Stealing the Wild

Branch Underline



By Beth Hodder  -  Cover Illustrations and Map Illustrations by Guy Zoellner

Jessie Scott, 12, hopes to enjoy time with new friends, Will and Allie at Jessie's home in the remote Schafer Meadows Ranger Station within the Great Bear Wilderness. This sequel to the award-winning The Ghost of Schafer Meadows finds the three friends and Jessie's dog, Oriole, unwittingly hunting for whoever is poaching wildlife in the wilderness.

People come and go - four backpackers, a lone horseman, and a lost single backpacker. Suspicion surrounds each of them as the three young friends and Oriole get pulled deeper into the mystery.


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   You’d think something as simple as inviting a couple of friends to visit would be no problem, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me. What I hoped would be a fun time with two new friends turned into a nearly disastrous mystery. And while my friends were all excited about the blood and gore, I was afraid they’d have to go home, my biggest fear. I was a wreck.
   Here’s how it all began.
   A few weeks ago after my family moved from New Mexico to Montana, I met Will and Allie, two really cool kids. They’ve known each other since they were five.
   Will’s mom died when he was eight. He lives with his dad, Don, and Casey, their trained law enforcement dog. They spend their summers at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station, part of the Flathead National Forest in Montana, where Don works as a law enforcement officer.
   Allie’s parents are friends with Don. They often go camping at Spotted Bear. I met Will and Allie on one of those camping trips, and although we didn’t get to spend much time together then, we hit it off right away.
   Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I live at Schafer Meadows, a U.S. Forest Service ranger station deep in the heart of Montana’s Great Bear Wilderness. The only other kid at Schafer is my brother Jed, who’s 16 and normally doesn’t like hanging around with his kid sister. The wilderness has no roads, just trails and a small grassy airstrip, so people get to Schafer Meadows by horseback, hiking, or plane. We don’t see many kids, and there aren’t telephones or access to cell phones or the Internet. It’s hard for me to meet other 12-year-olds or keep in contact with them when I do.
   So when my mom and dad asked me if I wanted Will and Allie to come visit for a couple of weeks, I was psyched!
   The day after they arrived, Will and Allie joined me for a summer horseback ride. We were headed to Scott Lake near Schafer Meadows to go fishing. A cloudless sky and a pleasant breeze warmed me. And my dog, Oriole, and her good buddy Casey were getting great exercise running up and down the trail. What could possibly go wrong?
   Lost in happy thoughts, I smiled as I looked up the trail at the dogs. Then the smile disappeared. I pulled back on Red’s reins and used my hand as a visor to shade the sun. "Hey! What’s up with you dogs?"
   Oriole stopped and stared up at me. The sun backlit her sleek yellow coat and her black ear, eye, and chest for which she got her name. Casey’s black Lab fur glistened. Both dogs held tightly to something that looked like a man’s tan leather jacket. They growled playfully in a tug o’ war, shaking their heads from side-to-side. Each tried to get the other to let go of their prize. When Casey finally gave in, Oriole dragged the object up the trail, her head high. The thing was large and cumbersome, and she kept tripping on it. When at last she stopped and dropped it, both dogs stood over the trophy, sniffing it intently.
   Will slid down from Sky, his black horse with a white star on its forehead. "Someone’s not going to be happy when they find their jacket torn to ribbons by you two goons. We’d better see if we can rescue it." Allie and I jumped off our horses to join him. The three of us stared when we reached the dogs. Allie bent over to pick up the jacket but jerked back her hand as if struck by a snake.
   "Oh, gross, Jessie! That’s not a jacket. What is it?"
   She gagged like she might throw up.
   I leaned closer. "Looks like a deer hide. Eeewww. And it reeks."
   I grabbed a stick and tried to lift it, but it was too heavy. "Poor thing," I said. "Wonder what happened to the rest of it?"
   Casey and Oriole wandered farther up the trail and stopped to sniff something else. We tied our horses to trees and walked up to see what they’d found. Allie got there first and looked away, her face white.
   "It’s a deer’s head. Looks like a doe. And I think there’s a skeleton farther up the trail."
   Will’s brown eyes looked beyond to where the bones lay. "It’s hard to tell from here but animals may have eaten away the meat. Looks like there’s hardly anything left."The deer’s head lay on its side at the edge of the trail. Its forehead leaned against a large rock. I’ve always thought of deer as gentle creatures, especially the females-the does. It was hard to look into its eye, which stared dully at nothing.
   I shuddered with horror. "Hey, you guys, look at this. Somebody cut the head off."
   Will checked out the deer’s head, then hurried to the skeleton and knelt down. "And no animal gnawed on this. Somebody cut the meat from the bones."
   Will searched the ground off the trail about 15 feet. "This is creepy! They sawed off the legs, too." Four legs with small hooves lay under a bush. Will shook his head. "Whoever killed this deer probably didn’t think it would be found. Pretty stupid, though, because it probably smells like a feast to bears or wolves. Something must’ve dragged it out of the woods and onto the trail."
   I hurried back to the deer hide and looked closer. Small bits of meat hung on parts of the hide. Someone had hacked it off the body. "It’s not hunting season. This deer was poached."
   "What does that mean?" Allie asked. She pushed her round glasses up on her nose and tightened the clip on her long black hair.
   "It means they took this deer illegally. You can’t just kill animals anytime or anywhere you want. You gotta have a license. And you can only hunt in special seasons."
   Will grinned. "Man! This is cool! We haven’t even been here a day and already we’ve got a mystery to solve. Wouldn’t it be great to find the poacher? Forget fishing. Let’s call our dads on the Forest Service radio, Jessie. They can meet us here."
   As a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer, Will’s dad works a lot in the Great Bear Wilderness. My dad is the wilderness ranger at the Schafer Meadows Ranger Station, so they sometimes work closely together on law enforcement cases.
   "Yeah. You’re right, Will. We should call our dads." I ran back to Red and grabbed the Forest Service handheld radio.
   "Wait a minute," Allie said. "What about the deer? Shouldn’t we move it off the trail? What if someone comes by?"
   "No," Will said. "Leave it where it is. It’s evidence. We don’t want to mess with the crime scene. My dad’ll know what to do."
   I called my dad on the radio and asked him to get Don. We sat along the trail and waited-and waited and waited. The dogs raced down the trail, chased each other back to us, and raced down the trail again. When we got bored we threw sticks for the dogs. Although my friends were excited, my shoulders drooped. I hoped Will and Allie would be allowed to stay and worried that they wouldn’t. Sometimes adults get strange ideas, especially when law enforcement is involved. You just never know what they’re thinking.


