Lt. John Nores, Jr. (now retired) grew up duck hunting in California. He was still a young game warden when accidentally stumbling into his first illegal marijuana grow in the heavily wooded outskirts of California civilization.  His career remainder was defined by Marijuana Eradication Taskforce investigations throughout California.   The scope of illegal grows in California and throughout the entire United States is staggering, generating cash-crop sales exponentially greater than the sum of wheat and corn sales combined.  Societal costs are steep: America’s public lands are being decimated. Hazardous wastes, unregulated resource depletion and wildlife habitat loss are ugly by-products. And cartels send only their best growers illegally across the US border, where they’re heavily armed against intruders. For reasons Lt. Nores explains, legalization has possibly only made this problem worse.



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Witching Hour in a Duck Blind

And, yeah, I shot my first teal that first morning and I could not have been more amazed by the whole process. 

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere and man, have I got a story for you. We all love game warden stories. Possum copping out there in the bushes and catching bad people and over the limits and protecting wildlife, it’s like they have since forever. But I’ll tell you what, some of these guys get deep down in the bushes of wildlife conservation. And have you ever thought about this, that in the world of law enforcement, only the game wardens every single person they approach is wielding a firearm. Let that sink in for a minute. Joining me today is the author of Hidden War, Lieutenant John Nores Jr. now retired. You all hang on, boys, he has got one hell of a conversation for you all. John, how are you today, man?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Good, Ramsey, so good to talk to you and all your listeners on this and good to be on your show, man. Thanks for having me.

Ramsey Russell: We met at SCI and I wanted to come see your seminar because this topic just interests me greatly. But it was so busy, man, SCI moved to Nashville and that thing just went off the rails and blew up. And from the looks of things, you were pretty darn busy yourself, weren’t you? You had a lot of book signings and everything else.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Brother, I’ve been doing the SCI circuit for over 15 years now. It even started with the first book, War in the Woods, way back in 2010. And SCI is such a great venue for guys like you and I and all of our listeners because it’s really the biggest world forum for worldwide conservation, not even just our country. And having it been in Vegas and Reno for all the years I’ve been involved and then see it go to the freaking amazing city of Nashville in the great state of Tennessee, it was like conservation on steroids, right, brother? Nonstop. I know you were swamped, I ran out of books the first half of the first day of 3 days at my book table, I ran out of signature blades by the first day, I had two seminars to do and then it was unbelievable, man, in such a good way. And I met so many like minded Americans that were so outraged by the topic we’re going to talk about, The Hidden War against these cartels, how they affect wildlife and wildlands, why game wardens are even involved in special operations of fighting the cartels directly for this problem, but how these cartels are affecting the country everywhere, environmentally, public safety. I mean, it affects every American. And to see so many conservationists, so many patriots at the SCI forum in Nashville really gave me a lot of re-energized hope and excitement for kind of taking back our wildlife, waterways and wildlands of America and getting more people involved in the outdoors for the sake of the whole country.

Ramsey Russell: Amen. I greatly enjoy it. It’s like I’d had a conversation just yesterday with an old professor of mine, I said, if it were not for duck hunters, I’m a duck hunter, but if it were not for duck hunters, who in America would be talking about wetlands loss or habitat conservation regarding ducks? Nobody. So when you take collectively an organization like Safari Club International that people flying from around the world to come to this show, people drive as far as they can to get there and it’s this seething 10 acre floor of hunters and you feel the passion for wildlife and for conservation. And we are the thin green line, I think, to use your word on holding the fort right now are us hunters. But, John, you opened up my eyes, man, to a world and wildlife conservation, I had never really considered about what’s going on with these illegal grows and how it’s affecting conservation. But I want to back up real quick and let everybody listening get an idea of who you are. You told me a story before we started recording about your first duck. You grew up in California and you are a hunter. But walk me through your hunting origins and who you are and how you got into the outdoors and what led you into law enforcement?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Well, I was very blessed to come from a family of 5 generations of conservationists and 3, 4 generations of patriots. My grandfather was career navy, he fought in World War II, he was deployed in Pearl Harbor when we got just blasted in Pearl Harbor, he survived that. But before he went in, he was always a hunter, always angler on every level and just believed in the thin green line of conservation way back when our national parks are being formed throughout the country, things like that. So when my dad was born, he was born practically with a rifle and a shotgun in his hand and he was a diehard waterfowler, besides every other type of hunting champion, trap and skeet shooter here in California. My mom was in the same boat, she shot competitively, she hunted. So we didn’t know anything else, we just grew up not realizing how amazing, at first the conservation lifestyle was. And even though I’ve kind of hunted everything from a conservation standpoint across the world and then protected it and added to the sport with hunter education and bringing the next generation into conservation sports as a game warden, my first introduction to hunting was waterfowl hunting. And it started with my dad helping me get through the hunter safety exam at 9 years old and I passed that and then shooting the 20 gauge first. In fact, my mom had an old model 50 semiautomatic 20, that was her fly skeet gun. And it was a little heavy for me because I was a small fry at the time, but it didn’t kick with that big old semiauto gas system, it was heavy, so I could wield it pretty good and not get knocked on my butt. And I remember right after I got my hunter safety certificate and got my license and waterfowl season dropped, we were over the hill in kind of the central valley of Los Banos in the sweatline, getting a real good draw spot. And, yeah, I shot my first teal that first morning and I could not have been more amazed by the whole process. I was a little intimidated because I was with veteran waterfowlers, my dad and all of his friends and they were all good duck hunters. And I definitely made the family proud, but I was starting to learn what it was like to get out in mucky, cold water in the middle of the night and watch that sunrise and have that cold snap when the fog lifts and just watch those flyways, Ramsay. And I know I’m preaching to the choir on this, given all you do for waterfowl conservation and all the good hunts you go on, but man, it’s just a magic moment. Witching hour in a duck blind with all of the flyway species coming in on a good morning is just absolutely heaven on earth.

Ramsey Russell: So good, if you could bottle it, it’d be illegal.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: It would. It would be like the illegal drugs we’re going to talk about a bit, right? But yeah, it was a magical moment. And then I got into center fire bolt actions and handguns and it was predator hunts and varmints and getting my first blacktail, coastal blacktail, mule deer over here in California at about 15 years old and then it just kind of went like wildfire from there. And then when I did become a game warden, ironically, I was in the academy, right at 22 years old and I was shipped down to southern California, I was born and raised in the Silicon Valley. And what a lot of folks don’t realize is all the outskirts of the Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world, I grew up in a little town called San Martin, Morgan Hill area just south of there, about 20 miles. The foothills all around the Silicon Valley are loaded with wildlife. There’s working cattle ranches, there’s massive parks, there’s tons of waterfowl, there’s tons of aquatics. The threatened endangered steelhead trout still migrate up from the Pacific Ocean and come into those inland creeks and waters of the Silicon Valley, if you can believe that and still actually spawn. So I was doing it all in Cali, as well as going to other states. And then to become a game warden and get sent down to the jungle of southern California for my first assignment in my early 20s was a real eye opener. But I was doing waterfowl enforcement down there in Riverside county and hunting geese out in flooded fields in the middle of the winter and having an amazing flyaway experience with the diversity of waterfowl species of all kinds in the southern California hills, if you could believe that. And just to show the diversity of what I was dealing with down here was pretty exciting to do it in a state people don’t really, from other parts of the country don’t identify with that can’t be a hunting state, because we know how the politics are in California, but we still got a lot of great people, we got a lot of great wildlife resource and we got a lot of it being very threatened by the stuff we’re going to talk about in a little bit.

Ramsey Russell: Most of the landmass in California is habitat. It’s way more habitat than city that we all tend to think of. And I’ve been to parts of it and I’ve been to the grasslands, I’ve been to the delta, I’ve been around Sac Valley, I’ve been up in butte sink and it is unbelievable.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: There you go.

Duck Hunting History in Silicon Valley

Ramsey Russell: You go up these little farming communities, a town of 5000, there’s not a red light or stop sign in the whole town. It’s unbelievable that I’m just 40 miles outside of Sacramento or somewhere and I’m as rural as rural exists in America, even to this day. And so there is a lot of habitat. I’m really not surprised there’s so much wildlife just outside of Silicon Valley. I’m not surprised at all. And the duck hunting is amazing, the duck history out there is just mind blowing.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah. When you mentioned the butte sink, I’m glad you’re familiar with that because that’s an area that I’ve spent a lot of time obviously through my career and have a lot of friends that have clubs there that I still get to hunt and go keep an eye on. And ironically, when you and I started to get to converse over this issue, the thought was, okay, we get that these cartel grows are diverting water up in headwaters of mountains and they’re affecting wildlife and they’re deep in the forest. But that doesn’t really impact waterfowl, does it? Like down in the flooded marshlands and ironically it does. The delta you mentioned, we’ll talk about some examples and some stories where in the biggest peak drought California has ever had, that literally is going on now and with these big storms we’re currently sitting in, we might be getting out of that drought, we won’t know for a while. But be that as it may, the water was so depleted in California these last 10 years on massive drought loss that these cartels were going from the rural foothills and the forest service mountains to the delta to the butte sink, going into the Sacramento, San Joaquin delta where they could just get brackish saltwater from the ocean 24/7 when all the other water they would normally steal was already depleted. So they were in waterfowl habitat through the prime operational days when I co-founded and led the marijuana enforcement team, our special operations unit of game wardens, that hidden more goes into that you’ve just read. And going into all that, we were doing an inordinate amount of missions off of kayaks and jet boats with our Delta Bay enforcement program team and focusing on waterfowl habitat being impacted directly so that these cartels could get the water they needed to make their multimillion, actually multibillion dollar cash crop at the time, just mind blowing.

