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Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is the protagonist of a series of novels by C.W. Box, starting with Open Season in 2001. Over that time, he’s taken on environmental terrorists, rogue federal land managers, animal mutilators, crazed cowboy hitmen, corrupt bureaucrats, homicidal animal rights advocates, and violent dysfunctional families. Joe has matured, lost some of his innocence and naïveté, and committed acts that continue to haunt him. But through it all, he has remained true to himself and his family. And even when he knows that pursuing justice will bring the community, state, and his superiors down on his head, well… he just can’t help it.

The novels in the series are:

  1. Open Season (2001)
  2. Savage Run (2002)
  3. Winterkill (2003)
  4. Trophy Hunt (2004)
  5. Out of Range (2005)
  6. In Plain Sight (2006)
  7. Free Fire (2007)
  8. Blood Trail (2008)
  9. Below Zero (2009)
  10. Nowhere to Run (2010)
  11. Cold Wind (2011)
  12. Force of Nature (2012)
  13. Breaking Point (2013)
  14. Stone Cold (2013)
  15. Endangered (2015)
  16. Off The Grid (2016)
  17. Vicious Circle (2017)
  18. The Disappeared (2018)
  19. Wolf Pack (2019)
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Tropes used in the novels include:

  • Aliens Steal Cattle: This is one the theories put forward to explain the animal mutilations in Trophy Hunt. Joe does not buy this theory for a moment.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Wyatt, the youngest of the Scarlett brothers in In Plain Sight, is generally regarded as 'odd' and 'not quite right' without any specific diagnosis being offered.
  • Amoral Attorney: The completely consciousless Clay McCann in Free Fire. He concocts a scheme that will allow him to murder four people who stand in the way of his latest money-making scheme and never stand trial for it. He later tells one of their friends that he shouldn't be upset at him as their murders were nothing personal, but just business.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: Klamath Moore's anti-hunting group in Blood Trail, which implicitly advocates the murder of hunters.
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  • Apparently Unrelated Murders: In Blood Trail, it looks as if there is a Serial Killer targeting hunters. However, Joe eventually discovers that there is a connection between the victims aside from hunting. They were all members of a specific hunting party 12 years ago, and the murders all connect to an event that occurred on that trip.
  • Ate His Gun: Out of Range opens with the game warden of Jackson Hole eating his gun. Joe is forced to temporarily take over his district and gets caught up in the mystery of why he committed suicide.
  • Attack Drone: In Breaking Point, EPA director Juan Julio Batista attempts to take out Butch Roberson by calling in a military drone strike on him. The Hellfire missiles deployed wind up igniting a massive wildfire.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Happens in Below Zero. A wounded April is lying next to a wrecked car when the trio of hitman brothers who are chasing Robert show up. When she says she doesn't know where Robert has gone, one of the three lifts his gun and aims it at her. She shuts her eyes and hears a gunshot. When she realises she is not dead, she opens her eyes in time to see the hitman fall over with a hole in his head, having been shot by Nate who has just arrived.
  • Based on a True Story: The "Miller's weasel" colony in Open Season is an obvious nod to the rediscovery of black-footed ferrets in western Wyoming in the 1980s. Fortunately, the real-world equivalent hasn't yet been the target of an extermination campaign by corrupt officials and businessmen.
  • Bears Are Bad News: A subplot in Trophy Hunt concerns a rogue grizzly that has wandered far out of its usual range and is wreaking havoc in Joe's bailiwick. Joe is rightful very worried about the idea of having to track the bear down and confront it.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: In Plain Sight centres around the Scarlett family: one of the oldest and most powerful families in the Twelve Sleeps Valley. The matriarch of the family regards herself as the rightful ruler of the whole county and deliberately plays her sons of against one another. When Sheridan has dinner with the family, she suddenly understands the meaning of the term 'Gothic' for the first time.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: In Free Fire, Nate shoots a rifle out of the hands of a crazed survivalist. The survivalist loses several fingers in the process.
