Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring turkey hunting's unexpected peril

So we've all heard about the need for caution in turkey hunting, how sometimes idiots will shoot at the sound of a turkey and belatedly find out it is (or was) a hunter?

Well, apparently when you hunt public lands in certain parts of California, you also have to watch out for pot growers, who have been known to protect their crop with firearms.

Lake County Record-Bee outdoors columnist Terry Knight published a column on the topic last night.

On Saturday, I went along with a friend to check out an area for turkeys near the Cow Mountain Recreation Area. As we drove into the area we planned on hunting, we met several men and women in two cars who were out observing rare plants. They told us they had spotted four individuals dressed in camouflage who were armed. Also, they were carrying supplies and tools into a deep canyon. They said the individuals had a makeshift camp nearby.

We proceeded into the area and found two tents hidden in a grove of trees. Around the camp were tools and debris, but no people. We immediately left the area and reported it to law enforcement officials in both Mendocino and Lake counties. The individuals obviously had a garden nearby.

For those of you who don't live in California, you may think that sounds a bit paranoid. But if you live anywhere near this state's Emerald Triangle, you hear about this stuff all the time, and pretty much everyone knows you need to tread cautiously in the national forests.

In fact, my family lives in a pot-growing county, and one of our neighbors who was just a harmless old hippie was murdered some years back when the neighborhood pot grower - who also happened to be batshit crazy - shot him in the back of the head.

And last week, one of my friends who's a guide told me he's been shot at twice while turkey hunting, once "by a pot farm thug."

Makes me very happy to hunt turkeys on private property! Which I'll be doing again this weekend...

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Deer Passion said...

Wow.. Only in California.. Makes me thankful I live in Kansas where we already know all the pot growers by name.. :) I'm thankful you hunt private property tho.. We'd hate to lose you to some dillrod pothead.

Holly Heyser said...

LOL. I still want to hunt public land sometime, and one of the good spots is supposed to be in the Mendocino National Forest ... which is one point of the Emerald Triangle. Such are the perils of life: rattlesnakes, mountain lions, pot growers, bears...

Phillip said...

I've heard the stories, and while I can't discount them all, I've also stumbled onto more than one pot field and/or growing operation in my long career as a hunter... and have yet to be confronted by thugs or tripped up by booby traps. I've got a friend who apparently has a pot-field magnet in his head, who seems to stumble onto patches wherever he hunts. Point is, while there may be real risks and everyone in the outdoors should be aware and cautious, it's not a call for outright paranoia. Situational awareness and common sense... two things we should carry into the woods with us anyway will serve the purpose.

By the way, it's hardly an "only in CA" thing. The North Carolina county where I mostly grew up was the one of the top pot producing areas in the country for a good part of the 70s and 80s. Several other states, particularly Kentucky and Tennessee have notoriously active pot growing operations as well (and you'll still stumble across the odd moonshine still out there too).

By the way, I was once shot at for being in a field... but it was a field of blueberries, not marijuana.

Holly Heyser said...

Definitely not "only in California" - but also not something you have to think about everywhere.

I was thinking about the moonshine thing when I wrote this too, because that's definitely a regional issue. I was wondering if pot were legalized, would we still have renegade growers, a la moonshiners, in California, carrying on the glorious old outlaw tradition?

tom said...

It's not just a "public lands" thing, though. Here in Texas, a lot of weed farmers start plantations in remote areas of privately held property unknown to the property owners/managers. Lots of ranch hand friends of mine have stumbled across such things over the years. Happened to an acquaintance of mine in New Mexico, too. I'm sure it happens in California, too.

Holly Heyser said...

Wow, that would SUCK - the owner could lose his property if law enforcement discovered it!

gary said...

This is a problem that has reared its head here in Idaho just in the last 10-12 years. I guess its because the other states are putting pressure on them so they have moved here. They are fairly predictable here though as they seem to like the remote arid places that have a trikle water supply. Just enough bushes to conceal the operation from the air. Its mostly the deer and elk hunters that stumble on them. Its on both public and private lands, where ever there is vast area's of nothing.

SimplyOutdoors said...

It is definitely not an "only in California" thing. One of my buddies bought a new piece of property, and while out walking it one day promptly discovered a makeshift Meth setup.

It doesn't matter what patch of woods you tread into - private or not - it definitely can pay off to be aware of your surroundings.

Holly Heyser said...

Holy crap, those people are seriously crazy! And their labs blow up, too. Not good.

Jon Roth said...

Always a good reminder NC. I'll make sure that The Boy and I wear our Kevlar vests this weekend when we head out for turkeys on some of that 'wild-west' public land.

Glenn B. said...

A bit of background: In the 1980s, when I was on the fed legal beat for The Sacramento Bee, some zealous prosecutors got a law passed to confiscate pot farm property. Bingo, the biz shifted to public lands. In many cases, the "field hands" are Mexican nationals who don't speak English, and may even be under duress, having been told they were going to work on a legit farm. It's the meth guys who are really dangerous, because prolonged to exposure to the fumes makes them paranoid, or worse. As a cooker once told me when I asked about his gang: "We was heavily armed and totally nuts."

Ken and Joanne said...

When I taught in a tiny K-8 school (total of 14 students) on the San Juan Ridge in northern California back in the mid-80s I used to caution the students, all of whom walked home. Deer season coincided with harvest time. "Whatever you do, kids, don't leave the road. The woods are filled with people dressed in camouflage who are armed and crazy."

And yes, if you legalized the drug, put a revenue stamp on it and sold it for a reasonable price, you would hear the narcotraficantes squeal.


native said...

Ditto for me as well Phillip,
Although I have stumbled across a few fields in my illustrious career as a public land hunter, I have yet to be shot at, or to have fell into one of the terrible traps of which everyone is "afeared".

But on some occasions, where I had some land leased up in the Santa Rosa (Dry Creek Road) area, I did encounter strong opposition from the surrounding landowners, and there were concerted efforts to thwart my hunting activities.

I wondered where all of those P.V.C. pipes were going to and what they were feeding.
But, I was too busy hunting to really care much, and I did notice that those surrounding land owners sure were nervous about me leasing that ranch. L.O.L.!!

Holly Heyser said...

Well, you know how it is - when your own personal neighbor has been murdered by a pot grower (and you had your own terrifying encounter with said pot grower when you were a 14-year-old girl), you end up with a heightened sense of threat. Nothing like a bullet in a friend's head to make you take a situation seriously.

native said...

Holy Moses Holly!
Sounds like you had some very bad neighbors back then!

I guess I just got lucky with my encounters or maybe they figured that I looked like the type who would shoot back at them, so they just waited for me to go away.

The neighboring landowners where I had my lease were the worst though!

One time (ask Daryl about this one cause he had to come bail me out of jail).
I was followed by a couple of those landowners and they thought that they would "scare" me away from going through the community gate.

My old "bulldawg" Frankie, detained one of the thugs by taking him for a circular walk by the arm.
While I took care of the other guy and the wife of one of the guys then called the police and had "Me" arrested.

Turned out O.K. though because another landowner who had also been harassed by these hoodlums, testified on my behalf, and "They" wound up doing time after all.

Jules said...

We run into them in D6 now and then, although we haven't actually seen people yet. We cut their drip lines whenever we find them too. Since there's usually at least five of us, heavily armed, following dogs after bear, we figure we might be scarier to them than they are to us.