West Virginia’s “Mountain Monsters”
Growing up in West Virginia, I looked for adventure in the deep woods where sunlight filtered through green leaves to the ground below. In the green light I saw a movement behind a tree and I convinced myself I knew what hid in the shadows of the forest.
Summer nights we sat by a crackling fire alongside the creek waiting for a fish to take our bait. Then suddenly a loud splash followed by a strange sound moved over the darkened water. We told ourselves it was a fish or some woodland creature hidden in the night, to assure ourselves we were safe.
Another time while hunting raccoons in the dense dark woods, we waited for the dogs to pick up the scent of their prey. A tree’s branch rustled overhead and a heavy musk smell filled the night air; again we told ourselves we knew what waited beyond our lights in the darkness. Afraid of the deep woods or dark, no, but we sometimes wondered what hid in the deep woods of the western Appalachian Mountains.
Perhaps Hamlet said it best, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy.”
I had the genuine pleasure recently to sit down with a man who hunts for those hidden things Hamlet spoke of beyond the light. John Tice, better known as Trapper, the star of the popular reality show, “Mountain Monsters” that airs on the Destination America cable channel, was kind enough to make time for an interview in his busy daily schedule. He is the leader of a team of men that hunts legendary creatures mostly in the mountains of West Virginia. Trapper is no stranger to hunting and fishing in the state. He grew up near Sugar Creek in Pleasants County. His early education took place in a one-room school with a pot belly stove for heat. He laughed as he told me, he moved to another one room school for sixth grade. “That school had a much better outhouse,” he recalled. While getting his book learning he also taught himself the ways of the woods. His skills in hunting were more for necessity than sport back in those days. A supper of fried rabbit and squirrel gravy was not found on store shelves, but in the woods near his home.
Trapper joined the Air Force and found himself going to Texas for a year’s electronic training before going to Vietnam. Part of his training was in crypto communications. Although he was in the Air Force, he was assigned to Headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division. He was then assigned to the 3rd Brigade. Trapper’s electronic training and crypto skills led to him to be assigned as a forward controller for aircraft and to sometimes call in artillery fire. He laughed as he said, “366 days in Vietnam, I caught a leap year.”
After returning from south East Asia, Trapper got work as a Boiler Maker out of Local 667 in Charleston, W.Va.-A job he worked for 32 years. His first job was in 1970 helping in the construction of the Mitchell power plant in Marshall County.
In talking with Trapper, you quickly realize his love for the outdoors and the good people of West Virginia. This emotional bond gives him an understanding of the creatures that live among the wooded forest. Anyone who has spent time in the woods knows that on occasions you experience something you may not be able to explain. With a hunger to understand what may live in the woods, he, along with Jeff Headlee and Willy McQuillian, founded the web site, Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings, AIMS.
Jeff is known as the researcher on the show. He takes measurements and works with the infrared cameras at night in the woods. His understanding of the creatures the team hunts comes from extensive research on the internet. Many of the creatures the team investigates come from eyewitness sightings and reports. Background on the different monsters often comes from centuries of folklore handed down over history.
The team of hunters also includes Willy McQuillain. His skills for building traps to capture the creatures come from a strong knowledge of traps used by Native Americans. Willy, along with Wild Bill Neff who is an expert tracker, constructs the devices used to trap monsters without injuring them. Both of these men are skilled in climbing and rigging-skills used during the filming of the show. In one episode, the two men repelled over a steep rock cliff in snow and freezing weather as part of the hunt.
The team is rounded out by Joseph “Huckleberry” Lott who provides security for the team and Jake “Buck” Lowe. Now, if you have watched the show you know Buck is known as the “Rookie” on the team. But, he is the go to guy when something unpleasant needs to be done. Enter a 500-pound trap and spring the trigger so the cage will fall around him. Or the time he ventured into freezing water to bait a trap. Throughout it all Buck keeps a smile and good humor about the whole thing.
The first season’s six episodes were filmed with the AIMS team. The program was such a success, Destination America and American Chainsaws Entertainment ordered 14 episodes for the second season. Filming began in September last year and the final episode was completed in early January in -15 degree temperatures. The cast and crew had very few days off during a season that typically consisted of 12-hour work days. A good deal of the filming is at night in freezing temperatures with snow and rain. During filming of the Bear Beast, which airs this Friday night at 10 p.m., the team not only contends with the beast, but a sudden rain-swollen stream at night puts the whole team in danger during there investigation in Raleigh County.
Trapper explained that the West Virginia Film Commission is extremely helpful in the overall process to film the program. Without the commission’s help the filming would be almost impossible. The show has also been taped in Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina.
Mountain Monsters has a following of nearly three quarters of million viewers who faithfully watch to see what new creatures and adventures Trapper and his team will encounter on their next outing. The Mountain Monsters team is based in St. Marys, W.Va.
The question most of you reading this will ask yourself, “Is this the truth about Mountain Monsters hiding in the woods or just good entertainment?” Well, for me it is the truth with a little bit of folklore sprinkled in and a touch of fantasy. Where does one end and the other begin? That is for each of you reading this to decide after watching the show. Legendary creatures have been part of our nation’s history and folklore long before civilization came to the mountains. The AIMS team has dedicated themselves to find the truth that hides in the night.
We tell ourselves there is a logical explanation for all things. Yet, if we venture into the dark and something makes a sound, then scurries away, the hair on our necks stands up while goose bumps rise on our arms. Logic tells us we understand the world around us and there are no monsters in the darkness, yet we jump when something frightens us defying that logic. Trapper and his team are out there in the hills of West Virginia looking for those things we tell ourselves don’t exist. I like to think they are going to find the answers of long ago legends hiding in the mountains of West Virginia. I’ll bet even the most skeptical of us would pay good money to see a Wampus Beast or Hogzilla as we look Through the Lens.