opportunities for every enforcement officer in the region to gang up and pile on hunters with criminal questions that have absolutely nothing to do with hunting or fishing. We’re required to stop at WDFW game checks so we cannot let game check become box canyon ambush opportunities for every cop in the neighborhood to illegally grill hunters. That’s just wrong.

WDFW needs to put a stop to this abuse. We should not be subjected to Gestapo ambush tactics at WDFW game checks. This experience soured an otherwise wonderful hunting experience. Shame on everybody involved.

OK, now here’s another disclaimer. I don’t know him personally, but Terry Sheely is an award-winning, highly respected outdoors writer — I have a couple of his books, actually — who on his worst day, or frankly even while asleep, has infinitely more fishing and hunting knowledge and acumen than I have wide-awake on my best day. (I can say the same thing about Rob Phillips, by the way.)

So, Terry being a writer and all, I’m predisposed to agreeing with him and his son, right?

Except, well ... I don’t.

Because in addition to talking to both Terry and Brandon, I also talked to the people who were at the game check and got their recollections, each independently, and my mental picture of what took place is fairly different from what Terry and Brandon wrote in their letter.

According to each of the people manning the check station, there were two WDFW enforcement officers there, not one; Alan Baird and Shawn Meyers were there the whole day. Two sheriff’s deputies and one Forest Service officer, Blair Bickel, were also present for some, but not all, of the day.

Bickel, the “woods cop,” hadn’t cited “several hunters” for hauling out their “left-over campfire wood”; he had encountered one hunter with roughly a third of a pickup load of wood, all but covering the elk he had harvested. Since removing that wood from the forest was illegal, Bickel could have cited the man, but instead he gave him the option — unload it in the campground next to the game check, or get written up. The hunter opted to unload. “All that wood” was from that one hunter.

As for the deputy who did the “bullying with a badge,” subjecting the hunters to those “Gestapo ambush tactics,” that was Steve Sutliff.

I can see heads of Yakima-area readers turning, faces twisting. Steve Sutliff? A bully with a badge? Huh? I think most anybody who has dealt with him would say Steve’s pretty much the opposite.

“He’s probably the most congenial guy out there — and actually kind of jovial,” Baird said. “I’ve known Steve a long, long time and never seen him contact somebody right off the bat in that kind of a tone.”

When Meyers first saw the Sheelys’ letter, he told me, he was “just kind of flabbergasted by this. It was like, holy crap, where’d this come from? I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that we’d get a complaint from that check station. I guess that’s the business we’re in. Never going to make everybody happy.”

As for Sutliff “having the audacity to suggest” that Brandon Sheely “stay home to hunt,” that just seems to out of character that I have to believe something was simply misunderstood.

Meyers thinks the same thing. “You know how people take things,” he told me. “Steve’s got kind of a dry sense of humor. I don’t think he meant anything by if he did say something. Maybe Steve was saying something about, ‘Wow, you drive all the way here, aren’t there any elk up there?’ We all know it because we’ve been around him forever, but maybe if somebody’s grumpy and tired from being at camp all week, maybe they just took it wrong.

“Since I’ve been around, when Steve’s been at check stations with us he’s usually Mister Joe Happy Contact Guy. You know — ‘How’s it going, have any luck, that kind of thing.’ Our officers around here, they’re pretty easy-going guys; if we need to turn it up they will, but 99.9 percent of them are pretty darn positive.”

And as for why there was this “opportunity for every enforcement officer in the region to gang up and pile on hunters,” the WDFW guys told me they were only too happy to have the deputies’ support, if for one reason only — the hunters’ convenience, to keep vehicles from backing up when guys are just trying to get home and take that long-awaited shower.

While there were no other vehicles backed up when the Sheelys came down, the last Saturday of elk season in the Little Naches is a busy day in a busy hunting area, and there had been some backups at other times. Not too long, though, primarily because those deputies were there to help out. They weren’t there all day, but this father and son couldn’t know that. They knew only that they were there, they were greatly outnumbered by what must have seemed like a massive overkill of law enforcement.

In going back and forth with me a bit on this deal, Terry makes one very good point — that game checks should be for exactly that.

“If they want to help, that’s great,” Terry told me in an email. “But let’s keep game checks for checking game ... they should also limit the scope of their enforcement help to enforcing WDFW regulations and checking hunter harvest and actually assisting the WDFW officer in charge.

“As non-wildlife agencies they have no ethical right to enforce county and federal laws at game checks any more than they have the right to stop us on Fruitvale Avenue without probable cause for the stop. There is no doubt the county and federal officers are taking advantage of WDFW and that reflects badly on WDFW. That’s my point.”

And it’s an absolutely valid point that won’t be taken lightly. Rich Mann, WDFW’s enforcement captain overseeing Region 3, told me, “We’ll definitely talk to our staff and make sure we’re staying within the guidelines we’ve got. We will review our procedures.”

Does that mean this type of situation won’t happen again? Probably not. The extra manpower, Mann said, “is more meant to be a convenience to the hunter. But if they’d rather see one or two guys, we can do that and it can back up to 15 vehicles.

“But we hit more than game violations. Guy pulls in, you check him, guy doesn’t have a registration or a driver’s license, or maybe he’s got a warrant. The main purpose is for a wildlife check station, but the law does say that law officers can deal with other violations.”

Maybe there was some of that going on and Terry and Brandon didn’t like it. Maybe it was just their perception. I don’t know.

But I don’t for a moment believe Steve Sutliff was suggesting that Brandon confine his elk hunting to Okanogan County. I can see Sutliff just being folksy, maybe even attempting to lighten the mood — “Okanogan County? Holy moly, don’t they have any elk up there? You had to come all the way down here to find some elk?”

I suggested that to Brandon, and he said, “It was a bad choice on his part, and it really offended me. Surrounded by that many officers already, it’s an unprofessional thing for him not to notice that, and withhold what he wanted to say.”

Well, maybe so.

Either way, the upshot is that now there will now be a letter in The Reel News — one of the publications for which Terry writes — and also in this blog, pretty much upbraiding the WDFW and Yakima County law enforcement.

It will probably be copied and reposted in online hunting forums, thereby engendering resentment among people who might not otherwise have felt it. Oh yeah, I hear those Yakima guys are a bunch of badge-waving bullies.

And I don’t believe that for a minute. What I do believe is this was one of those moments in which, considering the different perspectives, a misunderstanding occurred. And it has created this: much ado about nothing.

Or, at least, about about not very much.