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JEFF ELL: Relocated Wildlife

Jeff Ell

It’s illegal to relocate wildlife in Virginia. So if you have a nuisance raccoon or feral cat problem, and decide to use a live box trap to catch it, you will find yourself with only a few options.

Option one is to remove the offending party from the population. Being removed from the population is the new euphemism used by wildlife biologists who don’t like words like shoot, drown or gas.

Option two is to give the offender a good talking to and release it with a stern warning never to come back.

Option three is to break the law and relocated the offending animal far away from your home. A nice place in the country where you imagine they can frolic in the forest and live happily ever after.

Sometimes the whole family gets involved in these releasing ceremonies. The box trap is put into the back of the SUV and driven into the country. Tearing eyed tots wave good-by to little “Rocky” or “Fuzzy” as dad carefully lifts the gate of the trap and the timid creature waddles off into its new neighborhood.

The family drives home convinced they have done the humane thing, while images of the creature coyly sniffing the wet noses of its new forest friends dance like sugar plums in their heads. To celebrate their benevolence they stop for ice cream, all while patting themselves on the back for the compassionate lesson they’ve taught their kiddos who are making a mess in the back seat.

Meanwhile, the released animals misery is just beginning.

See, it’s illegal to relocate animals because most of them starve to death when they are released. Being dumped in a new wilderness is the equivalent of being marooned on a desert island by sadistic pirates who enjoy the thought of knowing their victim dies a slow death. And if the relocated animal doesn’t starve; it’s only because they are torn to pieces by their own kind who violently defend their turf.

But wait a minute, this column is not about animals, it’s about me.

It turns out that I’m the nuisance-hunter who has been released on the other side of the state. I’m the feral-fisherman who has been relocated and is finding it harder than ever to put wild food on the table.

I was thinking about how relocated wildlife starves to death the other night after yet another unsuccessful deer hunt here in the Piedmont. That night I had gone to a brush line on a new friends property that I had scouted the week before. When I got there, a climbing tree stand was in that exact spot. I set up anyway.

There under the cedars, small crystals of snow filtered down onto the damp earth where my pity party was in full swing. Further out in the fields a fresh coat of wet white bowed the goldenrod. As darkness closed in that wintery evening my mind wandered back to all the ambush sites and fishing holes I had discovered over more than a decade in southwest VA.

The flat rock in the mountains that was a forty-five-minute hike straight up, but produced a deer almost half the times I went there. Cedar point where we caught more than a dozen flatheads over thirty pounds. The tree near where the old apartments were torn down. The shack, Charlie’s, Sam’s, church side, the annex, the cut, the west blind. Nicknames that our band of buddies used to keep track of each other’s movements flooded back like the names of old girlfriends of summers long ago.

A tear fell hard on the cold earth.

When we moved away from southwest Virginia I didn’t realize that when the door on the back of the moving truck slid shut, it was like a box trap gate for me. Dang, I still can’t find my crossbow fletch of bolts. Probably packed away in some mismarked box in the new attic.

But I’ve dried my tears. The same thing happened the first year we moved from the wilds of upstate New York and I found myself wandering haplessly in the mountains west of the Blue Ridge. But don’t cry for me, a life well lived is all about making the necessary adjustment and accommodations. This is why the adventure goes on.


Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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