Dealing Yourself Out of the Gene Pool

The other day I came upon a tree felling situation that was truly deserving of Darwin recognition

By Rob Breeding

Let me preface this by saying I’m no expert when it comes to felling trees.

My expertise runs more along the lines of behavior in Darwin Award territory. The other day I came upon a tree felling situation that was truly deserving of Darwin recognition.

For the uninitiated, the Darwin Awards honor Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution. The awards go to those who improve our collective gene pool by removing their DNA from it. To earn a Darwin, you need to engage in stupid behavior that ends in your death, or leaves you permanently unable to reproduce.

The scene I stumbled upon might have resulted in either.

To be fair, this scene played out on the Great Plains, better known for tree planting than logging. Tree felling just isn’t part of life training on the prairie the way it is in the Rocky Mountains.

A team of three were working to fell a recently deceased ornamental tree. It wasn’t too big, maybe 30 feet at the crown with a trunk about 15 inches in diameter — not your typical widowmaker, but large enough to warrant respect.

The fellers had already notched the tree in the direction they intended it to fall. Good so far. But when I happened upon them as I walked back to my office after lunch, I saw they had started their back cut below the horizontal cut in their notch.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I knew this was bad.

As the feller sawed, the tree began leaning slightly in the wrong direction. Instead of opening up as the tree leaned in the direction of the notch, the back cut was closing, binding the saw.

I suppose the proper approach would be to start over before the back cut reached too deep, placing the saw above the horizontal cut and get the weight of the tree working in their favor. The team took a far more dangerous tack, however. As the feller continued his misplaced back cut, first one, then both his assistants stood over the spinning cutting chain, pushing the trunk toward the notch.

The list of things that could have gone wrong were considerable, starting with having three workers crowded around the tree, one that — considering their “technique” — had a reasonable chance of falling in any direction.

And if one of the trunk pushers lost their grip on the tree, or their balance, momentum would have carried them directly to the cutting chain.

More ominously, the back cut was just a tad below waist high. If that saw kicked back, well, let’s just say the bar was about the right height to remove those male tree pushers from the class of humans able to reproduce.

The less said about that the better.

Fortunately, the chainsaw gang managed to fell the tree without incident, disqualifying them from Darwin consideration.

As fall nears, it’s a good time to remember that hunting includes many activities that could earn any of us an ignominious Darwin nod. Chainsaws are a staple around hunt camps, so it’s a good time to bone up on safety. Fortunately, modern chainsaws are far tamer than the beasts fellers wielded back in logging’s heyday. Still, when cutting firewood or clearing fallen trees from forest roads, caution is prudent.

And there’s the small matter of firearms, all of which are easily capable of removing you or a buddy from the gene pool.

One 2019 Darwin Awards winner wasn’t a hunter, but was engaged in activity that is almost identical, other than it being illegal. This “winner” was an endangered rhinoceros poacher searching for horns who instead stumbled upon an elephant. The poacher was trampled to death, then eaten by lions.

A fitting end no doubt, but one I’d like non-poachers to avoid.

Rob Breeding is the editor of

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