Best & Worst of '09

1. Unluckiest Angler of 2009 The Newshound's pick for Unluckiest Fisherman of the Year goes to Sgt. Adam Rush, a native of Wyoming, who tried fishing on North Carolina's Blue River, where he's with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion stationed at Camp Lejeune. Rush's trouble began while he was bass fishing March 27 when the battery on his trolling motor died. An alligator, which Rush later said was around 9 feet long, left the bank and headed straight for the stringer of fish hanging from his 10-foot boat. Rush said when he pulled his stringer of fish into the boat, the alligator tried to climb into the tiny craft. "He tried to get into the boat, so I hit him in the head with the oar," the Marine said. After breaking his paddle defending himself and his boat, Rush called 911 and reported that the big gator was circling his stranded vessel. "I was freakin' out," Rush said of the incident. "I'm from Wyoming. I've never seen an alligator that big and up close before." By the time Onslow County Sheriff's deputies and officers with the N. Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission arrived at the scene, another boater had towed the 27-year-old safely back to the shore. But his bud luck didn't end there. After further investigation, wildlife officers cited Rush for keeping under-sized bass and using an unregistered boat.
2. Best Handgun Shot Under Pressure Soldotna, Alaska fishing guide Greg Brush was walking his dogs not far from his home on the morning of Aug. 2 when he turned at the sound of a snapping twig. There, less than 20 yards away, was a charging 900-pound brown bear, "ears back, head low and motorin' full speed." In a single motion, Brush drew and fired his Ruger .454 Casull revolver. One shot proved fatal. "Came with zero warning," Brush later told the Anchorage Daily News. "No woof, no popping of the teeth, no standing up, nothing like what you think." Brush told the newspaper he carries a pistol on his walks because bears have chased his dogs in the past. "It doesn't get any closer. He slid by me on his chin when I shot him," Brush said. "I was backpedaling as fast as I could. I wasn't even aiming. I tripped over my own feet as I pulled the trigger." Brush estimated the bear weighed 900-plus pounds, and was 15 to 20 years old. It had grass packed in its molars and little fat on its bones. He said he figured the bruin was starving and saw an opportunity. "I never ever thought it would happen to me. It's always some other (guy), right? It totally wiped me out…(I was) dry heaving and hyperventilating, with some abdominal cramping." The fishing guide considers himself fortunate. "Total luck shot," he said. Here at The Outdoor Life Newshound, it's the best of 2009, in our book.
3. Smallest Record The state of Montana is home to three species of whitefish in its lakes and streams--the mountain whitefish, lake whitefish and pygmy whitefish. As the name implies, the pygmy is the smallest of the three. Earlier in 2009, ice angler Eric Tullett of Kalispell tied the state record for the species, hauling the fish up from a depth of 80 feet while using a glow hook and maggot for bait. Mark Deleray, a biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks positively identified and measured the fish after it was weighed on a certified scale. The behemoth tipped the scales at (ready for this?) a whopping 3.7 ounces. That's .23 pounds in case you're interested. "My arm is still hurting," the angler joked hours after reeling in the massive pygmy. Or should that be enormous pygmy?
4. Best Final Resting Place of 2009 Adam Dancy says it's how his dad wanted it. Adam's father, Albert Dancy, 50, was shot and killed on Feb. 15, in what authorities say began as a domestic dispute involving his ex-wife and Robert Dodrill Jr. According to The Charleston Daily Mail, Dodrill, 44, was charged with first-degree murder and burglary for allegedly forcing his way into Darcy's mobile home and shooting him in the chest with a small caliber handgun. While he was alive, Dancy, a carpenter, coal miner, avid hunter and angler, always told his son that when his time on Earth was done, he wanted to be buried in his 1967 turquoise-green Chevy pick-up truck. "He said it always joking around, but he said it for so many years it was pretty much serious to me," said Adam, 24. "I always took him seriously. It was the last thing I could do for him." So in early March, on a private plot located on Adam Dancy's Clay County place that once belonged to his father, Albert was laid to rest, in a coffin carried in the truck's bed. Inside the coffin, the elder Dancy was wearing his camouflaged hunting clothes. His favorite Old Timer folding knife was in his pocket and the .243 Remington that he used to kill a nice 10-point buck the year before last was at his side. In accordance with environmental regulations, the truck's tires were removed and all fluids were drained before it was placed in the ground. The younger Dancy told the Charleston paper there was no deep symbolic meaning to the interment, like burying his father with things he might find useful in the hereafter. "We gave him a truck with no tires. We gave him a gun with no shells," Dancy said. "He'll be s**t out of luck."
5. 2009 Barney Fife Award The Outdoor Life Newshound's Barney Fife Law Enforcement Award of the Year goes to the Warren (Michigan) Police Department for surrounding what turned out to be a stuffed panther, holding it at bay for one hour, then shooting it with a Taser device. Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said his officers weren't taking any chances after someone phoned the department and reported seeing a large cougar-like animal in a discarded cement sewer pipe near a city park. "I'm not playing games," the caller, a male, told the police dispatcher. "I went up behind it. I shined a light in there. It's huge! It's like a 150-pound cat!" When authorities arrived at the scene shortly after dusk, sure enough, they could see the silhouette of something inside the pipe. "Officers could see the outline of what appeared to be a panther-like animal lying in the tube, looking out at them," Dwyer later told the Macomb Daily News. "They backed out, for fear of it lunging at them." But it didn't lunge--or even move a whisker, for that matter Nearly an hour after the first cop arrived at the scene, an officer was ordered by his sergeant to move in as close as possible and fire his Taser at the suspected predator. He did, and nothing happened. That's because the big critter was a large stuffed toy, apparently placed there by someone as a prank. But neither the cops--who put in three hours of overtime on the call--nor the police chief, were amused.
6. 'Can You Hear Me Now?' Award The week after losing his cellphone in the ocean, a UK man was surprised when he was contacted by a trawler fisherman who said he discovered the device inside a fish he caught--and it still worked! British businessman Andrew Cheatle thought his cellphone was gone for good after he dropped it while walking his dog on the beach. "I was messing about with my dog and my phone must have fallen out and been swept out in the swell," he told The UK's Sun newspaper. "I kept calling it but I gave up hope after a couple of days." A week after the incident, when his girlfriend received a call originating from Cheatle's lost phone, she wasn't sure what to expect when she answered it. It was trawler fisherman Glen Kerley, who said he discovered the Nokia 1660 phone inside a 25-pound cod he'd netted. He and Cheatle made arrangements to meet. "I didn't believe him but went to meet him and found it was my phone--a bit smelly and battered--but incredibly it still worked after I let it dry out," said Cheatle. Trawlerman Kerley said it's not unusual to find objects inside fish, especially with cod. "Cod are greedy fish--they'll eat anything. I've found plastic cups, stones, teaspoons, batteries and I've also heard of someone finding false teeth in one."
7. Worst Gun Thief Perhaps just as true as the adage, "Never take a knife to a gunfight," would be, "Never steal guns at a gun show." Austin Sechler, a vendor at the RK Gun Show in Wichita, Kansas, said a young man stopped at his booth and began acting strangely, picking up guns and putting them in his pocket like he wanted to see how they fit. When the man returned to Sechler's booth later in the show, he grabbed four Smith and Wesson handguns and headed for the door. But he didn't get far. According to a report on The Wichita Eagle, Sechler jumped over a table and grabbed the man. Soon, two or three other vendors helped hold down the would-be thief, Sechler said. "He finally gave up when there was four guys laying on him," Sechler said. The alleged thief was subdued and cuffed with plastic zip ties until Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputies arrived within minutes to take him into custody. Later, Sechler made a profound observation, correctly identifying the venue as "the very wrong place to do this."
8. Best Dog Owner of 2009 Bobby Jenkins, who lives on a ranch in rural Goshen County, Wyoming, was faced with a serious dilemma on May 15 when his 11-month-old black Labrador retriever, Tank, was hammered squarely on the nose by a prairie rattlesnake. "It was 20 minutes to town and I knew he would not make it. So I grabbed his nose and started sucking the rattlesnake poison out of the top of his nose and spit it on the ground," Jenkins told the Casper Tribune newspaper. By the time Jenkins transported his dog to the nearest animal doctor in Torrington, the Lab's head had ballooned to grotesque proportions. Rattlesnake antivenin was immediately applied to the ailing canine and he soon showed a favorable reaction to the treatments. Soon after, Jenkins began feeling woozy and faint, an apparent reaction to the snake venom he'd accidentally ingested while saving Tank. At the local hospital emergency room he was given multiple injections of anti-venom medication before his vital signs returned to normal. In the end, the Snakes on the Plains incident ended well for both rattler-poisoned victims, and Jenkins is confident his actions saved his Lab's life. "It was just instinct," he said. "I saved the dog and I saved myself."
9. Most Unfortunate Facebook Post In Wisconsin's first hunting violation case based on evidence gathered from the social networking site, Facebook, two men were charged with illegal deer shining after an anonymous tipster led to their posted video. Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources cited Adam M. Frame, 25, and Dustin J. Porter, 24, after the tip led them to a video on Facebook showing the duo shining a light and shooting a gun at a deer. The case marked the DNR's first-ever arrests based on a Facebook video, although it has built cases from information found on other Web sites--such as Craigslist and eBay, Conservation Warden Supervisor Rick Reed said in a news release about the case. Frame and Porter were charged in April with one misdemeanor count of illegal shining of deer or bears as party to a crime in connection with the November 2007 incident. Frame, as part of an agreement, pleaded guilty to shining wild animals while possessing a firearm. He was fined $354.
10. 2009's Caddyshack Moment It wasn't exactly a reprise of Bill Murray's memorable role as the demented groundskeeper with a manic obsession for destroying golf course gophers, but, as Caddyshack moments go, it was darned close. In June, the Thurston County (Wash.) Sheriff's Department reported that a county resident shot off part of his finger while setting a homemade mole-killing trap in his yard. The device consisted of a spring-loaded mechanism that was staked into the ground, along with a trigger apparatus and a loaded shotgun shell. What could possibly go wrong, you might ask? Seattle TV station KIRO reported the 39-year-old man--who was not identified by name--apparently tripped the device's trigger while setting it. He was treated and released by a local hospital for non-life threatening injuries to his finger. Authorities say in addition to the painful partial loss of a finger, the do-it-yourself exterminator will likely face gross misdemeanor charges for setting an illegal trap. Ouch!
11. Best Trail Left by Criminals In March a pair of Southwest Florida ne'er-do-wells didn't exactly give police specific directions to one of their homes after allegedly committing a home burglary--but they might as well have. Responding to a report of a home burglary and theft, police in Ft. Myers, Fla. were told that among the items taken were a dirt bike, flat screen TV, computer, Ford SUV and a gun safe containing various firearms. With minimal detective work, the cops easily identified scrape marks in the yard of the burglarized residence indicating that the gun safe had been dragged behind the stolen SUV. From that starting point, authorities followed about 800 yards of continuous drag marks in the ground and gouges in the pavement, leading from the residence, across the street, and through several vacant lots. Straight to the home of Jarvis B. Bowens, 23. A subsequent search of Bowens' residence revealed many of the missing items. The stolen SUV was found in a nearby wooded area. The Ft. Myers News-Press reports that Bowens and Wayne Blanks, 19, were jailed and charged with 36 felonies for theft and burglary.
12. Trophy Llama of the Year You've probably seen the television commercials for Southwest Airlines, where someone does something incredibly bone-headed, and the announcer asks, "Wanna get away?" We figure that's probably how Rusty Saunders of Fort Edward, N.Y., felt after he shot--and tagged--what he thought was an elk while hunting Montana's Paradise Valley. The details are sketchy as to how Saunders initially came to his embarrassing revelation, but Mel Frost, the public information officer for the Bozeman office of Montana Fish, Parks and Wildlife confirmed that the Empire State woodsman surrendered to a game warden in Livingston after realizing he'd bagged a shaggy-furred llama. Saunders' case was ultimately turned over to the Montana Department of Livestock, because, unlike in its native Peru, the llama is considered to be a farm animal in the states, and not wildlife. After investigating, the livestock folks turned the matter over to Park County authorities without issuing any citations. "We don't have any statute to prevent that kind of thing," said Steve Merritt, information officer for the Livestock Department in Helena. Photos taken by the livestock department showed the field-dressed dark brown and black llama in the back of a red pickup truck, with Saunders' notched elk tag clearly attached to its neck. Not surprisingly, the photo made the rounds on the Internet, along with verbiage inspired by another television advertising campaign: .30-06 rifle with Leupold scope? $650; Out of state license? $600; Gas to drive from New York? $700; Taking a trophy Montana llama? Priceless!
13. Worst Deer to Poach In addition to making bad choices about breaking game regulations, a pair of Ohio men convicted of illegal hunting earlier in 2009 probably could not have picked a worse deer to poach and to later brag about. Details of the case made public during the case indicated that 20-year-old University of Toledo (Ohio) students Justin Angles and Dave Mahoney decided to show off their illegally killed big buck, driving it around and even taking it to a nearby sporting goods mega-store, where it was viewed by multiple witnesses. Then they began posting photos of 15-point whitetail on various Internet hunting sites, claiming it was killed by Angles while he hunted with a longbow in a part of the state far removed from Toledo. Angles even posted a photo on the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife Web site featuring outstanding deer taken by hunters in The Buckeye State for 2008! The problem was, the enormous buck with the distinctive tines was probably the most recognizable--and most-photographed--deer at Toledo's Side Cut Metro Park.
And when sharp-eyed Internet sleuths began matching the photos of "Big Boy" on the hoof and the photos posted on the Ohio DNR site and elsewhere online, the resulting tips to the state's Turn-in-a-Poacher hotline immediately pointed authorities to Angles and Mahoney. The two were convicted on charges including taking a deer by illegal means and illegal possession of deer parts and were assessed a total of $13,278.60 in fines and restitution--the largest amount ever imposed in an Ohio poaching case. The fines were calculated using a new restitution method for exceptional trophy-class deer that became law in Ohio last March. This case marked the second time the new formula--based on the Boone and Crockett scoring system--was used to determine fines and restitution in a poaching conviction.

The first annual Outdoor Life Best (and Worst) outdoor news stories of the year.