The untold truth of Ax Men

When the History Channel decided to base a series around people cutting down trees, none of us could have imagined the colorful characters they'd introduce to the world. The excitement doesn't end when the Ax Men cameras stop rolling, either. Here are just a few of the things the show's producers didn't catch on film. 

S&S Aqua Logging ticked off the government

Back in 2009, S&S Aqua Logging got into some hot water with the Department of Natural Resources for illegally salvaging wood. DNR officers actually became suspicious of S&S after seeing them on an episode of Ax Men (remember, kids: committing a crime on television is never a good idea.) As sunken logs become an integral part of the river bed, removing them can cause a lot of damage to a river's ecosystem; to stave off further harm, DNR officials seized over two dozen logs from S&S. Unfortunately for company owner James Frank Smith, this wasn't the end of his troubles.

James Frank Smith was accused of fraud

In addition to stealing wood, Jimmy Smith allegedly bilked more than $50,000 in fraudulent disability benefits. During the time Smith salvaged the timber in question, he was also collecting monthly checks and other medical benefits for two claims he filed with the Department of Labor and Industries, one from 1993 and another from 1996. According to a surgeon, Smith had complained of "Impairments" in his "shoulders, neck, back, or any other portions of the extremities"—in other words, things that would prevent him from cutting and moving large pieces of wood, as he was seen doing on television.

Bart Colantuono died

Logging is dangerous work, and some of Ax Men's stars have, sadly, lost their lives on the job. For instance, helicopter logger Bart Colantuono, who loved to compete against himself at his job, died in 2013. While attempting to airlift some lumber in Oregon, Colantuono's copter crashed; according to witnesses, a rotor came off the chopper and flipped it upside down. The incident prompted a lengthy investigation.

Mike Pihl was arrested

As with any life-threatening job, logging tends to attract unusual personalities. Such is the case with Mike Pihl, owner of the creatively named Mike Pihl Logging. In 2009, Pihl got into an alcohol-induced fender bender and flipped his Jeep, injuring three children—all of whom were his kids. One child was pinned under the roll bar, but none suffered life-threatening injuries. Since the accident occurred on private property, the police filed no DUI charges, but they did charge Pihl with felony assault. Hopefully, that was the wake-up call he needed.

Katelyn Sims is a cystic fibrosis advocate

While some loggers have been accused of cashing in on injuries they don't have, Katelyn Sims is the exact opposite. The young logger has battled cystic fibrosis, a terminal illness, since she was four, but she doesn't let that stop her from felling and moving trees, making some of her male counterparts look like wimps in the process. To fight the disease's attacks on her lungs, kidneys, pancreas and other organs, Sims undergoes regular treatments, allowing her to continue working, as keeping active gives her a better chance of survival. Sims also uses her fame to help spread CF awareness. This is one tough lady.

Roger Gunter was a poacher

Master diver Roger Gunter, who works for Chapman Logging, has been caught hunting without a license. Before he gained fame through Ax Men, Gunter was already well-known as a monkey fisher in Florida. (For the uninitiated, "monkey fishing" refers to fishing using electricity—not fishing for actual monkeys, as some Slate writers would have you believe.) During the "good old days," as Gunter calls them, he was only caught six times, which isn't bad over a 30-to-40 year span. Since then, he has apparently mended his ways.

Some loggers don't like the show

Like most reality shows, Ax Men has to deal with accusations of inauthenticity—including some from people who work within the logging industry. According to some real-life loggers, Ax Men presents an overly dramatic picture that's sadly pretty far from the truth. "It's a crock," logging veteran Archie Dass told The Oregonian. "They wouldn't last 15 minutes in the woods with me."

Jay Browning sees himself as an inspiration

Of course, along with the accusations of falsehood have come some poor reviews. And these haven't gone unnoticed by the cast. In fact, Ax Men OG and J.M. Browning Logging owner Jay Browning has taken issue with some of the criticism, even personally responding in one case. In a letter to one Jake Ten Pas, Browning defended Ax Men, crediting the show with raising logging awareness. According to him, fans have offered to move to Oregon and work for him. Sounds like starting a cult is easier than some might think.

Judy Peres was a reporter

Not all loggers are tough, beer-drinking hooligans. Some are quite cultured, like Ax Men veteran Judy Peres. Peres, who co-owns Wisconsin Woodchuck with David Hozza, once worked as a reporter and later as an editor for the Chicago Tribune. During her 28 years with the paper, she endured ailments such as muscle cramps and high blood pressure, all of which subsided when she went into the wood reclamation business. Of the career change, Peres' daughter Dana said, "The whole thing is crazy … But my mom is ridiculously capable."

Shelby Stanga has been arrested

In October 2014, Shelby "Swamp Man" Stanga was picked up by the police for cutting down his neighbor's tree. While that might not sound like a big deal, remember, it does count as destruction of private property, vandalism, or both. There's no word on whether he was under the influence during the incident, as the cutting took place three years before the arrest. Apparently, trees have some serious laws protecting them down in the bayou.