  • Born Unlucky: Dave Farkus who has an uncanny ability to end up in the middle dangerous situations, usually through no fault of his own. In Breaking Point, Joe tells Farkus that he is the only man he knows who would almost get killed by a falling deer.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Open Season, Joe's former mentor turns out to be in bed with a Corrupt Corporate Executive and conspires to wipe a population of an endangered species. This escalates to murder, and he even attempts to kill Joe's wife Marybeth.
  • Bring the Anchor Along: In Winterkill, Joe gets handcuffed to the wheel of his truck by an escaping prisoner. Without his handcuff keys, Joe undoes the steering wheel and pursues his prisoner with the steering wheel handcuffed to his wrist.
  • Bullet Catch: In Force of Nature, Nate is caught in a desperate gunfight with members of a black ops team when his Hand Cannon runs empty. Joe arrives at the crucial juncture, and is carrying a bullet Nate had left earlier so he would know a certain message actually came from him (Nate being the only person Joe knows who shoots .454 Casull ammunition). Joe tosses the bullet to Nate who has to make a desperate catch and reload.
  • Bunker Woman: In Endangered, Liv is captured and held captive in an old root cellar by the Cates clan. They later plan to drown her by filling the cellar with sewage.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: In Out of Range, Will Jensen's widow asks Joe to scatter his ashes at Two Oceans Pass.
  • Calling Card: In Blood Trail, the killer leaves a red poker chip on the body of each of their victims.
  • Captain Crash: Joe has this reputation. He has apparently trashed more official vehicles than any other Wyoming state employee. To be fair, most of the wrecks were caused by the criminals he was attempting to catch, but this does not make it any easier to explain to his superiors. His reputation even gets Lampshaded in the later novels.
  • Car Fu:
    • In Trophy Hunt, Joe uses his pickup to knock Eric Logue into the river after he discovers Eric attempting to cut Nate's face off.
    • In Endangered, Joe uses a snowmobile to knock down Dallas Cates when Dallas tries to draw a gun on him.
  • Cartwright Curse: Every woman who gets involved with Nate Romanowski - the series resident badass - meets an untimely end.
  • Character Name Alias:
    • In In Plain Sight, psycho J.W. Keeley uses the name Bill Monroe (a famous bluegrass musician) as his Go-to Alias. He even comments to himself that he hopes he doesn't run across someone who is a bluegrass fan.
    • In Endangered, Evil Matriarch Brenda Cates uses the name of country singer Kitty Wells as an alias. Liv knows that she has heard that name before, but cannot place where.
  • Chemically-Induced Insanity: The bad guys in Out of Range use psychoactive drugs added to his drinking water and psychological trickery to turn game warden Will Jensen's depression into paranoia, which ultimately drives him to suicide.
  • The Clan: The principal bad guys in Endangered are the Cates: a clan of murderous white trash.
  • Cold Sniper: Jimmy Sollis from Breaking Point likes to portray himself as this. A competition long distance shooter, he joins McLanahan's manhunt simply because he wants to have the opportunity to shoot a man, and Farkus notes that he and McLanahan discuss killing a man as if they were talking about hunting a elk. His reserve breaks down quickly when they are captured by their intended target, however.
  • Corrupt Hick: In the first novel, Bud Barnum has been Sheriff of Twelve Sleeps County for 20 years. He gets involved in a scheme with a Corrupt Corporate Executive which Joe brings crashing down around his ears. This causes Barnum to lose the election and his position as sheriff in the next novel. Reduced from a man of influence to a nobody, he spends several books brooding and plotting revenge on Joe. His schemes eventually get him killed.