Heading up a Marijuana Enforcement Task Force

But what we were about to see, I couldn’t have predicted in 100 years. 

Ramsey Russell: John, how did you go from a regular game board and checking hunters and fishermen and basic game board and stuff, I’m going to call it, to heading up a Marijuana Enforcement Task Force. How in the world did that happen?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Well, it’s a great question because it was completely unplanned, it was completely out of the blue, the way it kind of all developed, it’s something I never anticipated really doing in my career. I mean, certainly now that we’ve done it and we built it, I couldn’t be more blessed and lucky to have done that and to still be part of sending that message now, given the impacts these cartels are having on wildlife waterlands and waterways throughout the entire country and the domestic threat they pose to all of us, even outside of wildlife crimes. But when I got out of the academy, the big thing was, can you go out on your own and make a legitimate spotlighting case where you can sneak up on somebody, catch them doing it, an intentional poacher, not somebody out there making a mistake, that’s spotlighting deer at night, way deep into the national park, the national forest, off the beaten path and take that case down, stop them from doing it, see what they’re killing illegally at night. Usually it involves some drugs and some warrants and some other criminal activity that these guys would be involved in and that was a big fishing game rite of passage case to make when I came out of the academy, as well as anything else that we would normally do, Ramsey, that all of our listeners are familiar with, a guy taking an over limit of ducks or wasting game, undersized or over limits of fish gill netting using illegal methods, whatever the case may be, baiting waterfowl, salt in a pond, since we’re on the duck forum today and the backcountry baiting cases that were done very intentionally way into the backcountry, mostly on some private land, getting really good at doing that and kind of going count I sniper to observe and hide in the right area and get these guys doing this intentionally for generations. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did and it was fantastic. I did it in southern California for 3 years, I transferred up to the Silicon Valley, got back to my hometown district, actually, to be the game warden at home, which was crazy and fun. It does get a little weird when you start making a bunch of cases and violations against your brother and your sister’s classmates, because we were all 4 years apart at the local high school and I’ve got now guys in their adult lives and gals and making some mistakes and hey, weren’t you so and so’s brother? Weren’t you the class 1986? I was 1988. I’m like oh man, did I really want to come home for this? I don’t want to be busting my towns folks but it was great. And then the light switch flipped completely unplanned in 2004 and the first chapter in my first book called War in the Woods is the name of the book goes into this because essentially a young man that I got to keep unnamed for security reasons. Family friend since like I was in second grade one of the best friends of our family and now he is doing his master’s work and his graduate work at San Jose State, my alma mater as well for criminal justice on threatened endangered species specifically like red legged, yellow legged frog watching migrating steelhead. And he’s studying one of two creeks in basically a headwater tributary to the big Coyote Creek that goes out to the ocean and has spawning steelhead coming and going for their migration and their spawning. And he’d been watching an area right below Henry Co. State park. And again I want to mention Henry Co, how influential that was for my career because that’s where I learned to backpack, that’s where I learned to do my first overnight know unsupported with gear. And just all throughout my high school and college days when I wasn’t hunting with dad and doing that I was learning backpacking survival skills and really enjoying all aspects of that park to pave my way for the future. And right below this park that really where I met a game warden that changed my life and I bend his ear for 2 hours when he contacted me and Henry Co just of why I went into the profession had it not been for him I would not have had this path. So it was a little bit of divine intervention, I was really lucky. But the bottom line was now he’s got one of two creeks that are bone dry in April when the headwaters should be ripping right below where we all grew up an area we just all love. And what was going on is where he should have had a flowing creek, it’s all dried up, he’s got fish and frog fry basically they’re all dead in the creek, there’s a bunch of little trash that floated down the stream. Visqueen plastic pieces, little pieces of black polypipe, all the stuff that we didn’t know at the time led to a much bigger criminal element, a foreign invader if you will. That I’m going to get to here in a minute. So he called me up and said, John, I got a big problem, man, we got no water up in one creek, someone’s got to be diverting it up top, there’s no way it should be dry. I mean, we had a great winter and now we’re in April, so we’re in spring runoff, so that thing should be ripping. Well, a lot of stuff was dead, so I said, absolutely, man, let’s get in the truck, I’ll pick you up, let’s go to the top, you show me where you think we can drop into this canyon and we’ll do it. We did that. And have an unarmed civilian that’s very wood savvy with his day pack and I’ve got my AR and I’ve got my backpack and my basic protection equipment, I got a cell phone, got a police radio. But we dive off the mountaintop and we go straight down into the abyss and into this deep chasm. We lose radio contact, we don’t have cell coverage, typical for a game warden working anywhere in his or her backcountry area story of our lives. And we hike down to the bottom of the channel and we find this beautiful, almost like a mini grand canyon tributary, Ramsay, no exaggeration, it was magnificently beautiful. Untouched, pristine water and all of a sudden, we drop into a channel and we see where there’s this Queen Line dam, they’ve impacted all the water, basically, somebody’s dammed it up, they’ve captured it. And then there’s a green garden hose that is like the outlet now that this whole channel has been funneled into and it’s just going straight down a dry channel. And I went, this is weird because a water diversion in those days was maybe a cattle rancher needed more water. So he plugged up a creek on a side stream and is diverting it, maybe it’s cut off for a nomadic camp, who knows what. But what we were about to see, I couldn’t have predicted in 100 years. And we started working our way down that channel carefully, even though we didn’t know what was ahead of us, we weren’t seeing any signs of anybody or any type of diversion other than this waterline. I just had a weird vibe that spider sense was tingling, after years of getting into hairy scrapes, I’m like, something isn’t right, this is not your typical water diversion. So we went down very carefully and my partner, call sign GI, that we call him in the first book. Basically, we just got into formation together, the two of us and stayed really quiet, creeping down that channel using cover and concealment of the brush, the side cut bank, some of the woods around the creek. And lo and behold, that water hose led to a funnel to a smaller black polypipe, the black kind of plastic pipe that has become the signature of how cartels divert water for cannabis and other criminal groups. And then we’re suddenly looking at about 18 inch marijuana plants on both sides of the creek. All of the vegetation on the sides of the creek, the riparian, the willows, the cottonwoods, the oak trees, they’ve all been cut. The brush cover keeping that ground from being sediment and loose fill and going into that pristine creek are all gone. And we didn’t know the count at the time, but it was 7000 young, immature marijuana plants that was being run by a Mexican cartel group we had never seen before. And as we’re looking at these plants, we do the thing that was probably our smartest move we made that day is we just froze and stayed back in a hidden position and didn’t keep going down the creek, further down to the rabbit hole, for a while, we just kind of kept very quiet, then we go a little further and pretty soon we knew something was going to happen and lo and behold, the two growers that were running that operation started working their way toward us where they finally got around some trees further up ahead downstream of the creek and now we can see them. And when I saw those guys and watched them from cover and my partner watched them from cover our eyes were as big as silver dollars because this was not your typical poacher, these were Hispanics, they were dressed in olive drab green, all of the battle dress uniform, old us military standard olive drab color before we went to a bunch of camouflage patterns, they had AKs, they had machetes, they were moving very quietly, they were whispering, if they were talking at all, they were moving with situational awareness, the guy behind the lead grower would actually scan left and right and every few feet he’d stop and he’d look behind him and he’d look up the mountain behind him and being down in the canyon. So he was showing basically situational awareness on a perimeter patrol like our tactical unit would do. And he was in that rear position showing basically tail gunner or what we call the tail gunner position’s job is to watch for any threat coming in from behind, from above and all around, while the guy in the front, the first grower, would stop and garden tool with his machete and doctor up some plants, he’d redivevert a waterline, he was working some of the plants at the bottom near the creek. And I went, you know what, we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto, this is crazy. Who are these guys?

