Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last Day, End of Day Opportunity Or......?

The end of day western sky was a brilliant pattern of washed orange, purple and fiery red that seemed to be kissing the sun goodbye after another glorious autumn day. My short walk from the hide I had made for myself in the treeline was between a field of standing corn and a plowed field. I’d parked my Suburban on the ridge of the rise in the countryside and beyond the truck was another treeline that paralleled the road. I really wasn’t too disappointed in my failure to shoot a deer because my step-son, Michael, had killed a fat, dry doe and that deer was hanging in my garage. I had promised Michael I’d skin and butcher the deer. All-in-all I was content. As I cleared the treeline and could see into the plowed field I stopped and froze. Two deer were in the open field. They were not in silhouette because of the rise of the ground but their forms were clearly visible and they were, so far, unaware of my presence and they were within range of my muzzleloader.
I found myself trying to decide whether to take a shot at the larger deer. It was a big doe with her yearling offspring and she would put a good amount of venison in my freezer. There was one problem—it was now about fifteen minutes past legal shooting time even though I could still see the deer. I could shoot the large doe and I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a problem because the wildlife officers were seldom in this area so in truth I was on my own. The decision to obey both the letter and spirit of the law or shoot a deer in the last few minutes of light was mine alone.
I sighted in on the big doe and ultimately caved in to the ethics that were tugging at my hunting shirt and I didn’t shoot. I took two more steps and the deer saw my movement and took off with their tails flashing in the fading light. When I reached my truck I used my binoculars to scan the area around me and I couldn’t see a parked vehicle or one on any of the roads. I probably could have shot and tagged the deer then loaded it in my truck without anyone caring—except me. It is not that I walk to a higher moral standard than any other hunter but as with all hunters it is often when we are alone that we find ourselves being asked to honor the ethics of hunting—when no one will ever see us do it.
Interesting, isn’t it. Glg
PS Any of you who are interested can read a feature about Cookie (my dog) and her first retrieve of a Giant Canada Goose. The story is in the December, 2008 issue of Family Fish & Game magazine.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lead in Venison

Last summer I wrote an article about the issue of lead in venison for Whitetails Unlimited magazine (Fall, 2008, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the issue but last March (2008), a North Dakota dermatologist, Dr. William Cornatzer, conducted a series of CT (CAT) scans of ground venison. (These tests are now known as the Cronatzer Tests.) The scans revealed tiny particles of lead in the venison (the photo is one of the CT images of the ground venison) and a result was that several health departments panicked and ordered several tons (that’s right—tons) of venison stocked by food pantries throughout several states to be destroyed. At the same time North Dakota requested that the Center for Disease Control conduct a study of hunters and non-hunters to determine if there is any evidence of elevated levels of lead among those who consume venison. When the results were finally published the CDC results did show that those who regularly eat venison do have an elevated amount of lead in their blood. But, and this is important, the amount of lead is negligible and should not be of any concern because it is not dangerous. Except, and this is the exception that proves the rule, any amount of lead, even an amount that is otherwise of no threat, can be a danger to women who are pregnant or to very small children.

The venison in lead issue is interesting because it is a very polarizing issue. Within the hunting industry an immediate, knee-jerk reaction has been to claim that the issue has been manufactured by the Peregrine Falcon Fund and other far left organizations as a means to ban lead hunting ammunition. Others in the industry maintain that there is absolutely no credible evidence to support the theory of lead in venison. I disagree with both. In researching the WU article I read the results of seven different studies on whether lead appears in venison. Admittedly most of these studies were focused on the lead question as it relates to raptors but the results are the same for both hunters and raptors—big game that is shot by hunters does have some lead particles in it. At least that is how I read the results of the various studies. When the ammunition manufacturers are asked about the lead issue they maintain that it cannot happen but when I asked a gunsmith if it can occur his answer was to weigh a bullet before shooting it into ballistic compound or an animal carcass then weigh all the parts of the bullet you can recover. “The amount of lead you recover will not equal the original weight. Where did it go?” His point is made.