  • Cowboy Cop: Joe is a game warden with a reputation as a cowboy cop (his position does give him law enforcement powers). Joe doesn't set out to deliberately break the rules, but operating on his own a long way from any back-up means he often has to employ his own initiative. His 'cowboy ways' - along with a personality clash with his supervisor - even gets him fired at one point.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: In Free Fire, geologist Mark Cutler is murdered by being thrown into a geyser where he boils alive in a matter of seconds. At the end of the novel, Clay McCann suffers the same fate
  • Cruella to Animals: In Below Zero, Joe arrests a hunter nicknamed 'the Mad Archer' who hunts mostly for the pleasure of seeing animals suffer, and will shoot at anything, regardless of whether it is in season (or even if it is a legitimate prey animal). His targets include a golden eagle and a dog. The dog in particular gets the townsfolk so incensed that when Joe arrests him, the Archer begs the sheriff to keep him jail, fearing that he will be lynched if he is released.
  • Damsel out of Distress: In Endangered, Liv is captured and held captive by the Cates clan. When Joe finds out where she is being held and comes to rescue her, he finds she has already escaped and he arrives just in time to prevent her from murdering her former captors.
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. Eric Logue in Trophy Hunt. A former army surgeon, he was dishonorably discharged from the army and sent to a military prison for conducting unnecessary surgery on prisoners of war. Escaping, he travels the country posing as ufologist; attacking and dissecting people while they are still alive.
  • Doomed Appointment: In Blood Trail, Joe arranges a meeting with an FBI informer inside the Animal Wrongs Group. However, he is delayed getting to the meet by a Meddlesome Patrolman and by the time he eventually makes it, the informer is dead.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to game warden Will Jensen in Out of Range as a result of Gaslighting. Joe gets called in to clean up the mess.
  • Ear Ache: In Free Fire, Nate drags Amoral Attorney Clay McCann out his cell by grabbing his ear and dragging on it hard enough to draw blood. Later, he makes good on a threat and literally tears McCann's ear off during an interrogation.
  • Eco-Terrorist: Robert in Below Zero. His final act after a string of murders is to attempt to blow up a coal-fired power station.
  • Establishing Series Moment: The first line of Open Season.
    When a high-powered rifle bullet hits living flesh, it makes a distinctive—pow-WHOP—sound that is unmistakable even at tremendous distance.
  • Evil Luddite: Robert, the main bad guy in Below Zero, is a crazed environmentalist obsessed with undoing his father's (and others) carbon footprint, to the point where he is willing to commit murder. His final act is to attempt to shut down a coal-fired power station.
  • Evil Matriarch: Brenda Cates in Endangered. She has all of the men in her family bent to her will and willing to commit murder for her.
  • External Combustion: In Stone Cold, Templeton's lackeys plant a bomb underneath Joe's pickup, to be detonated by a mobile phone. Fortunately, Joe discovers it before it can be detonated.
  • Fauxreigner: In Breaking Point, the regional director of the EPA is named Juan Julio Batista and claims to be Latino. He is utterly ruthless and has advanced through the organisation by accusing anyone who opposes of him of racism. However, he is really an Anglo. Batista is his stepfather's name (his mother remarried when he was in his 20s) and he changed his named from John to Juan in order to take advantage of his naturally dark skin to deliberately play the race card.
  • Femme Fatale: Stella Ennis in Out of Range. A Trophy Wife who is a lot cannier than her husband thinks she is, Stella turns to Joe to protect her against her husband's schemes. But she is definitely keeping secrets of her own. Significantly, she is the only woman to ever make Joe question his faithfulness to his wife Marybeth.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: In In Plain Sight, J.W. Keely murders a prisoner by smuggling him a can of chewing tobacco laced with cyanide. He hopes that the prison guard who probed the tobacco with his finger doesn't lick his fingers afterwards.
  • Flaying Alive:
    • This is part of the killer's M.O. in Trophy Hunt.
    • The killer in Blood Trail intends to do this to the final victim, but Joe's intervention makes them decide to simply slit their throat instead.
  • Fostering for Profit: The foster home where April winds up in Below Zero is taking in as many foster kids as possible for the money provided by the state, keeping the kids in terrible conditions, and the foster father is pimping the girls out. The scam is exposed after one of the girls runs away.
