Friday, January 20, 2017

Game Identification

When I used to teach hunter education, we saved the section on wildlife identification and worked it in with duck hunting. Duck hunting may be the most important type of hunt that requires proper identification due to the regulations limiting certain species and gender in the daily bag limit.
I would explain the importance and then Segway over to a couple of stories on bears and deer. The bear story was entirely fictional and had to do with identifying the species of bear based on their scat. The deer story however was and is completely true.
Many years ago, when the state of Kentucky was still building a sustainable population of elk, prior to the permitted hunts that are available now, a hunter was in the eastern part of the state. He happened to see the largest deer he had ever seen in his life.
Buck fever set in and the hunter was doing everything he could to control his nerves as he waited for the clear shot. The buck had a rack that towered above his head. The body must have been over 400 pounds.
He settled the sights on the buck, and even though he was fighting hard to keep the crosshairs steady, the buck bounced around in the glass. Finally, he felt that he could hold it steady enough to squeeze the trigger.
“Blammm!!” sounded the rifle as the bullet left the muzzle. He watched in amazement as this true trophy dropped to the ground.
Kentucky had check in stations for when you killed a deer, and the hunter called ahead to let the game warden know about this tremendous buck he had just downed. He also made a few calls to local media, friends and family, as he was positive this beast, a sure once-in-a-lifetime prize, would be a new world record. After all, he had to use a wench to pull the great animal into his truck and the antlers were so large they hung over the tailgate with it up.
He drove up to the check in station and saw that between the people he called, and the people they called, there was a large gathering to greet him. He beamed with pride as he was certainly about to become the talk of the town, the state, and maybe the country.
But something was wrong. As soon as he pulled up the game warden begin calling in other wildlife officers. Instead of a look of awe, there was a look of concern.
The hunter had shot one of the elk that Kentucky was using to grow the herd. Not a deer, but an elk. Same family, but a completely different species. An elk stands almost twice as high as a whitetail at the shoulder, the neck is long, the coat is much thicker and browner, and the antlers, well, the antlers are nothing similar.
A whitetail has curved main beams that forces the tips back in to each other. The most mature bucks may have a beam that comes close to 24 inches in length. An elk has antlers that go straight up and back and may be as long as four feet.
My class always questioned the validity of the story and I kept a newspaper clipping that I was happy to pass around.
Now there is more proof that identification is important. This story, like history in general, repeated itself. A hunter in Michigan proceeded to do the same thing back in November.
Misidentification can be costly regarding wild game animals. The hunter in Michigan was charged with a $5000 fine plus and additional $500 for each point on the antler. The elk was a 6x6. That is an additional $6000 on top of the $5000 fine. And he didn’t get to keep it.
As always, know your target before squeezing the trigger. That doesn’t mean just knowing where your target is, it also means knowing what is your target.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Button Buck

