“Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted”-No trespassing sign

Besides what caliber makes the best deer rifle, whether the spring gobbler season is early or late, or why doesn’t the state stock bigger trout, maybe nothing in the hunting and fishing world can cause as much discussion and drama as hunting on private property.

Like politics, people’s views on this subject range from the Alpha to the Omega. I dealt with this issue for over 36 years and saw a few things if you know what I mean. I witnessed some individuals who would routinely post land that did not belong to them. I also saw (and I am not making this up) some intrepid hunters who hid in hollow logs and outhouses (no, not the top part), to avoid being caught.

I came to know a whole faction of hunters that reveled in hunting on private and posted land-land that they knew good and well they were not supposed to be on. It was part of the game for them, besides pursing deer or turkeys; they were sometimes pursued themselves, and seemed to enjoy it. One group in Virginia called it hunting on “hot ground”.

Ok, let’s be clear here, I am not advocating or endorsing hunting without permission. I am just letting you know about some of the things I used to run into out there, and I am sure that Officers in the field still do.

One of the attitudes I used hear about on this subject went something like this. “My daddy and I have hunted here since I was a kid, we have always hunted here, I don’t care who owns it I’m gonna keep hunting here!” I always tried to explain as politely as I could (at least at first), it didn’t matter how long you have hunted there, if someone else owns it brother, you have to have the landowner’s permission!

Currently in the good ol’ U-S of A, about 29 states require landowners to mark or “post” their land to exclude hunters. Some say that many trespassing and hunting without permission laws favor the hunter over the landowner, and this idea came from the days when Americans wanted to ensure that all people had access to hunting, not just the ones with wealth and land. Believe me when I tell you there is no winning this argument, most hunters and landowners alike do not like the current trespassing laws. I finally got to the point that I would tell them to call the people they elected and sent to the state capitol. If they wanted the law changed, tell them.

There are 22 states where posting your land is not required, that is you must have landowner permission to hunt there, but it doesn’t have to be posted. In states where posting is required, sometimes there are rules about how the posters are displayed, and sometimes not. It’s not simple.

So here is the obligatory disclaimer. Are you ready? Check your local laws and regulations! Get it from your states Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Game Commission or equivalent. Don’t listen to the guy at the barber shop, your buddy at work, or the kid behind the counter at Wally World. Almost every state is different.

In Pennsylvania for example, Wildlife Conservation Officer Terry Wills at the Northwest Region Office told me that written permission is not required but verbal permission is. Posted signs are not required in the Keystone State, but you must have landowner permission. In Georgia, Corporal Shawn Elmore with the Law Enforcement Section of DNR at the Region 1 office explained that if the land was not posted, only verbal permission is required, if the land is posted, written permission is the law.

Moving on to the Mountain State of West Virginia, land must be fenced or posted for the hunting without permission law to be enforced, and the permission is supposed to be written. If the land is not fenced or posted however, you could be in violation of trespassing laws. My point is these laws vary all over the map, make sure you know the deal for your area.

You know by now that I like to keep things simple. How about just finding out what the law is for private land in your area and abide by it? Personally, I never wanted to hunt anywhere unless I knew that I was entirely welcome.

Before I go, just in case you are wondering about that clever fellow that hid in the basement of the outhouse while trespassing? Yes, I did catch him, and no, I didn’t put him in my car. Sometimes even the game warden practices catch and release!



YOUTH SQUIRREL HUNT 2015, TUCK AND ANDY                                                                                                                        If you are a frequent reader of this column you know that I am always honest. Sometimes this is not easy. There may be things that you do not want to hear. Most of you know that I am an avid hunter and I believe in hunting and always will. We hear a lot these days about the importance of teaching children about hunting and perpetuating our hunting heritage. Is it really that important in today’s world? I’m not so sure.

Proponents of this claim there are several good reasons to get your kids out in the woods and into the hunting environment. They claim that teaching kids about the many aspects of hunting benefits young people in many areas of life. Let’s look at some of these claims.

Hunting teaches kids about conservation. Is this really vital in today’s modern world? I know that hunters foot the bill for dozens of conservation projects, but this is 2015 for heaven’s sake, is conservation really that important nowadays?

