Category Archives: Hunting

A Week in the Life of a Wildlife Ranger – Part II…

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Wednesday

Same routine, except today it rains. I finish my chicken book, make a few calls, draw some plants, eat, and relax. Tonight I am headed to Doe Knob.

Two weeks ago, while working a problem bear at Birch Springs, I hunted up to Doe Knob. I was stalking a sow and a couple shoats when the wind shifted and I had to back off. Moments later, I watched through the thermal as three coyotes popped up onto the ridge, ran my hogs off, and ruined my hunt.

“Hogblocked” by coyotes, I don’t know if I should count them as allies or enemies. They migrated to the park naturally, so they do not suffer the same fate as the invasive hogs. That night, Doe Knob was theirs, but tonight I am returning to stake my claim.

Hunt, fish, trap, and forage.

When I created my list of desired activities for when I retired, those rose to the top. Not surprising, as when I am engaged in them, it feels right. Maybe it is the sense of freedom or self-reliance, maybe it is hardwired into my DNA, but I have chosen not to wait twenty years to pursue them. There is nothing natural about leaving meat lay on the ground, but hunting hogs is about as close to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle I can get and still get a paycheck. Maybe one day that will change, but for now I have been hitting a wall of federal restrictions on donating the meat.

Foraging in the park is also illegal, with the exception of berries and mushrooms, but I can still look at the menu. As I hunt west I take note of all the edible plants around. Wild cucumber, carrion flower, spring beauty, trout lily, violets, sheep sorrel, toothwort, branch lettuce, Turk’s Cap Lily, greenbrier tips, chaga mushroom, solomon’s seal, false solomon’s seal, blueberry bushes, beech trees, azalea galls, and a nice big patch of chicken of the woods.

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About a mile from camp I run into my bear again. He is just down off the hill munching on vegetation, so I slip by him unnoticed, making a mental note for later when I return in the dark. In another two weeks one of my co-workers, “Rambo” Ricky, has to shut down Campsite 13 because of this bad boy. He weighs about 200 now, but later this fall he will be pushing 300. He is the badass on this mountain and knows it. When Rick was camping at 13 to dart him, he said he just rolled in and acted liked he owned it.

I make it to Doe Knob right before dark, just in time to hear the coyotes start howling. If I could interpret coyote, I am pretty sure they are telling me to get lost and that this is still their turf. Damn.

I hunt through mostly old sign and cook my dinner on the back side of the knob. These days I carry a little twig stove that allows me to hike out from camp and set up my kitchen for dinner. I used to cook my dinner in camp before heading out, but some fool tore down my rock oven that allowed me to bake, boil, and grill, so I cook on trail now.

I ate many good meals from this kitchen, even though some Leave-No-Trace fans might object. The truth is, I favor fires and managed correctly, think they are more environmentally friendly. Maybe I leave a fire scar for one season before it fades, but I am pretty sure that the byproducts and industry associated with the production of fancy stoves and fuels are worse and last a whole lot longer.

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I hunt the two miles back to camp with no sightings of anything but mice. Glowing white hot in the thermal, the mice run up trees, jump, and disappear like watching some paranormal ghost hunting circus.

Pictured below are a couple deer seen through thermal to give you an idea how animals look. Adding to our effectiveness, night vision and thermal are also a huge safety boon to a program that once sported tractor lights and motorcycle batteries for the night work.

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Just before heading down to camp, I see a boar working his way up the hill. It has been windy all week and tonight is no exception, but I have a cross wind that favors me. I rotate the bezel on the Surefire Millenium to the IR mode, allowing me to illuminate the area, when seen through my NVG, but with no visible light for the hog to see. Although I can clearly see the hog in the thermal, the night vision tells me there is a wall of blackberries between us.

It’s almost two in the morning and I am on top of a ridge line eight miles from my duty station. The wild boar that I have been patiently watching through my thermal monocular for the last hour takes another step. I raise my rifle to look through the night vision, but all I see is a wall of vegetation, even though my quarry is less than 30 feet away. The dance continues.

After over an hour of watching patiently, he makes the fatal mistake of stepping into an open area. The heart of a hog is further forward than a deer, behind the front legs. A well placed shot to the heart can also break the shoulders preventing any tracking or trailing. I dispatch another 200 pounder and wonder why I hunted the four mile roundtrip out to Doe Knob, only to shoot one 100 yards from camp.

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Thursday

 

Same routine, but I today visit the gym, a tree on the bald, to do some pullups, elevated pushups, and planks. Fresh air and free membership.

