Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountains

TeamBUSAR.org…

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Three years ago I was at a crux. I had resigned from my backcountry law enforcement ranger position, found out we were having a baby, and started planning our move to North Carolina. I remember reading a text from my MMA coach that he sent out to the team about training and priorities. I was in Florida on vacation, and he was right. I realized that I could no longer dedicate the time and energy to that sport, with new priorities entering my life. I left the gym, leaving part of me behind.

The same was true of my LE Ranger position. While I will never regret my decision to leave, there was a part of my soul that missed the most rewarding facet of that job…

Search and rescue.

I have been extremely fortunate to have a career filled with adventure, but there has only been one time in all those years that emotion has swept over me so strongly, I had to walk away.

Ten years ago, I was on a search for two off-trail hikers on the Spruce Flats Falls manway. I was just getting into the law enforcement division, but got teamed up with “Rambo” Ricky Varner who knew the area like the back of his hand. We located the couple, who were forced to spend the night out, and walked them out to Tremont.

There, patiently waiting, was their family, and what ensued was one of the most tender reunions I have witnessed. They don’t always end that way, but reuniting a family with their missing loved one will move the most calloused soul.

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Photo credit: http://www.thegreatsmokies.net/spruce-flats-falls/

And so two years ago, fueled by a desire to be pushed by a group of hard-core guys, a penchant for the misery of off-trail rescues, and the aspiration to help others, I started recruiting a band of outdoor misfits to form an elite search and rescue team. Our mission would be simple. Prepare for the toughest missions the Smokies can offer..

  • Off-trail rescues
  • Extended carryouts
  • Winter rescues
  • Missing aircraft
  • Technical and swiftwater rescue

With the promise of bad weather, long hours, no pay, and dangerous work, they started to trickle in one by one. First an adventurer racer, then a paddler and climber, then a helicopter pilot, a doctor, a flight medic, a Special Forces veteran, a neuroscientist, another wildlife ranger, and the list went on.

Original flyer:

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As diverse as the crew was, they all had in common the desire to help others in need and the ability to push themselves physically and mentally to build a professional team.

Every week for two years, in every weather condition, we have met at a local park to workout together, carrying our SAR packs and kettlebells, pushing the levels of fitness higher and suffering through grueling fitness standards. Every month, the team has assembled for some form of training, be it technical, swiftwater, tracking, land navigation, wilderness medical, rescue swimming, working with K-9 teams, or just a tough off-trail scramble.

Leaving the comfort of our homes and families to respond to missions, we have carried out patients on the icy Appalachian trail. Rigged up ropes to haul the injured hikers up to safety. Searched for a downed plane during hypothermia inducing weather. Assisted with joint technical rescue training. Responded to many calls only to get cancelled en route when the victim walked out. Searched the dark trails for a missing hikers. Assisted in the body recoveries of recent fatalities. And taken vacation days and cancelled personal plans to respond when called.

The team did all this, and more, to be an asset to the Search and Rescue operations of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and help those in need. The park is working constantly to overcome staffing and budget challenges. We hope to help them by pre-deploying on high volume weekends and holidays, which will reduce our response time and allow us to assist with the P-SAR (Preventative Search & Rescue) program.

The BUSAR Team is the finest group of professionals I have ever worked with. They are my friends, my mentors, my teammates, and they have helped fill that tribal void in my life. I am proud of all they have accomplished and all that they will going forward.

So today I am announcing our team website, Team BUSAR, and the exciting news that we got our non-profit status. For the last two years, except for three donors, we have paid for everything out of our own pocket. Our gear, our training, gas, meals, etc. We have done all that because we desire to help.

Now we are asking for your help.

With over 11 million visitors to the Smokies, there is a good chance that you or someone you care about may need help out there at sometime, so please consider helping us by the following:

  1.  Jump onto our site and read the bios of this dedicated group of professionals
  2. Push this message, and our website, teambusar.org out on social media, hiking forums, email groups, and word of mouth. The more the better, as just that action may find us the help we need.
  3. Like us on Facebook, TeamBUSAR Facebook, and invite all your friends to do the same
  4. BUSAR is a 501(c)3 non-profit, so please consider donating if you are able –  Donate to BUSAR
  5. If you know someone who is looking for a charitable tax deduction, please send them our way.  I am more than happy to chat by phone or meet up to explain our vision. Our team not only has a worthwhile mission, but with half of the team being veterans, it makes a difference in their lives as well. Dusken’s experience
  6. If you are aware of any grants or foundations that are inline with our mission, please email us at  – busarfoundation@gmail.com

 

To date, the BUSAR project has been one of the most fulfilling chapters in my life. This team would have never started without the hard work and dedication of those on the team and their support of their families. To all those involved, current and former, I give thanks.

Thanks to Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, who has been advising me since it’s formation, along with Jared St. Clair, TN District Ranger, who took over the SAR Coordinator role. Thanks also goes out to all the members of the Smokies Tech Rescue team, Kevin Moses and the cadre of B-TRTE for tech training, Chuck Hester of BLRI, and Brian Osgood and the BCRS crew for loaning us equipment for swiftwater training.

What was birthed two years ago, is now starting to stand on its own two feet. The feet wear muddy boots, the bodies are now hardened by countless workouts and training missions, and the spirit stands by waiting for the call and ready to help. The path ahead of us is clear, we are prepared, and ready for the journey. We invite all of you to join us in this mission to help others, by helping us…

BUSAR!!

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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…

Class 38/54 is fueled by Possum Punching Power…

Do you..

