Andy Sawyer wasn’t always a big tree hunter. But when his son Noah rekindled his childhood love of climbing trees, the seed of tree hunting was sown. Andy and Noah began working for the Michigan Big Tree program five years ago, turning their fun tree-hunting trips into official excursions, and the rest, as they say, is big tree history. In addition to a day job as an IT contractor, Andy is now State Coordinator for the Michigan Big Tree Program.

Andy has discovered big trees near and far, even finding a couple National Champions just a few blocks away from home. Using archives left by his predecessors Paul Thompson and Elwood “Woody” Ehrle, Andy finds new areas to explore for remarkable trees. Other leads come from the public, who – through frequent presentations on the Michigan Big Tree program – know who to call when they come across a tree that just might be big enough to be crowned champion. Michigan’s other tree hunters are also a father-and-son team: Ted and Tedd Reuschel, from Lansing.

Andy’s favorite method of tree hunting uses modern technology. From satellite images available on the web, he identifies large trees or stands in remote areas. Then he and Noah visit the location using GPS coordinates that can guide them far into the wilderness. And we mean far. A recent 4-day trip took them 1,500 miles by road, then 34 miles of hiking to find dozens of large Eastern white pines and hemlocks. Their favorite part of big tree hunting comes when they cross from established roads into bushwhacking wilderness, and the thrill of discovery in finally seeing in person the GPS waypoints that they have so carefully mapped.

For the current Register, Andy and Noah nominated 16 champion or co-champion trees, including the Siberian elm (381 points), northern white cedar (340 points), and co-champion common hoptree (45 points). The largest of all their champions is the National Champion weeping willow, with a total of 407 points.

When asked about his favorite champion, though, Andy insists that the best trees are those still undiscovered. “The belief that there are more champions waiting to be discovered is what drives us as tree hunters.”

Read more about Andy and the Michigan Big Tree Program at http://www.michbotclub.org/bt