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Early afternoon, I am visited down at the spring by a father and son camping in the area. Caught off guard by a bearded man drawing wildflowers with an assault rifle strapped to his back, my well rehearsed dialogue, badge, and park service hat assures them that I am not some crazy hillbilly. We make small talk and a couple hours later I see them again when I head to the Bald.

I try to call my wife, but my phone is dead. I bought a solar charger for the mountain back in April, but I only get a trickle of juice out of it. Back in the day before I had a cellphone, I could go a week without seeing or talking to anyone. It didn’t bother me, as I am just as comfortable alone or in a group setting, but it is nice to visit with my new neighbors. I eat my dinner on the Bald and chat with Paul and his son Cole about his time with the government, fatherhood, bears, and plants. My table has the best view.

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Before leaving the Bald, I listen to the weather channel on my radio about the storms headed my way and watch them roll through the mountains north of me. As I head west, the shift in thunder and the wind in my face causes me to hesitate. I don’t wan’t to hike too far from camp. Crossing the bald in a thunderstorm is not something I want to repeat, as I have learned my lesson before.

I turn around and head east as the thunder draws near. I make it across the bald and hear a hog in the beeches. I stalk closer, kneel down in the trail, and wait for it to cross the trail. It comes off the bank and stops with it’s head and shoulder behind a eight inch tree, effectively covering it’s vital areas at 25 yards. The thunder is right above me now, so I stand up and lean out to the side to get a shot in as tight behind the shoulder as I can.

She crashes through the brush and I hear another one just above me. It grunts, and I see the tops of the beeches ripple as it runs through them. It’s course bypasses the shooting lane I am watching, so I bail off the trail to track the first one down.

Tracking through acres of hog sign can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. A thick layer of subcutaneous fat can seal up a bullet hole leaving very little blood to trail, so here is some hard won advice. Before you shoot a game animal, take note of exactly where it was standing. Reference a tree, a rock, or something, because if you don’t drop it, you’ll be hunting for that trail.

With the threat of rain washing away the blood trail, I don’t waste any time. I pick up a good trail and find her about 80 yards down off the hill. The storm is right above me now. I forgo taking a blood sample and decide to double time it back to camp. As soon as I hit the trail, I run.

A half mile isn’t very far, but when you are on top of a mountain in a thunderstorm, it drags out. I make it under the tarp just as the downpour starts. Lightning is cracking off everywhere, so I spend the next hour squatting on a 1′ x 2′ piece of foam. Even though my chances of getting struck by lightning are about the same as winning the lottery, squatting on the foam at least makes me feel like I am doing something to improve my odds. Truth be told, falling limbs and trees are a greater hazard, but there is something about lightning that gets my attention. I ponder the physics of lightning and hammocks, life insurance, and my unborn son, as I wait for the storm to pass.

The storm moves on, but commo says another cell is to the west of me, so I stay in camp. My phone has 1% battery life, so I text my wife that I am okay, before calling her to tell her about the storm. With her ubiquitous carefree nature she asks me if  “was pretty”. I jokingly reply “Hell no!!” and my phone dies. The rain starts again, so I settle in for the night.

Friday

I wake up early. I have eaten all my food, so I break camp, collect my blood samples that I stored in the creek, and head out. It is foggy and right before the bald, I see a dark animal to the right. Bears and hogs are both black, and by the time my brain processes that the ears are pointy and not round, the hog has winded me and taken off.

I drop down into Campsite 13 and talk with Paul and his boy about the storm. I tell Cole that it was one of the worst I had been through up there and at least he has a pretty good story now. They are breaking camp and heading down the same trail, so I lead the way in case we run into any hogs, which we don’t. I point out a few plants and animal tracks on the way down and enjoy the company.

Back at the truck, I head to the station to process my blood samples and fill out some data forms for each hog. The Dragon’s Tail is littered with branches and broken trees, confirming the power of last night’s storm, and while charging my phone, I receive two texts from Thursday afternoon.

One from my old supervisor asking if I was available to run the boat on a rescue down on Fontana Lake and another one from my current boss that warned me of impending doom. Maybe it is time to start shopping for a new solar charger.

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My week is done and I reflect upon it as I head to the house. It may be hard for readers of this blog to believe, but we have had guys quit our crew because they hated camping on the mountain. I even know of one case where a hunter pretended he was up high by calling in and out of service from the station. The “mountain” is not for everyone, but for me it is a good fit.