Ramsey Russell: When you first saw those plants, this is the first illegal grow you’d walked up on. I mean, when I think of California pot grows, I’m thinking of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, I mean, is that kind of what was going through your mind until you saw those two suspects?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, that’s exactly. You hit it on the head, Ramsey. My thing mean, I’m coming back from having relatives in the hippie area and a lot of veteran hippies coming back and growing up in the Emerald Triangle in Humboldt county and growing a couple hundred plants and they were selling it for cash to their friends and on the markets and they were just kind of doing the Cheech and Chong thing and that’s what I thought at first we might have. But one thing that alarmed me even before I saw these guys was the number of plants, how much vegetation had been removed and then when I got a little further down the creek that I hadn’t mentioned yet with all of us right now is when we saw the encampment. And when I saw the encampment, I went, okay, this is not your typical Cheech and Chong hippie Humboldt grow. This is not anything like that, because now we had camouflage tarps that were sprayed to mute the shine of even the plastic, we had tents that were camouflaged. We had stuff that was cut into the banks of the creek. We had cut down branches that were woven together to be, like, shelving units in a kitchen and a hidden propane stove and a stash of food, everything was laid out very strategic, almost guerrilla warfare style to make an analogy. And it just reminded me of not only photographs, but stories of my relatives that fought in Vietnam, of some of these nomadic via Kong camps, of how they would be completely camouflaged off of the Ho Chi Minh trail system and our GIs would literally walk into a camp and maybe hit a punji pit, booby trap and before they even see one of these encampments, one of these sleeping areas and that’s what we were seeing. And I went, this doesn’t have the vibe of what I would think would be that Cheech and Chong type crow that we’re talking about. And then when seeing them, brother, I went, okay, right away, I thought, this is something like a Santa Nista rebel team working that I remember seeing growing up in the news and we talked about the Iran Contra affair before we started recording today and just our era of the things we saw on the war on drugs and some of these South American cocaine cartels and kind of the militaristic guerrilla type tactics that they do down there, well, I’m seeing it in my backyard in the Silicon Valley foothills where I grew up, and I’m like, okay, man, one thing is the first thing that went to my mind is these guys are armed, they’re showing situational awareness, I’ve had a lot of tactical training, I’ve worked with a lot of tactical people, I have not been in a gunfight yet in my career, I’m hoping never to have to be in one and I’ve got an AR and I’ve got an unarmed civilian and we’re hiding in the cut bank on the edge of the creek. And these guys are coming closer and closer and I’ve got my red dot up through the brush, hidden, standing by and just kind of going, man, we need not to get seen today. If these guys see us, given who they are and how they’re prepared and how they are totally freaked out and know they’re not supposed to be here and given the weaponry and given the clothing and given all of those different elements of how they were prepared, I knew it was going to be a very bad day for all of us, if we had had contact. And definitely I didn’t have radio contact to get help, I couldn’t get out on a cell phone and that would have been a heck of a thing to try to explain how we survived that to Fish and Game administration, my chief, my bosses, the whole law enforcement community of the Silicon Valley. What are the game wardens doing in this canyon? What do they find? Fortunately, the good graces, they got to about 15 yards from us, they looked around, we did not move. You can imagine the pucker factor going on and then they made the turn and they started working back up the trail and the guy in the back, the tail gunner, if you will, kept looking behind him in our direction and I mean, he never saw us, but he was so situationally aware, my mind was blown. And as soon as they got far enough out, we gave him a good 15 minutes or more to get further down the trail, we knew our back exit, we knew we were going to go out the way we came in, go up that creek, way up the channel and go straight up the mountain and get to the truck and just get the heck out of there. And then my mind started spinning, now I’m going to start getting to know Drug Task Force groups, allied agency groups, DEA, the military out of Moffatt Field on the counter drug task forces, my life changed that day and I didn’t know it really changed for the next half of my career. But that was the first growth site that I saw, that was the first big water diversion I saw from the cartels out of Mexico that were here completely illegally and basically operating with impunity on our wildlands. And unbeknownst to me, bud, is that was only one of probably 5000 grows in California that year and thousands of grows in 27 other states that were being run by the Mexican cartels that were not just doing it for Mexico, they were embedded within America and operating even when we were trying to keep a good presence to stop these guys. And a month later when we raided that grow and now my game warden team, we’re kind of bird dogs to get them into the right area for all the cops that do this job routinely, we didn’t catch the bad guys, we saw them run and scatter, there wasn’t a big effort made to apprehend them, that was something we didn’t really understand. But we’re not knocking anybody, but let’s just say we would change the way we do that type of business as our unit and it would take many more years to get there to have really advanced apprehension teams and the best dogs to do that safely, that would all transpire in Hidden War the new book really goes into the 6 years of building the MET team, the sniper unit, the advanced canines and just going after them as a priority for the first time, really, I think, well in us history for game wardens to target the cartels specifically on the illegal cannabis front as it affects wildlife. But that would be a 13 year process to get there, man. And it was really eye opening on that first grow of what we would see and when we would finally eradicate that and then work with so many agencies and start to build bridges with agencies and police and law enforcement officers, game wardens normally work with a lot, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department as one was just, we made some brotherhoods for life there and we all benefited from it immensely on bringing this hidden war to light throughout the country.

Where Legal Grows & Conservation Collide

And we have a percentage of growers in California that are environmental stewards, they’re complete conservationists, they too, hunt and fish, they love wildlife, they were actually conserving water and not impacting in any negative way any of their wildlife habitat or wildlife species when they were illegal growers. 

Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing. That was one of the most surprising things is that these cartel members were on US soil. And you’re saying, I know your book spinning around California where a lot of your personal activity was, but did you say 20 something states have these illegal grows?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: They do. And something I used and something hidden more addresses is, even though it’s my experiences in California, it’s a hidden more going on throughout America. And one thing about the book you have is it’s the second printing of the first edition, which was sold out, but we also updated the second edition with some updated trends. I did new material in the front with an introduction and added materials in the chapter, Jack Carr wrote a fantastic book, as you know and really modernized because the book was published in 2019, about 4 or 5 months after I retired and Colonel Oliver North was one of the major endorsers and first readers of the book and insisted that we drop it at the NRA annual convention in Indianapolis when he was still president and we did that. And then what happened in 2020, the world changed with lockdowns, pandemic, right? The COVID pandemic dropped and the country went into shutdown, as so did a lot of law enforcement operations, just because we didn’t know what we were dealing with. The cartels live in a culture of chaos, it’s the cartel mantra, if you will. And when the global pandemic hit all over the world and especially shut down, so many operations of law enforcement in California and the rest of the country and now game wardens and sheriffs and park rangers were either not in the woods for unknown exposure levels of who they might contact, say, a foreign invader with a pandemic disease or virus, but also civil unrest, medical response, calls for aid with supply chains being shut down, we were being pulled into so many different directions to even make our time less frequent in the woods, everybody was and the cartels love that. So they went nuts and then the Border Protection, or lack thereof and the border policy completely changed when the new administration shifted, as we all know in 2020. So we have in the 3.5 years since the first edition of Hidden War was written, the geopolitical climate, the threats of the cartels embedded throughout America have completely changed and completely been exaggerated, they’ve increased considerably. And these grows are in 27 other states besides California and now they’re not necessarily deep in the woods all the time, you’re seeing them more and more on private land tracks in rural areas with big hoop houses, where we’ve regulated under, like Prop 64 in California, came to regulate cannabis recreationally about two years before I retired, this is about 3 or 4 years into the team’s tenure of our tactical unit. And everybody said, yeah, once weed is regulated and legal, man, you guys are going to be out of a job, you’re not going to be fighting cartels and we laughed and went, I’m going to tell you right now, there is no way we’re going to be out of a job because the way we structured Prop 64 in California, which is really a let down for me, because I educated and presented to lobbyists and the governor’s groups and cannabis grower groups and conservation groups, hundreds of hundreds of presentations before Prop 64 was voted and passed in 2016. And you know what blew my mind, man, is back then, at least when weed was illegal, it was a felony to grow it and to trespass grow, to go on to private land, to go onto public land as a cartel member, it was a felony and that gave it some bite, outside of the water stealing, outside of the dead wildlife, outside of the EPA ban poisons these guys bring from Tijuana to put on the plants that are a felony possessed because they’re an illegal nerve agent. We can’t even use them in America for insecticides and rodenticides because they’re so dang nasty, but these guys are using it there. So all of these crimes that we had to buy once we regulated to get a legitimate market started, we completely opened the doors for the cartels because we made it a misdemeanor instead of a felony to grow illegally anywhere. We made it an infraction to grow if you’re a juvenile grower and these cartel guys bring up their 14, 15, 16 year old men to learn the ways of this operation, this one small faction of the crimes they do in America becomes an infraction, like a seatbelt ticket, like driving without a seatbelt. So the cartels went, oh, it’s open season in California, thank you, regulation. And so 5 years later now and I go into this in the second edition, as you know, of the updated Hidden War book, what’s it like now, 5 years later and the cartels, both Mexican and now the Asian cartels, have exponentially increased their operations and illegal cannabis production, mostly on private land, in rural areas, still in the outdoors, in the remote areas, to a lesser extent, because they are just not going to have any – there’s no deterrence to keep them from doing it, because at most, they’re going to lose their plants, if they’re rated, they’re unlikely to go to jail or be prosecuted for felonies and they’re usually part of a group that’s seen tens if not hundreds of illegal growth sites elsewhere. And it’s a drop in the bucket to lose one multi million dollar growth site. So this problem is everywhere, but it really is all over the country.

Ramsey Russell: That’s outside of California. I mean, this pot is recreationally or medicinally legal in most states now, which I don’t understand because it’s still a federal crime, but nonetheless. It seems like if I can go into dispensaries from Canada to Florida and buy marijuana, it seems like, the thought would be that it’s grown, okay, it’s legal, now it’s being grown legally and farmed legally and ethically just like soybeans or cotton. But what you’re saying, apparently a lot of the grows are still illegal.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: They absolutely are. And the problem with it is this. We’ve regulated in California, so a legal grower is an example and this is in Oklahoma, this is in Oregon, this is in Washington, this is in my new home state of Montana, any state that’s regulated, there’s a lot of oversight and there should be. There has to be some oversight, there has to be security standards, we need to know this isn’t a criminal cash business. So all of the regulated growers, they have to spend somewhere between $50,000 and $80,000 to get about 10 permits from 10 agencies to get regulated properly. And then they have to sell through a distributor, they have to conserve their water. And we have a percentage of growers in California that are environmental stewards, they’re complete conservationists, they too, hunt and fish, they love wildlife, they were actually conserving water and not impacting in any negative way any of their wildlife habitat or wildlife species when they were illegal growers. And now that they’re legal trying to do it right, they’re being even more overt about doing it the right way. And we just were in post production of a documentary called sign Trailblazer, where we filmed between Montana, California, all of last year. And we interviewed some legal growers that are absolutely getting out of the business now, because, one, they’re going broke, two, the black market and the cartels are completely undermining their legitimate industry. They’re not getting paid by distributors, because when we regulated, like most states are regulating right now, where they’re seeing the dollar signs, they’re seeing the taxation and they’re not really paying attention to the longer effects of, if they don’t regulate property with the right penalties, if they don’t keep a strong presence against illegal growers, no matter who you are, cartel or not, then all you’re doing is undermining a legitimate business and you’re just green lighting a black market.

