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Archive for the ‘hunting’ Category

Trump Jr with coyote he killed

Donald Trump Jr and Canis latrans.

I am in an odd place politically. I suppose one of the worst things about living in America now is that we have decided what tribes we belong to, and the two tribes have gone to war.

Don’t get me wrong. I know which tribe I belong to. It was somewhat preordained because I was raised in the one the last FDR-style liberal family still left in the backwoods of West Virginia.  No one in my immediate family voted for Trump, and I didn’t either.

I am also approaching my 35th birthday, which means my political views were largely set during the George W. Bush administration.  Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan.

But at the same time, I like to hunt and fish.  There is an assumption in the new tribal landscape of this country that if one calls himself a progressive Democrat that this political identity means that I side with the radical animal rights movement.

I don’t. Indeed, I oppose them as much as I do the right wing, but in this new era, it is really hard to explain to people that I am not a Republican.

I am well aware that the Republican Party and conservatism as construed now are entities that have a pretty bad demographic problem.  As time goes on, it will have harder and harder times winning elections.

And the sad thing is, hunting and, to a lesser extent, fishing have hitched their political wagons to that party.  Virtually all the celebrity hunters on TV are Republican. If they aren’t, they are either Canadian or are very quiet about not being Republican.

The problem here is obvious. In a few decades, the Republican Party is going to have a hard time winning elections, and the Democratic Party is full of people who have very negative notions about what hunting is.

I see so many hunters talk up Donald Trump Jr. as someone we should celebrate as a hunter. I don’t know how he is as a hunter, but for me and for a whole host of people my age and younger, he is not an admirable figure at all.  To me, he’s that guy who meets with people who work for the Russian government to get opposition research on his father’s opponent. To others, he’s that blowhard who thinks socialism is about taking candy away from children on Halloween.

I don’t care that he spent much of his youth learning to hunt with his grandfather, a gamekeeper for the state in Czechoslovakia, and I say this as someone who has more than a passing interest in Central European hunting and wildlife management systems.

If people like the Trumps and Ted Nugent are the representatives for what hunting is, then the whole enterprise is doomed to fail. It will fall apart as the Republican Party stops being able to win elections.

Who could save hunting?

Well, we’ve got to find someone like a 21st Century Aldo Leopold.  I have no idea what Aldo Leopold’s politics were, but he wrote about hunting and ecology in truly poignant ways.

And he never once came across in his prose as some kind of yahoo. He was a lifelong hunter, but he was troubled by some the axioms of the culture in which he lived.

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Leopold would have real problems with a president who denies climate change and allows fossil fuel companies to operate with impunity. He would have taken great issue with current moves to dump off public lands into the hands of the states or private interests.

To save hunting, we must find away of connecting the act with affirmative conservation. Most people live in urban areas. Their understanding of the wild is mostly from digital content now.

They cannot see or fully understand that hunting plays a major role on our North American model of conservation. In our system, wildlife is managed as a public trust, but most the fees that go to support research and conservation come from the sale of ammunition and hunting licenses. As those fees dwindle, it will become harder and harder to fund research and conservation projects.

And that will ultimately be bad for wildlife.

Further, hunting itself plays a management role in the ecosystem. Ever since the first people came down into this continent from Siberia, humans have been managing wildlife. When Europeans arrived here, they found many different nations of people who actively engaging in managing wildlife and maintaining habitat. It is well-known that fire was used to maintain good grazing for deer in open parts of the Northeastern forests, and they were actively working on creating conditions on the land the produced enough wild animals on which they could survive.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Americans began to realize that we’d wrecked our wildlife heritage, and hunters were among those who led the movement to preserve species.

The white-tailed deer, for example, was quite rare by the early part of the twentieth century, and so state after state began to set up wildlife management programs for them. In a world in which wolves and cougars had been mostly killed off, the deer recovered very well. Indeed, when I was in my adolescence, the deer were so numerous in parts of West Virginia that there were very real concerns that they would eat the forest down around them.

Liberalizing hunting on the deer has helped cut those numbers back. In most of northern and central West Virginia, the doe season has been lengthened out. In some counties, one must kill a doe during rifle season in order to use a second buck tag.  This provision has resulted in higher doe kills. If one kills a mature doe, then you’re removing three deer from the population: the doe and the two fawns she will have the next spring.  Thus, the numbers can be reduced fairly quickly if the does can be targeted in this fashion.

