A Time to Speak

Much of my most serious time in the woods is done while hunting. That’s when I’m as quiet as possible. Often that is so quiet that a stick rubbing against my cap makes me jump.

Sometimes the woods are so quite that I stop and notice wheezing emanating from my own lungs or the pounding of my own heart.

The sounds of my trousers rubbing against brush or the snap of a twig, are not foreign to the woods. They could be produced by a number of critters or physical events.

On occasions, I have been so silent in the woods that special things have happened.

A little over 35 years ago I arose early during an archery back-pack deer hunt on a mountain in the California coast range. It was August and the trails were covered in two or three inches of dust. At first light, I moved cautiously and slowly along one such dust-covered trail not far from the top of a ridge that led to the mountain top.

The area was perfect deer habitat and I was feeling optimistic as everything seemed to be falling into place and the possibility of sneaking up on a buck was quite real.

Then a deer snorted from about 75 yards away uphill from me. “How could he have smelled me?” was my first thought.

Then another deer snorted and I heard it run off.

“So close, ” I thought to myself, not knowing what could have gone wrong.

I remained absolutely still as I stared up towards the ridge top.

I was standing in slight depression created by a minor drainage. The drainage led directly up the hill and my line of sight while watching was directly up said depression.

Then I caught movement about fifty yards up the hill. Something was coming down the drainage. It was a lion, a male lion with a very square head. He was lying low, but moving fairly quickly. I had little time to react before he would be right on top of me.

Obviously he had no idea I was there. Within seconds he was only 20 yards from me and still coming in a silent, slinking but ground-covering way.

I could only react. “That’s close enough pussy cat,” I heard myself say.

Stupid? Maybe, but that’s what I said.

In a flash the cat was out of sight. He covered the 10 yards between him and the closest thicket in almost no time at all. I never saw him again and I was thankful for that – except that the minute he went out of sight, I was somewhat terrified because I had no idea what he was doing.

I moved down the trail expeditiously and I believe he did the same. Neither of us wanted to become better acquainted.

Now, more than 30 years after that event, it is clear to me that the human voice is a valuable defence mechanism. Virtually all wild animals that live with humans are afraid of them. Sometimes our best defense is the sound of our own voice.




Time to Open Lands to Hunting

My brother spotted a deer in Mocho Creek last week. It was a doe. Having lived along Livermore’s Mocho Creek for much of our lives, we know that spotting a deer in the creek is unusual. So unusual that the last deer we saw in Mocho Creek was over 40 years ago.

Our previous deer sighting occured on a warm day, probably in the fall of the year when Rob and I were hiking in territory outside our normal haunts. In what seemed like a remote area southeast of town, we found a dump where the landowners were leaving yard trimmings, old furniture and miscellaneous stuff.

As we approached the dump, a young buck blacktail jumped from cover along the trail. My best guess is that I was about 11 at the time, so that makes it 47 years ago and even then deer were scarce that close to town. The site of that deer observation was where the Livermore Rodeo grounds have since been built.

  doe-and-fawn-at-creek-hole-cropped.jpg(Caption: Deer numbers are constantly declining due to loss of and fragmentation of habitat.)

Unfortunately deer habitat in our area is in serious decline. Housing projects, vineyards, and small-lot rural development have fragmented habitat. Habitat that may have been good for deer fifty years ago has been rendered less healthy by an inability to manage habitat with prescribed fire.

With an inability to manage the mountain lion population, hungry predator populations are trimming the remaining numbers of deer to the point where lions are forced out of their habitat and into the edge of town where they may find alternative food sources.

mountain-lionl_at_creek_hole-alameda-county__6_06-cropped.jpg(Caption: This lion was photographed on private land adjacent to EBRPD lands.)

For hunters, matters are even worse as more and more land that is deer habitat comes under ownership of public agencies that don’t allow hunting. The East Bay Regional Park District is one, and the City of San Francisco via its watershed lands is another.

2007-cousin-wes-with-gobbler-at-fletcher-ranch-cropped.jpgtom_s_buck_8_12_06-cropped.jpg(Caption: The turkey and deer in these photographs were bagged on land adjacent to EBRPD lands.)


And, the future is not bright for hunting opportunities in the East Bay. As time passes more and more land will secede to land-owning agencies that do not allow hunting. Why? Pressure from the anti-hunting groups is only part of the problem. The bad public image of hunting is also a factor. Safety and liability issues contribute as well.

However, hunting makes tremendous sense as a viable and compatible use with much of the land owned by these agencies. Hunting produces revenue. Hunting leaves a minor footprint on the land. Hunting is strictly limited to open seasons, which occur during brief time frames. Hunters are licensed and trained in firearm safety. Restrictions on method of take can be used to create safe conditions. Game animal populations need to be managed – currently problems exhist with wild pigs and Canada geese.

Thousands of acres of public lands are sitting out there wasting away. Yes there are a few cattle out there and some of our local ranchers are making ends meet while keeping up their rodeo skills, but why not get some tangible additional benefits from the land?

Now, as mitigation for loss of wetlands and impacts to endangered species escalates, more land will be placed into conservation easements or turned over to agencies. If the current trend continues, these new conservations lands will be removed from private ownership and placed under management of people who do not wish to see hunting continue. It’s time for a change to this trend.

california-red-leg-frog-cropped.jpg(Caption: Protection of endangered species like the California red-legged frog is causing lands to be transfered to agencies.)

Hunters need to look for new avenues to insure that lands will continue to be hunted. Those that own land can help create solutions by looking for future owners who will continue to see that land is hunted.  If park distircts continue to refuse to allow hunting, the State of California can be called upon to purchase lands through the Wildlife Conservation Board or new land owning non-government organizations can be established to replace the East Bay Regional Park District as a recipient of conservation properties outside the urban limits.

It’s time for hunters to create a roadmap.

 herd-of-tule-elk-bulls-on-sfwd-land-cropped.jpg    (Caption: Herd of tule elk bulls on unhunted East Bay Public lands.)