Hunting is a way of connecting to the outdoors. Again, is this important? Hunting and being in the outdoors has been shown to be a way to relax, lower blood pressure and numerous other health benefits, but can’t kids do the same thing playing video games?

Hunting can encourage you to be physically fit. Not that again. I mean aren’t you tired of all this talk about taking care of your health? Kids today probably get plenty of exercise running to the fridge for another grape soda.

Hunting develops traditions and connections with family. Well maybe, but isn’t that whole family and traditions thing highly over rated?

Hunting teaches survival skills and dealing with adverse conditions. Can’t kids get the same thing from watching TV programs like Alone and The Walking Dead?

Hunting prepares you to become a responsible person. The assertion is that learning to be safe with firearms, taking, processing and preparing game animals for the table and learning to be an ethical hunter teaches responsibility. Well, I guess that may be true.

OK, for those of you sitting there with your fists balled up and your blood pressure rising, calm down, I am trying to make a point. I thought if I showed this issue in another light, some people might pay a little more attention. Yes, of course I think teaching kids about hunting is important. Yes, young people (and older folks too) can learn many good skills and life lessons from hunting.

Now I am going to tell you about a great program associated with introducing kids to hunting.

Many of our states have great hunter education programs. The benefit of these classes is incalculable, young people learn firearms safety, hunting ethics, care of game, wildlife identification and dozens of other valuable lessons. Problem is in today’s world not every child who wants to go hunting has someone to take them.

I am proud to say that my old alma mater, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section is sponsoring a new program for their Natural Resource Police Officers to take young people hunting on special youth days. Yep, that’s right; they get to go hunting with the game warden. How cool is that?

“We see this new program as fulfilling a need to get our state’s youngsters outside and to promote our state’s hunting heritage,” said Col. Jerry Jenkins, chief of the WVDNR Law Enforcement Section. “We are looking for young people across the state that our officers can mentor and help enjoy the coming fall hunting seasons.”

The goals of the Youth Hunting Program are to preserve the state’s hunting heritage for present and future generations; to promote the highest ethical standards in hunting; to give the state’s youth an initial, positive, safe, educational and mentored hunting experience; to teach basic skills, values, techniques and responsibilities of hunting; and to teach participants practical conservation measures.

Youth Hunting Program participants must be 8 to 17 years old and complete and submit an application. They also are required to complete the West Virginia Hunter Education Course, have a valid West Virginia hunting license (if required), and have a completed release form signed by a parent or guardian.

“Youth who enter the program will learn how to hunt safely, legally and ethically,” said Col. Jenkins. “They also will learn how to track and field dress game, appreciate nature firsthand and make new friends. We expect these youth hunts will provide experiences and memories that will last a lifetime for both the kids and the officers.”

I feel like I was a little part of history as I was asked to join the very first Youth Day hunt with Officers on September 5, the Youth squirrel hunt. Five young men (young ladies are welcome too) were accompanied by several DNR Officers on what I thought was a very successful maiden voyage for this program.

Did these young hunters shoot a lot of squirrels on this hunt? Nope, not one. (Temperatures were close to 90) Did they take a big hike in the woods, learn about everything from what squirrels and other animals eat to what signs do they leave? Did they learn about safe gun handling and how to recognize different animal tracks? Absolutely. They even got to watch some first rate squirrel dogs work. Once, during a break I saw the whole bunch playing a fast paced game of catch alongside an officer, with an invisible ball. (You had to be there)

These boys had a great day in the field with their hosts the DNR Officers, ending up with a hot dog cook out when they came out of the woods. What a wonderful way for young hunters to be introduced to DNR Officers for the first time, instead of the possible alternative.

Your state may have already started such a program, if not; maybe you want to suggest they do. I don’t think an excessive amount of funds are needed for programs like this. Just the time and effort involved to take a kid hunting. You know if your state doesn’t have a program like this you can take it upon yourself to mentor a young person in hunting. Take a look around you, they’re out there.

O yeah, and we’re good about that little trick I pulled there at first, right? I mean, I did it for your own good. Honest I did.


The Back Mountain Loon Dance




   A Game Warden rescues an angry water bird and a group of deer hunters have a change of heart.