  • From Dress to Dressing: In Free Fire Joe tears strips of his shirt and uses them to bandage the mangled hand of a survivalist while they wait for the medvac chopper to arrive.
  • Gaslighting: The bad guys in Out of Range use drugs and psychological trickery to turn game warden Will Jensen's depression into paranoia, which ultimately drives him to suicide. They attempt to do the same thing to Joe when he takes over the post.
  • Give Me a Sword: In Force of Nature, Joe tosses a bullet to Nate after Nate's gun runs dry during a gunfight.
  • Gold Digger: Joe's mother-in-law Missy is a Gold Digger: working her way through a series of husbands. Each time she marries up, marrying someone who is richer than her previous husband, and always ensuring that she comes out on top in the divorce settlement.
  • Hand Cannon: Nate's firearm of choice is a Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver chambered in .454 Casull with a scope mounted on it.
  • Healthcare Motivation: The other warden in Stone Cold is letting Critchfield get away with everything he is so he can continue to take care of his disabled daughter after his wife and the girl's mother left them.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: In Below Zero, Nate grabs an old dirt bike from a ranch to chase the criminals who have kidnapped the rancher and stolen his truck. At the end of the novel, he decides he likes the bike and rides off with it.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: In Stone Cold, Latta instructs Joe to beat him up in order to make the story of Joe jumping him and escaping seem plausible. Although reluctant, Joe winds up smashing him the face with the butt of a shotgun hard enough to break his jaw.
  • "How Did You Know?" "I Didn't.": In Stone Cold, a bomb goes off that takes out two local thugs who are trying to kill Joe. However, this was not the reason Joe had planted the bomb, leading to this exchange with Nate:
    "How did you know there was a bomb inside the wall?"
    "I put it there. Critchfield thought it was still under my truck."
    "How'd you know he'd park there?"
    "I didn't."
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: A variation occurs in Blood Trail. Rather than capturing people and releasing them to hunt, the killer stalks and kills hunters while they are out hunting.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In Winterkill, the first murder victim is nailed to a tree by several broad-headed hunting arrows.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: At the end of Breaking Point, Joe is so disgusted by the events he has just gone through that he makes a big show of resigning and handing in his badge to the new director of the Fish and Game Service. Especially poignant as earlier in the novel, Joe had been rewarded by having his original badge number reinstated (after several books were he was angry because the previous director had effectively stripped him of his seniority by refusing to do so).
  • Intoxication Ensues: A dramatic example occurs in Out of Range. Joe starts expressing inexplicable mood swings after he takes up a temporary posting in Jackson. It turns out the bad guys are secretly slipping him psychoactive drugs as part of a scheme to gaslight him.
  • I Own This Town: In Stone Cold, former Wall Street financier turned rancher Wolfgang Templeton controls all of Medicine Wheel County by process of being the county's largest employer and biggest benefactor. He uses the county as basis for his illegal operations, with local law enforcement paid to look the other way.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In Endangered, Timber Cates poses as a janitor to infiltrate a hospital in order to perform a Sickbed Slaying on April Pickett. He wears his old scrubs from the prison infirmary and his old prison ID round his neck, knowing that no one will look too closely at them.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Joe frequently clashes with local sheriff over jurisdictional issues. And matters get worse when other agencies get involved. Winterkill features a jurisdictional nightmare involving not only Joe and the sheriff, but the state police, the FBI, the Forestry Service, and the National Parks Service.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: During the alien scare in Trophy Hunt, the sixth-graders in Lucy's school start doing this to the younger kids; saying "Don't look up" and then, when the kid does, pushing them over an accomplice kneeling behind them.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Said by a hitman named Whip to Nate in Stone Cold after the person they just shot, threw in a body bag and carted away in a van turns out to be Not Quite Dead and sits up in the back seat before Whip does a Double Tap just to be sure this time.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In Cold Wind, a woman needs a spur-of-the-moment alias. Hearing Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" come on the jukebox, she introduces herself as Patsy.