Even though I am using modern tools, it gives me a glimpse into a primal lifestyle and a peace and relaxation that sings to my soul. An ancient song that is calling us all back…

 

Part I – https://bigpigblog.com/2014/06/18/a-week-in-the-life-of-a-wildlife-ranger-part-i/

A Week in the Life of a Wildlife Ranger – Part I…

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It’s almost two in the morning and I am on top of a ridge line eight miles from my duty station. The wild boar that I have been patiently watching through my thermal monocular for the last hour takes another step. I raise my rifle to look through the night vision, but all I see is a wall of vegetation, even though my quarry is less than 30 feet away. The dance continues…

Let me back up and explain how I got there. First, if you are new to this blog, scroll on over to the right and read the disclaimer that this is my blog and not representative of my employer. Next, realize that I am walking a delicate line, so I can’t post pics of dead hogs and have to use my words wisely. Finally, if you are unaware of the damage this non-native species does to the ecosystem, read here. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/dff309-meetexotic.htm  Got it? Great, let’s move on.

So why am I trying to shoot a wild beast in the middle of a National Park, in the middle of the night? Well that’s my job.

Last December, after spending one too many hours behind the wheel of my patrol truck, I quit my career as a Law Enforcement Ranger and switched back to hunting hogs for the Smokies, a job I had previously held for seven years prior to my LEO job. Some people think I am crazy giving up “permanent” status and taking a huge pay cut, but I think it is crazier to work a job that you don’t enjoy anymore.

I have hiked up to Gregory Bald to spend the week hunting hogs. Since my season is coming to an end, I thought I would write about a typical week on the “mountain”.

Spring changes everything. The hogs I have been hunting and trapping all winter have moved up to higher elevation to feed on the abundant spring beauties. When the hogs move up, so do I, and I have been camping Monday through Friday since mid-April. The winter cold is replaced by rain, fog, bears, and bugs, bringing their own set of environmental challenges.

Our division has a series of camps strung out along the Appalachian Trail, so I pick a camp, pack in my gear on Monday and hunt until Friday. The following is an account of what life “on the mountain” is like, at least my life and my camp. The events and pictures are from a week in May, with the exception of a few pics because my phone died and I snapped those during the next.

Monday

Time is ticking away. My shift starts at 1600 and since my wife is visiting family in Florida, I have to get the chickens squared away before I head out. Usually free-ranged, being confined to their run for the week is going to make them real bitchy on Friday, so I let them out while I plant three beds of corn and water the garden.

Our camps have sleeping bags, tents, and a few other items locked in gang boxes, so all I have to take is my food, books to read, my gun, and ammo. I already went grocery shopping over the weekend and pack my food bag with oatmeal, dried fruit, almond milk, clif bars, almonds, llama jerky, coscous and some dried pineapple. Eating only two meals a day when I am camping simplifies my menu. I pack a book on herbal medicine, a book on raising chickens, a wildflower field guide, and the small book I sketch and document plants.

It snowed on me at the end of April, so I throw my primaloft jacket, a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, a merino t-shirt, my rain gear, and a fleece hat into the Wild Things Andinista pack that I am testing out. This week I take my AR chambered in 6.8 SPC, PVS-14 NVG, and a thermal monocular. I usually take my Remington 870 when the mountain “greens up”, but I have a Surefire IR/White light on loan that I want to run with the night vision.

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My week begins with death as I pull up to a motorcycle fatality at the beginning of the Dragon’s Tail. I watch as they photograph the body and load it onto the ambulance. Six months ago, as a LE Ranger, I would have been out assisting the medics and deputies, but now I gratefully slide by as they wave me through. I imagine that his family would be consoled by the fact that he was doing something he loved, but it is a good reminder of the fragility of life for me as I continue my commute.

I park at the trailhead and my five mile hike in is uneventful. Lots of hog sign on top of the ridge and I head to camp to set up. When I first came up in April, I set up the raggedy tarp and hung another one under to stop the leaks. The gang box holds a tent, sleeping bags, ground pads, a stove, and a few other things. It doubles as a bear box when I leave camp to hunt, so I can store my food and gear without them tearing it up. My setup is really just wrapping my tree straps around the two trees so when I get back in the middle of the night, I can just hook my hammock to them. The 55 gallon drums are relics from pre-gangbox days and we store the tarps in them at the end of the season.

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I ate a big lunch, so I just snack on a clif bar and some almonds. I lock up my food and books, and head out to hunt. If you are unaware of the damage hogs can do, this picture says it all.

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The whole top of the ridge is plowed under as they seek out the tasty tubers of spring beauties. I don’t blame them as they are delicious sauteed and pretty good raw. Like four-legged rototillers, the hogs disturb acres of serene mountain tops.

It is windy all afternoon and through the night with steady gusts at 10 – 15 mph. Years ago, I would have call it a wash as your best sense for night hunting, your hearing, is disarmed. Technology has caught up with the hog boys though and a thermal monocular allows me to reclaim the night even more effectively than night vision (NVG). I spend my evening walking the trails peering through the monocular, looking for the telltale white bodies of the hogs. Around 2300, I slip up on a sow and three shoats and wait for an opportunity. Becoming sexually mature at six months means even these juveniles are on my hit list.