Some anti-hunters might say that we should just bring back wolves and cougars, but the North American continent as it exists now will never tolerate wolves and cougars on the land at the same levels were around at the time of European settlement.  Suburbanites raise hell when coyotes set up shop, and they certainly would lose it if they saw a pack of wolves chasing a deer through a golf course.

So we’re going to need hunting to preserve what wild remains. When humans hunt, we assume the role of the predatory beasts we’ve extirpated, but we also assume the role in the ecosystem that we’ve held for the past 300,000 years.

You would never get such a discussion from the current avatars of hunting in America.

A few weeks ago, I decided to watch one of these hunting shows on television. It was primarily a white-tailed deer hunting program, and it had a hokey little intro.

And it went downhill from there. In the first minute and half, Al Gore was mocked for believing in climate change.

I didn’t watch another second. I changed the channel and began to wonder what these people are thinking.

Yes, they are pandering to an audience, but that audience is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the country.

And in this accident of the electoral college and gerrymandering, we are watching a minority of the country’s wishes being imposed upon the majority.

A backlash is certainly brewing, and hunters could very well be collateral damage.

I suppose I can see it because I am part of an even odder minority in the American political system, but I can see what is coming very clearly.

And hunters better do a better job reaching out to constituencies that aren’t on the right, or we’re toast.

 

 

 

 

 

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My deer season was unproductive, but I spent enough time on oak-lined ridges to realize that this summer had produced a bumper crop of gray squirrels.

I prefer gray squirrel meat (yes, Americans eat squirrels) to venison anyway, and I managed to drop these three.  I shot them with an 20 gauge (Stevens Model 940D). I shot two out of trees, and the third came running up a log toward me while I was sitting down.

 

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Here’s a good video of German hunters going after hares and pheasants with an assortment of dogs, including Drahthaars and Kurzhaars as well as at least one Langhaar and a wire-haired teckel.

There is a lot of ceremony involved in German hunting traditions, but I particularly enjoy the dog that howls along with the horns at the end.

 

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New Year’s Eve is one of those holidays, where you’re supposed to be at a party or watching a football game. I’m not so big into parties, and I cannot tell you the first thing about football, other than it’s about as exciting as watching the grass grow.

West Virginia’s DNR has blessed the oddballs with a little respite. In parts of the state where the deer population is quite high, part of the split doe season is reopened for the last three days of the year.

I still had a doe tag to fill, so I went to the deer blind. The morning hunt wasn’t so good, but I had my evening planned. At 3 PM, I’d already showered again in my scent-killing wash.

I see more deer in the evening. I think it’s because when I go out in the morning, I’m going out to already active deer, but when I go out in the evening, I’m out there before the deer start to move. West Virginia doesn’t allow hunting at night, so I think it would be pretty hard for me to be in the right spot in the morning and still follow the law.

I settled in. The evening sun began to sink beyond the gray canopy of trees.  No deer yet. It started to get cold. It would be snowing in two days, but right now, it was just enough to be a nuisance.

I knew the deer would come. I knew that there was a doe and fawn pair that always came down the game trail in front of the blind just as the sun began to sink.

So I waited. And I waited. I remained still. Not a bird stirred. Not a squirrel.

In twilight, a doe fawn suddenly materialized. The winter rays of the sun cast a silvery glow to her mousy gray coat.

I didn’t want to take her. She was young, and if winter conditions were good, she’d have a fawn of her own next May or June.

I waited. Not 30 seconds after the fawn materialized. Her mother appeared behind her. A big doe. Maybe 3 or 4 years old.

I’m sure she was the same doe who had blown my cover in the archery season, and now she was quite fat for winter.

I decided to take her. The experts tell us that we should take the mature does to avoid taking button bucks, and taking these larger does also stops her from having twins next year. Thus, taking her is the best way to protect the future antlered deer and to reduce the deer population the next year.

I moved the .243 off safety, and let the two deer move into position. I had put out some corn scented attractant right in front of my blind, where I knew they would stop.

