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Archive for the ‘hunting’ Category

Evening catch

I caught these trout at Cooper’s Rock this evening.

The one on the bottom is a nice fat brook trout.

brook trout

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The North America wildlife management strategy is best described in this video:

Just a few days ago, NPR reported that the percentage of people hunting in the United States has dwindled to 5 percent, and this lack of hunter participation is hamstringing wildlife management departments all over America.

The North American model’s main funding mechanism, which isn’t really mentioned in the Rinella piece, comes from two main sources, hunting license and taxes paid on hunting equipment. Right now, if you buy ammunition or a sporting gun, there is an 11 percent sales tax, which comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act.  There is a 10 percent sales tax on pistols and revolvers, and that money goes to the Department of the Interior, where it is then distributed to the states and territories for conservation purposes.

With gun and ammunition sales often driven by speculation and fear-mongering about gun control (which is now in the news again), it is unlikely that this source will dry up in the near future.

The real problem is lower hunter participation. With fewer and fewer hunters taking out after game each year, the coffers of state wildlife agencies become emptier and emptier. The election of so many Republican legislatures nationwide also means that the states are less likely to offer up alternative revenue for wildlife management agencies. So many people who are hunters vote Republican, but in the end, the Republican Party isn’t about increase taxes on anything to keep spending money on what some view as a socialist enterprise in our wildlife management system.

So we live at a time when our public management system is under attack from conservative force but is being starved by an increasingly urban and liberal public. Yes, an increasingly liberal and urban society isn’t going to be spending money on hunting licenses.

It is a perfect storm of bad ideas from the right and the left.  It is easy for hunters to attack urban people. We all have this concept of the New Jersey cat lady, who has 25 cats in her house and does TNR with the alley cats and goes to great length to raise hell when the bear season comes every year.  That is someone who definitely does exist, but it is a caricature of what liberal, urban America actually is.

Most people who live in these areas vote Democrat, but they don’t really have a strong opinion about hunting. And because they really don’t know anyone who hunts, they are very easily manipulated by animal rights organizations. They are manipulated by ignorance.

Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m ignorant about many things. We all are. If your day-to-day existence doesn’t include much wildlife, it is easy to think that those animal rights people actually do know what they’re talking about. If you don’t know anyone who hunts, it is easy to accept the premise that all hunters are right wingers who love their Donald Trump and Ted Nugent.

And hunters have responded to this stigmatization by wrapping themselves up in right wing politics, which will likely turn out to be the biggest strategic move that hunters could have made.

Right now, the Republican base is aging, and fewer and fewer young people each year register as Republicans. By wrapping hunting up into the greater ideals of conservatism rather than conservation, hunters are going to suffer greatly as the next generation of voters shuns the Republican Party.

That’s going to be bad for wildlife, too. They will not be buying tags for hunting, and they won’t be buying guns and ammunition either.

So both revenue sources for the North American Model will be drying up.

One could simply add canoes, camping equipment, and cameras to the goods subject to the Pittman-Robertson taxes, because then you’d have non-hunting wildlife enthusiasts paying for conservation.

That solution would require legislation, and I am not certain if people who are engaged in those activities would support those taxes. Businesses that sell those items would likely not be happy with adding a cost to their sales prices.

So the only real solution is to find a way to destigmatize hunting for the younger and more urban generation.

The first thing that hunters who are interested in the future should do is take on the cause of conservation.  It is not helpful for hunters to be deniers of scientific facts, especially when it comes to climate change. People under a certain age will not buy any of that stuff.  Demographically, that battle has been lost, whether you’re right or not. (And you aren’t).

If you can sell hunting as an ethical way to manage forests, say show how killing a some white-tailed deer every year promotes the regeneration of oak forest, then you’re making some headway. Also show how humanely you kill a deer, explain that a single shot to the heart, which is kills in seconds, is far more merciful than a lingering death in the March woods when all the acorns are gone.

The other thing hunters must do is realize that conservatism is a lost cause. Conservatism isn’t going to save your guns, because consevatism is a discredited ideology for the generation that is about to take power. What will save your guns is recognizing the need for meaningful gun legislation and making dead certain that you understand that hunting is primarily about conservation. It is a “green” idea to hunt deer, and being green isn’t a bad thing, because it ensures that wild places will continue to exist.

If you’re going to hold onto these ideas and attack young people, then they will not listen to you, and they WILL listen to the animal rights extremists, who honestly don’t have a very good grounding in conservation principles at all. Animal rights extremists know how to do publicity right. They know how to do politics.

Most hunting organizations know only how to operate in a system in which conservative politics reigns or has the potential to reign. The new world for hunting organizations is figuring out how to exist in a society that doesn’t regard socialism as a dirty word and views climate change as a major issue that must be addressed.

Hunting can survive, but only if hunting organizations realize that real world has changed. And it’s up to us to be much more effective at destigmatizing field sports.

I know this is easy for me. I’ve never been a conservative. I was raised in a family of liberal deer hunters, so it’s not like I really have to change my approach.

But I am only one person.

For those hunters who disagree with me, I have two questions:

Do you really think Ted Nugent has changed the minds of enough young people to keep hunting a part of America’s conservation heritage for decades to come?

Do you think Donald Trump has added to his electoral base since the 2016 election?

You know the answers to both questions.

And that’s why we are going to have this big challenge ahead of us for the future of hunting and conservation in this country.

 

 

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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.

aldo leopold german shorthair

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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003

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:

095

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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