A. Ice you hand after punching a possum in the face when it crawls in bed with you in the wee hours of the night?

B. Stick your hand in ice water to simulate the hypothermic “fumbles” during the “Cold & Wet” drill?

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If you guessed both A and B, you are correct.

Look deep into this Marine veteran’s eyes and you will see the mindset that makes a ten minute dunking in a cold creek seem like a bath, the patience to overcome old injuries and physical limitations, and the determination to persevere despite having only one numb, non-dominant hand to start his fire.

Maybe it was a heat crazed dream from building his fire too big at 3 am, maybe it was the bedtime story I told about having to punch a bear at Ekaneetlee Gap early one morning that was coming through my tent, or maybe, just maybe a possum really did try and cuddle with him in his warm shelter. None of us will ever know, but I do know that as soon as I saw this man hit the water, that he had the most important survival gear on board… the “Survival” mindset.

Congrats to Class 38/54 for spending the night out in 38 degree weather, wearing only T-shirts and equipped with only simple shelter kits. Great application of the super shelter principles and beds so thick, they were fit for a possum.

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Natural tinder time…

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The “Home invasion” crime scene…

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Deer leg dinner..

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The team embraces the shrinkage…

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The warmer the air temp, the longer the swim. At ten minutes in, this band of brothers are in the zone…

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Sometimes, humor can warm the spirit faster than a fire. Thick beards help too…

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Hustle time…

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Skills = Success, Success = Confidence

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Pride, confidence, and faith. Those are the feelings I get when I look at this picture.

Pride in knowing that I helped three new friends along the path.

Confidence in their knowledge, skills, and mindset.

And faith that if facing challenges in the wilderness, that they will overcome.

These men weren’t forced to be here. They paid money, left their families and warm homes for the weekend, all to endure some tough conditions and challenges.

Why you ask? The answers are down by the creek…

Come find “your” answer at the next BigPig Outdoor’s “Survival 101” class**: http://bigpigoutdoors.net/survival-101-1.html

** Spring is here and 101 classes need cold weather as one of our instructors. Classes in March and April will be scheduled at short notice if the weather cooperates. Email me at bigpigoutdoors@gmail.com to be notified of 101 class announcements.

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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/

“New Chapter of Life”…

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Those were the four words I wrote down on my resignation form yesterday.

My boss quoted the form “Please be specific and avoid generalizations”.. 

“Well” I said, “I am trying to put a positive spin on things”

You see, I signed up to be a Protection Ranger in the Twentymile District of North Carolina, the remotest section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With no road patrol and no frontcountry campground it was a backcountry ranger’s ideal situation. Lots of poachers to chase, the beautiful Fontana Lake, and 132,000 acres of wilderness that I had roamed in my hoghunting days excited me to the core. Life was good, but change, like the seasons, is inevitable. With sequestration, under staffing, and more budget cuts on the way, the “least” visited section of the park is not a priority on the managerial list.

I could see the writing on the wall, or really the lack of it on the board. Arriving early for a meeting at headquarters one day, I saw on the dry erase board, an exercise for projected minimal staffing. There was no Twentymile. At times this summer I was only working one day a week in my district. They articulated the need, but when I signed up for my job I didn’t have dreams of sneaking around campgrounds looking for dope smokers, babysitting tubers, or typing report after report. My heart yearned for the woods on a cellular level.

Maybe it was during my Fur-“fish & game” -lough, when I couldn’t even sleep indoors because the sense of freedom was so overwhelming. Maybe it was the paradigm shift that occurred during forty five episodes of Peace Revolution podcast on my commute to another district. Maybe the realization that 25 years of my life is not worth a pension of $1200 a month. Or maybe, It could be the fact that where I am heading there is no “box” to contain my creative ideas. Weekends and holidays off, growing a beard, no more stinking reports… maybe it is all of it.

On Saturday I had received my 10 year service award and on Thursday in four short words I had given up a career and the permanent status so many of us feds chase.

You sure?” asked my boss.

Absolutely” I replied.

What are you going to do?” he said

Hunt hogs and teach classes. After that, whatever I want” 

Resource and visitor protection is the division I worked for, but my mission really won’t change much. Being able to focus on building my school and the curriculum will do just that. People only protect what they value, and people only value what they can experience or find useful. Fear or lack of knowledge hold a lot of people back from connecting and becoming part of nature. Both of those are easily remedied by education.

For the next six months, I will also return to my old hoghunting job, roaming the mountains in the district I love. Stalking the woods with a suppressed 6.8 again makes me smile. I will still keep my eye out for poachers and if they need me for a carryout or SAR, I will be around.

So to all the people out there that are in a job that leaves you unfulfilled, but you cannot sever the ties of comfort and security, I leave you with a quote from the crappiest movie I have seen in a while, After Earth. I was drifting off to sleep when the words of Will Smith brought me back

Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.” 

You gotta love the Fresh Prince, he does have a way with words..

Resources:

Breaking the chains of debt slavery and living within your means gives you more options while in the Matrix

http://www.amazon.com/The-Total-Money-Makeover-Financial/dp/1595555277/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383960729&sr=8-1&keywords=total+money+makeover

Choosing your lifestyle first

http://www.amazon.com/The-4-Hour-Workweek-Anywhere-Expanded/dp/0307465357/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383961089&sr=8-1&keywords=four+hour+work+week

Unplugging and waking up

https://www.tragedyandhope.com/category/peacerevolution

Leaving Feds:

http://hr.od.nih.gov/benefits/retirement/fersseperation.htm

Health Savings Account info:

http://www.patientadvocate.org/requests/publications/Guide-To-Health-Savings-Account.pdf