The fawn stopped. Then her mother.

I gently raised the rifle. I had her in my scope sight. I followed the folds on the inside of her elbow until I was dead-centered on her heart.

I took a deep breath and gently squeezed the trigger.

I didn’t hear the gunfire. I heard the bullet slam into the big doe. She spun once and collapsed dead. A clean, humane kill.

If you ever wonder what a gun can do to a man, just look at what one can do to a deer. Nothing will make you respect them more than use one for hunting. They are not toys. They are not absolute evil. But they must be respected.

The gun in question was my grandpa’s old turkey sniper. It is a Remington 788 model, which had painted camouflage.

Turkey hunting with rifles has always been illegal in West Virginia.

So is hunting them with bait.

Gramps followed neither law.

My dad used it to bag a big buck a few years ago.  It’s dead accurate at 75 yards.

But it’s always in the safe. And it’s never brought into the house loaded.

We’re talking a lot about guns this week.

Today, I received an e-mail from the DCCC from a woman whose mother was wounded at the Virginia Tech shooting. I have a cousin who graduated from Virginia Tech, and her father forwarded the same e-mail to me. Guns can ruin lives.

On the other side of the country, a bunch of self-styled militiamen have commandeered a bird sanctuary in Oregon. One of the yahoos appeared on MSNBC covered in a blue tarp demanding that the feds take him there so he could get a better shot at them.

Is this what gun culture has become?

For me, guns are tools of wildlife management, as well as heirlooms passed down from father to son.

To some, they are the very epitome of what it means to be a sovereign American citizen.

To others, they are the sign that America is a barbarous land where the guns crack and the blood spills at all hours of the night.

The truth is I’m not with either of those camps at this moment.

I am reconnected with the old ways, when man hunted the wild beasts for survival.

I’m on a ridgetop in West Virginia, and I’ve sacrificed a white-tail doe to Artemis.

I feel both pride and remorse. I feel pride in that I was able to take the deer humanely, but I feel remorse in that I took a life.

When my grandfather was dying of cancer, he told me that he felt sorry for every squirrel that he wounded but was unable to recover.

And this man was a hunter. A serious one. He loved his guns and hunting dogs.

But he was a predator, not a monster.

When the hunter stops feeling the remorse at the kill, it’s probably time that he or she gave it up.

That remorse comes from valuing life, and it’s the thing that should be at the forefront of one’s mind when you’re holding something as destructive as a gun.

But it’s a fine line between the predator and the monster.

It’s one that I find troubling, but I’m glad that I find it troubling.

I am a person who loves the deer. I am glad our forests are full of them, but I am aware that if they aren’t managed they will eat down all their browse and soon starve to death.

Better to die of a carefully placed bullet than of an empty stomach.

But even that intellectual justification cannot take away the remorse at having killed.

And yet there is still satisfaction.

I am connected to the old ways. I follow in the generations of my species who have thrown spears at quarry, then shot arrows, then musket balls, then these carefully-designed rounds, which can take out a deer so surgically.

I am both awed at the process and humbled by it.

I will continue to hunt the deer. I accept myself as a predator.

But I will not become a monster.

I will always feel that remorse at having killed.

 

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Look at the antlers on that stag!

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It was a 60 pound button buck, and he and his sister came in. She ran off three times and came back. I didn’t want to take a little deer. He just stood there, and well, I thought: “What would a wolf or cougar do?”

The Rage broadhead took him quickly.

So one deer off my license for bow season.

I have found that this little blind works well with these pressured little Allegheny mountain deer:

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I also weighs only 14 pounds and comes in a backpack, and it also takes 5 minutes to set up.

And you can shoot a crossbow or a compound bow inside it!

I’m not here to revel in gore. Deer populations have to be managed, and last year, the bumper white oak acorn mast meant that many more does than normal would have twins. This year’s acorn mast isn’t as impressive, which means lots of little dear like this button buck will starve to death, wind up hit by a car, or eaten by coyotes. In the dead cold of February, when the acorns are all gone, he won’t be among those starving. And his share of food will go to a more wary deer.

That’s how it’s gone on for millions of years, and humans have been hunting deer here for maybe 13,000 years.

And it will continue on.

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