One of the great things when sitting in the stand waiting for Mr. Big to come out to visit is watching the other wildlife. Birds, rabbits, and yes, even those pesky tree rats otherwise known as squirrels can be entertaining. It makes you wonder just what is going on in the minds of these creatures when they are doing so.
We have a habit of humanizing animals based on what they do and how they act. It is an attempt to empathize with creatures that we have a hard time communicating with in an effective manner.
This often carries over into art, media and entertainment. It is how we have Disney movies such as Bambi, Dumbo, The Fox and the Hound, and The Jungle Book. In the digital information age, it is how we get all types of memes such as the various facial expressions of a Siberian husky and oodles of cat videos.
Way back in the day, there was a salesman from Mississippi who had the gift of telling a story. He used his skills to assist in increasing his sales, as his customers were always excited to see him and catch his next great story. His stories often spoke of his cousin and were always based in rural America and life there.
I learned of this salesman/comedian through the news when I grew up. Every day during the news at noon, the local channel would run the farm report. I couldn’t tell you if there is still such a thing anymore, as I cannot remember the last time I watched a full broadcast of the 12pm news. Anyway, during the farm report each day, the person reporting on the various futures and sales prices of various farm markets would finish with a short outtake from the great Jerry Clower.
One such story, slightly changed for the environment, may explain why that little yearling buck you see every day from your stand acts like it does at times.
You see, there were three deer standing on the edge of a field. One was a fit eight-pointer, the second was a smaller six-pointer, and the last one was a young button buck. They were each watching the does that were grazing in the field.
“About twenty of those fine ladies are mine, and I won’t share with anyone,” says the eight-pointer.
“Well, the other ten have an eye for me and you won’t see them go with anyone else,” says the six-pointer.
“That little one over there. She is mine. We are happy with just us,” the button buck stated matter-of-factly to the other two.
Just then, all the does stood alert watching the other side of the field. A massive buck pushed through the bushes lining the woods. His rack boasted of fourteen points, with two of them being symmetrical drop tines. His brow tines were as tall as the rest of the base of the rack and the base was as big around as a man’s wrist.
His body was sculpted and masculine. If it were not for the antlers you could mistake the body for a champion thoroughbred racehorse. His neck was muscular and chiseled. It was clear he could have any doe he wanted and beat any buck in a spar in short notice.
The eight-pointer looked at the other two and said, “well, I don’t really need that many does anyway. I would be happy with five.”
The six-pointer followed suit telling the two bucks, “you know, I could probably get by with just one.”
The button buck, upon hearing the other two, starting pawing at the ground and snorting loudly. He then ran out into the group of does prancing proudly. He pee’d everywhere marking territory and then started rubbing his small antler knobs up and down on a tiny tree.
Running and leaping, he came back to where the other two bucks were.
“What are you doing? That guy is going to tear you apart if you think you can get any of these does!” exclaimed the eight-pointer.
“I just want to make sure he knows I am a buck and not a doe,” said the button buck.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The World is on Fire

The world is on fire. This is not referring to the election results, nor is it referring to the resulting protests of the election results. The world is actually on fire.
Several years ago I spent a week in the Linville Gorge. Yes, as mentioned in this column before, it is one of my favorite places to go. I backpacked into the gorge and around the rim on various trails in order to take in its beauty and serenity.
It may have been one of the most relaxing weeks I have ever had.
The very next week, the gorge was in the news. No, it wasn’t in the news because of my column in which I shared some of the moments while there. It was in the news because it was on fire.
I was able to share a landscape photo I had taken of Hawksbill and Table Rock mountains from a few days before showing magnificently painted leaves adorning the gorge and steep slopes down to the valley where the river flowed and compare it to a photo taken that evening in which it looked like an image that should be inserted into Dante’s Inferno.
All in all, the fire that erupted in the gorge encompassed 2,579 acres before being contained on November 13, 2013. Now, that part of the world is on fire once again.
By comparison, here are some of the numbers from a week prior to this column with a few of the fires burning: Party Rock, 7,171 acres and 45% contained; Maple Springs, 7,788 acres and 69% contained; Boteler, 9,039 acres and 77% contained; and Tellico, 13,874 acres and 91% contained. Can you understand why the smoke is reaching from the mountains all the way to coast of North Carolina?
It seems every day you hear of another fire that has erupted there. Lake Lure, Blowing Rock, basically anywhere in the Pisgah National Forest is in danger.
Cathy Anderson is a professional photographer based near Morganton, NC and has taken some fantastic landscapes of the gorge, Pisgah, and Great Smokey National Forests over the years. With the fires burning, she has gained fame in photojournalism.
Her images of fires taking away acers of pristine mountain forests have spread to various news outlets and been featured on CBS Evening News, several morning news shows, and of course, multiple local news outlets. A time-lapse of the fire burning at Party Rock captures the destruction in a hauntingly beautiful awe sensing experience.
But not only has she informed the nation of what is happening in our own backyard with her mesmerizing images, she also has collected needed items for the firefighters challenging the blazes. Her love of the land there extends past her imagery.
Lots of wildlife have lost their homes, if not their lives from the blazes. People have been evacuated and their homes destroyed as well. But from the ashes new life will grow.  Much like the mythical Phoenix, the mountains will come back stronger. We just need to pray for the safety of all those trying to limit the damage and contain the current fires so the healing can begin.