Thermal allows you to see the animal’s body heat clearly, but if it is not mounted on your weapon you have to use white light or night vision to take the shot. When I look through the night vision mounted behind my Aimpoint, all I see is brush. The shoats safely root underneath the thick blueberry bushes as I lie in wait just yards away. Eventually they join the sow and wander off the side out of view. I move on, repeating the same frustrating game with a boar closer to camp. At 0100 I return to camp, set up my hammock, call out of service, and go to sleep.

Tuesday

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The sun wakes me up. I slide out of my hammock and fix my oatmeal with fruit. I visit the spring to water up and slip back into my hammock to laze the day away, reading books and making a few phone calls until my shift starts at 1600.

I have read accounts where explorers described native populations as being lazy. If one of them rolled into my camp, they might say the same thing. Since my caloric needs are met and I will be hiking and hunting all night, I lounge around during the day and study plants, read, occasionally work out, and make to do lists for when projects back home. I turn my radio on for two hours during the day in case my boss needs to get a hold of me, but my off duty time is my own and I don’t expend a lot of calories.

My boss calls me to see if I want to come off the mountain early for the seasonal employee picnic, but I decline. The afternoon rolls around and I re-hydrate some llama jerky and mix it with couscous for an early dinner. I leave camp and head towards Parsons Bald.

Just before crossing Gregory a boar runs across the trail, but I don’t take the shot. It’s uphill and I can’t see what is over the rise. No hog is worth putting a bullet into a hiker and our rangemaster, “Rambo” Ricky, drilled that into our crew back in the day with his “judgement” course. A ghetto version of a FATS simulator, he would set up tents and mannequins back behind targets on a “jungle lane” shooting course.

I cross the Bald and run into a big bear headed the opposite direction. He doesn’t run off, so I know he may be a problem later. Traditionally, bears have learned to follow us on the trails for free food. Spring is a hard time for bears, so scoring an all-you-can-eat bacon buffet is a pretty good deal. He will later harass the vegetation crew and cause the nearest campsite to be closed in June, but for now he just cruises by with indifference.

I stop in at Campsite 13, introduce myself, and inform the nice couple from Wisconsin that I will be hunting in that area. We chat about bears and I give them some tips on dealing with them.

Just before dark, I catch a 200 pound boar rooting in the trail. This time I have a safe shot, so I slip closer, and dispatch him with a head shot. It is about as humane as you can get and prevents tracking and trailing woes. I take my blood samples, snap a picture, and drag him off the hill.

I head out to Parson’s Bald and wait until dark before hunting my way back to camp. I get in at 0100, after stalking another boar only to be thwarted by the thick growth again.

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Bears, coyotes, and lightning coming your way in Part II…

A day in the life of a Wildlife Ranger…

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Two weeks ago I went to the Wilderness Wildlife Week to hear my friend Ila Hatter, http://wildcrafting.com/, speak on wild edible and herbal folklore. While cruising through the booths, I ran into Doug Elliot, a gifted storyteller, naturalist, and herbalist,  http://www.dougelliott.com/. I took some edible plant walks from Doug back in 2000 at the Rivercane Rendezvous and heard some of his great storytelling around the campfire. While catching up, Doug asked me what a typical day was like and since I have been asked this many times, I thought a blog post would be fitting. I am thankful to have a “dream” job, and I write this post as an insight to my daily life and hopefully add a few tips from the woods.

It is common knowledge that our park controls the non-native hogs, for their destructive habits and competing with native wildlife for resources.  http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/dff309-meetexotic.htm  This excerpt describes the program:

What do we do with non-native wildlife? In a typical year, wildlife managers actively trap and shoot wild hogs to stop habitat destruction and disease spread. Most of the work is done from December through June. In a typical winter, wild hogs move to the lower elevation areas where wildlife managers can more easily access them. In the spring and throughout the summer, hogs move to the higher elevation forest in the backcountry, making hog control much more difficult

No day is really typical in this job and sometimes we chuckle at how out of the norm our job can be. As noted above, our program varies by season. Winter months are usually spent still hunting during the day, hunting over bait at night, and trapping. During the spring, the hogs move up in elevation, so we follow them and camp up high to hunt them at night using NVG’s, thermal, and shotguns, due to the vegetation at that time.

It is winter and pretty damn cold at times, so I’ll start with that.