Ramsey Russell: So if I’m a dispensary in one of the states you name, I can get my product from anywhere.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah. And that’s the pretty crazy part. Now, it has to be regulated, it has to be seed to sale tracked. But we know not all of the stuff going into dispensaries is seed to sale tracked. And we also know that the integration and marketing through distribution centers that these cartels use are totally independent of the legitimate market. And they’ve got all of that locked up in their own enterprises and deal with their own people and their own networks throughout the whole entire US. And especially all this west coast cannabis that’s being grown illegally, it’s all going to where you’re at. It’s all going to Midwest, it’s going to the eastern seaboard, it’s going to the Deep South, because California and other western states, especially California is known for great Mediterranean climate, right? We’re only 1 of 6 true Mediterranean climates on the globe. So we grow great wine, we’re known for the Wine Valley, Napa Valley wine, we grow great weed, we just do, indoor, outdoor, whatever the case may be. So our black market is mostly going back east and fulfilling a demand from states that it’s not legal or undercutting the legitimate market and getting really good marijuana out there. As far as potency, maybe not environmental purity, because who knows what type of pesticide or toxic it’s got on it to keep stuff off of it. The cartels put the nastiest stuff on it, like I mentioned. But that’s the dilemma. And how it affects us on the wildlife front is kind of a given, because all of that water that’s diverted, that animals can’t drink, the poisons that go into the water that are going to affect wildlife and drinking water for humans further downstream, city water supplies, whatever. And when we put these banned EPA poisons anywhere around these plants, we go into grow sites and it’s not an exaggeration. And as a hunter and a conservationist, it just infuriates me to no end, turns my stomach, it’s so disgusting to see. But I’ve seen black bears, mature thousand boars, baby cubs, mountain lions, deer, gray fox, steelhead trout, golden eagle, yeah, you got pictures of that in the book. I’ve seen so many threatening endangered species and so many big game species that a hunter would spend a lifetime trying to harvest to do it right, just dead in grow sites because they ingested less than a tablespoon of this poison that was put out to stop them. And 20 minutes later, they frobbed at the mouth, they’ve had a central nervous system failure, their blood’s thinned out because these poisons have anticoagulants and nerve agents, literally, that were developed by the Nazis back in World War II by that regime. I mean, the stuff that’s in these poisons that make them so nasty, like I said, we can’t even use them legally in the country anymore because EPA 20 years ago got the technology to study how potent this stuff was as a nerve agent, anticoagulant and said no, even diluted with 5000 gallons of water as designed, this stuff is not safe to put on our agricultural products, even if it’s washed off and then be consumed by the American public from agriculture. And these guys are getting this crap in Tijuana because in the third world countries, it’s not regulated, they’re bringing it across the border with their growers throughout the entire country. And I’ve seen some of this 12 ounce container of crystalline carbofuran, which is a crystal powder and that bottle and a good percentage of it goes into a 5, 6 gallon backpack sprayer full of water. And you can see in the book with some of the pictures of these growers in camouflage behind the Silicon Valley foothills where I grew up spraying this stuff on 11ft marijuana plants and they’re poisoning themselves, they don’t have nitro gloves on, they don’t have N95 breather masks, all the hazmat stuff we got to wear in a grow site if we run across this stuff to deal with it safely and this stuff is on everything.

Ramsey Russell: And then the buyer is putting it in a bong and smoking it. So much for the healthy now natural, organic value of it.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, the natural plant, Ramsay just hit it on the head, man. And I think of these Midwestern kids just trying to try a little weed at a party or medicinal recreational users, whatever the case may be and they have no idea what’s on these freaking plants. I mean, millions and millions of pounds of black market weed going back east is coming from these grow sites because it’s just not as expensive, it’s going through all the proper channels. Yeah, that was an absolute shell shock for me to see how bad this stuff was and now realize why it’s not just something that – the question was asked and I’ll never forget when our first officer involved shooting was almost a year after that 2004 grow site I found with my biologist partner the first time I saw one. And you want to remember that by now we formed a really good relationship with some really good like minded special operations sheriff’s deputies that were on their marijuana eradication team and they all came from military and SWAT and sniper team backgrounds and we were integrating with them because they were hunters and fishermen themselves. And they never realized that this outdoor grow site that’s cartel run in the Silicon Valley foothills would have such an impact on wildlife. And then we’re educating on that as game wardens going, this waterway is gone, guys, it’s completely destroyed. A fish isn’t going to spawn in it, a black tail deer drinking from it is going to be dead within half a day and they started to get pissed off too. These are guys that in their hearts are all part of the thin green line, no matter what agency or patch they have on their shoulder. And we started to very aggressively help them try to get more of these cartel guys out of these massive growth sites. And they were all over the Silicon Valley back in 405, all the way up through late, late 2000s, 2012, 2013. We were doing 20, 25 of these a summer in the Silicon Valley with the sheriffs of just going and helping them beyond all my other game warden duties of doing the hook and bullet stuff. August 5th of 2005, I’ll never forget, because it was three of us game wardens, myself and two of my guys and three sheriff’s deputies, some of the best guys ever that you’re ever going to have the privilege to work with. And in the affluent town little city of Los Gatos, the foothills of western Silicon Valley, we got into just a shit show of a massive grow site. A lot more guys in it than we thought, it was the middle of harvest time. They had two heavily armed, tactically savvy, at least two, we later learned there were many more people up there, armed growers defending it and my partner warden, who had only been on a year, took an AK 47 round through both legs. And now he’s bleeding out of four holes, myself and two of the sheriff’s deputies are exchanging gunfire with his shooter and also another gunman that had a sawed off shotgun trained on me and another game warden that was not shot, that we never saw 7 yards ahead of us through the dense brush and thick marijuana, 6 foot plants and those sheriff’s deputies were able to engage and get that suspect taken care of right before he pressed the trigger and took me out. And I mean, some of those pictures are in the book. And I give this presentation to a sensitive one for law enforcement, one for the public part of that was part of my SCI, one of my seminars of the weaponry and the preparation these guys will have in the woods and on private land. And what we, as hunters and anglers, when we’re out and about, just need to be aware of what to look for and how to get out of there safely and how to report it, should we run across something like that? Because it does happen fairly frequently that those of us that are going off the beaten path to hunt and fish and that’s everybody in the thin green line, we’re not on the paved park trails, they’re the ones that are going to run into this stuff and we normally do.

Ramsey Russell: Are you aware of any examples of recreational users, hunters, fishermen, hikers, backpackers, running amok with some of these? Some of the pictures and stuff you showed were pungi pits and traps and all kinds of deterrence. I can just imagine some 5 year old kid running down the trail ahead of mom and daddy falling into something like this. But are you aware of anything like this ever happening?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, we’ve had some incidences that we’re aware of, some of them we don’t hear about, especially in northern California, up in the Emerald Triangle, I think it was Netflix that did the Murder Mountain document series it was 3, 4, 5 episodes. But they talked about how many disappearing people are never heard from again that end up out here in the illegal cannabis trade, whether it’s the indoor grows with the non-cartels or the cartels. And we know we’ve had people that have stumbled upon these grows that you’ve never heard from, we can only assume, we don’t have a body, so to speak. But we have a lot of missing people from all over the country that have come out here to get into the weed trade and maybe they’ve been taken out, very heinously by a private land grower and somebody that’s just evil, maybe they’ve been on a trespass grow site or stumbled upon one. One thing I do remember and this was middle of my career, when this stuff was starting to really impact hunters and anglers, there was a father and his daughter and his daughter had just gone through hunter safety and she was on her first deer hunt up in one of our Dzones in the eastern mountains of California. And they stumbled into a grow site on deer opener and they were shot at, they were not hit, fortunately. And because dad was a very savvy outdoorsman and she was trained by a very good father, she didn’t panic, but they were dodging bullets to work their way and get to cover and get out of there and you can imagine what they had to say when they made it out of the woods safely. So that was one story that had just happened when we were starting to get into this and we were starting to get into gunfights with these guys when my partner was shot and by the good graces, he survived that after an agonizing 3 hour wait for an air rescue. That was a very tough day for everybody and that’s one that changed a lot of our careers. But it also made me realize that I had never seen. And at the time, I had been 15 years on as a game warden and I have never seen a more aggressive, a more violent, a more evil and a more environmentally damaging, “poaching criminal” on the planet were these cartels. And unbeknownst to me at the time, Ramsay, I’m looking at this strictly from illegal cannabis all over my home area, I’m working just in my home county of Santa Clara and now, in 2013, we’re going to form up the MET team, start our own agency’s team and the gloves are off. We’re under the special operations umbrella, we’re working directly for the chief, straight down, we don’t have district boundaries, we’re working with anybody we want. We got the military and from counter drug when they’re here, not deployed overseas, helping us out, a lot of other agencies. But at that time, all I was seeing, what was right in front of my face was my home area, like most game wardens have a district and usually, if they’re lucky enough to be working at home, they’re very close to that district and I certainly was. And I’m just watching this escalate and escalate and wanting to do more and more of it, because I know it’s making one of the biggest dents to the environment. And August 5th was the first gunfight. But by the time I retired and I go into this in the second to last chapter, Hidden War, the second edition, you’ve got, we had our 6th gunfight in the tenure., was there before and during the team and many other officers have been involved in that. Fortunately, no other officers have been hit and injured or heaven forbid, killed like my partner almost was. He was the first game warden ever in the country’s history to actually take fire from one of these Mexican cartels growing illegal cannabis. And that woke the country up, because we just hadn’t seen that violence yet. And then it just got more and more violent as the money got bigger and we started to learn more and more about them. And we started to get much better at finding them, we started to get much better at apprehending, we had more equipment, we had more training, we were integrating with better people that could just do the job safer. And then the canines, man, I can’t say enough about our dogs. When we brought in like canine Phoebe that is highlighted up until she passed in 2013 or sorry, she passed in 2018, year I retired those dogs saved our lives 50 times over again. I mean, just mind blowing what they would do of getting a bite on a guy that’s about to go to a gun and getting him down so we can make an arrest and not have to go to guns and we don’t take fire. And that dog bite is going to hurt, he might get tore up a little bit, but everybody’s going to live. And I can’t tell you, 20, 30, 40, 50 times, numerous times, these dogs have saved my life personally and the lives of my partners. So that was a real game changer. But that’s a lot of gunfights.