Friday, January 13, 2017

False Stories

Mark Zuckerberg has been having some issues on his Facebook platform recently. It seems fake news and posts have reached a pinnacle and those online are starting to realize the damage they can cause.
Politically, it can sway an election with those on one side proudly standing by deceitful news, posts or memes, as long as they strengthen their own beliefs. You do know, perception is greater than reality.
However, it does not just effect political events.
Once upon a time, stories could take lives of their own, and the stories would change from one teller to the next. There was a game we played in school to show how this happens in which one person would whisper to the next a couple of sentences, and after passing from one person to the next for thirty or so people, the last person and the first person would share what they knew the sentences to be.
As might or might not be expected, the resulting statements would be completely different.
Now, the stories start out as fabrications but just like the popular insurance commercial said, it’s on the internet, so it must be true.
Lately, an old story has started making its rounds once again showing this. A trail camera photo of a large black cat walking by in the woods has got people astonished at what might be nearby. The accompanying story with the photo is always referring to a friend who has a trail camera out on their land captured the attached photo of a black panther on their land. The land location has varied but usually is somewhere near where the majority of the sharer’s friends live.

This particular run has included Plymouth, North Carolina and Roan Mountain, Tennessee amongst others. The story always mentions that it is proof that the big cats are in the areas even though the various state and wildlife officials deny it.
But, there are facts in the way of the story. First, panthers, or mountain lions, panteras, or cougars, which are all the same species of big cat, are not very prominent in the southeast. Except for a very small population in Florida, there are no known groups in the Southeast, or east of the Mississippi in all truthfulness.
Don’t get me wrong. There are mountain lions that do pop up on occasion from South Carolina to New England. The males, or Toms as they are called, tend to travel. Dominant Toms may inhabit a 100 square mile area, and any other males, including cubs that are just born, are hunting by the alpha male in his territory.
Therefore, younger and weaker male lions will travel to get away to other areas and establish their own territory. Sometimes, these cats get pushed very far away from where they were born. Just like a housecat that stays outside may travel several miles at night and the pet owner never knowing it, these bigger cats go much further, and they do not worry about returning to their original home since their food isn’t waiting in a bowl under the carport.
The other issue with this particular urban myth, or even suburban myth as it might really be called, is the cougar cannot be black. And again, by cougar, it includes any of the other popular names such as mountain lion, panther, pantera, and painter.
There are two cats that are known to be able to have the gene that causes it to be black. The leopard and the jaguar. The leopard is in Africa, so we can immediately rule this cat out as the culprit. The jaguar is primarily in central America. There are small populations that have established territories in Mexico, and occasionally one may cross over into Arizona or New Mexico, as they do not understand international boundaries.
But for one to make it from the southwest deserts to the mid-Atlantic mountains, piedmont, or coastal areas is unlikely. Even more unlikely is for the jaguar to make it that far to have the rare gene that causes it to be solid black.
So even while the Carolina Panthers may sport a black cat as its mascot, it happens to be the only one here as the photo and story of a black panther crouching through the woods by a trail camera is an impossibility.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Hunt

The cooler weather has the beasts of the world abound. It also has the hunters that prey on the beasts actively pursuing the game.
It has been a long few weeks with constant and consistent work, which, as a freelance writer and photographer is a good thing. However, as someone who enjoys his time in the woods or on the water, it also keeps me away from such activities.
The days worked out and it was time to get up a tree again. My one shot in over two weeks, and the only shot sandwiched between the next set of photo assignments. The evening was cool, overcast, and presented a slight chance of rain. The wind was expected to pick up throughout the day.
In preparation, my lovely wife was kind enough to do a little preparation to my anticipated location over the weekend while I was working. The preparation consisted of dumping some loose corn near the site of the stand,
After doing my home duties throughout the day, including picking up our youngest son from school, I quickly got dressed, grabbed the climbing stand, the bow, the arrows and my small hunting bag.
Finally, I was getting back in the stand.
I knew my time would be tight as with the time change dark comes early. I quickly set the climber around the tree and left my bow and arrows beside the stand. I drove away from the area, roughly a quarter of a mile, parked and began the march back to the stand.
I slipped into my safety harness and slipped into the climbing stand after attaching my bow. Slipped into my climbing stand may not be the best visualization. Perhaps slithered best describes the action. Weaving between straps, up through the top section while trying to maneuver my lower body onto the lower section of the climbing stand, is likely the hardest part of the hunt, especially as the body ages.
In just a few moments, I quickly and safely worked the stand up the tree, standing on the lower section while raising the upper section, then sitting on the upper section while raising the lower section. Twenty-five feet higher than the start of the climb, I had positioned myself for the hunt.
Bringing the bow up to the stand and nocking the arrow, the only thing left for me to do was wait.
And I waited. The rain trickled in just enough to tell that it was a cold rain but not enough to soak anything. The wind caused the tall hardwood to sway back and forth. Sometimes it would sway in a circular motion. For someone who is afraid of heights it would be unnerving. For myself, it felt as if God was gently rocking me to a peaceful rest.
Occasionally the clack and thud of other trees fighting each other in the high breeze would cause a quick turn of the head to see who had won.
No squirrels, no typical animals such as rabbits, ground hogs, or song birds were active. Eventually I heard the coming of traffic. Constant honking of several aerial drivers in a formation that would make the Blue Angels envious blasted through the cloudy, windy sky. With the flight of the Canadian geese, it was as sure a sign as the sun’s setting that dark was coming soon.
The time had come to descend the tree and head back to the truck. No deer had come out.
Nothing is easy. And by that, you can read it two ways. Read one way; nothing is EASY. Meaning it is easy to do nothing, to get no result. The other way; NOTHING is easy, meaning something, as in a desired result, is hard.
To be successful in the endeavor, hunting in this case, time and effort must be put in. Finally, can start putting that time in.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Presidents and the Outdoors

The election season is almost over. To relate it to another season going on right now, this is likely the time of the rut for deer. This is when all the activity is going strong and hard.
Neither of the two top candidates seems to have any passion for outdoors activities in this cycle. I just don’t picture either Clinton or Trump as the hunting and fishing type. I don’t even picture them as paddlers, bikers, hikers, climbers or campers.
It hasn’t always been that way though. The last big election brought a Vice-Presidential candidate in Paul Ryan who is and was an avid bowhunter. He loved bowhunting so much that pictures of him with one of his trophies made the rounds amongst the hunting and outdoors community.
Prior, both Bush and Reagan were comfortable outdoors, although they were more comfortable on their ranches working and not known for hunting and fishing either. Vice President Cheney did enjoy hunting, and an unfortunate incident came to be during one of his hunts when he accidentally shot another that was hunting with him with bird shot.
But not all the high officials that considered hunting and fishing a favorite pastime were republicans. President Jimmy Carter loved bird hunting. During his days quail hunting was an shooting activity that many in the Southeastern United States enjoyed. Even as quail began to lose habitat prior to wildlife biologists taking a major role in our resource conservation, Carter would make frequent hunts.
One story I remember in particular was when Carter went hunting in his home state of Georgia during the late 1970’s. Carter and his secret service were walking the field in search of quail. The story didn’t mention dogs being involved, but I can only imagine there was at least one sniffing and scouring the ground in pursuit of a covey.
As Carter and his entourage continued through the field the President stepped on something. Immediately he knew the circumstances and held steady.
President Carter had stepped on a rattlesnake. He happened to have stepped on it near the head and it could not turn and strike. He held his foot firmly on the wrist-thick reptile knowing any release of pressure would allow the snake to maneuver to make an attack on the leader of the free world.
The secret service agents made a quick decision and surrounded the President, and fired on the rattler leaving it writhing but dead.
While in the midst of a cold war, President Carter’s greatest immediate danger came from something that was truly cold blooded.
Our greatest President in support of our renewable natural resources is with little debate, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a passionate hunter and secured much of America’s lands to remain pristine and undeveloped so future generations could experience the land as it had always been.
While one of the more famous reminders of Roosevelt’s passion comes in the form of an old cartoon that ran in the New York newspaper, the one of Roosevelt waiving off shooting a tree-tied bear cub, Roosevelt left many other reminders that are worth looking into.
He has several books that he authored in his pursuit of hunting various animals both across America and Africa. All of these can be found for free in digital form through simple search engines. He was not only hunting the different beasts of the world, but was attempting to help catalog each species for better conservation practices.
Roosevelt was an environmentalist before environmentalism became the cool thing to be involved with.
How refreshing it would have been to have had either of the two leading candidates take a few days and fish or hunt or stay in a tent in the outdoors with some Hershey’s chocolate bars, marsh mellows, and graham crackers? I bet they would have been much more relatable and maybe less combative.