My alarm goes off at 0630 and then the most annoying creature in the world, my wife’s cat, starts clawing underneath the door trying to get into the room. The by-product of failed negotiations laced with feminine charm, this cat now haunts my reality. I not-so-secretly wish I could remove the problem, but in the spirit of matrimonial harmony I launch a passive aggressive retaliation against it’s master with a fusillade of flatulence. It gets the desired response as my wife, roused from her slumber, tells me to “STOP IT”. I chuckle and take pride knowing that I can be as annoying as the cat.

Time to get dressed, so I layer up. My “action suit” is a smartwool t-shirt, another merino long sleeve, wool socks, merino long underwear, cargo pants, Gore-tex gaiters, an issued softshell, a fleece hat and neck gaiter. Over this I put on a Wildthings Primaloft vest and jacket I designed on their website. As soon as I start hiking, I know I will heat up, so I will then stow the vest and jacket and wear only the soft shell. When I stop or slow down to still hunt, I will throw the jacket on over my softshell. I scarf down my favorite meal in the world, cereal, grab my gear, and head out. It is 4 degrees when I leave the house.

My commute takes me along the Dragon’s Tail, from Tennessee into North Carolina. Despite only living 28 miles from my duty station, the 318 curves in the 11 mile Dragon slows my commute to just under an hour. I admire the mist rising off the river and head up the Dragon, checking three hog traps on the way in. Nothing in them today, but I caught one earlier this week and there is still more sign, so I leave them set. I keep trucking along the icy Dragon’s Tail in four wheel drive.

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I arrive at the ranger station and find an array of combs laid out for me. I guess this is my hog trapper’s polite way of saying I should comb my unruly beard that I have been growing since I switched back to the wildlife division.  Waiting patiently for five years, my beard is growing aggressively unencumbered by any grooming policy. I pick a small black one and soon learn the soothing joy of combing my beard.

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Between the three of us, we have already checked eleven traps this morning, so we make our plan and head to the marina. Everything is frozen, the motors won’t start, and the water pump indicator is frozen. We start fooling with it, get the motors into the sun, and an hour later we are in business. I comb my beard again and tell Junior, our hogtrapper, to remind me to research outboard block heaters when I get to a computer.

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Once underway, our plan is to divide and conquer, dropping of both hunters to still hunt bedding areas and let Junior finish running the trapline, which includes seven more traps to check and two to pre-bait. Before we drop  off, we make pickup plans for the crew. Following the P-A-C-E acronym we designate a Primary and Alternate pickup spot. Our Contingency plan is to turn the radios on at 1500 and the Emergency plan is to get to the lake bank and build a smoky fire or signal in another way. We drop K.W. off and wish him luck. This likable, 58 year old mountain man is certain death in the woods, but I rib him about his diet of Spam and Lunchables before he heads out. He will spend the day working his way off trail, headed up under a top and come out two drainages east of his drop off location.

We have to look out for ourselves and each other as a response from the rangers would take at least 2 hours to get on the lake and several more to try and get to us off trail. Every Monday morning, we do a pack check making sure we have what we need in case we get caught out. For me, that is my clothing, a G1 poncho liner, fire starting kit, a shelter kit, and the removable bivy pad from my pack. I round it out with a first aid kit in the top pouch of my pack, a navigation kit in my right cargo pocket, a survival kit in the left, and a Mora knife on a lanyard around my neck. If for some reason I was separated from my pack, the contents of my pockets will get me through the night. I will do a blog post on the gear I carry and why soon for all my fellow gear-o-philes.

My plan is to scout a section of the main trail and then head off trail out a ridge where I have found bedding areas before. On that ridge, I ran into the largest group of hogs I have ever seen, but armed with only a five gallon can of gas and a knife, they all got away. I’ll save that story for the campfire sometime. Needless to say, I hunt that area religiously, especially in cold weather.

My hike starts out like all hunts on the lake… uphill. The feeder creek has a cool waterfall I get to scramble up first, which I thoroughly enjoy.

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I hit hog sign almost immediately and I pre-bait the trap in that drainage with corn that I brought for it. Upward and onward, I hit the main trail and head west. Our goal has been to scout a 33 mile trail that bisects the lower portion of all the drainages, letting us know where we have activity. We use the established trails as our highways into better hunting areas and a majority of my work is done off trail at this time of year. The first couple miles of my hunt is uneventful. I notice an old fence post from pre-park days and wonder if it is chestnut or locust. It looks like locust, but I don’t stop to check.

It is a little before 1:00 and I hear some leaves rustling on the opposite hillside. I am on the north side of a ridge and the trail is covered with crunchy snow, but I have a good wind. There are a couple ways to put the sneak on game in dry leaves or crunchy snow, all requiring some cover noise. Wait until they are rooting or moving, move when the wind is blowing, and move when an airplane is going overhead. I use all three to gain ground, get sight of my quarry, and get in range. Letting the animal crest a hill or drop into a gully and using a creek as a cover sound are good moves too.

