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904 Stories ...
The Hunter

Twentymile Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

In January 2014, some friends and I went on a long weekend backpacking trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We were planning to hike to Gregory Bald (trip report) from the south - the North Carolina side of the Park. We drove to Maryville, TN and then headed south to pickup the Dragon. The Dragon is the nickname of a windy road built above the banks of the Little Tennessee River and below the mountains. The road dips in and out of the hollows as it winds seemingly endlessly toward Fontana Dam. After crossing Deals Gap, we rounded a curve to see wild hogs (real pigs not motorcycles - even though the road is also very popular with motorcycle riders) crossing the road, heading into the Park. We commented that we had never seen wild pigs and just wished we had the camera ready.

Finally, arriving at the Twentymile Trailhead, we hurriedly packed and left for our first night's camp. We had a bit over 4 miles to walk and an hour and a half of daylight remaining. The Twentymile Trail follows a road for three miles to Proctor Field Gap. As we neared the Gap I was a bit in front of my hiking companions, Jon and Laura.

Up ahead on the trail, there was a man dressed in camouflage. As I neared him I saw that he was also carrying a rifle.

During the summer of '13, while hiking in the Tetons, we had met a male on the trail carrying a rifle. He was smiling broadly. We found that it was illegal to shoot a weapon in the Park, but it was not illegal to possess a weapon.

Hmmm, maybe the guy I was approaching in the Smokies was also exercising his Second Amendment Rights, or maybe he was just taking advantage of being in the seldom used, south side of the Park in the winter when know one else was around.

Regardless, I did not like the looks of things. I had never seen a lot of people dressed and armed to hunt in the Park. In fact one of the reasons that we enjoy hiking in the National Parks is because they do not allow hunting.

The hunter greeted me, but he was not smiling broadly. I quickly scanned his wardrobe and noticed that he was wearing a small National Park name tag and an emblem on his watch cap. So, he worked for the Park. Whew. Jon and Laura joined us and we talked about hunting wild hogs. He was truly hunting for the Park. The Park had been having a problem with the wild hogs and he was baiting and trying to kill the beasts.

Pigs will eat just about anything. Have you ever seen anything alive in a pig pen? The pigs eat, root, and eat some more. They can be devastating.

The hunter asked if we had seen any pigs. We told him of the hogs we had seen on the Dragon. Sorry, we couldn't give an exact location.

The hunter was a nice guy and we enjoyed the brief conversation with him. In fact we found out that he had lived in a town close to us.

We left the hunter and hurried toward camp as the night was quickly approaching. Along the way we discussed our encounter. All of us thought that the hunter was a nice guy, but there was still something wrong ...

A problem I had with the hunter was that he was not dressed in the standard Park uniform and he did not identify himself as a Park employee. But, come to think of it, if he had been shooting at a wild pig or anything else as I approached, I would have really been alarmed - whether he was a Park employee or not. Yikes.

I also did not understand why the hunter was hunting on the trail. Do the pigs follow trails? To me, the Park should have been trying to capture (instead of kill) the wild hogs that were roaming in the vicinity of the trails or else the Park should just close the trails in the area of the hunt. (Or, at least post a sign!)

I don't mind the Park exterminating the wild hogs, just let the hikers know what is up. In fact, when they get the hogs under control, maybe they can work on the mosquitoes as well. Ha!

Happy hunting trails


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