14 minute read

Song in the Stillness

Clint Jarriel swung the bush axe, again and again, slashing the limbs from overgrowth along the roadside. While he worked with Buster Akins, who owned a professional tree service, Clint’s job was simply to clear brush along the road for EMC.

Even though he had a degree in criminal justice and was also a certified police officer, the temporary work with Buster gave him time to wait. It had been six months since the last call. So when his cell phone rang, Clint answered quickly.

“Are you ready to go to work?” the caller asked.

“Yes, sir.” He had no idea who the caller was. “I’m working pretty hard right now,” he added, sweat pouring down his face.

“No, I’m talking about with DNR.” The call for which he had waited all these months had finally come. The caller was Ralph Shepherd, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Academy Director at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.

“Yes, sir,” Clint answered. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.” He meant it with everything in him. A job as a game warden had been his goal for as long as he could remember.

Most young people are still deciding what career to pursue well into college. Not Clint. He was in kindergarten when he first proclaimed to his parents that he wanted to be a game warden. It was instinctive, an innate trait, to be with nature. At times, he wondered if the family stories of Creek ancestry on his mother’s side had something to do with the way the woods called to him. Even so, it was his father Calvin who helped shape his sense of respect for nature and honor for the law that protected and preserved it. The time he took to fish and hunt with his son taught him more than words ever could.

In his teens, Clint became friends with John Barnard, who served as a game warden in Toombs County for many years. Coincidentally, the two families attended the same church. John was upfront with his protégé. The competition for the position of game warden would be tough. Even so, he mentored him on how to prepare for the path he was determined to pursue. Most who go into the field start with a degree in wildlife management or criminal justice. After graduating from Toombs County High School in 1997, Clint chose to pursue the latter. While still in college, he found out from John that a hiring freeze had been enacted on hiring game wardens. And it didn’t look as if it would lift anytime soon.

Clint graduated with his degree in criminal justice in 2001. In 2002, he married his wife, Robin. With a family now and no knowing of when the hiring freeze would end, he applied for a position with the East Central Georgia Drug Task Force. “At the time, it was located in Swainsboro,” said Clint. “I was honest with them. In the first interview, I said, ‘I want this job because I need some law enforcement experience, and I need to get my life rolling. But I can’t sign a two-year contract,” which was required for the position. “I said, ‘My life goal has been to be a game warden. So, if DNR lifts the freeze and wants to hire me tomorrow, I have to be free to go.’ They said, ‘We will work with that.”

In 2003, Clint attended the police academy at Armstrong State College in Savannah, Georgia, for ten weeks of training. While there, DNR called. Although it was not a job offer, as he’d hoped, it was an invitation to take the two preliminary exams required before the hiring process could proceed. “You could only miss three days during the police academy training, and I missed two to go to Atlanta for these exams.” Both tests were arduous. The first was a psychological test, and the second was a physical agility test. Clint passed both.

As a game warden, “your words are your greatest defense. Not your gun,” said Clint.

Anyone who thinks a game warden’s job is a free ticket to carry a gun, hunt, and fish all year round is quite mistaken. Much of the work of a game warden is actually in the community. “The hiring process is such that they can eliminate anyone who doesn’t have the right disposition for the job,” said Clint. “They don’t want someone out there with a ‘gun blazing’ attitude. A lot of times, you’re by yourself. If you don’t know how to use your words to deescalate a potentially dangerous situation, you could get yourself in more trouble than you could get yourself out of. Your words are your greatest defense. Not your gun.”

Months went by without a word from DNR. After six months with the Drug Task Force, Clint went to his supervisor. “They needed someone on the team who would stay, and I wasn’t staying.” I told him, ‘They’re going to hire me. I feel like it will be soon. And I know you need to train someone to take my place.’” Because he’d been honest with the supervisor from the start, Clint was released from his contract without penalty.

He had worked with Buster Akins off and on while in school. “Buster Akins said he would always give me a job because I didn't shy away from the work,” Clint smiled. When he set the bush ax aside, he felt a rush of gratification. The call had come, and he was ready. He’d been ready since he was five years old.

Clint began his career as a game warden on the first of December. In January 2005, he underwent eighteen weeks of training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia. The following May 2005, Clint was assigned to Glynn and Camden counties. Then, in March 2006, less than a year later, DNR called. “The game warden position in Tattnall County had come available. I always say that taking this position was coming home,” said Clint. He and his family live only fourteen miles from where he was born and raised in Toombs County.

He began work as the game warden in Tattnall County in April 2006. “There’s six of us in this work section that covers Tattnall, Toombs, Evans, Treutlen, Montgomery, and Appling counties,” said Clint. His work section is in region four, which encompasses thirty-six counties. “The hiring process is designed to find people who can handle the work without anybody telling you where to go daily. We only have a work schedule that tells us when we’re off. The rest of the time, we understand that we are on the job. I have to keep a schedule that is most effective for the job in the community and outdoors.” There is no typical workday, which is one of the many reasons for the stringent hiring process. “

A game warden’s job also comes with the responsibility and maintenance of all types of equipment. “Some days, you might use your boat or your four-wheeler,” said Clint. “Other days, you’re in your truck all day. Some days patrolling the woods means being already in place at 5:00 a.m. before trespassers arrive. And you might not get home until midnight because you’ve gotten complaints about night hunters.”

