“I have hung up my spurs,” stated Alabama Game and Fish Warden Johnny Johnson on his retirement after a 50-year career in the field. Johnson, who served as supervisor for the northeast portion of Alabama, has contributed most of his life to his work, in the oldest law enforcement agency in Alabama.
“Our department started in 1907. I think the troopers started in 1936,” stated Johnson. “So we’ve been around a long time. Our first two officers were on horseback.”
Surprisingly, Johnson is a transplant to Jackson County, having spent most of his childhood in Lamar County, Alabama.
“I grew up in Detroit, Alabama, and we were sharecroppers. I didn’t realize it when I was young, but we were poor people. It was pretty rough, but we always had something good to eat. I survived it.”
Johnson stated there aren’t mountains or an abundance of lakes and rivers there, so when he first saw Jackson County as a child, he was hooked. Years later, in 1972, when Johnson, now a game warden, was afforded the opportunity to see where he’d like to be assigned, he noticed Jackson County had a vacancy and jumped at the chance to work there.
“It was a map of the state hanging on the wall with little pins in it. I said, ‘I’ll take Jackson County.”
He reported for duty one February morning, meeting his superiors, Rayford Hamilton and Charles McCray on the courthouse square.
“When I got out and saw Hamilton, or Fuzz, as he was known around these parts, he was the meanest looking guy, but he was such a good guy. He was so good to me. Both of them were.”
Johnson credits Hamilton and McCray for a successful career in this field.
“I was lucky I had two officers who took me under their wing and helped train me. They took me in and trained me and taught me right from wrong and taught me how to be a good officer. They really helped me get on the right track.”
Johnson began working under Judge John Haislip, then Judge Ralph Grider, and then Judge Don Word.
“I’ve been fortunate, and the hunters and fishermen of Jackson County have been very fortunate to have judicial people that are professional like them. Who take it seriously. Their strict judgments are a deterrent to game violators. Thank you for what you do. I was very fortunate to come to Jackson County because this county, traditionally, has always supported the Game and Fish program. With the abundance of fish and wildlife here, Jackson County probably has more hunting and fishing than any other county in this state.”
Johnson also stated that even with support from the judges, without a good District Attorney, it will never get to court. He stated Charlie Rhodes and Jason Pierce were and are outstanding, along with the support from the sheriffs of the county.
Johnson also credits his wife, Lynn with his success, stating it was her support throughout all these years that directly contributed to the success with his career as a game warden. Johnson first saw Lynn on a carousel when they were both young.
“The first time I saw her, she was younger than 18, and she was so beautiful. Just a dream. I met her when she was 18, and I was 22. Years later, we married. She’s been a godsend for me.”
Johnson and Lynn later had a daughter, Tripp, who teaches in the Scottsboro City school system as Ms. Tripp Johnson Barclay.
“I’ve had several opportunities to go back to Lamar County as an officer, and my wife likes it up here; this is home.”
Johnson, although not used to being in one spot, aka the living room, for long, is growing accustomed to an easy life at home with his wife and grandchildren in their Scottsboro home.
“I went to work in February of 1972, and my first assignment was Jackson County. I moved to Stevenson, stayed there for a year, then to Scottsboro with Lynn. I worked as a game warden in Jackson County for 29 years.”
In 2001, Johnson was promoted to Captain and moved to Tanner, Alabama as supervisor of the northwest part of the state while Lynn held down the fort here in Scottsboro, with Johnson coming home on the weekends. In 2016, he transferred back to Jackson County as supervisor there. After retiring in January of 2018 as a Captain, Johnson immediately went back to work part- time as a field officer/game warden until his retirement on April 1, 2022.
Johnson stated that throughout his career, there were more than a few close calls, but Someone was looking out for him. He told about his experiences with being held at gunpoint, being fired at, and other situations that warranted the offender to be charged with attempted murder. Another time, Johnson was present on the courthouse square when a subject hit the chief of police and led Johnson, McCray and Assistant DA John Robinson on a high speed chase.
“Most people we deal with are not bad people. They’re real good people, but there’s always that element that you have to deal with. You just take it for granted as part of the job. As far as the violators in Jackson County, it wasn’t personal. I might write somebody a ticket tonight or put them in jail for night hunting, and drink a cup of coffee with them tomorrow,” Johnson stated.
As far as what he liked most about his job, Johnson stated it was dealing with the people of this area.
“It’s a people-type job. You’ve got to be able to talk to people, go to schools, teach kids, hunter education.”
Overall, Johnson stated, it was apprehending the bad guys that were knowingly cheating. Johnson considers himself a kind of referee between the people and the animals to make sure the people do it the right, humane and fair way.
For the younger generations of wardens coming up behind him, Johnson stated they have an advantage because most of them are college-educated, have been assigned to a Field Training Officer and receive much better training to teach them and prepare them for this field.
“When I went to work, there was no such thing. It was just on-the-job training. Now, they are better trained.”
To anyone thinking of coming into this field, Johnson stated they need to be prepared to only receive one weekend off a month, maybe. Since most weekends and major holidays are when most people are hunting or fishing, that means the game warden is usually working on those days.
The purchase of a hunting and/or fishing license funds Alabama Game and Fish. During COVID, Johnson stated the license sales mushroomed because there was nothing else for people to do but get outside. He also stated that each year, fishing license sales increase, while hunting license sales decrease.
“I contribute part of it to teaching youngsters how to hunt. It’s a lifelong thing. You can’t carry them one time and think they can hunt. Another thing, the hunters are the ones supporting wildlife. They’re funding it, for them to reproduce, for our biologists to do studies, to keep it going. It’s not PETA or the Humane Society paying for it; it’s the hunters and fishermen.”
There are several public areas in Jackson County leased to the state: Mud Creek Management Area, Crow Creek Management Area, Skyline/Martin Management Area, North Sauty Refuge, Crow Creek Refuge.
“These are public areas, and the people of Jackson County may take it for granted. We’ve got more than any county in the state. If you want to go hunting on public property, you’ve got plenty of places to do it. You can fish anywhere on the Tennessee River or the backwater. Most counties can’t do that. They don’t have that. We’re fortunate to live here.”
When asked what he hopes to have contributed as far as his career, Johnson stated, “Hopefully with my arrests, protection and prosecution of game and fish violators, future generations of hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the abundance of wildlife and natural resources in Jackson County and our great state.”
Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. Johnson. And well done.