During the winter I run a 6.8 AR with a Surefire suppressor shooting 110 grain Barnes bullets. Once rendered into our possession, we obtain blood, heart, fecal, nasal, and tongue samples for our disease monitoring program. Even though I just shot this animal ending it’s life, I can’t help but feel like I am violating it by getting the fecal sample. Life and death in the woods raises some interesting thoughts to ponder.

I return to the trail, pull out my water bottle, and find that it has already frozen at the top. I bust out the ice and drink up, knowing that my body needs just as much water in cold weather as it does in warm. When I return to the station later, I will find that all my blood vials have frozen as well.

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Heading west, I peel off on the ridge that takes me to the bedding area. I hit sign within 100 yards, but time pulling sample means I will not make it to the Primary pickup location. I pull out my map and locate a gentle finger ridge a half mile away that will take me down to the Alternate pickup spot. Easing out the ridge, I come across four does that drop off the ridge to the north.

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I survey the beauty that surrounds me. Combing my beard, standing on top of a ridge in the winter woods, by myself, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres, I am assured that my decision to leave the law enforcement division was the right choice. This past year, when I started spending more time in my patrol truck than in the field, I knew it was time to go. The pay and benefit cuts are all worth it, as in the last month I have spent more time in the woods than your average ranger does in a year. It’s not that they don’t want to be out there, it’s just an unfortunate symptom of a shifting program responding to new demands and budget cuts. My heart however, has always been in the woods, and I am back where I belong.

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I find my finger ridge and ease down, ever watchful for bedding hogs. Hogs are the ultimate survivors and I respect them greatly, even naming my school after these survival machines. Even if they didn’t breed like rabbits, weren’t tough as nails, or have a their omnivorous ways, wild hogs would get a gold star for their choice bedding sites. I often find their leaf nests under the protection of a pine tree, midway on South facing finger slopes. That is a textbook microclimate location.

No beds on this ridge and forty five minutes later, I pop out onto the lake bank.

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I still haven’t eaten lunch, so I kick some fatwood fins off a dead Virginia pine to light up my Mini Emberlit. No drive thrus or restaurants for us, but a hot meal on a cold day is pretty damn nice during my lunch break. The mini Emberlit packs up small, is lightweight titanium, runs off twigs, and leaves no fire scar. It was expensive, but well worth it in my book. The chopsticks were because I left my spork in the sink at the house and I usually carry my lunch in the MSR Stowaway pot you see here.

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Via radio, I let Junior know I am at the Alternate pickup. Dressed in camo on a rocky bank, it is really hard for the driver to see us. I give him a flash of the mirror as he cruises in the channel and also with the rescue laser I am testing out. The jury is still out on the laser, partly due to the fact that one of the crew is red-green colorblind.

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From here it is down the lake to pickup K.W., then back to the station to process the samples and fill out a short paperwork form. On the ride back we share intel from where we saw sign and start planning for the next day.

I wish I could tell you that we get into gangs of hogs every day, but the truth is our efforts have paid off over the years. Over 12,000 hogs have been removed during the history of our program and I have anecdotally noticed that numbers in my area have declined. Having the ability to breed twice a year, bearing up to six piglets, and becoming sexually mature at six months, if we ever quit, the population would rebound quickly, so tomorrow we will be back at it again.

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Resources:

Hogs in the Smokies: http://smokiesinformation.org/nature-wildlife/wild-hogs

Watch here for volunteer positions trapping wild hogs and helping deal with nuisance bears in the Smokies: https://www.thesca.org/serve/positions

Watch here for federal jobs hunting or trapping (type 0404 into the keyword search): https://www.usajobs.gov/

I did some work with these guys in college and they are the go-to agency for careers like mine: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage

Wildthings Gear: http://www.wildthingsgear.com/

Lost footage from Red Dawn found…

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Well it should have been the next scene.

Rewind to a time when I wished that the Russians would invade so I could run to the mountains and become a “Wolverine”. Looking back, my little jellybutt would have folded after a couple days and I would have been scarfing down food with transmitters in it, but the “Wolverine” spirit was there. If you grew up in the 80’s and are reading this blog, you know what I mean. If you are a younger generation and just saw the garbage of a re-make, do yourself a favor and watch the original. WOLVERINES!!!

