Confessions of a big-tree Hunter

Oak Tree in Charleston, SC

My name is Hunter Wilcox, I am 23 years old and I am a self-proclaimed big-tree hunter. Nope, there is no double meaning in that but, in a sense, I wish there were.  

Ever since I found out about the National Big Tree Registry last spring, my life has never been the same. I became obsessed with the idea of finding fame and fortune in our unexplored forests. So, in May of 2020 I quit my job as a self-employed day trader and began a cross-country journey looking for trees that stand above all others. My mission was simple – find, measure, and catalogue the tallest, girthiest and leafiest trees across the country and upload them to an app called Big Trees Near Me. Using GPS technology, this app will allow users to find these documented rare specimens and even upload their own for others to enjoy (more about this app in upcoming blog posts).

What is the National Big Tree Registry and what is a big-tree hunter?

The National Big Tree Registry was created in 1940 by American Forests as a competition to catalogue the largest trees in the United States. This spawned the first wave of big-tree hunters as thousands searched our nation’s forests looking for uncharted beasts of all species. Eventually, it evolved into a detailed list with entrants from all 50 states. Currently accessible on American Forests’ website, the list is separated by species (genus) and is scored on a point system of height, radius, and canopy size. Many states have their own big tree registries which funnel into the national list if deserving of that title. Big-tree hunting is a small part of a much larger conservation effort to preserve and regrow our nation’s forests.

Why become a big-tree hunter?

Some people have never seen a tree before (don’t quote me on this) while others choose to abandon the comforts of human society and wrestle polar bears in Alaska. I think I fall somewhere in the middle but closer to the first guy. At the end of the day, being a big-tree hunter is all about immersing one’s self in nature. Whether or not you find that champion tree, at the very least, you reap the benefits of a walk in the woods. Here are a few benefits of walking in the woods that you wont hear on Dr. Phil:

  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure

Many champion trees require hours if not days of travel through the wilderness to locate, i.e. the white pines in the Boundary Waters (MN) or the western red cedars in the Tongass (AK). The journey is worth the reward; knowing that before you stands a tree older than America or taller than a skyscraper is an immeasurable experience. The best part about this hobby is that it is free! Enjoying nature is free, so go put down the Fortnite sticks, lace up your hiking boots and get after it.

California Redwood

Where do I start if I want to become a big-tree hunter?

The perfect starting point in your quest to land the big one is to choose a specific species of tree. This will lead you to certain regions of the country where climate dictates what grows and what doesn’t. As a rule of thumb, coniferous trees (trees with needles) are found in cold temperate areas, while deciduous trees (trees with leaves) are found most everywhere else. This didn’t narrow down your search in the slightest, however, I am in the midst of creating a detailed interactive map of America’s native trees and where to find them.

You very well may find a champion tree in Timmy’s backyard that survived the 300 years of urbanization, wildfires, disease, and logging, but this is unlikely. Most of the time, the ancient trees will be found in protected areas such as state and national forests or even on old estates (Mount Vernon still boasts trees that were planted by George Washington himself!).

Once I’ve found the tree, how do I measure it?

Minnesota’s DNR page has a much better explanation than I do. Click here for directions on how to properly measure a tree.

Thanks for making it this far in the post! For those still reading, I challenge you to go venture off into the wilderness, whether it be the patch of woods in your backyard, or one of the 154 National Forests spread across the country (state parks are a great place to look as well). What do you have to lose? That Nature Valley Bar isn’t going to crumble in your hand by itself, go out there and find that champion tree!

18 thoughts on “Confessions of a big-tree Hunter

  1. sounds great but then some big lumberjack might use those apps to waste those trees … so I will continue to enjoy nature and not document my finds 🙂

    Nice to meet you and welcome to WP, impressive that you are enjoying nature!


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