  • Mad Doctor: Dr. Eric Logue in Trophy Hunt. A former army surgeon, he was dishonorably discharged from the army and sent to a military prison for conducting unnecessary surgery on prisoners of war. Escaping, he travels the country posing as ufologist; attacking and dissecting people while they are still alive and believing that he is acting under the orders of aliens.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In Trophy Hunt, Joe (and the reader) are left wondering if the bear that kills Eric Logue is just a rogue grizzly, or if it was some kind of spirit beast awakened to destroy a great evil (as Nate thinks it is). And there is still the mystery of who, or what, was performing the mutilations in the first place.
  • Meddlesome Patrolman: In Blood Trail, Joe is driving to meet an FBI informer from inside an Animal Wrongs Group in a park in an isolated small town. He is stopped by the small town cop for speeding (the speed limit had been changed the month before and Joe did not know). It turns out Joe had once arrested the cop's father for hunting without a licence and the cop still bears a grudge and goes out of his way to be as hindering and obnoxious as possible to Joe. Joe eventually knocks the cop out and drags him along to the meet. However, by the time they get to the park, the informant is dead.
  • Murder by Mistake: In Blood Trail, the murderer is trying to get a clear shot at a target who is sitting in a darkened pickup. They shoot the tyre which causes county prosecutor Robey Hersig opens the door and gets out to examine the tyre. With the dome light on, the killer has a clear shot at their target. However, Robey stands up as the killer fires and intercepts the bullet intended for the other man in the truck.
  • Murder, Inc.: In Stone Cold, Joe is sent to Medicine Wheel County to investigate what retired financier Wolfgang Templeton is up to on his ranch. It turns out that Templeton is running a murder-for-hire organisation, with Joe's friend Nate as one of his operatives.
  • New Old West: The novels are set in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.note  Joe is a game warden whose 'beat' covers thousands of acres. He is often far from any kind of back-up. Adding to the 'old west' feel is that many of the locals regard themselves as cowboys and prefer to take the law into their own hands.
  • Obfuscating Disability: In Endangered, Nate pretends to be in a coma until an opportunity to escape presents itself.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Randy Pope, Joe's superior in Fish and Game. Having risen through the ranks of the bureaucracy rather than being a field officer, he has little understanding of field work. Having a personal dislike of Joe, at one point he demands daily (rather than weekly) reports from Joe, and insists Joe clears any investigation with him before proceeding.
  • Off on a Technicality: The plot of Free Fire centres around a lawyer deliberately committing a felony, knowing that he will get off on a technicality. Clay McCann murders four campers in remote stretch of Yellowstone National Park: knowing that a loophole in the laws makes it impossible to try anyone who commits a crime in the 50 acres of park that sits inside Idaho. The mystery Joe has to investigate in why McCann committed this seemingly senseless crime, and why he stuck around the district afterward.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: In In Plain Sight, Sheridan does this after she and her sister Lucy are kidnapped and she is forced to call her mother to say that she and Lucy are going to a friend's place after school. She does so by saying that Lucy can't talk because her mouth is full because she is eating her lunch early as she always does (Lucy refuses to eat and usually brings most of her lunch home with her) and that she is calling on her cell phone (Sheridan doesn't have a cell phone).
  • Parental Favoritism: In Endangered, Brenda Cates dotes on her youngest son Dallas; treating him as a hero and constantly insulting and belittling his older brothers, Bull and Timber.
  • Pinned to the Wall: In Winterkill, the first murder victim is nailed to a tree by several broad-headed hunting arrows.
  • Rape and Revenge: What is ultimately revealed to be the motive behind the Apparently Unrelated Murders in Blood Trail.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When Joe is reinstated as a game warden after being fired, he is assigned to the remotest of Wyoming's game district: a place with a reputation of a place where wardens are sent to either be forced to resign, or wait out the rest of their careers till they die.
  • Revealing Cover Up: In Breaking Point, Juan Julio Batista's attempts to bring Butch Roberson to justice, including calling in a military drone strike, are so heavy-handed that they just clue Joe in to the fact that Batista is desperate to cover something up.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: In Winterkill, a travelling caravan of right wing militia fanatics - made up of survivors from other destroyed militias - arrives in Twelve Sleeps County and sets up camp; sparking an armed stand-off with the federal government.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The harassment of the Robersons by the EPA in Breaking Point was based on the events that led to Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency US Supreme Court case.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: In In Plain Sight, Joe's daughters are abducted as one of the biggest storms in living memory sweeps in. Joe first has to find a way through the flood waters to the ranch where they are being held, and then race to find and rescue them as the ranch buildings slowly disappear beneath the flood.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: In Stone Cold, Critchfield turns out to have been taking the bodies of people he wanted to get rid of and turning them into sausage that he sold at his ranch. Nate even references the trope name by saying he heard humans taste like pork. And admitting he kind of liked that sausage.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: An inadvertent version occurs in Blood Trail. The authorities think there is a serial killer targeting hunters. However, the killer is actually after five specific men who happen to be hunters.
  • Sickbed Slaying: In Endangered, Timber Cates pulls a Janitor Impersonation Infiltration to try and kill April Pickett while she is in a coma.
  • Snipe Hunt: This trope is referenced in Stone Cold when Joe is in a neighboring district and asks two hunters well known for poaching what they're hunting, they snidely answer "snipes" and Joe responds that he knows that old trick as a way of telling them he's not going to put up with their crap like the usual warden does. (Wyoming does have a snipe season, but the context—and probably the habitat, equipment, and time of year—made it obvious they were being smartasses.)
  • Suicide by Cop: The murderer does this in Blood Trail, lunging at the final victim with a knife despite the fact that Joe has a shotgun leveled at them.
  • Tattooed Crook: Timber Cates in Endangered. He is covered is prison tattoos that his mother finds disgusting. These make him stand out when he attempts to pull a Janitor Impersonation Infiltration at the hospital.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: Used in In Plain Sight. Wyatt, the youngest of the Scarlett brothers, is generally regarded as 'odd' and 'not quite right'. One of his hobbies is taxidermy.
  • Thrown Down a Well: In Endangered, Liv is kidnapped by the Cates clan and held prisoner in an old cellar on their property. When they decide they no longer need her, they intend to murder her by filling the cellar with sewage.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Joe and Marybeth's biological daughters Sheridan and Lucy. Sheridan, the elder, is athletic, outdoorsy, something of a loner and an apprentice falconer. Lucy is popular, extremely social and into fashion. Sheridan even calls Lucy a "girly girl" when she is irritated with her, and despairs that she might become a cheerleader.
  • Trophy Wife: In Out of Range, Stella Ennis is the latest in a string of trophy wives for ruthless entrepreneur Don Ennis. However, Stella is no brainless bimbo, and crosses into Femme Fatale territory, as Don learns to his regret.
  • Vomiting Cop: Joe makes something of a habit of this.
    • In Trophy Hunt, Joe throws up when he sees the mutilated body of the cowhand (as does a paramedic).
    • In Blood Trail, the killer is watching through a scope as Joe steps away from the crime scene and throws up on seeing the butchered body of the hunter.
    • In Force of Nature, the trainee game warden accompanying Joe throws up after seeing three bodies shot with a high calibre revolver. Later in the same novel, Joe himself throws up after stumbling across three bodies in a remote shack.
  • Weld the Lock: In Stone Cold, Nate uses an industrial strength epoxy to seal the doors and windows of the guesthouse where the bodyguards of his target are sleeping: an act described as 'figuratively welding the lock'.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Joe is afraid of heights.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: In Endangered, Dallas Cates is beaten up by his father and brother - dislocating his shoulder and breaking his arm - in order to persuade Joe that he could not have committed the crime of which he is accused.
  • You Just Told Me: One of Joe's favourite tactics when dealing with people suspected of violating game laws is to knock on their door and, when they open it, say "I guess you know why I'm here". He finds that people will often confess to crimes he didn't even know about.

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