Anyway, if you are living on the down low with a bunch of hungry high school kids nagging you for some fresh meat, take Jed’s advice, or better yet, use something quiet like a crossbow, a suppressed rifle, or subsonic .22’s. Here is what wise, old Jed says:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwwOF3ztiZU

I like to think that Jed’s next advice was “We gotta get the hell out of here quick. Like in 5 minutes and 55 seconds..” Butchering large game in the field or hauling it out takes time, and time will get you killed if the Spetsnaz is looking for you.

I rolled back to middle Tennessee this past weekend for the last days of deer season. With quitting a job, starting a new one, and starting a business, my deer hunting plans got pushed back further and further. Not a problem, because I hail from a land where meat grows wild, allowing you 3 does per day and my hunting buddy from high school has access to some prime land. Have gun, will travel.

Six deer later, my buddy and I were discussing our butchering plans. A reader of my blog, I asked if he wanted to see the poacher cut, so I could show pulling the tenderloins as promised in an earlier post. I was curious exactly how quick I could do it under the pressure of the clock. Smooth is fast, and I could have been smoother that day, but a shade under six minutes might have value in the right context for the preppers out there that are reading this blog. Unlike hog hair, deer hair tends to fall out readily, so be forewarned that when you get back to camp, you may have to ask the kids to pick off some hairs. Just don’t ask Jennifer Grey or she will bite your head off!!

Let’s get started

1. Assume the position

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2. Access the backstraps

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3. Cut out said backstraps. One little tip is to make a thumbhole in it to help hold on to them

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4. Cut off the shoulders

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5. Cut off your hams

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6. And here is the tenderloin stuff promised in the gutless hog post. Make a cut just below the spine, between the rib cage and pelvis. Stick your hand in and you can grab the tenderloin and pull it out. It lies in between the spine and the gut sac. You may need a few cuts on the ends for a cleaner pull.

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Give Matty and Robert the hams and shoulders, while you take the backstraps and tenderloins. If Ivan pinpoints your location and you have to split up, at least you will have the best meat to munch on 🙂

And please remember the context, before you email me about wasting meat and hides. I agree with you, this does leave the ribs, neck, guts, some grind meat, and the hide for the scavengers, who all need a meal as well. I have eaten organs, brain tanned hides, and don’t usually use this technique on deer. This is just a “most bang for your buck” technique and parts of it may be useful for that fresh road kill deer you pull up on.

Ruger GSR in the land of plenty:

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Resources:

Poachers cut on a hog:   https://bigpigblog.com/2013/12/23/poachers-cut-1-0/

Tennessee Deer Seasons:   http://www.tn.gov/twra/deerseasons.html

Tennessee Roadkill Law: http://www.eregulations.com/tennessee/hunting/general-hunting-regulations/

Greatest movie ever:  http://www.amazon.com/Red-Dawn-Patrick-Swayze/dp/0792838041

Evolution of a hunting jacket

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What happens when you take a couple 25 year old guys, put them at a remote ranger station, and tell them to kill wild hogs? Well, they do their job and when they are not working, they talk about three things, in no particular order. Hunting hogs, camo, and girls

That is what my dinner conversations revolved around in my mid-twenties. Nowadays, “Girls” have been replaced by “Wives”, but camo and hoghunting are still holding strong.

Here is where I work, 500,000 acres of beautiful wilderness. Average winter lows are in the mid-twenties and highs can be in the 50’s. The wind on the lake makes it one of the coldest places to work in the park. Rain, sleet, and snow, we get it all, and it is a constant layer shuffle throughout the day.

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When you hike for a living, weight starts to be a factor. Every ounce counts and my daypack that can keep me out overnight in 30 degree weather, runs around 13 lbs. I will post my pack contents soon, but tonight it is another camo jacket discussion, right Danno?

Why does all this matter to you? Because your clothing is one of THE most important survival tools you carry. With a good jacket that can keep your body warm and dry, you can make it through a cold night if forced to stay out. If you are injured, build a shelter and fire may not be an option, so your clothing is what will keep you alive. I know guys that balk at me spending $170 on a jacket, but will drop over $100 on a knife or a grand on a rifle. In an email correspondence, a WT rep said they are working on blaze orange as an outer shell option. If you are not a hunter, the WT jackets are available in other colors as well.

My original jacket was the Columbia Gallatin Range wool one, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14 oz. It is heavy, not water repellent, soaks up snow, and had cotton lining in the hood which I cut out. I am a fan of wool, but not as my outer layer anymore. I find it heavy, and even heavier when it gets wet. Wool is great around a campfire, but I have managed not to burn myself up wearing the other jackets.

The Wild Things Gear primaloft sweater was a big improvement, weighing in at 1 lb. 6 oz. Used as a insulating layer, it works great, but as a stand alone outer jacket, it lacks a water repellent coating and is quilted. Quilting can allow moisture to enter and your warm air to exit. Here you can see water soaking in and the quilting.

