Fall hunting season has begun in Green Lake, and for the next thirty days the forest will play host to that classic life-death struggle between man, beast and beer cooler. While the serious game hunters yearn for nature’s challenge (and ill-prepared weekend warriors stick with the beer cooler), this year’s group of hunters has one very unusual member.
He’s Shipley Jones, a self-described “New Age Survivalist” who would stand out in any crowd of hunters even without his trademark polka-dot hunting pants. Shipley’s technique is unorthodox, his charisma is boundless and, as I found out when Shipley invited me along on his most recent trip into the wild, his travels redefine the word “adventure.”
We set out at 2 am on a Sunday morning, well ahead of the other hunters, and set up camp on the eastern outskirts of Broken Spirit State Park, about twenty miles northeast of downtown Green Lake. Shipley’s tent is a scale model of the Great Pyramid of Giza, complete with hidden passages and false entrances; he says that the tent is “good luck” even though it takes three hours to set up, compared to ten minutes for a regular tent.
By five we’re dressed and ready to hit the trail. Shipley’s a pacifist who sometimes runs from zoo animals and cries when he sees roadkill; as such he carries no weapons. This frees us from the heavy supply packs most hunters use in the wild, but it seems to defeat the purpose of hunting. Not so, says Shipley. “Shooting is for hunters with no confidence,” he explains. “A true outdoorsman, someone truly at one with nature can simply persuade the animals to come along with him.” He tests this theory only an hour later, when a squirrel runs by the tent. “Hello there, good squirrel!” he bellows into the morning air. “I wish you no harm, I am a mere hunter who wishes to invite you to breakfast with us.” The squirrel looks around and runs off to climb a nearby tree. Shipley’s face is aghast; apparently he thinks the squirrel is suicidal. He hands me his cell phone, has me dial his psychologist’s number, and then tries hoisting the phone up the tree with a makeshift rope pulley. The squirrel runs off again, and it strikes me that the squirrel’s leaping to his death is probably the only way Shipley and I are going to catch him.
10 am rolls around as we take a break for tea. Shipley says he’s spotted a rabbit hole just down the hill from camp, and that he’s brought a special rabbit trap along. The “trap” is actually a four-color posterboard headlined with the words, “Are You Truly Satisfied With Your Life?” “Worked on it all last week,” Shipley adds with a grin. After twenty minutes I finally persuade him to at least put some carrots next to the sign as a backup plan, but as Shipley’s allergic to most vegetables we have to settle for a few drops of tomato juice. Then we wait in the Great Pyramid tent.
Four hours later we have some bad news and some worse news. No rabbits have dropped by to admire Shipley’s sign, and the only visitor we have is an adult male goat, who upends, tramples and begins to eat the tent before we realize what’s happening. “Great Scott!” Shipley exclaims. “What do we do?”
“You’re the hunter!” I shout back. “You tell me!”
Shipley crawls through one of the tent’s new holes and tries to reason with the goat, explaining how rare the tent is and how unwelcome the goat is making him feel. The goat pauses and turns toward Shipley, who signals to me. We both grab the goat, but unfortunately he grabs back and we somehow get hoisted onto his back. The goat panics and starts running at full speed down the trail, with Shipley and me hanging upside down on his back. Shipley eventually rights himself in time to get a low-hanging tree branch in the face, knocking him to the ground, but I’m still on board, and starting to lose my grip.
Luckily, the goat stops out of sheer exhaustion, and lies down on a patch of grass. I collapse a few feet away, trying to catch my breath and avoid sharing my breakfast with the ground. Minutes, maybe hours, go by. Then I hear a voice: “Good show there!” Shipley’s spotted the goat, who’s now asleep. He has a huge grin on his face- he’s finally caught something. We restrain the goat (“but not too tightly,” Shipley says) and slowly drag him back to Shipley’s van.
We stop for a celebratory dinner as night falls. My head’s still spinning a bit from the unscheduled solo goat race, and I ask Shipley if he might be better off birdwatching or snorkeling or something. He laughs. “Birders and snorkelers are fine and well,” he says, “but I seek the challenge, the thrill of battle one only gets as a hunter.”
“But you don’t really hunt anything,” I say.
“Well, we did catch that goat,” he replies.
“What will you do with him?” I ask. Shipley stops; he hasn’t thought this far ahead. He can’t mount the goat’s head, since it’s still alive, but he doesn’t want to keep a wild animal on his estate either.
Suddenly his eyes light up. “My camera!” he says, unpacking the Polaroid he uses to survey the forest. “We’ll take his picture and let him go, back into nature!”
“But we’re in downtown Green Lake,” I say. “The forest’s miles from here.”
“Goats are fine navigators,” Shipley replies. “Did you hear this one bleating right before our highway exit came up?”
Shipley pays for our dinner and we head to the van. I slowly open the back gate, and he lures the goat out of the van. The goat turns his head toward us just as Shipley snaps the photo. The goat is startled by the flash and starts running again, this time straight into the restaurant. Shipley looks horrified as we hear various screams and crashing noises coming from the restaurant. “Well,” he says, racing to get in the van and start the engine as fast as he can, “need a ride home?”