Retired BDN editor Rick Levasseur received a surprise law lesson recently when he pawned the stuffed duck that had been taking space in his Bangor home for a couple of decades. Credit: Courtesy of Rick Levasseur

For nearly 27 years, I worked in the BDN newsroom with a veteran newsman named Rick Levasseur. Ask anyone who crossed paths with Levasseur or had him serve as their editor and they’d describe him with the same words, I’d bet. Precise. Methodical. Regimented. Careful.

Among the words nobody would use to describe the retired editor: felon.

Alas, according to an email he sent me last week, that’s what he nearly became. And Levasseur blames it all on a stuffed duck.

Levasseur, who retired last year, was walking down the 11th fairway of a local golf course a couple weeks back, when his cellphone rang. On the other end of the line: game warden Kevin Anderson.

Levasseur tried to tell the warden he had reached the wrong man. Anderson may have heard similar protestations in the past.

“He was polite, but said he did not think so and asked if I had ever sold a stuffed duck to [a local] pawn shop,” Levasseur said. “When I said yes, he told me it was against both state and federal law and considered a felony to sell or trade migratory birds. It is legal to sell a stuffed bear, deer head and several other animals but not migratory birds, he explained.”

Anderson then asked Levasseur how he had come to possess the handsome duck, and why he decided to sell it.

“I told him that I had not hunted for years but had shot the mallard drake while hunting with [longtime BDN outdoor writer] Tom Hennessey on one of the Penobscot Indian islands in the Penobscot River somewhere around Passadumkeag,” Levasseur said. “I assured him that I had a hunting license at the time and that Tom also had made sure I had the appropriate waterfowl stamps as well as a stamp from the Penobscot Indian Nation allowing us to hunt on their islands in the river.”

Levasseur said the duck was so pretty, he decided to have it mounted. Hennessey suggested an Aroostook County taxidermist, and that’s where Levasseur took it.

Upon its completion, Levasseur took it home, where it has sat ever since.

“I’ve had it in our home for probably two decades, but when we sold the house in January we were downsizing and my wife asked if I could lose the duck,” he said.

He agreed to part with the duck and decided to take it to a pawn shop, unaware that he was going to get his criminal career off to a blazing start. The pawnbroker offered $60 for the bird, Levasseur took the cash and the duck ended up in the front window of the shop.

That’s where Anderson found it. And that’s when he called my former co-worker to crack the case.

Anderson told me on Tuesday that in cases like this, he tries to determine if the violator — which Levasseur admits he was — intended to break the law or whether the duck-dealing was a simple mistake by someone who doesn’t know any better. He also told me that he wasn’t sure about federal statutes, but had state charges been filed, they wouldn’t have risen to the level of a felony. (Don’t tell Levasseur that. The story’s much better if he thinks he was one step away from a few years in the big house).

In this case, Anderson tried to find a suitable solution and suggested that the pawnbroker might want to donate the duck to a local museum. No charges would be filed.

“Anyway, after [my golf buddies] waited patiently for me to end the call, we finished the round and stopped for a beer afterward. They laughed at the story and thought I should have been jailed anyway,” Levasseur said. “I called the pawn shop while we were enjoying our drinks and apologized to [the pawnbroker] for having put him in that situation. I then drove over and gave him his money back, since he shouldn’t pay for my mistake.”

After the matter was cleared up, Levasseur decided to share his story with BDN readers, hoping he could help someone else avoid making the same kind of mistake.

There is one more odd thing about the case, though. When Levasseur got to the shop, the duck was still on display in the front window. Museums haven’t been open during the pandemic, so perhaps it’s just hanging out in the shop for awhile.

But who knows?

“[The pawnbroker] said he is waiting for the warden to come back to take the duck and donate it to the museum. I’m not certain if the warden thought [he] was going to do it himself or not. Maybe the saga of the wayward duck isn’t quite over,” Levasseur said.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...