Canine Safety While Hunting or in the Line of Duty

You’ve worked with dogs your whole life as a hunter and I mean, they’re family, they’re friends, so they were like a 4 legged officer. 

Ramsey Russell: The cartels started catching on to the canine team, didn’t they? They began to develop anti-canine whatever to repeal them or kill them or whatever they could. And it was a tough life to be a canine dog because you were talking earlier about some of those chemicals, like, there was one dog you talked about that I think she died 2 years in her career, probably because being around all that chemical stuff.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, that was a heartbreaking one, I’m glad you brought that up, is keeping our dogs safe is as important as keeping us safe. You’ve worked with dogs your whole life as a hunter and I mean, they’re family, they’re friends, so they were like a 4 legged officer. And when we would lose one to a canine stabbing and you hit it on the head with these counter canine tactics, these guys were starting to do, our dogs were getting so effective, largely because I think of what Phoebe, canine Phoebe pioneered and she got so effective at getting these growers out of circulation. She had 116 apprehension bites on cartel bad guys and then another 900 or just under 900 apprehensions where they gave up and she didn’t have to bite. And when you’re taking out that many tier 1 cartel growers, you’re costing that organization hundreds of millions, if not more dollars that didn’t make it out of the woods and not only are you taking their product out and it’s not making it to market, but you’re taking their best growers out and make no mistake, there’s all these rumors that a lot of these folks their families are being held hostage down in Mexico and they’re there unwillingly and there certainly could be some of that going on. But the ones we encountered, majority and in Hidden War, I get to go into a debrief of a cartel plaza boss that was responsible for 50 northern California grows and he happened to get popped on a 22 pound methamphetamine cook and now was speaking freely, provided we would keep him safe and he was very candid and very honest. And to tell us how good these guys are and how easy it is to get their best growers after they prove themselves down in Mexico of growing great weed and do it under the federal and military’s nose and not getting caught, then they’re ready to travel like a good journeyman, right? And they send them north and these guys in bed and they do really good work. And if we happen to take them out and we get them either deported or in custody or if they’re violent and pulling a gun and one of our dogs injures them and takes them out, that’s costing that organization a ton. So these guys decided, if these dogs are coming at us, we need to try to take them out. And everything from very intelligently, they know our rules of engagement, so they would have their sidearm, their pistol or maybe a rifle and they wouldn’t pull it, but they’d have a fixed blade sheath knife right by that pistol holster and they just basically suck that dog in and one or two of them together, maybe a single, they just try to take the bite up on the arm and then get that knife and go right for the jugular vein. And we had some tier 1 federal dogs that were killed, we had a great federal dog that worked with canine Phoebe for years that took multiple stitches through his jugular vein and there’s some photos of that in the book and a little bit of story about that, that little guy was just another little prodigy dog like Phoebe and Phoebe and that dog worked together for years, it was just magic to see in the woods, man, I can’t tell you how cool it was to watch those dogs work together. But he survived. But he was a testament to what these guys are going to do to our canines. And you’re right, being a canine and doing really hard law enforcement work, especially in the arid, dry, remote areas, we work against the cartels, it’s tough on any dog and those paws absorb the poisons, obviously and those poisons are in the soil that you can’t see, you can’t smell, they’re in the water, they’re all over the plants on the bud flower that people smoke or ingest or make an edible out of, and our dogs don’t – there’s no way to keep a dog completely protected from those chemicals, as good as they smell, they’re panting with the hot weather, just like we are. So if they get downwind of a recently treated group of plants with carbofuran, they’re going to breathe that stuff in, and it’s not doing any better to them than it is to us. So it’s a delicate balance of what we let our dogs do, how carefully we watch and protect our dogs as well as they protect us. And then we get them the heck out of the grow as soon as they don’t need to be there. We literally will helicopter dogs now out of a grow site, even if we’re going to be in there for 8 more hours eradicating plants carefully, cleaning up and reclimating and cleaning out the trash and taking out the water lines and trying to restore the banks and just trying to get the environmental integrity back for the sake of the wildlife when we leave.

Ramsey Russell: I got a question. We’ve talked about the chemicals, one thing that struck me was the water demands of some of these plants, which is kind of a big deal when you get out west, a dry state like California. What are some of the other habitat values that are destroyed? We’ve got water, we’ve got chemical, can you quantify and put into perspective some of this stuff?

How Water Theft & Water Loss Affect Hunting Habitats (and More!)

But when you take out all the underbrush, when you take out all the willow trees on the side of a creek, when you take out oak trees that are more than 100 years old, you have lost tons of that cover and that edging effect you need for good wildlife habitats to thrive together. 

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m going to get into water figures in a minute, because water theft and the impacts to water loss is something that’s become the most alarming thing about illegal cannabis because there’s so much of it going on. But we’ll talk about the EPA ban chemicals for a minute and even the legal chemicals miracle grow roundup, any over the counter insecticide that you buy at Home Depot, it may be good in your yard of landscaping where it’s not running into a native waterway and destroying water or poisoning things, but that stuff’s nasty in the headwaters of a pristine canyon somewhere, for obvious reasons. Fertilizers and the loss of vegetation and trees that these guys have to take out to make room for massive plots of marijuana. I mean, you have all this habitat and that habitat is wildlife cover, it’s the home to many wildlife, it’s hunting ranges for wildlife of every level of the predation hierarchy. What do you call, kind of the pecking order. But when you take out all the underbrush, when you take out all the willow trees on the side of a creek, when you take out oak trees that are more than 100 years old, you have lost tons of that cover and that edging effect you need for good wildlife habitats to thrive together. And not only that, you’ve now taken out the root system that’s holding the soil intact and solid on the edges of these steep banks that go right into waterways. And you and I both know you take out that habitat and you leave an exposed slope of just dirt, where’s all that dirt going to go as soon as the rains hit in the winter? They’re going to go right into, we’ve seen it in the habitat pond for waterfowl, if it gets oversaturated, even the puddle ducks are going to have trouble, getting to food and everything else and the divers. And the problem with what we start dealing with is all this exposed bank is that first winter comes in and we may have rated it 6 months before that and now that creek is just a mud bath of sediment and it’s going to cover spawning beds for steelhead eggs, for fry, for fish, for animals drinking from it, it’s a water pollution mess, that’s a residual of a growth site that isn’t reclamated. And that’s why we on the MET team, especially from a game warden standpoint of fighting the cartels for drug stuff, whatever, however you want to term it, we don’t even look at cannabis necessarily as a war on drugs anymore, that’s kind of an outdated idea, but we’re looking at a fight to protect public safety and a fight to protect our wildlife waterways and wildlands. And it doesn’t matter if it’s cannabis, opium, the Associated Press quoted me like 10 years ago saying, hey, if cherry tomatoes were so threatened and being grown illegally on public land because they were $4,000 a pound, we’d probably be getting in gunfights over water stealing for cherry tomatoes. It’s all about the money and it’s all about the black market, so we can look at it any way we want to. But what a lot of agencies weren’t doing then is they weren’t doing the environmental reclamation. We go and arrest or try to, we go and eradicate the poison plants and what are you going to do with all those water diversions, all those exposed banks after you cut all the weed down and all those poisons, brother, they would stay out there forever, nobody was cleaning them up, nobody had budgets, knowledge, protocol, none of it. And I’m going back to 2006, 2007 in the Silicon Valley foothills, in hills I grew up going, you know what, I grew up hiking these hills, man, I caught my first fish right there. I go, guys, this is bullshit, we need to clean this up or this is just going to kill wildlife for the next 10 years, even if a cartel never comes back. And the sheriffs got on board because they were all very environmentally conscious, they had hunting, fishing backgrounds, so they actually were funding it when we weren’t even doing it at our agency level way back. Some of the first to do it and going in and bagging the trash, taking out the water diversions, taking out the poisons, hoisting that stuff out, spending a bunch with helicopters to do it and that’s something we have to look at as continuing the process and we’re continuing to expand that throughout the country to make sure these sites, once they get earmarked, that they get cleaned up. But what none of this will do, no matter how good we reclaimate and restore a waterway, nothing is going to stop the amount of water loss that an illegal grow is going to do, especially like you said, brother, in a drought state or in a drought window that the whole west has been under for who knows how long.