There is no reason for anyone to panic and quit hunting or even to switch from their favorite ammunition—just exercise a little common sense. First, be sure your marksmanship is up to the task of a one shot kill and place your bullet in the heart/lung area and not the heavy meat areas of the shoulder. Second, before butchering your deer be sure to cut away the wound channel and don’t use any of the meat near the channel. You will not be able to see any lead particulates, they are microscopic. You could also be a true conservationist and if you hunt in an area that is home habitat for any threatened raptors hunt with non-lead ammunition, whether hunting upland game birds or big game you’ll be helping wildlife.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I cut my deer hunting teeth on mule deer even though I grew up in Oklahoma where today whitetail deer are like fleas (as they are in many parts of the country). There were no deer around my hometown in the 50s through 70s and to hunt deer we drove 557 miles to CaƱon City, Colorado. I was 12 when I went on my first deer hunt and although I was not allowed to carry a rifle the experience stayed with me. Sometimes, when I am tired of seeing my words on this screen, I slip the DVD of home movies into my computer and skip through it until I reach that deer hunt then I sit back to watch and relive it. Twenty-plus years after that hunt, in 1988, I wrote a short story titled “Coming Home” which is about coming home from the Vietnam War in 1969 and being unable to shoot a rabbit. It was another nine years after the rabbit hunt in that story before I could again hunt.
Now I live as close to my hunting as possible and on many of the days I don’t hunt I do something that is, in some way, associated with hunting.
This evening I went whitetail hunting and spent the last 45 minutes of shooting light sitting near a slough some deer call home. I’m hunting for the kitchen not the wall so I’m looking for a big, dry doe but today the only thing I watched was a jackrabbit and a true trophy whitetail buck.
Trophy hunting is an interesting issue. Some people detest it and others are wild about it. If you want to learn about successful trophy whitetail hunts you might want to get a copy of the 2001 book Legendary Whitetails II (Legendary Whitetails II: Stories and Photos of 40 More of the Greatest Bucks of all Time). This is a collection of 40 stories about some of the greatest whitetail bucks ever killed by hunters. The stories are fascinating looks into trophy hunting and the hunters dedicated to it. For many years I loudly opposed trophy hunting until several biologists told me those trophy hunters are important to opening the gene pool and insuring healthy herds of deer, especially in areas where the deer tend to concentrate. Okay, I can buy that argument.
I've even learned a few things from the stories in that book, however, because my deer hunting began with mule deer I have accumulated several shelves of books on whitetail hunting and a book that I actually refer to for sound advice was written by Dave Richey back in 1986 and reprinted by Lyons Press in 2001. Richey’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Deer Hunting (The Ultimate Guide to Deer Hunting: Tips and Tactics for Every Situation), has helped me transition my thinking from only hunting mule deer to successfully hunting whitetail deer. It is just a good good book on deer hunting and it has lasted because it is good.
Both of these books are about big deer—trophy deer. Maybe you don’t agree with the idea of trophy deer hunting and you are like me, hunting for the freezer. On the other hand I’ve never met a hunter who did not stop to marvel at a trophy buck and it isn’t uncommon to see a little green in the eyes of most meat hunters.
Whether you meat or trophy hunt I hope you have a great and safe season.
PS Next Blog I want to talk about lead in venison. I wrote an article on this subject for Whitetails Unlimited magazine and it is worth reading. I have my views and they are not popular with some people in the world of hunting.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back from Woodcutting

Whew! The last two weeks have been a nightmare of too much work! We have been having some really outstanding weather and I had to take the opportunity to get ready for winter. Besides, for some strange reason the waterfowl that normally hang around this area until the sloughs and lakes are frozen have all left early. Without ducks and geese to hunt I decided to cut my winter’s supply of firewood. I have a wood burning box stove in my office and it is something that keeps me warm in both body and mind.
I am sure that most people would have been able to cut and split the same amount of firewood in a quarter of the time it took me but I work a lot slower than most people. I enjoy the exercise, the feeling of being closer to our world and in winter’s depths there is a connection that I truly enjoy. Unfortunately my writing (here and elsewhere) suffered while I cut firewood. Each day I came home, put Cookie in her kennel, put away my tools, showered, ate dinner and fell into bed! Now my wood is cut, split, stacked and I’m ready for winter—until something else comes along that must be done before the mercury plummets! Until then I’m back at work, only to be interrupted by fishing or hunting! Which will be every day!

A Friend Is Gone

I don’t know how many of you knew of the outdoor writer and broadcaster Tony Dean. He was very well known in the upper tier states and over his career won dozens of awards in broadcasting and writing. For sportsmen Tony Dean was more than a great source of information about where and when to go fishing and hunting, he was a tireless advocate of the rights of hunters and a proponent of maintaining the Conservation Reserve Program. Last week we lost Tony to complications following an appendectomy. Tony was only 67 and our world is a lot poorer without him.