    Driving down the winding Back Mountain road, Cheat Mountain looms to my right and the Greenbrier River is somewhere down the hill to my left. I am driving between Durbin and Cass, West Virginia. It is the Friday before the opening of the rifle buck season and you can feel the anticipation in the air. The year is 1987 and I am thirty four years old. I am in my prime as a Conservation Officer for the Department of Natural Resources. As it often happens in life, I am living the dream, but don’t know it.

    I have received a call to go to a deer camp about the retrieval of some type of animal or bird. As usual, the exact nature of the call is unclear. The call is a little strange for this time of year; as any call in November is typically about one thing-deer killin’. I pull up to the house that serves as a camp and it occurs to me that I have been here before. Odds are this group will not be happy to see me return.

    I got out of the too small Chevy S-10 Blazer, (state contract, low bid), and surveyed the crowd eyeing me from the yard. It doesn’t take a PH.D. in psychology to see that this bunch has issues. About ten hunters are standing around stiff-legged in the yard, like a pack of dogs before they fight. “OK”, I think to myself, “this ought to be good”.

    The leader of the bunch was situated in the front of the group, standing behind a large cardboard box. I asked if they had called about some animal that I needed to pick up, at which time the leader growls something to the effect of “Yeah, what are you going to do with this Mr. Game Warden!”

    He then proceeds to dump the box over and out slides a large, beautiful, and very angry looking, loon. A Common Loon, you know, the kind you see on the movies making that crazy call they have. I was more than a little surprised; I didn’t think we got that many Common Loons in Pocahontas County, WV. I remember thinking “Man, this thing is BIG.” It looked like it would weigh close to twenty pounds; the body was about thirty inches long. The loon had hard, red eyes and a “don’t mess with me” look.

    Loons, as you may know, like all diving ducks and other similar waterfowl, sometimes get stranded on land. They need at least fifty yards of open water to skip along and get airborne. No water, they can’t take off.  They are known of course for their wild, eerie cry. This guy, however, was not doing the cry today, he just looked like he was gonna get some pay back.

    The disgruntled group of hunters thought this was great fun; their fearless leader had dumped quite a problem on the ol’ game warden, how was he going to deal with this irate water bird? I stood and surveyed the scene for a minute thinking on my next move. I figured I would get no help from the group; they wanted to see the game warden getting whopped on by this fish-eating bird.

    Then, as I stood and watched, one of those strange and wonderful incidents occurred that are all too rare in our lives. The sun broke through the clouds over Cheat Mountain; a ray of sun softly lit the scene in that deer camp. I thought I saw the Loon’s red eyes narrow; he drew back his head for a second and with his rapier like bill, speared the group’s leader right in the crotch of his blue jeans!

   Things seemed to take on a surreal appearance. The leader of the group, now quite changed in demeanor, began a lively shuffle to and fro. His arms were spread wide and waved in circles, (this later became the main component of the dance) The legs were held wide as well, trying to counter for the weight of the terrible feathered pendulum attached to his fly that would NOT let go.

    Loons, as you may not know, besides having a powerful spear like bill, have sharp projections in the roof of the bill (and on the tongue), slanting back. This is to keep a fish from escaping once they grab it; I can testify that these also work quite well on denim.

    The leader shuffled and waved through his group swinging the dreaded appendage crying something like “O!”, “O no! O!” His former comrades exploded in gales of laughter, hooting, and general hilarity at the plight of their man. The poor guy looked over at me like, “Hey buddy can you help me PLEASE?”

    After what must have seemed like hours to the loon dancer, we somehow grabbed the offending bird and extracted it from his blue jeans. (A somewhat tedious process) The offending loon was put back in the box for transporting, muttering obscenities all the while.

    The climate of the whole scene changed. Several of the hunters did reenactments of the loon dance with laughs and back slaps all around. Many of them even shook hands with the game warden, including the leader. I left with the impression that maybe they didn’t think I was such a bad guy after all. I mean, how can you stay mad at a guy who helps to pry a crazed water bird off of the fly of your pants?

     I went down the Back Mountain road with the loon in the back of the Blazer. I released him on the Greenbrier River and wished him well. I watched as he dipped under twice and paddled away. He was probably hoping that he would never again be involved with deer hunters, game wardens, or humans in general. One thing was for sure though, if he was ever captured again by a bunch of humans, he knew how to get their attention.