Ramsey Russell: I want to read something from your book, just a passage talking about one of the chapters where you tallied up the numbers from beginning of the pilot program in July 2013 through December 2018. And during that time period, 800 arrest, eradication reclamation missions and destroyed 3 million poisoned marijuana plants, seized and destroyed 29 tons of processed marijuana, made 973 felony arrest, 601 firearms, 450 tons of growth site waste and other pollutants removed 445 miles of black polypipe, that’s from Jackson, Mississippi to Dallas, Texas and 12 billion gallons of water were approximately used to orchestrate those grows. That’s mind numbing numbers. Here’s what gets me, in the first of the podcast, you said, hey, you accidentally stumbled upon that one grow knowing there were 5000 others, so how many more grow sites were there than the ones recorded in that 5 year period? That’s just mind boggling.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, it still blows my mind to even look at those numbers. And you got to remember that’s one team of what we were able to quantify from the Department of Fish & Wildlife California over that 6 year window when I was with the team. And think of all the other agencies that are doing it and maybe it’s not getting reported or if it is, is it getting reported accurately and the ones we don’t find, like you said. And now with the outdoor trespass grows deep in the woods, lessening significantly, but the private land tracks popping up left and right and hiding in plain sight where they don’t have to go and hide because it’s a misdemeanor and they’re not going to lose anything really if they get busted. So now the water loss and the poison plants and the number of chemicals, it’s gone up, significantly higher than those numbers that we did just on the outdoor trespass grows. And when we talk about water loss in a drought condition, not just California, but a lot of the country’s been in a drought status right now. California stands out as having a horrible one and it’s also the one where the most water is being stolen from cannabis, so oxymoronic, I know, but there’s the reality. And what we’re looking at is illegal growers, reformed illegal growers, legitimate growers, our scientific studies will always say and this is an approximation, but give or take an unregulated cannabis plant, a cannabis plant anywhere is going to take about 5 gallons of water per day per plant. The legal grows indoor and outdoor that I’ve seen that are conserving water really well, can maybe get that down to a gallon and a half to two gallons of plant. But on the average, especially for the outdoor grows, you’re dealing with illegal criminals doing this on the black market, they’re not out there trying to be stewards of water conservation. So we will give them a conservative estimate of 5 gallons per day per plant. You add up the number of illegal plants, indoor or outdoor and what did those 3 million plants that we dealt with destroying during that 6, 7 year tenure that you quoted from the book at five gallons per plant, even if we got to that grow site, say 30 days into its start and it was going to go another 200 days, how many tens to hundreds of millions of water did those growths take up to the point of eradication? And for the ones we didn’t stop, we have no idea. If one of these strains of marijuana takes 270 days to get to harvest and there’s 7000 plants out there and they’re taking 5 gallons of plant per day for two thirds of the year and that all makes it to market and that infrastructure stays out there, whether it’s deep in the national forest or it’s in a sisky valley set of hoop houses below Mount Shasta, the pristine glacier waters of 14,000 foot Mount Shasta, it’s unquantifiable, but it’s up there accumulating to millions and millions of gallons. DEA put out some figures last year when in the north LA county desert, in the area of Palmdale, there were so many of these outdoor Visqueen hoop houses, they literally look like warehouse centers for Amazon. We called it the Jeff Bezos Amazon example. And not that there’s any illegality, no reference other than just the size of the warehouse, the only connection we’re making is of illegal cannabis. And it was all cartels and they’re using water trucks piping into wells, piping into city water supplies, fire hydrants, illegal wells and LA County, Riverside County and San Bernardino county alone, conservative estimate, 6.8 million gallons of water per day being stolen for illegal cannabis for just those 3 counties of California in southern California.

Ramsey Russell: And that’s in that part of the world where somebody probably got a ticket for water in their flowers because of managed water use. And the whole time we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking in modern day agriculture, it’s such a marginalized business, the farmers are cutting their costs, they’re being super efficient with GPS sprayings and fertilization and things of that nature. And if they’re receiving payments and most of them are for some kind of agricultural practice, the US Department of Agriculture, they’re conserving the soil and taking good care of the site. Versus an illegal grow, shit, it’s the wild west, man, do what you want.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: It’s crazy to think we’re on drought water restrictions at the governor’s office level for everybody in California, yet we’re not treating the problem as a domestic narco terrorism war, which really, Senator Dan Crenshaw came out this last week and there he is on the southern border in the good state of Texas and working with the president of Mexico and going, hey, he’s talking about the fentanyl issue and before I go further into this story, we want our listeners to realize that our focus is on primarily the cartels dealing with cannabis because of the water loss and the environmental impacts and the public safety impacts. But these same cartel groups that are doing that illegal cannabis production are also from the same cells that are doing dirty lab fentanyl production in both nations and distributing this fentanyl in the black market and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans a year now, mostly young Americans, I mean, it’s just heinous. The stuff’s colored to look like skittles, they call it rainbow fentanyl to target the kids, the human trafficking, the sex trafficking of children, all of that, the gun running, methamphetamine production and the meth trade all over the country, Midwest, Deep South, west coast, it’s all the same groups, all embedded in America doing this to us from within. So when Dan Crenshaw said, asking the Mexican president Amlo, saying, look, we know fentanyl is coming from your country, we know the cartels are working with impunity in Mexico, we want to declare war on them here in America, we want you to help us by declaring war on them in Mexico and we want to work together to stop this problem of this criminal element that’s destroying our public from within in both countries. And the response was, we don’t have a fentanyl problem, we don’t make it here in Mexico and it’s been exaggerated. And when that went down and Dan was very good about putting up on social media, Fox News has been talking about it, it kind of set the tone of, okay, well, that sucks, it’s a horrible reality that that’s what is not being addressed in Mexico for whatever reason, whoever’s bankrolling that administration, one can only guess. But what we can do in our own country is we need to take this back and we need to declare it a national emergency. Just like a wildfire campaign, just like a massive flood tornado event, just like a domestic terrorism attack, it’s no exaggeration to say that these cartels are in America in every state of the union and they’re thumbing their nose at us because every state has a human trafficking corridor, it has a trafficking corridor for meth and fentanyl, it’s got a weed corridor, even though you might not have weed production from the cartels in your state in quantity, you’ve got all that other stuff going on, and it’s something we got to look at. Ironically, those of us on the thin green line, you and me and all our listeners that are so passionate about the conservation ethos and what we grew up and what we want many more generations of our kids and their kids to be able to enjoy and keep wildlife in balance by conservative use of wildlife, we’re the ones running across it and kind of impassioned by the problem more than a lot of other people that see it as one other problem going on in this crazy world. And I think it behooves us to do what we can and I’m so grateful to talk to you about it, brother, on your podcast today and share that message when we go and do our other things in the conservation world that we’re so passionate and lucky to do, we got to take our country back. And I don’t know any other way than to let people know we got all this stuff going on all over the world geopolitically, man, but let’s look what’s at our front door. And we didn’t name the second book Hidden War for nothing. I mean, that book came 10 years after War in the Woods and it came when I was retired and I could speak a little more freely and be able to speak for the national impacts, people are still blown away and they don’t know. We’re at SCI, you and I are doing our thing at SCI and I have people coming up to the book table and going, I had no idea this was everywhere in America. Lieutenant, I had no idea. I heard something about it, I heard this podcast, I think I saw a documentary or something you guys were in. I mean, game wardens and banned poisons and nerve agents and pungi pits and cartels in our backyard, what’s going on? And the only reason people would say that is it’s just not getting enough attention and it’s not prioritized enough. And I know I’m soapboxing a little bit here, so thanks for the patience, but it’s just something we got to work on, man. And I think we’re starting to make waves because I know I get a lot more outrage now and I see it on social media circles with people you and I are associated with at high and mid levels and I see it more addressed on the news forums and hopefully we get to see a change with good choices from our public.

Caught in the Middle

And in days like that, it’s frustrating because maybe we don’t catch a guy, but we also don’t get in a gunfight, nobody gets hurt. So we still were able to destroy the product.

Ramsey Russell: Question, you all go in and you all raid these areas and the shootouts, the firefights that you go into and it did cross my mind that there’s no honor among thieves. So I’m a cartel grower, I’m sneaking around and might there ever been a chance, not that it mattered if they’re shooting at law enforcement, but might there ever have been a chance or possibility that they didn’t know who the hell it was coming up on them and surprising them? It could have been another cartel for all they knew. You ever wonder if it was something like that? Is that why they were carrying guns? Because I don’t see them as – I would think if I’m illegal, trying to grow, making a living, however I’m doing it, that if law enforcement comes up, I just want to get the hell away, I’m going to run. See what I’m asking, John? Is there any chance that maybe they just thought you all were another cartel or did it matter, do you know?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Well, it’s interesting, because what we’ve noticed, we’ve had that question asked before and it comes down to what we observed in the growth site. And when we’re in tactical gear and we’re announcing ourselves in Spanish Policia and we have all the latest and greatest tools, like a SEAL team and we look very similar, but on domestic soil as law enforcement officers and we’re 7 yards from a grower that’s pulling a gun and decides he still wants to fight us, I don’t think he’s mistaken us for a rival cartel or a rival faction, but to that same point – and so I’m glad you brought that point up, it’s a good one. We know that they’re rivaling all the time on perimeter borders, we know that they see a guy sneaking through the woods and everybody gets silent. Everyone’s dressed kind of dark, earth tones, shots go off and other cartel members from a rival gang or another, what they call patch pirates and it’s little factions from one group coming in at harvest time, because everybody’s harvesting around the same time, July, August, September and you’re making a great point. And then they start slipping in there on each other’s fringes and that’s when we find some dead cartel growers. Or there was a shots fired call and we go up and investigate it and why is this guy killed when he was allegedly a sheep herder and he’s armed with an AK 47 like a Taliban opium farmer? This is weird. But now we know it was because of that and yeah, they were just defending anything they could. And I do believe we have had some situations with other agencies not on our gunfights, where there were shots fired toward officers, but you were on the move, they were sneaking in, they might not have actually seen the bad guy, maybe heard a branch break or saw movement up in shrubbery in situations like that, absolutely. I absolutely think it’s just like, hey, we got an invader and we’re going to press the trigger and we’re going to get the heck out of here. And your other point that no one’s ever asked and I’m glad you did, is 9 times out of 10, these guys do not want to engage with us. If we go in and we surprise them and they don’t have the gun in the hand, we do everything we can tactically to set this thing up so that they give up, they don’t go to the gun, they kind of have a no win situation, we do it from positions of cover, we don’t even want to deploy our dog if we can help it and put that dog in danger. So in certain elements, though, if you go in and there’s noise made, these guys, unless they’re from a very aggressive cell that just pretty much own the country and they believe they own the ground they’re on and we’ve had those. And most of those gunfights I’m talking about are in a particular region of California that we would term asshole alley for lack of a better little nickname, because every time we go into them, every year, we’d find groves, Ramsey, in this particular area, Santa Cruz County, let’s say and if it wasn’t a gunfight, they’re not going to give up, they’re going to fight us tooth and nail physically, where we’re going to get into a fisticuffs just to handcuffs on the guy, he’s going to try to fight through the dog and then maybe he’s going to try to pull a gun and keep going for the gun and now we’re just physically trying to take the gun out of his hand so we’re not in a gunfight, there have been those elements, too. But those are particular areas where that particular faction is just a very aggressive faction. 9 times out of 10, at the grower level, they don’t want to deal with us because one, they don’t want to get shot, obviously, if they know they’re in an area where the teams are trying to apprehend them and not just fly over in helicopters and scare them out before we drop in on the long lines and eradicate everything and they never get caught, they hide out, we leave and they come back and do it again and they kind of laugh at what we’re doing, but they’re safe, we certainly don’t get hurt in those cases. But our agency and most of the more aggressive agencies in California are like, that’s not deterring the cartels from doing anything, we need to go try to stop them and we need to try to get our hands on them and even if they’re going to get deported or not deported because of sanctuary state, we have to try to put an impact on that guy for a minute or we’re sending a very incentivizing message for these guys to keep going. So we do see what you’re saying exactly. They are just trying to lie low, they’re trying not to have any confrontation with us because they just don’t want to get caught. And in days like that, it’s frustrating because maybe we don’t catch a guy, but we also don’t get in a gunfight, nobody gets hurt. So we still were able to destroy the product.

