Shelby Stanga

History Channel’s ax man has stories to tell.

shelby stanga

Abby Miller Photograph

Shelby Stanga might be a television personality, but you won’t find him living in luxury. The swamp logger prefers to sleep in a sleeping bag and hammock next to a boat launch on the Tangipahoa River.

Stanga has recently become a bit of a star thanks to the History Channel’s show Ax Men, which features him and four other logging companies around the country.

Stanga, as the show chronicles, pulls ancient sinker logs out of the Bedico Swamp in Tangipahoa Parish. Between 1850 and 1944, the swamp around Tangipahoa River and its creeks and bayous was milled extensively. The old-growth trees, most of which are cypress, were felled and floated down the creek to Lake Pontchartrain and used in home construction in New Orleans. Some of the logs sunk, and they’ve been sitting in the mud ever since — some for more than 100 years. The trees range in age from 2,000 years old to 5,000 years old.

The logs have absorbed minerals from the mud in a process that alters the appearance of the wood. The result is a rainbow of colors — yellow, red, blue, green, purple and brown — and a very attractive product that Stanga sells to such furniture-makers as the Northshore’s Keith Dufour.

Stanga, fast-talking and weathered, with a penchant for expletives, dives into the water to locate the logs.

“I put 108 pounds of lead [diving weights] on, steel-toed shoes and sometimes a damn hard hat,” he says of his preparation for finding the logs. He runs along the river bottom, feeling in the mud with his feet, because “99 percent of the logs are underneath the damn mud.”

When he locates a log, Stanga digs in the soft mud, sometimes 6 or 8 feet down. It’s dangerous work: He risks running into a log if the visibility is poor or losing his respirator if it gets ripped out of his mouth on a branch.

“Every load, I drown three times,” he says. He’s generally swimming in 18 to 20 feet of water, he says, and the logs can be 5 feet around.

And then there are the critters he encounters while searching for logs. He sports scars from snake and snapping turtle bites, though he’s been known to get revenge on the offending reptiles: He sometimes bites the heads off venomous snakes and has teeth marks on his tongue to prove it.

Once he’s finished digging, Stanga hooks the log to a crane on a barge and drags
it to shore.

Stanga, who gave this interview with a long barrel revolver tucked into one of his camouflage hunting boots, is quite the storyteller. With his signature shout of “Here we go!” and his throaty cackle, he spins tales of finding sunken ships and treasure, gun fights, being kidnapped as a baby, living in the tops of enormous cypress trees and hunting snapping turtles for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boots. Some of it must be true — he’s got photos of himself perched high in trees and holding enormous snapping turtles, plus a collection of artifacts such as broken clay pipes and Civil War-era coins. But with Stanga it’s hard to tell if even he knows where the truth ends and fiction begins.

Despite his rise to fame, Stanga’s iPhone is probably his fanciest possession; he’s never known anything other than hunting, fishing and logging the swamp. “I’m happy,” he says, “as long as I have bullets and chew for my lip.”
(See related story, Loggers. )

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Reader Comments:
Jan 22, 2011 10:26 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

stanga sounds pretty damn cool to me

Jan 25, 2011 08:45 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I love the Swamp Man! He's got a ton of one-of-a-kind personality, and he's the only reason I watch Axe Men.

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats his dog. Based on that, I'd say he's probably a pretty good dude.

Unique people like Shelby make me just that much prouder to be an American.

Jan 28, 2011 12:26 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Watching Shelby on Ax Men is the highlight of my week. I wish the History Channel would give him his own show. The guy is a one-of-a-kind.

Jan 31, 2011 07:31 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I agree, Shelby should have his own show. Shelby is one bad Mother$#$%^. Haha- Here we go Pawpaw!!!

Jan 31, 2011 01:49 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Here we go paw paw and willy,all the above are right on when it comes to Shelby Stanga,a true real, American, that man is the real deal, God bless him and lets all thank him for the entertainment he gives us,I bet he would be a good cajun cook too,this cat needs his own show,and soon,he is awesome,it takes a ton a brave to get into that water and this man has it all,I would like to see some of his salvaged wood finished I bet it is beautiful and expensive.Kepp it up paw paw,keep the knife sharp,and the gun loaded,and keep willy healthy. The episode with the log buyer and Shelbys cousin or brother and the machine gun had me fearing we about lose Shelby,I was fearing for him,I truly was,he got the reaction he wanted and I loved it when it was over.L.Maxwell

Feb 1, 2011 03:08 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Yes, Shelby needs his own show! --They don't need a script--all they need to do is follow him around with the camera. I hope the History Channel will soon realize that he is, "The Star" of the AX-Men show!

Feb 1, 2011 05:49 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I agree that Shelby is the heart and soul of the show and one of the most unforgetable people around. I wish i could sit down and chat with him one day. His interaction with people and especially Willy shows me that he is "Real". I wish him the absolute best.

John

Feb 2, 2011 05:21 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I love watching Shelby. He is hilarious. I love his drawl (the way he talks). I especially enjoyed the prank he played on Keith last week. I thought it was for real also. I keep wondering what kind of person he might be attracted to. They would have to be pretty open-minded to hang with him. He is cute but he is also rough. I look forward to each episode of the Ax Men. Shelby, The Smiths' and the Collins are my favorites. They are some risky working folk. Although the Logmen with the cranes are no slouches either. The Ax Men are hard hitting.

Feb 2, 2011 06:12 pm
 Posted by  Jason

I would like to log with Shelby I think he is awesome

Feb 3, 2011 08:00 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I think that all the cameramen need a pat on tha back and an "ATTABoy" for being in dangerous positions all the time.

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