Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting Skunked on a Bear Hunt

The North Carolina Hunting and Fishing Regulations Digest comes out next week.  Soon after, the draw permits begin.    I urge you to look through the digest to familiarize yourself with and new rules as well as look at the permit opportunities for this coming season.
Part of the subject matter in our hunter education classes is regarding identifying the game animals.  I often share personal stories to tie into the subject matter I am teaching.  For instance, I applied for a bear hunt for an area several years ago and was lucky enough to get drawn.  The Mount Mitchell Bear Sanctuary had just been opened for a permit bear hunt.  In the selection process, the applicant can choose up to five dates in order to do the hunt.
After getting chosen, I began the scouting process at home.  I looked over the topo maps, then compared to satellite images as well.  I downloaded a program onto my smart phone that would allow me to mark boundaries of the area and use the gps feature of the phone instead of the cellular service.  This was important due to the spotty service in the area.  I have a 3-d archery bear target in the backyard and practiced exclusively from different yardages and angles.  The practice not only helped with my shooting, but also visualizing the bear.  By burning the image in my head, I would be less likely to become nervous before the shot and I could also compare the size of the target to help determine the size of the bear.  The target represents a 150 pound bear.
Read more about bears in North Carolina

The hunt was in October, and I knew there was a good possibility of sub-freezing temperatures, especially at night.  I wanted to rough it for the most part, so I had to make sure my gear would suffice the cold and wet if necessary.  After researching all I could at home, there were only three things left.  Scouting the land on foot, going over the hunt plan with my wife in case something was to happen, and hunting.  The scouting on foot would come the Saturday and Sunday before the hunt (it was a Monday thru Wednesday draw date).  This would allow me to scout, set camp, and give me a chance to run to town in case I did forget anything.  The hunt plan was short and sweet.  I would be hunting one of two areas, either the South Toe or Curtis Creek, depending on the scouting results from weekend.  Susan knew when I was to return home, so if she did not hear from me, it would be time to call the authorities.
All started well when I arrived.  I was actually glad to see I had no cell service.  This would be one of the things I enjoyed most!  Work could not call me and I could not call work.  A true vacation!  After scouting, I decided on hunting the area around the South Toe.   I found tracks in a couple of places, and spotted a field on the sanctuary I could set up in.  When I go up in a stand, I will usually use the range finder to mentally mark spots and yardages.  While bowhunting, I try to keep the movements to a minimal.  If I have a dark patch of grass, I will check the yardage.  A twig lying on the ground, a large leaf; all make good yardage markers.

Well the very first evening, about 200 yards away, I saw a bear.  She cut the corner of the field and never entered range.  I consider myself an opportunistic hunter, so remember that as this story ends.  I waited in the stand a while longer, and just before shooting light would disappear, is when I saw my target.  It was black and on the small size as it left the cover of the brush and entered the field.   It was headed straight toward the tree I was set up in.  If it made it to the 50 yard mark, I decided I would take my shot.  I waited patiently, and as it stepped toward the large golden leaf, I drew back the arrow and string.  I was confident from 50 yards, but like I said, this one was on the small size.  With a release of my breath, then a twitch of my finger on the trigger release, the arrow sailed to its mark.  The 100 grain G5 Small Game Head hit true, and after only a few seconds of rolling around, I had my trophy.  Not a bear mind you.  But a trophy, of sorts.  And this is how the story ends of my bear hunt at Mount Mitchell Bear Sanctuary the time I was skunked.
Skunked in 2008.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pope and Young School

 This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Pope and Young Measurers Seminar in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The Pope and Young club keeps and maintains bowhunting records of North American big game animals, amongst other education and conservation activities and programs.

Bill holding a Pope and Young Big Horn Sheep
 amongst an abundance of antlers.

