SI Vault
J. D. Reed
March 29, 1976
Baiting Smokey is only the best-known use of CB radio. Now sportsmen are all over the air, too
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March 29, 1976

A Big 10-4 On The Call Of The Wild

Baiting Smokey is only the best-known use of CB radio. Now sportsmen are all over the air, too

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There is also a problem in pinpointing the source of a CB signal, and on occasion it can be extreme. Certain atmospheric conditions can unpredictably "bounce" a CB signal immense distances. One fisherman from Brielle, N.J. vividly recalls the day he was discussing conditions over his CB when he was brought up short by the angler he was talking with enthusing over his recent luck with grouper, a fish of the tropics. After a few incredulous inquiries, the New Jersey angler finally became convinced that his CB talking partner was not pulling his leg—the other fisherman was at that moment over 1,200 miles away, broadcasting from a skiff in Biscayne Bay just south of Miami Beach, Fla.

A less serious hazard for the sportsman is that a lot of folks besides one's friends can listen in. Last fall a group of East Coast duck hunters, calling to friends on CB about a flock coming in, were surprised to find a dozen or so grinning gunners, Ithacas at the ready, surrounding their blind. Many sportsmen now resort to prearranged signals and codes to keep good information within their own party, and as much energy seems to go into devising—and breaking—codes as into hunting. For example, don't expect to tune in Florida Keys fishing guides, long known for efficient evasion of giving out free information, and expect a CB to provide a free ticket to a working bonefish flat. A guide's "We're down here south of Whatever Key, and it's dead," in all likelihood means he is somewhere north, and tied into a big tarpon.

In some cases, CB has changed the way of life in a whole town. In Greenville, Maine, pop. 1,894, 90% of the town's business is concerned with hunting, fishing, backpacking and canoeing, skiing and snowmobiling, cabins, camps and vacationing, and CB has become a major economic and social factor. Bill Muzzy, who speaks in a clam-chowder accent, is a contractor who builds roads to the cottages of summer residents and plows snow in the winter. He also owns a motel, rents his barn out for boat storage and generally wears as many hats as it takes to make a living. A confirmed outdoorsman, Muzzy admires CB radio and uses it almost every day.

"We carry CB walkie-talkies when we go snowmobiling," he says. "Of course, the engine noise and vibration makes it impossible to hear anything. So we shut down and call up our friends at prearranged times. It's a great safety factor, because there's lots of accidents and you can tell others to watch out for stumps or fences on a trail. We had a 'Mayday' call a year or so back. Everyone got all excited, but it was just a drunk who fell off his sled. All the same, he could have frozen to death about the time all that antifreeze in his blood dropped to a level where he'd have been sober."

Although game commissions in several states are trying to discourage "electronic hunting," the difficulties of enforcement are overwhelming. Like many states, Maine prohibits the "driving" of game. If even one hunter walks noisily through the woods, forcing a deer toward a waiting partner, he's in violation. CB has enabled hunters to challenge the law with impunity. "If I see a deer going toward my buddy," says Muzzy, "and I call him up and say there's one headed his way, I'm not breaking the law." But sometimes, as is often the case with more affluent sportsmen, new and unfamiliar equipment can get in the way. "Last Thanksgiving I was out deer hunting," Muzzy recalls, "and I stopped to call my partner to see if he'd had a shot. When I signed off, I looked up to see three deer walking away, just out of range. I nearly threw the damn radio away."

In British Columbia, a pair of hunters who pooh-poohed the use of CB on their moose hunt had a more unpleasant experience. Early in the day one had gotten a moose and the two had lugged it to their truck and strapped the carcass over the cab. The successful hunter snoozed in the truck while his companion went back out. At dusk he saw antlers and blazed away. He almost killed his partner. The antlers he had seen were the ones attached to the dead moose. Soon both hunters were in town, applying for CB licenses and shopping for walkie-talkies.

Not all outdoorsmen have safety in mind. In northwestern Missouri, coyote hunters have been known to surround a section of land with pickups and drive animals toward other trucks, coordinating the drive every step of the way with CBs. Not exactly the good and the clean and the brave, 10-4?

Up in Greenville the long-standing war between poachers and the Maine State Warden Service has been given a new twist by CB. In the Fisheries and Wildlife Department's kitchen on the shore of Moosehead Lake, wardens and cronies sit around a table, drinking coffee poured from a pail-sized pot, and discuss the situation. "What goes on isn't too much different than always, it's just that now the poachers are more efficient," says Glenn Perkins, a warden in his late 20s. "Most of them used to jacklight on foot [spot deer with flashlights to immobilize them], but since we've got two-way radios on the state police frequency, they stick to their cars for fast escapes, and shoot from the road when they see fur. Of course, they buy scanners to receive the police and our department's frequencies so they can monitor our movements. And, on purpose or not, every logging truck helps the poachers by sending back a warning when they see our cars heading into the woods. We're just another Smokey to the truckers. The state won't buy us CB sets so that we can monitor the poachers, and we don't make enough to buy them ourselves, so we don't know what they're up to." Perkins stares out at a snowmobile speeding across the lake ice. "It's not an insurmountable problem," he says, "but it's sure irritating. About the only friend we've got is the Indian Pond Poacher."

The "Poacher," the CB "handle" (code name) for a trapper who lives in an isolated camp 20 miles from Greenville and who claims to exist on a diet of roast beaver and possum fritters, is an eerie and sometimes irritating CBer. The wardens love him because his weekend transmissions take up so much air time on channel 11 (the channel reserved for setting up conversations on other channels) that real poachers have trouble getting through to each other. The Poacher spends most of his time talking to an imaginary state trooper. His elaborately plotted conversations, rife with international intrigue and sophistication, are the weekend entertainment for many CBing Greenvillians. "He ought to be writing some of those spy shows on TV," says Bill Muzzy. "He's real good."

One wonders after listening to hours of CB broadcasts if the Poacher is all that different from the usual run of CB freaks, who have been described by one fishing guide, who relies on CB partially for his living, as "the kind of people who drive Nash Ramblers." CB does seem to attract a strange breed and the airwaves have become burdened by enough meaningless chatter to sicken the most stalwart talkshow host. In the New York City area, for instance, one hears conversations about lost contact lenses, a man singing Rose of Washington Square, a grocery list in Spanish, a church service broadcast on AM radio over an open mike, and begins to think that there must be a frustrated disc jockey in all of us. Like the people who call up those radio public opinion shows, for a $100 investment anyone now can be on the air, night and day, holding a warm microphone to his lips, ready to foist private fantasy, opinion and crank ideas on the public with no need to ever face an audience. In the same way that pocket calculators are "unlearning" us how to multiply and divide, perhaps CB will have the effect of making us forget how to converse face to face.

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