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My new jacket is the Wild Things Gear multicam Insulight jacket, weighing 1 lb. 11 oz. Like the primaloft sweater, it has 4 ounces of Primaloft One. Unlike the sweater, it’s exterior is not quilted and has a DWR coating, which you can see below. I carry a rain jacket in my pack, but this will get me through a light rain and keep snow from sticking to me. Fleece lined pockets, a great hood, and a mesh interior pocket keep it simple, but effective.

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Why not down? It is light and warm, but down compresses when wet and loses much of it’s insulating properties. I have not tried the DriDown yet. Another downside would come from all the briars ripping at me on a daily basis. I have another WT jacket that got ripped, but the insulation is still in place.

Resources:

Primaloft One: http://www.primaloft.com/en/performance/products/primaloft-one.html

Wild Things Gear: http://www.wildthingsgear.com/

Poachers Cut 1.0

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There is more than one way to butcher a hog, each with it’s own pros and cons. This method allows you to pull the maximum amount of meat in the shortest amount of time, which is why this a preferred method by illegal hunters. This is also the preferred method if you are hiding from the sheriff of Jerkwater, USA, in an abandoned mine and need some grub. Go Johnny Rambo!!

This “gutless” method only leaves the rib meat, organs, some neck meat, the jowls, and the tenderloins. You can pull the tenderloins without gutting as well, but I didn’t on this night. Nothing in nature goes to waste and the carcass ended up feeding the coyotes at a bait station the next day.

I used this method because I was by myself, it was 10 o’clock at night, and 65 degrees out. Hanging it overnight was out of the question. Start to finish with a sharp knife, it only takes a couple of minutes and will work on other big game as well. If I was deeper in the mountains, I would use a different method to skin and bone it out so I didn’t have to carry the extra weight.

Get a sharp knife, glove up (see below), and let’s get started..

1. Make three cuts as shown. Don’t cut down through the hair, but up so you don’t dull your knife. For the cut closest to the hams, feel for the hip bones as your guide.

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2. Skin and peel back the flap to expose the backstraps

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3. Cut out the backstraps. This is where pork chops come from and a nice section of sinew for cordage.

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4. Remove the front quarters. Lift up the leg and cut under the shoulder blade to free the leg

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5. Cut on the inside of the groin down to the hip socket

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6. Cut through the hip socket and cut off the ham completely

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7.  You should now have 2 backstraps, 2 shoulders, and 2 hams. Stuff all of them in your fridge until you can work them up later.

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8. Be prepared for “Fridge of Death” comments and “Jeffrey Dahmer” jokes from your wife. Defuse said comments with a lecture on animal welfare in hog lots and promise to clean the fridge.

Resources:

Wild hogs, like any animal can carry diseases. Avoiding sickly animals, wearing gloves, and thoroughly cooking your meat reduces your risks.  http://www.floridahealth.gov/chdalachua/environmental/docs/hogHunting.pdf

Tennessee wild hog regulations: http://www.tn.gov/twra/wildhogs.shtml

Lots of anti-pig info: http://www.wildpiginfo.msstate.edu/index.html

Disclaimer: This fine specimen of Porkus badasseus was harvested using legal methods on private property. This blog post in no way reflects the opinions or views of my employer.

Sausage Fest…

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Mankind has been making sausage long before we had the funny reference, so why would I call it anything else? Oh yeah, so I could call my buddy and tell him I was going to title a blog after his days working on undercover solicitation stings. Sometimes he hates me, but I will give him some of the seventy plus pounds of sausage I made up and all will be well.

Anyway, I shot two good sized boars last week on some private property that I help keep the population in check, so it was time to make some breakfast sausage. Here is the recipe we adapted: http://www.themeaningofpie.com/2012/03/wild-boar-sausage/

  • 4 pounds of ground hog
  • 4 teaspoons of ground sage
  • 4 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Great flavor and my wife made a “Cowboy Casserole” out of the sausage before her trip to Florida, so I wouldn’t be tempted to live off cereal.

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Here is my favorite rifle for large game right now.  A Ruger Gunsite Scout. I am in the middle of an optics, weapon’s light, and NVG quandary, so I am running open sights on the XS rail.

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The other big boy..

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And two thumbs up for my new single bowl sink that can fit a whole hog in it..

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And here is part of an email sent through the channels telling me to add a disclaimer to my facebook or blogs so you don’t think that the government endorses sausage fests.

“Also, add a disclaimer to your social networking profile, personal blog, or other online presences that clearly states that the opinions or views expressed are yours alone and do not represent the views of the Department of the Interior or your bureau.”

Count this as my disclaimer…