First of all, when I say I was fortunate, it really was a great pleasure and privilege to attend.  Twenty four of us were invited, and we had attendees from as far west as Washington state and south as Florida.  North Carolina occupied four of the seats.  After going through the training and passing a comprehensive test, North Carolina will likely have 23 current Pope and Young measurers.
Ever since my grandfather brought home his first North American big game animal I showed tremendous interest in the different species not only in North America but from around the world.  Papa mounted that first animal in a full body mount.  A beautiful faux stone base held the majestic beast.  The Dall’s Ram, a solid white thin horned species of sheep, was taken in Alaska.  I remember not long after he brought the mount home, I was at his house and looked over every detail of the animal.  I studied the curvature and ridges in the horns, the color of the glass eyes, the flare of the nostrils, and the shape of the hooves.  One day I wanted to see how the fur looked in different patterns.  In other words, I took a hair brush and fluffed it up really good.  If Papa had not been successful in fixing the fur back to the way it was supposed to be, I likely would have been his second big game animal taken!

Several years ago I became an official measurer with the North Carolina Bowhunters Association.  Training was hands on, and started with the Dixie Deer Classic.  It gave me a chance to touch and see and study many deer, as well as other small game here in North Carolina.  Mack Moore, a fellow bowhunter, brought an abundance of skulls to me a couple of years ago to measure.  Included in his takes for that year was a North Carolina state record beaver.
By becoming a Pope and Young scorer, I knew it would afford me opportunities to see some of those strange beasts that you only see once in a while on television.  Muskoxen, big horn sheep, various species of caribou, and even the massive moose antler spread could be held in my hands for me to wander, dream of, and appreciate.  Going through the class granted me the chance.  We studied and measured all the North American big game species legal to bowhunting.  I remarked to one person I was paired with who was attending from Kentucky that one of my dream hunts was to take a muskox.  I have been fascinated with both the muskox and the bison since I was a child.  During one break, I located the largest specimen and made a mental note that I would have to measure it.
One of the two instructors was Glenn Hisey.  He wrote the manual on measuring caribou, and the consensus was caribou is probably the biggest pain to measure and get right the first time.  The caribou requires the most different types of measurements and no two are alike.  We spent an extensive amount of time studying whitetail, both typical and non-typical (one in which the antlers do not grow in a normal way).  Whitetail is by far the most popular big game animal in North America.  For instance, at the Dixie Deer Classic this past March, over 700 antlers were measured.
Once we got to the muskox though, I was anxious and excited.  That is until we were taught how to get the required measurements.  The big guy that I wanted to take on, well it was the one I got.  Let’s just say that muskox is not one of my dream hunts any more.  Not because of the difficulty of the hunt, because if I were to take one that had a chance at record book, that some poor soul would have to endure the challenge of measuring it.  That could easily be as difficult as the hunt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pass'n It On Outdoors-It's what we should do.

Life throws curveballs once in a while.  The best thing you can do is move up in the batter’s box, and anticipate the pitch.  For instance, I went to college for journalism at NC State.  I know, NC State is not the best college for journalism, heck, when I went to State, it was not even called journalism there.  It was called English-writing/editing.  Regardless, State took me early, while Carolina had me on a waiting list.  The point is, after close to twenty years after taking a different career path, I have been fortunate enough to do what I originally thought I would be doing anyway.  I was nervous when I started, but I wanted to share some stories, teach some lessons, and give my family something they could be proud of.
David Hinceman, Garrett  Barger, and Robert Collins also wanted to share something that they learned from an early age.  They wanted to do something they could pass on to future generations.  The three decided it would be neat to do a hunting television show.  It was a dream with a big risk.  They would need to purchase equipment, learn filming and editing, and make contacts in the industry.  They would need to market the show so they could pick up sponsors.  They also had to think about how to do a hunting show that would get people to watch.  The three knew exactly what they wanted.   Pass’n It On Outdoors explains it all.  They put together a prostaff.  After all, you have to have knowledgeable hunters.  They also added a Junior Posse, aging from 6 years to 15 years old.  This would be the key; the perfect angle for the show.  Based on the premise of how the hunting heritage is here in the South, they would not only film hunts, but film hunts with the adults mentoring the kids.  Growing up, we learned the outdoors from our fathers, grandfathers, uncles and neighbors.  This is what the show was going to be about.  They succeeded.  The curveball broke across the plate and they hit it out of the park.
It is nice to spot a show that teaches and entertains.  I can only hope something like this will give the incentive to the rest of us to get out with the kids or teach someone new to hunting how to enjoy the outdoors.
You can check your local listings for Pass’n It On Outdoors on Fox Sports South on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.  Most hunts are filmed here in North Carolina with most of the staff from Rowan or Stanley counties.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pass'n It On Outdoors

