Wolfgang Hasselmann

The dangers of working in a guerilla grow, an outdoor operation in a hidden and difficult-to-find location, are vast.

Dangers range from getting lost, to being assaulted, injuring oneself on the terrain, encountering wild animals, being bitten by dangerous insects, and risk being arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and /or local law enforcement (LEOs). LEOs have been using infrared technology and helicopters to search for guerrilla grows since the 1960s.

The DEA and police use infrared technology mounted inside helicopters to detect cannabis heat signatures from illegal grow operations. Police also study heat signatures given off from different grow types to detect plant count and whether or not a cannabis grow is over their legal limit of plants. 

This was a very popular method of finding outdoor cannabis grows prior to decriminalization beginning and is still in use in areas where it is still illegal to grow or possess cannabis.

Many years ago, I used to work at a grow.  One day, I was hiking up a mountain with a group.  It was still early and the sun had just peaked.

After a few hours, the sun was beating down on our backs and our energy was depleting. Out of nowhere, we heard the faint chopping sounds of a helicopter flying up the mountain. I remember hollering and asking if there was a fire or something close by. The response was, “No, you better hide!”

There were only a handful of us and we were all about 30 feet apart. We found trees and brush to squat in. We tried to stay as still and as silent as possible.  It wasn’t too long before the chopping sound of the helicopter drew so close, my eardrums felt its vibration.  I looked up and there it was, a black chopper staring right at us.

I was scared. My heart was pounding so fast, it was hard to catch my breath. I had seen the news reports of cannabis grows found through using infrared technology on chopper searches. I knew it was illegal to grow there, but I was just a paid hand.  It wasn’t my operation.  

I never thought we would get caught since you have to travel through private property to get there. 

Yet, there I was crouched down in some trees, fearing for my life. 

No big deal, right? 

The chopper sat there, for what seemed like forever.  Then, I felt the vibrations lift up and the chopping sounds went back down the mountain. 

I sat in my spot, unable to move.  I was thinking to myself: are they coming back or will they be waiting for us at the bottom of the hill?

Once we could no longer hear the chopper, we all gathered and discussed the situation.  Then, we got back to work. We were all visibly shaken though so we cut the day early so we could hike back down the mountain.  We thought we could find our cars and split before the cops had the time to organize and get back to our location.

As we reached the bottom of the mountain, I was relieved to find no one was waiting for us and everything was fine. We all loaded up into our cars and left for the day. To be honest, I was too shaken up to go back to work there.

I don’t know if they saw us or not, but I know that using helicopters and infrared technology to search the forests for cannabis grows gave the DEA an advantage over guerilla growers.  

Moral of the story is, if you’re going to grow cannabis, do it in a legal manner. I should know since cannabis legalization helped save my mental health.

Even though this incident happened a long time ago, law enforcement is still arresting people for illegal cannabis grows today.  The technology they have to find you is much more advanced than any guerilla grow you set up. 

The consequences were, and still are, dire if you get caught. So, as much fun as it was to work in guerrilla grows, I would definitely not recommend it.