"I'm pleased to see a book that sparks kids' interest to get out of the house, away from the screens, and out into the wild places that are so incredible and so fragile...The wildlife law enforcement aspects of the book are right on the mark. Most wildlife crimes are not witnessed by anyone other than other wildlife, who cannot tell their story... Jessie has the makings of a good future game warden."
---Wendy Kamm, Game Warden, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks

"...it's authentic, capturing the edge-of-the-wilderness frontier life that comes down from the 19th century to today: wild lands, rugged adventure right out the front door, news traveling swiftly by word of mouth, never knowing what character is going to walk into camp, open-hearted hospitality...it's a heckuva good mystery tale which had me sitting on the edge of my log."
---Chris Brown, Director, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, USDA Forest Service


"Beth Hodder’s Stealing the Wild (Grzzly Ridge Publishing) has all the ingredients of a good coming-of-age story–excitement, outdoor adventure, and a worthwhile lesson in the devastating act of poaching.

Hodder’s real-life wilderness experience with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 25 years gives the story authenticity. She presents believable characters in this environment, while i
mparting the message that our wilderness is fragile. Further, Hodder handles the world-wide problem of poaching with finesse and without preaching, emphasizing the importance of putting a stop to this illegal trend.

Stealing the Wild is an exciting read, a story that both kids and adults will appreciate."
---Mary Trimble, 2010 Spur Award Finalist


"A highly recommended read."
---Children's Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review

"The authentic word pictures of the rugged land will capture wildlife enthusiasts as the three kids pursue one adventure after another."
---JoAn Martin, The Baytown (Texas) Sun




2011 WILLA Literary Finalist Award for Children's/Young

2011 WILLA Literary Finalist Award for Children's/Young
Adult Fiction and Nonfiction


2011 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards Silver Medal for

2011 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards Silver Medal for
Pre-Teen Fiction - Mysteries


2011 Purple Dragonfly Awards First Place for Children's

2011 Purple Dragonfly Awards First Place for Children's
Chapter Books



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