My friends at Pass'n It On Outdoors have their first episode up in case you missed it!

Click here to see Epsiode 1-NC Turkey Hunt

You can catch it on Fox Sports South.  Check local listings for times and days!

Wildlife Conservation

Aldo Leopold once stated “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations, the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”  A fitting quote following Independence Day, I would think.  Being this is an outdoors column, I will touch more to the first part of the quote.
First though, a little background on Leopold is in order.  He is considered the father of wildlife conservation.  Rightly so, he was Professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first such professorship in Wildlife Conservation.  The reason I am bringing Leopold up is not to do a biography, but to touch today’s issues with his field of study.
The deer population not only grows at a staggering rate, but deer are very adaptive to our current human lifestyles.  For instance, without outside mortality influences, a single breeding pair of deer can expand to as many as 40 deer in just 7 years.  Couple that with the urban sprawl of our cities and communities, and deer can become a nuisance and even dangerous to humans.  As deer feel pressures in their natural habitats they often will find their ways into our neighborhoods seeking safe shelter, food, and water.  This is a major reason North Carolina started the Urban Archery Deer Season following the regular gun season.  Depredation permits began as a way for farmers to help control herd populations so crops would not be destroyed.  Now it is common for a depredation permit to be issued to neighborhoods and communities where deer are eating landscaping flora or creating unsafe habitats.
In the early history of hunting, before studies were done, we either hunted the animals to endangerment or near extinction, or we practiced wildlife preservation, where we would not touch an animal, often times even removing any natural predators from an area in order to preserve the species.  This brings me to another Leopold quote.  “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”  We found out too much of either could destroy a species, and wildlife management began working.
One of the major controls of wildlife is with hunting.  As hunters, we abide by limits on game.  These limits are set by biologists and wildlife management based on studies that allow the game animals a healthy population in which to reproduce yet keep them in check so as not to overproduce.  When a permit is given by Wildlife Resources, it follows a study where the particular game animal is counted and given an estimated number in the herd.  From there a certain number of permits are issued.  A number of groups offer services to help in the control of game animals.  For instance, trappers may be used in wetland areas where beaver overpopulation may occur.  One group in North Carolina sprung up from the North Carolina Bowhunters Association (NCBA) to primarily control deer.  After seeing successful public and private deer management programs in other states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, NCBA President Ramon Bell looked into a program the NCBA could offer as a free service to communities hampered by deer overpopulation and intrusion.  The Bowhunter Certification and Referral Service was created and introduced.  “The BCRS program is one of the most successful programs the NCBA has ever embarked upon.  In these first five years, we have successfully served over 25 separate landowner agreements. Over half of these are still active. The BCRS program is supporting itself and sending out a very positive bowhunting message to the citizens and landowners of North Carolina, and it is still growing,” states Ramon Bell.
It is imperative to control the populations and boundaries of our natural game resources, otherwise nature will overpopulate causing disease, famine, and an intrusion into other species ability to live at a natural level.  That brings us to one last quote from Aldo Leopold, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  As humans are the stewards to the land God has granted us, we must be the ones to tend to the control of the land as well.