Although negotiation and communication skills are used to deescalate stressful situations, sometimes words won’t cut it. Last November, Clint attempted to approach a man illegally shooting ducks. “I was in my truck, and he was on a four-wheeler. He tried to outrun me, which makes for a very dangerous situation.” And, yes. Clint made the arrest.

“The job isn’t about getting up and putting on a gun belt to go after the bad guys every day. But that is a part of it. And anyone who thinks they want to do this kind of work should know that upfront. We usually work alone, and just about everyone we confront is armed.”

When Clint is not in the woods or patrolling the waters, he’s serving the community. That service may involve teaching a hunter safety course, speaking with an FFA club, or talking to a school about our collective responsibility to protect nature's resources for now and future generations. This work is vitally important for education and building relationships of trust. And yet, if it was only about community service, Clint could have chosen a social or civil service path instead. Ultimately, the call is to serve the land and its resources. It’s not a relationship that can be taught from a textbook. It’s innate, a part of his being, which may explain why Clint was so sure of his path even at the young age of five.

God and nature guided his heart, and the instruction and support he received from his father, and his friend John, guided his path. “My dad was a railroad man,” said Clint. “After work, he would be making things in his shop. He was always good at fixing stuff. There were things he made in his shop that he could have patented. There was no ‘can’t’ with him. My dad always found a way to make things work. I know he has influenced the way I see how to do things and make them work.”

His friend, John, not only helped guide him through the process of becoming a game warden, but he also spent time with Clint hunting and shared his own experiences. When John took him on his first turkey hunt, Clint was eighteen. From that time on, he was hooked. As he learned more about the intelligent bird, Clint discovered wild turkeys can “fly up to 55 mph in short bursts.…they have three-times better vision than humans. They can also see in color, and their eyesight covers 270 degrees” (worldanimalprotection.us). “Wildlife sees a man and thinks he’s a stump,” he said. “But to turkeys, every stump is a man. They run and then try to figure it out later. They’re very elusive, which makes hunting them a good challenge.”

After a couple of turkey hunts with John, Clint purchased a Primos power crystal turkey call he found on sale at Walmart for $1. “I told John, ‘I want to get where I can call a turkey to me off a limb.’ Most anybody can call one when he is already down on the ground. But you've done something in the turkey hunting world if you can call one off the limb when he is gobbling early in the morning.” Whenever he met a turkey hunter, he listened, hoping to learn their secrets. After hearing more than one person mention a particular type of turkey call, he asked John, “What’s this wing bone call I hear turkey hunters talking about?”

John explained that the call was made from three bones taken from the underside of a turkey wing and glued together. “You have to play it,” he said. Now, music was something Clint understood. He heard it in the trees and over the waters. He felt as if he could hear the sound of nature in his head. He had several flutes and played a little guitar. For Clint, music was emulating the sounds of nature. With John’s help, he made his first wing bone turkey call. Then, he made several more as he learned from his mistakes. This was what made him such a good teacher, this hunger to learn.

And then Clint met Mark Sharp in Evans County. “I'd been building this crude-looking thing trying to make it sound like I wanted. I could tell that his wing bone call was shorter than mine. Mark said, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I’m going to show you how to make these calls.’” Clint understood this was no small thing. It was actually a great honor. “Old-time turkey hunters don’t like to pass on their knowledge to the young guys,” Clint explained. “They don’t want the woods full of hunters. But this guy, for some reason, decided to teach me, and I was grateful to learn from him.”

The instruction was just what Clint needed to begin his own creative journey with the wing bone turkey calls. With the knowledge he gained from Mark Sharp, he continued experimenting until he had perfected his technique. “I learned which bone to file and the perfect length to get the best sound.”

According to midwestoutdoors.com, “The wingbone is the oldest turkey call man has used. The NWTF [National Wild Turkey Federation] says it’s the original turkey call used by American Indians to put turkey dinners over the fire. Their Winchester Museum houses the oldest known wingbone call dating back 4,000 years.”

By 2015, Clint began adding beautiful colors and a feather–which he taught himself to draw–to his wing bone turkey call. He also added a scripture reference, which he expounds on in a handwritten message that accompanies each call. Even the style of writing in his message and on the turkey call tells a story. “I was going through the Living History Museum in St. Augustine, and there was a guy there writing with a Turkey quill. His writing was so beautiful,” said Clint. “I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ But I didn’t want to bother him while he was working.”

The following week, he called the museum and was given the man’s contact information. “When I called him, he said he would teach me to cut the quill to make a pen and use it to write with if I’d come to his house in St. Augustine.” So, Clint went down to the man’s house and learned his skill. But to write the calligraphy style lettering with the quill, he said, “That was something I just had to practice myself. So, I wrote notes to my wife every night until I learned how to make the letters.”

On each wing bone turkey call, Clint writes Psalms 46:10. The first part of the verse reads, “Be still and know that I am God….” “I know two things for sure: To hear God, you have to be still and quiet. And to harvest turkeys, you have to do the same,” the accompanying message reads.

Being still is one of the most challenging disciplines of life. As a game warden, Clint’s ability to communicate, connect with the community, and sometimes negotiate in stressful situations does not depend on his speaking skills but on his discipline as a listener. Many can stand on a platform and impress people with their knowledge. But the words that carry actual authority and influence come from what is heard in the stillness. Nature has taught Clint to listen. And if we are still enough, we just might hear the sound of nature for ourselves and the Creator’s song it sings.

Clint with daughters Autumn and Hamden ad wife Robin.

Clint with daughters Autumn and Hamden ad wife Robin.