Ramsey Russell: I had wondered if you identified yourself in Spanish instead of just yelling, freeze MF, which seemed to be universal in Hollywood for how to stop a guy. But you do go in and speak Spanish just so they know policia, stop.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Well, we have to, brother. And the thing that’s interesting about it is, especially when you come from the political lens and the political climate in California and you have one of the most aggressive tactical unit of game wardens in the country, it’s really a contradiction. So we have gone to the level where we’re dressed tactically in our camos and our plate carriers, but we have police insignia, like, all over our bodies. It’s not just up on the plate carrier where a badge would be, it’s not only on a shoulder patch, we have it patches on the front of our plate carrier, on the back, sometimes down on the legs in places, we’re speaking in multiple languages, we’re being very succinct in our commands because again, we don’t want to ever get misidentified and we definitely don’t want to get into a gunfight where we had an opportunity not to. Because by identifying ourselves, even at close range, they have an opportunity to give up. And honestly, there have been less and less gunfights since we brought on the dogs and we’ve seen the gunfights start to decrease. We’ve had a lot of close calls where we were actually under rules of engagement, facing a level of danger that we could have engaged with deadly force and deployed our firearms. But because of skill and training of the operators and the positioning we had and because the dog could get deployed at just the right moment, everything worked out and there was not a gunfight to be had, even though deadly force was threatened to us by the grower, where our guys just elected not to shoot because they knew they were okay. At some point, they knew the dog was going to make a bite before this guy could do something with the gun and we held off on making that quick judgment of, do I shoot? Do I not shoot to the benefit of everybody that day.

From Game Warden to Marijuana Enforcement 

Ramsey Russell: John, there’s a lot of similarity between what you do on the Marijuana Enforcement Task force and versus being a regular game warden, you’re out in this remote area. How do you all find those grows?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, a lot of different ways. A lot of it got to do back in the day when the trespass grows were really rampant from 2005 to about 2016, 2017, maybe actually, even in 2018 and 2019. A lot of it was just knowing where to look, we could go out and look for a well known annual waterway, the right direction to face the sun, where these plants are going to be on a particular mountainside direction and one out of two times when we’re scouting an area, we would find a grow. But what really got to be good was the 1800 turning, a poacher line from all these hunters and fishermen and neighbors of private lands and on public lands or that lived in remote areas, they started using our turn in a poacher line. By the time I retired, 70% plus of the 1800 turn in a poacher, what we call our CalTIP line in California was related to illegal cannabis that they had either found in the woods or a neighbor stealing water, doing it on private land. So people were starting to turn it in that were environmentally conscious, like everybody that we’re associated with here and your listeners. And then the other thing was satellite imagery, overflights with helicopter and fixed wing, it’s amazing what you can see with military sensitive level Google Earth images. It is absolutely mind blowing what you can find sitting on your laptop anywhere, if you know where to look and you’re just diligent of watching something change within a week or two on satellite imagery and realizing, wow, look at that terracing under there, you don’t even have to see plant. I mean, it’s amazing what technology has changed in the last 10 years.

Ramsey Russell: What did you call it, terracing?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, terracene, where you start to see, like, terracing of slopes where they’re cut out and kind of made, like, stairsteps or you start to see lines of small plots that are linear and then you start to see different without giving away a lot of trade secrets that I can’t talk about, obviously, for operational security for the guys, there’s other patterns we just look for.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: And it’s really cool. And we didn’t have that in the days of when that first gunfight happened and my partner was near fatally killed that was a sketch on a piece of paper with coordinates from a GPS overlaid onto a topo map. And now operational planning we get wide Google Earth satellite imagery, we have coordinates based on satellite imagery, we create beautiful, beautiful maps of infill, xfill routes, perimeter routes, secondary escape routes where the triple redundancy on air support should somebody get hurt or shot or were shot and we got to have an air extract as fast as possible, whether it be extracting a suspect for medical care or one of us or a dog, it really grew leaps and bounds in efficiency and really in safety and effectiveness the last 5 years I was there and the guys just keep getting better with it because we are the tech capital of the world, man. That’s the one thing about the origins of this team that are now kind of putting the message really extends nationally now. There’s a lot of new technology that’s helping us out, just like it’s helping us out in the hunting and fishing worlds, too. Onyx Hunt Programs, Ballistic Computers, applied ballistics for those of us in the long range community, things like that, that’s the cool part, that’s really hopeful about all this is seeing technology being used for good to protect wildlife and just if not more importantly, protect us, all of us in the public out there.

Protecting the Environment After Illegal Grows

I’m sitting here thinking several questions about the rehabilitation of that site and how long some of these chemicals in the soil profile and sedimentation and everything else affects things. 

Ramsey Russell: I read that passage about all that tons of waste and materials that were coming off these sites. The bad guys are caught, they’re off going to the paddy wagon, the dogs have been moved off of their safety. Now comes the real work, rolling up your sleeve and having to remove all the plants, remove all the waste, remove all the polypipe, that’s not for the faint of heart, that’s a lot of work. It may take hours or days to get that site cleaned. John, after that happens, are there any programs coming in and reseeding those sites to prevent erosion. I’m sitting here thinking several questions about the rehabilitation of that site and how long some of these chemicals in the soil profile and sedimentation and everything else affects things. Do you have any idea of that right there?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, it’s just starting to. One thing is the hard heavy lifting if there’s funding, if there’s resources, if we can do it in the off season through the winter, like right now is a good time between storms that we’ll be bagging trash in muddy conditions and we may not even pull those trash bags and those water lines we pulled and all the grow waste we’ve removed, we may not move those out and hoist them out in helicopter loads for a couple of months, but at least we’ve cleaned the site, we’ve contained the problem and it’s not eroding, causing damage while it’s stored in those good contractor level bags. As far as the receding and stuff goes like that, it’s starting to happen, but at a very small rate right now because it’s getting into a habitat restoration plan and I know, you know from wildlife management and habitat management and your history that when the same thing we would do for developers going into a corridor and taking out habitat and doing a mitigation plan and a habitat restoration plan while they’re diverting a stream to, say, put in a housing development, we have to look at these growth sites kind of in the same light, right. What can we do in there that isn’t going to – we’re going to bring a crew in, we might have to resurface some banks, plant some trees, create some sort of irrigation system and if things like that are going to happen, we have to do it while we’re protecting the creek below us and at the same time have enough infrastructure and money and time and people to go in and monitor that site and not just clean it up and leave, because we’re going to have to monitor the reveg and how it’s going to hold up. And those sites, Ramsey, honestly, are going to be few and far between just because of resource and limited time that everybody’s got on this, especially on funding right now and we’re certainly trying to get a lot more funding. And there’s a bunch of legislatures backing us on this with bills strictly for reclamation, grow site habitat restoration funding. And these ones that are getting addressed are the ones on the most sensitive waterways, like the one I talked about, the tributary to Coyote Creek, the 2004 eye opener, where we ran face to face with those guys for the first time, that’s one that will get that got that attention way back in the day with that agency and I’m going all the way back to 2004, to 2006 because that water was literally feeding a steelhead fishery and it was train wrecked from the headwaters and we didn’t see a viable fishery or anything living in that creek for about 2 or 3 years after that growth site was taken out. That’s how much of an impact that one diversion on that one small creek had. So those are the ones we target with studies, those are the ones we target with the research from our fisheries experts, our wildlife biologists and go, okay, that’s when we should throw the whole estate at. That’s on the San Joaquin River, that’s a big fishery, it’s a big agricultural river or it’s on the Trinity river, the Feather River, whatever the case may be, say using some California examples to go ahead and tackle, but we have a long way to go. We’re just starting to scratch the surface on that and it needs to get done and a lot more gross, for sure.

