In My Perfect World

In my perfect world, everybody would be a hunter. 

 

It is interesting to imagine how our lives would be changed if everybody hunted. There are many effects that such a change would have on our collective psyche, and also the habitat around us.

At a time when space is at a premium, it is interesting to theorize how habitat would be affected by universal sport hunting. Subsistence hunting is a different subject, and the effects of universal subsistence hunting would be disastrous. There would certainly be too much pressure on the game animals and not enough habitats to support us all. But, we could all be sport hunters.

Let’s try to imagine how it would be. Everybody would have an interest in providing habitat for our game and the result would also be more habitats for non-game animals. Everybody would spend time in the woods alone and would be more comfortable with the outdoors.

Good hunting lands would be highly sought, more valuable and scarce relative to demand; and therefore less susceptible to encroachment by urban uses.

Game management would be one of the most sought-after and respected jobs. Educational opportunities for habitat management and game management would abound.

Everybody would have a firsthand experience with hunting. Everybody would understand the joy of first success, the difficulty of possessing a big game animal and the mixed emotions that come with the kill.

The rush that comes with the pheasant flush and the thrill that comes with being dive bombed by a flock of speeding teal would be bonds that would help unite humanity.

Everybody would witness perfect clear sunrises, torrential downpours and turkeys gobbling to the sound of artificial coyote howls in early morning semidarkness.

There would be a universal appreciation for the high-quality game meat and a much better understanding of all the meats we eat, game and non-game.

Management of public property would be on the minds of most of the public. Wildlife would prosper and open space would be forever secure. Poachers and unethical hunters would find it harder to operate because of increase awareness by the public. The heightened appreciation of game animals would put additional societal pressure on these undesirable types to straighten out.

Because more people would be in the outdoors, there would be a greater appreciation for rare and endangered species and more habitats to assure their survival. Our society would have a greater over-all appreciation for the beauty of the world around us. There is no doubt in my mind that we would be better off if everybody were a hunter.

Springtime is Turkey Time

The first few trips to the ranch after the close of duck season are an awakening. I make very few trips to the hills during duck season, mainly because I’m focused on ducks and once the hills on our ranch become saturated by winter rains, travel becomes difficult.

ranch-road-deer-cropped-and-resized.jpg(Note: Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Once duck season is over, thoughts turn to the hills and we know it won’t be long until turkey season opens. Along with the turkeys comes an occasional opportunity to bag a wild pig, but the last few years have been slow for pigs, so we’ve spent more time looking for gobblers.

Sometimes we see tule elk along the easement road as we did this day, but the two bulls we spotted were too far away to make a useful photo. The bulls had already shed their antlers. They like the open hillsides where they can spot people coming from a long ways off. Although they are not hunted, they are very careful to avoid people.

brian-scott-checks-out-pig-rooting-on-our-ranch-cropped-and-resized.jpg(Caption: Brian Scott, in town to MC our Mule Deer Foundation banquet accompanied me on this trip and checked out the pig rooting.)

Although we found no pigs, we did find a large area that had been rooted up by pigs in search of tubers –  probably within the past week. I find it interesting that so many people complain about the destructive nature of pig rooting. I’m sure it does have a short term negative impact upon grass, but my gut instincts tell me that there are benefits derrived from the rooting. It probably has a positive impact upon soil compaction making it easier for some plants to grow. It sets the area back a bit succession wise and creates some diversity. If pig rooting is bad, what about farming?

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We had a good crop of turkeys in 2006, but the dry spring of 2007 seems to have had a negative impact upon our local turkey prooduction. The short grass last summer was probably not conducive to good brood survival and that seems to be the case as this spring the flocks are smaller and spread out over larger territories.

We have two areas on our ranch that tend to attract spring turkeys, but one of those two is by far the most productive. It is a canyon that holds a lot of water and has heavy cover on its north-facing slope. Along with the cover, the area has plenty of large roost trees – a key to attracting and holding turkeys.

That’s where we found a small group of gobblers following a couple hens in typical spring fashion.

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We stopped to check a few ponds in search of red-legged frogs, but only found a few tree frogs along the pond edges.

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On the way home we found a small flock of hen turkeys with several gobblers displaying.

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Brian leaned out the passenger window to take these turkey photos.

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Nevada Lion “Attack”

I don’t remember what year it was, 1987 most likely. I’d been archery hunting mule deer in the Santa Rosa Range north of Winnemucca Nevada. Although the season was over, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave the area when I came upon a rancher whose family owned property and grazing rights in one of the primary Creek drainages just south of Paradise Valley. His name was Tom.

We began to talk about deer hunting and later on, mountain lions. Over the years he’d taken some large bucks on the ridge to the west of his home and typically he would hunt late in the deer season. A few years back he’d taken a really nice buck late in the season and left it in the trail while he went back to the ranch to pick up horses to haul out the buck.

When he returned for the buck, it was gone and drag marks in the light snow indicated what had taken place. Because his brother had a mountain lion tag, he went home and found his brother. Tom was thinking that they might spot the cat or scare it into the open when he followed the drag marks.

Upon returning, his brother climbed to an overlook above the area where the cat had dragged the buck and waited. Tom cautiously followed the drag marks into the brush. As he approached a large bolder, he spotted the carcass beside it. Within a couple steps of the rock, he stood looking around for any sign of the cat. Suddenly the lion, which apparently had been asleep near the rock, leaped onto the bolder almost within reach.

While the lion growled and clawed the air in his direction, Tom remembered poking the cat in the face with the end of his gun barrel while attempting to get the safety off. Finally he realized that the safety was already off and pulled the trigger, ending the cat’s life.

Tom was so frightened that he didn’t wait to see the result of his shot. He just turned and ran staight out of the brush, later returning with his brother to find the cat dead.

He later discovered that this was a female lion with nearly grown cubs. She was still providing for them and saw the buck as a great opportunity for a meal.

Tom observed a lion in his headlights a few days later and speculated that it was probably one of the lion cubs.

Thoughts on Tracking

Our tracks and the tracks of the pursued are intricately woven into the land that we live on. We cannot escape from the mold that we have been placed into. Every creature leaves a unique trail in its path. The ability to decipher this trail and follow or learn about the one who left it is primarily determined by the skill of the tracker.

In 1991, my brother, Rob and I were hunting mule deer in Nevada. The hike to the hunting locating from the truck was about three miles over rugged terrain. We agreed that if we did not meet up by a half hour before sunset, we would return independently.

I was delayed while stalking a buck and did not reach our rendezvous point at the chosen time. Rob had already departed for the vehicles and the sun had nearly set before I began the hike back to our vehicles.

There were no visible trails in the shale and lava rock and the hike would be strictly crosscounty. Although open, the mountain had natural passages and it would not be unusual for the two of us would choose similar routes. The entire mountain was covered with trackless lava rock and shale. I gave little thought to my brother or the route that he may have taken.

In fact, at one point, I tried to climb a ridge that led me to an impasse. I was forced to back track and climbed down the open hillside to a shale-covered area. As I carefully navigated across the shale, lava rock and sage brush, I came to a patch of dirt only about three feet in diameter and when I placed my foot down, I realized I was stepping into a track left by Rob. Not only was I stepping in the same spot, but with the same foot and line of travel. It was over a mile from our rendezvous point to the dirt patch where we left our identical footprints. This did not  happen by chance.

This event sent me a powerful message. People are predictable. Most of us are not trained to figure out how to do the predicting. The same concept applies to all animals, including those we hunt.

Humans rely strongly on vision. Eyesight is the number one tool that hunters use to locate game. We have complete confidence in our vision and instantly interpret the images that our eyes perceive and never doubt the reliability of those images. However, our eyesight at one time or another has deceived us all. That does not deter us from continued confidence in the reliability of our eyes.

If we have complete understanding of the tracks that are all around us, the tracks would be just as reliable as our vision. Our ability to utilize tracks for our own benefit and understanding are only limited by our ability or lack of ability to read sign.

Much of this sign we do see. Some of it is quite obvious. However, most of us choose to deem it unreliable. We choose not to believe what is right in front of us. Why is this? There are several reasons.

Unlike the hunter-gatherers, we spend little time in the forest. The knowledge that creates a working understanding of tracks and sign has not been passion. Concepts that were accepted as truth by ancient man are now looked upon with doubt.

With some effort, a sliver of understanding is attainable. For most of us, we only have time to attain a small insight into the sign that is written all over the face of the earth. Even this trickle of knowledge is a source of wealth to the hunter. By developing skills seldom understood in the modern world, the hunter’s enjoyment of time in the woods can reach a new level.

The Grizzly of Avalance Lake

I’ve had a few grizzly bear experiences over the years, mostly in Alaska, but one of my most memorable grizzly bear experiences took place near Yellowstone Park in 1986.

 

If you’ve been to Yellowstone Park and taken any hikes into the woods, you may recall that the area is littered with grizzly bear warnings. And, if you hang around the locals for a while, you’ll be told all the latest about human and grizzly conflicts including at least a couple stories about people who were killed and eaten.

 

While shopping, a store clerk reminded that during the previous summer a lone woman camper had been killed and eaten by a grizzly, but of course it was an isolated case.

 

I don’t remember exactly what other stories I was told in 1986, but there were others.

 

As I prepared to take an overnight hike to a destination called Avalanche Lake, I stopped in at a USFS office and it was suggested to me by one of the ranger types that I put bells on my shoes, aptly called bear bells. I also recall another Montana native telling me about finding little bells in the piles of bear scat he found near his home.

 

I couldn’t imagine hiking around in the hills listening to the constant jingling of little bells, so I elected to hike silent.

 

Prior to this hike, I had made many hikes with friends and camped out many times, but almost always in the company of other hikers. There’s something about having company that gives one a sense of security. Hearing so much about grizzlies was giving me a case of the willies, but I was determined to go it alone on this very simple six-mile hike and overnight stay.

 

Having property worried about bears, I loaded my pack and arranged for a nearby group of campers to watch over my excess gear, and headed for Avalanche Lake. In addition to the six miles of hiking would be about 2,000 feet of climbing. I left the trailhead at approximately noon so there would be plenty of time to complete the first leg of the trip before dark.

 

I was into nature and stopped to sketch a yellow-rumped warbler and also some glacier lilies. The lilies were quite beautiful with their yellow flowers. Seeing them was an invitation to test my sketching skills, which were limited.

 

A man and a woman came hiking down the trail in my direction. They stopped to chat and informed me that the bulbs of the glacier lilies could be eaten. Naturally I pulled out my knife and tried one. It wasn’t bad.

 

Eventually I realized that it was getting late, and the trail was getting steeper as I approached the lake. A rapid cloud buildup soon produced large rain drops and I realized that I’d better set up my tarp, or get wet.

 

I was fairly close to my destination, but the rain was making a decision for me. I’d be spending the night by the side of the trail.

 

As lightning flashed and thunder echoed off the nearby mountains, I spread my tarp and tied it between several trees to provide shelter from the heavy rain. With my gear safely stashed under the tarp, I found a dry spot under a large pine. I built a small fire and cooked some brown rice for dinner. Nearly paranoid about bears, I made sure that I didn’t get food on my clothes and hung my small bag of food out of reach. I climbed into my sleeping bag, laid down under the tarp and listened to the lively storm.

 

The heavy cloud cover eliminated all light sources except for the bright flashes of lightning. It was not peaceful and all the grizzly bear stories I’d heard over the past couple days were replayed in my mind. Music from my harmonica soothed me and finally I drifted off to sleep as the storm continued to pound the mountains around me.

 

Once I finally slept, it was a deep and satisfying sleep, reflecting the workout I’d had the day before.

 

I don’t know how long I was out before it happened, but it must have been at least a couple hours before I huge crash from my right brought me suddenly to the sitting position while I screamed in bloody terror.

 

I was sure that I had met the badest grizzly on the mountain. Fortunately it was not the grizzly at all, but a large fir tree that had lost it’s footing in the saturated soil and landed on the ground only a few yards from where I slept. Fortunately, it had not landed directly on top of me and ended my life right there underneath my tarp.

 

Having survived the “grizzly” attach, I pulled out my harmonica and serenaded myself back to sleep one more time.