Lessons from Outlaws

From the ‘respect your opponent’ files:

Poachers do it for the thrill. Don’t believe otherwise.  The days of starving families have largely fallen by the wayside in this country, where width is a bigger problem than want.  But killing everything, everywhere, all the time is a point of pride that never fades for some, and the annoying truth is that many of these fellows are the best around at it (I suppose we all could be if seasons, limits, and property lines were fluid).  They are not sportsmen – they are a problem, and not to be tolerated by honorable men.  However, they can provide insight if you look deep enough.  Here’s a few I’ve come across over the years:

The Hunter

Years ago, I stumbled across a notorious fellow in rural Lee County (i.e. the middle of nowhere) as he was coming out of the woods one evening.  He was known for killing copious numbers of deer both large and small, and for doing it wherever he felt like it.  I held his rifle while he fished through his wallet for a license and almost laughed at what I held: a .303 British military surplus rifle with scope bases that looked like they were stick welded on.  A piece of garbage by anyone’s estimation.  I asked him how far he had ever shot with that rifle, and he said, “If you can’t get within 50, 60 yards you shouldn’t be out here.”  When I asked how many he had killed with it he looked up at me, smiled, and said, “A lot.”  

The Shooter

Another warden and I witnessed another outlaw road hunting in late December.  He spotted some deer in a field that we were observing and stopped in the middle of the dirt road.  He grabbed a rifle from behind the seat, grabbed a Coleman cooler from the truck bed, and laid down in the road using the cooler as a rifle rest.  When he fired the shot, we ran to him and made the arrest.  When the smoke cleared, we found the deer dead in its tracks at just over 400 yards away.  We locked him up, of course, but I was impressed at the shot.

The Best

Early in my career, I made it my mission to catch “J.P.” He was a deer dogger, and he did it where he could as well as where he couldn’t.  He was the hardest to catch that I’ve ever seen because he knew the land better than anyone, including the people who had a legal right to hunt it.  I lucked into catching him with an illegal doe after a decade of chasing him.  He told me a complex web of lies to get out of it, and when they finally imploded, he laughed and said, “Matt, I’m just feeding you a line of shit.”  He took his ticket, paid the full fine amount, and we played the chase again the following weekend.  He’s too old now to be much of a problem, but some part of me misses him.  

The best outlaws live in the woods.  

The best hunters do too.  

Gear and websites don’t make you good.  

You can’t buy skill in the woods.  

Some things you have to earn without shortcuts.  

Just do it legally, please.