Monday, March 29, 2010

The Roadside Scavenger Meat Mart

I guess winter is mostly over. I’ve got a couple of patches of snow in my yard but they should be gone by Wednesday morning. Now, if nature is just a little cooperative, by the end of the weekend I’ll have my garage and office roof shingled! With that finished just a little touch up paint and a couple of other odds-n-ends and the garage is finished. Okay, I am a slow worker, but it does get done-eventually.

Wife M and I were driving to Grand Forks the other day and just as we left town we passed a bald eagle that was feeding on a deer’s carcass. The bird looked majestic, even if it was ripping the rotting meat out of a deer that had been killed sometime in the winter. On the way into Grand Forks we passed several other decaying carcasses and I started wondering how long it would take for those scavenger roadside meat marts to be cleaned up. A couple of years ago, when I was still driving into Grand Forks several times a week, I watched the road kills decay and be cleaned up by the scavengers—everything from coyotes to eagles got something to eat.

Thinking about that eagle got me to thinking about a deer hunt I was on too many years ago. It was during the time I was running the annual hunting camps for Soldier of Fortune magazine. I would set up camp for the early seasons and invite friends and family to come up and hunt the area before the SOF people, staffers and guests, arrived. On one hunt the early season guests included the outdoor writer Glenn Titus and his wife. Chas was also there and my brother Richard and his son, Terry. The hunting was hard with steep canyons that we had to hike up and down each day. One day Glenn’s wife shot at a deer and while she was sure she’d hit it Glenn couldn’t find any blood trail. The deer’s trail was easy to follow and they were able to follow it into the canyon. They didn’t stop trailing the deer until the canyon became too steep and deep for a practical follow-up. That night, around the campfire, I asked Glenn if he felt bad about not being able to find the deer.

“I feel sorry for my wife,” Glenn explained, “because it was a really good deer, one of those trophies you don’t find very often. But as for the deer, nature will not let it go to waste.”

I’ve often thought about Glenn’s comment—nature will not let it go to waste. He was a trained biologist and had worked for the Oklahoma Fish and Game Department. I always looked up to Glenn and respected his opinions. In the decades since then I have lost the trail of deer both I and my clients had wounded, but eventually I had to give up. Sometimes the trail just disappears.

Ethically we have a responsibility to the deer, to every animal we hunt, to make every effort to recover any game we wound. But how much should we beat ourselves up when we lose an animal? Over the years I’ve lost my share of game, sometimes even Cookie hasn’t been able to find a bird that went down as a cripple. Personally, I think we’ve created a false sense of how much we should beat ourselves up over a cripple or wounded animal. Absolutely, it is always important we make every reasonable effort to recover the animal but at what point do we say “I’ve tried” and go on with our hunt?

Is there a line in the sand? Should a hunter put their lives at risk to recover a wounded animal? Should bird hunters expend so much of their dog’s energy that it could endanger the dog’s ability to make a long retrieve later in the day, either in the water or over the land? Dogs do drown or have heart attacks because they have become exhausted. I have called Cookie off lost birds, even putting her back on a leash to move her away from where the bird had been lost.



Phillip said...

I hate to lose an animal because I don't like not knowing how long it suffered due to my failure to make a clean kill. That's the bottom line.

But once the trail is lost, I don't feel like the animal is wasted, because like your friend I know nature will clean up behind me.

I believe we do have a general responsibility to do all in our power to make a clean kill, and a personal responsibility to do our best to recover lost game.

I also have a lot of respect for the hunter who considers a lost animal to be part of the bag. It's not the law to do so, but it shows a commitment to conservation (not to mention the restraint to stop shooting with an empty space on the strap).

I've seen a lot of people really get carried away with the self-flagellation over the loss of an animal or bird, but honestly, I think sometimes the histrionics are for the benefit of the observer, and not so much out of any overwhelming sense of guilt or sorrow.

Galen Geer said...

Counting the lost animal as part of the bag has always been a thing I've done with grouse, pheasant, etc. Dove, nope. No matter what we do the dove that will die each year is going to hover right there at the same percent level. The pheasent and other upland birds can't handle some of the pressure so it is not only ethical but smart, from the wildlife management perspective.
As for deer--when I was hunting mule deer in Colorado it was something that I wrestled with a couple of times with clients in the SOF camp who couldn't find a deer they knew they hit. In one case I was with the hunter and he tried for two days, refusing to take a deer on the day after because he still thought there "was a chance." I convinced him to keep hunting. Glenn's wife, was another case and I wasn't there but Glenn is one of the most ethical and smart hunters I've ever been in the field with and I trusted his decision. I did have a bow hunter once who lost a nice buck and he quit, calling his tag filled. He did that on his own. I guess twenty years ago makes a big difference!
Ducks, should always be counted as part of the bag. Geese lost, nope, numbers are so high we need to thin them out and even if we tried with AA fire we couldn't hit enough to make a differnence.
Sort of my take.