Ramsey Russell: I’m going to read one more little passage. This just shocked me is you were talking about in 2016, it was a long time ago, illegal marijuana sales in the US was estimated at $46.6 billion black market sales accounting for 87% of all sales. By comparison, US wine sales were 38 billion, corn sales 23 billion, and wheat sales 7.5 billion, this is a big problem that ain’t going away. And we start talking about the environmental cost, the narcotics problem, the public safety, the habitat, the wildlife and there’s not even funding to offset reclamation. That’s what’s so minded. This isn’t just some free hippie love fest here, it’s costing real dollars. But it puts us further behind the curve in terms of wildlife habitat conservation.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: It absolutely does, man. Like we said a little earlier, this isn’t the Cheech and Chong, just a little bit of recreational weed that might be sold to some friends, this is a war on our thin green line, it literally is, there’s no exaggeration in that. It’s a major threat to our public safety. It’s a major threat to the 3 W’s that we all care about. And us, as conservationists, are going to help drive the bus, because no one, I think, is going to scream louder of needing the funding and needing the focus from legislative funds and bill enactments, whatever we’re going to do through programs to make sure reclamation gets handled 100% where needed and most importantly, that we’re going after these cartels with some sort of severity, because we got to look 5 steps ahead, not just at a grow site. We have to look at the fentanyl problem, we have to look at the methamphetamine problem, we have to look at human and sex trafficking, we have to look at all of that and take it on as a task.

Ramsey Russell: It’s all related. You talk about all these problems beyond cannabis and it’s all related. It’s like, Dave Hall, a famous federal agent, wrote a book one time and I can’t remember the title of it was a great book, but he was talking about how a lot of your poachers, they’ve already broke the law, well, they’re also involved with a lot of drugs and illegal bootleg and all kinds of stuff, it’s all related, a criminal is a criminal.

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yes, exactly, that’s well said. A criminal is a criminal. And when it comes to these cartel criminals, they are part of an organization that’s doing 6 or 7 things that we just discussed and probably some more things I’m not even addressing. Internet scamming, dark web stuff, defrauding the elderly. Mariana Van Zeller is doing an amazing series on Hulu and National Geographic right now called Trafficked. And she’s in her 3rd season. In fact, she was just on Joe Rogan’s podcast a few weeks ago and they were talking about the Hidden War and stuff she saw on her one episode when she was in Northern California dealing with these cartels and how crazy it was and how she had no idea about some of the water stealing and how pervasive this was into other areas of cartel criminality. So journalists are starting to look at this thing a little more severely, that it’s not just a weed thing, it’s not just a California thing and I’m glad they are. That’s what it’s going to take. We seriously got to look at it as a priority and I’m glad we’re addressing it now again, because you have a diehard following of waterfowlers and they’re all conservationists and love the outdoors for stuff beyond waterfowl. And they’re the guys and the gals are going to be as outraged as you and I are and make a difference just by helping spread the word. And in SCI, I had an Arizona congressman and his aide stop at the book table, then go to the seminar and they’re like, okay, we’re starting some stuff, heading up the Committee on Natural Resource Land Protection and now looking at it as protection from the cartels while a lot of other legislatures are looking at the fentanyl problem like we just talked about with Senator Dan Crenshaw and the human trafficking thing being addressed at congressional levels, knowing that it’s all one big entity doing all those crimes and they are the prime number one target threat here in America. And I think when we start looking at it that way, that’s how we’re going to win. That’s the only way we’re going to win. And it really starts here at the ground flooring conservation without a doubt.

Championing Conservation

…we can both help spread the conservation message of how good it is from a health and human safety standpoint to everybody, whether they recreate in the outdoors or not. 

Ramsey Russell: John, 30 years ago you got into game warden to leave the world a better place, come to a fork in the road, you took it. What does this now mean to you? This life mission that beyond retirement you’re still championing conservation and fighting these illegal grows? What does it mean to you at a personal level?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: It’s beyond rewarding, it’s beyond a blessing, it’s a little bit frightening. There’s more than a little bit of frustration addressing the situation. And one thing is, just because I retired operationally, I kind of went on steroids and doubled and tripled down after retirement. Because one thing I tell my old teammates when we do revisit and go over things, I said, man, I miss being in the woods with my team, I miss pushing a gun, I miss being in an operation, because you’re taking it on head on, you’re seeing it directly. But honestly, the pen is mightier than the sword. And for all the good work they’re doing and all the teams like them and God bless all of the California game wardens, game wardens across the country, DEA everywhere that are dealing with this on some level with the cartels and not just cannabis, but all those other crimes, fentanyl, trafficking, all the stuff we talked about, we can talk about it now and we can talk about it on a national level. I’m not pinned down to just talking about just the problem in California and I can help spread like you’re doing, we can both help spread the conservation message of how good it is from a health and human safety standpoint to everybody, whether they recreate in the outdoors or not. And it feels good, man. It feels really good to be part of a team and it’s a real big team of thin green liners and the team of thin green liners keeps growing. So it means the world to me and I just feel really lucky to be part of it and I’m not going to stop and I’m going to keep spreading the message and keep fighting the fight as long as I have a voice and I can still talk, I guess or be out showing it to people through video, through pictures, through documentaries, through books, whatever we can do. And like you, I didn’t know what the heck a podcast was 5 years ago, I’m like a podcast? So, like, what is that? We bounce the signals off satellites and we ping an outer life or something? But no, the podcast forum has been fantastic. I had not done a podcast until 3 or 4 months after retirement and I think my first podcast wasn’t until mid 2019 that was just a couple of years ago at this point and I know you had a real similar lack of like what’s a podcast, man? I’m out doing wildlife conservation on the waterfowl front and everywhere else. Now we get to do that and it feels really good and I feel really blessed to be doing it. I’m grateful for you, brother, I’m grateful for what you’re doing, I’m grateful to work with you. And I think together with a lot of the listeners in both of our camps, I think we’re going to make a dent, we got to just keep pushing.

Ramsey Russell: How can people connect with you and how can people find your books?

Lt. John Nores. Jr: Yeah, easiest way, the book is available right now, the second edition is on Amazon just look up Hidden War by John Nores, Hidden War second edition. It’s available in Kindle if you like an eBook, it’s available in print copies. There’s also an audible book that I was fortunate enough to narrate that people are going to right now because we’re running out of the print copies. That’s a way to get a hold of the book and on Instagram. I’m just John Nores and if you follow along there, you get the most current updates of speaking product, events, education, notations, whatever we’re doing on the thin green line about the Hidden War. And you can certainly get a hold of me through an email if anybody has a question related to being a game warden related to this topic. I speak all over the country on this with a pretty dynamic PowerPoint with videos, pictures, not only some of the war stories, but more importantly things that the public just are not seeing out there that I can speak freely on now. And if anyone has a desire to have any type of discussion or to discuss at an event, I’m happy to, I do it a lot and just reach me through my website, and that’ll get you to my email which is trailblazer413@yahoo for a personal message. And can’t tell you how many young men and women reach out a lot on going into a career in law enforcement in general and also going into being a thin green liner as a game warden. And we’re getting a lot of people fired up to still do the job, man. And that feels good, I’m going to keep helping anybody I can. So don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions for those of you listening and appreciate the time today.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much, John. I appreciate your time. And folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.


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Voormi Wool-based technology is engineered to perform. Wool is nature’s miracle fiber. It’s light, wicks moisture, is inherently warm even when wet. It’s comfortable over a wide temperature gradient, naturally anti-microbial, remaining odor free. But Voormi is not your ordinary wool. It’s new breed of proprietary thermal wool takes it next level–it doesn’t itch, is surface-hardened to bead water from shaking duck dogs, and is available in your favorite earth tones and a couple unique concealment patterns. With wool-based solutions at the yarn level, Voormi eliminates the unwordly glow that’s common during low light while wearing synthetics. The high-e hoodie and base layers are personal favorites that I wear worldwide. Voormi’s growing line of innovative of performance products is authenticity with humility. It’s the practical hunting gear that we real duck hunters deserve.

Mojo Outdoors, most recognized name brand decoy number one maker of motion and spinning wing decoys in the world. More than just the best spinning wing decoys on the market, their ever growing product line includes all kinds of cool stuff. Magnetic Pick Stick, Scoot and Shoot Turkey Decoys much, much more. And don’t forget my personal favorite, yes sir, they also make the one – the only – world-famous Spoonzilla. When I pranked Terry Denman in Mexico with a “smiling mallard” nobody ever dreamed it would become the most talked about decoy of the century. I’ve used Mojo decoys worldwide, everywhere I’ve ever duck hunted from Azerbaijan to Argentina. I absolutely never leave home without one. Mojo Outdoors, forever changing the way you hunt ducks.

BOSS Shotshells copper-plated bismuth-tin alloy is the good ol’ days again. Steel shot’s come a long way in the past 30 years, but we’ll never, ever perform like good old fashioned lead. Say goodbye to all that gimmicky high recoil compensation science hype, and hello to superior performance. Know your pattern, take ethical shots, make clean kills. That is the BOSS Way. The good old days are now.

Tom Beckbe The Tom Beckbe lifestyle is timeless, harkening an American era that hunting gear lasted generations. Classic design and rugged materials withstand the elements. The Tensas Jacket is like the one my grandfather wore. Like the one I still wear. Because high-quality Tom Beckbe gear lasts. Forever. For the hunt.

Flashback Decoy by Duck Creek Decoy Works. It almost pains me to tell y’all about Duck Creek Decoy Work’s new Flashback Decoy because in  the words of Flashback Decoy inventor Tyler Baskfield, duck hunting gear really is “an arms race.” At my Mississippi camp, his flashback decoy has been a top-secret weapon among my personal bag of tricks. It behaves exactly like a feeding mallard, making slick-as-glass water roil to life. And now that my secret’s out I’ll tell y’all something else: I’ve got 3 of them.

Ducks Unlimited takes a continental, landscape approach to wetland conservation. Since 1937, DU has conserved almost 15 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America. While DU works in all 50 states, the organization focuses its efforts and resources on the habitats most beneficial to waterfowl.

It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks