Sasquatch, Coyotes, Whitetail Deer and other Ramblings

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  Isaac Asimov

I don’t believe in Sasquatch. I spent over 36 years dealing with wildlife and outdoor related issues on the job and many more as a hunter just tramping in the woods but I’ve never seen or heard of any evidence to make me think there is an eight feet tall hairy guy roaming around out there living on nuts and berries and beef jerky.

So no matter how many bad (and I mean bad) TV shows there are about a group of seemingly intelligent Sasquatch hunters, I’m not buying it. Bring me one dead in the back of your pickup truck and I will think about it.

I am a little different on mountain lions. Many of you reading this will swear that you saw a cougar in one of the eastern states, and I’m really sorry, but you didn’t. This is another issue that I dealt with on the job, and I hate to do this to you, but we will address this at another time.

The point I am trying to get to in all of this rambling is that in the world of wildlife populations and conditions in the natural world most of us deal with a lot of unknowns. As sportsman we carry around a lot of conjecture and ideas that have been handed down from the past, most of them invalid. How many of you were told that copperheads crossed with black snakes?

Now here is the real rub. Wildlife agencies have to deal with this issue constantly. Ready? We as hunters and fisherman devoutly think we are experts about these things because (A) this is what we like to do, and (B) we have been doing it for a long time. To quote a lady outdoor writer from years ago, just because you have been using indoor plumbing all your life doesn’t make you a plumber.

Here in West Virginia we just went through another year of a low kill in the buck season. As soon as this happens, inevitably, all the proclamations of doom and gloom are issued. So in no certain order here are the theories that you may hear at the barber shop, gun store counter and water cooler as to a low deer kill.

  1. The coyotes are eating all the deer.
  2. The DNR oversold the doe tags and decreased the deer herd too much.
  3. The coyotes are eating all the deer.

To say that coyotes preying on deer is a complex problem is like saying that nuclear fission can be tricky. The coyote is a very adaptive, resilient predator that I hate to tell you, is here to stay. I am not very fond of coyotes myself but I am just saying we are going to have to deal with them. Many times when there is a problem we need to find a villain to put the blame on and the coyote is perfect for this.

The coyote is a predator; he does eat deer and something else, he is relatively a new kid on the block and we don’t seem to know much about him. Several studies have been done on what coyotes eat and more are on the way. The Pennsylvania Game Commission studied the effects of fawn deer predation in 2001 and found that about one half of the fawns born in the spring make it till the following fall. Predators were found to take about 22% of the fawns that did not survive, and these predators were coyotes, bobcats and bears. Most of us don’t think about bears eating fawn deer, but they do.

West Virginia DNR studied the contents of coyote scat in 2009-2011; they found that deer flesh made up the highest percentage of what coyotes ate but only from January to April, at other times it could be berries and seeds, whoa, we never would have thought that.

I think coyotes are hard on fawn deer and you can help with this by taking out some coyotes on a local level but you are never going to kill them all. The federal government has been trying to do that since about 1917.

One the doe tag issue, folks believe me when I tell you that I have argued with wildlife biologists sometimes about certain things. At some point however, you have to trust the professionals that work in our fish and game departments. Now please take note of this one, wildlife populations go up and down, and they don’t come to a high level where you want see them and stay there, try to remember that. There is another part of this equation I must tell you about and some of you are not going to want to hear it.

I fear we live in a time when many of our hunters are spoiled. If we don’t see 20 bouncing deer tails as we walk to our stand, we are disappointed. There are less and less of us that really hunt these days. One hunter told me about a buddy who took it upon himself to go walk some thickets while everyone else was sitting in stands complaining about “no deer”. You guessed it; all the others took deer that he had routed out of that cover. I am just saying that successful hunting sometimes means getting more than 100 yards from the truck.

Ok, that will give you something to talk about for a week or so. Don’t forget to show me that Sasquatch if you get one, just make sure that you have him field tagged and checked in.???????????????????????????????

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Your Time Is Now

Oh the roads we ran and the folks we knew, the risky things that we used to do, now it’s over and I know were through, and I wish we had our time again, I wish we had our time…” John Hartford   

    They called it the House Rock, appropriate because it was bigger than most homes, around here at least. He sat with his back against the limestone, in exactly the same spot that he had chosen for the past forty years. The angle of the stone and the forest floor made it a perfect place to sit and survey the huge cove of woods below him.

    This was how they had always done it. Start far down the mountain, walk the poplar hollow to the third branch on the right. You followed that till it plumb ran out, then you pulled straight up into the low gap. The House Rock was waiting for you there. You sat here for at least thirty minutes, sometimes an hour, recovering from the climb, listening, soaking in the woods. If you didn’t find them on the climb up here, you might run into them going down the other side.

    Turkeys, that is.

    He and Ben had always followed this procedure and it had served them well. They didn’t get into a flock every time they made this journey, but it was one of their traditional walks and they did it every year whether they found the turkeys or not.

    Now Ben was gone. How much time did he have left to make this hunt?

    By my calculations we have just about two weeks until our first hunting season comes to us. Most states start the dove season on September 1. After that it is fast and furious as the different seasons roll by, squirrel, early waterfowl, archery deer, fall turkey, (if you have one in your state), rabbit, and another waterfowl season.

    Everything comes to a grand crescendo when the much awaited rifle buck season comes in then you have at least one doe season, maybe some muzzle loading deer season, then finish up in January and February with small game and a late waterfowl! The order is not the same in all states, but that might be close.

    That is a big menu to choose from with a lot of sides. If you are an experienced hunter, you have noticed something in the past several years.

    Boys and girls, it goes really fast.

    You look at it on the calendar; you think you have a lot of time, these seasons stretch over several months. Once it starts it is a whirlwind, and like my buddy says, they blow the whistle and the game is over for another year.

    Count the number of days in the season you love best. How many days can you actually hunt? If are working to make a living, not many. If you are retired, God bless you, I hope that you go every day that you can and want to. The real question is this; how many days do you have to the tramp woods on this earth?

    I don’t know and you don’t know; only the Man upstairs knows. If you are living and able, your time is now. What are you waiting for? A better time? Again, your time is now. That secret place you have been thinking about going to for the past few years, the old buddy that you have been meaning to call and say “Hey, let’s hike to the House Rock one more time”! That grand kid, or any kid, that you have thought about taking to the woods, call them, your time is now.

    One more thing, I want you to do something for me. This week I want you to call an old hunting or fishing buddy that maybe you have not heard from in a while. In case you haven’t noticed folks, they will not be around forever. Do it, call them, do it this week.

    He was half dozing in the sunshine, leaning against the old Browning, and he muttered “Ben, we’re burning daylight, we best be goin’”.

“What’d you say Papaw”? The kid beside him asked.

Realizing where he was, he glanced down at the boy, all wide eyed and full of wonder and amazement at finally getting to go to the big woods with his grand dad.

    He smiled at the boy’s youth and eagerness; it was all in front of him. “I said we better get goin’ ol’ buddy!” “We got a lot of ground to cover before dark”!

“Oh me oh my how the years do fly, it makes no difference and we all know why, dear old friends have to turn their eye, and I wish we had our time again, I wish we had our time”.

Larryocase3@gmail.comLAR, JACK, DOTZIE

River Rat

 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach”  Henry  David Thoreau

 

    He lived in a two room cabin between the railroad track and the river bank. Even at the tender age of fourteen, I was always careful not to call his home a shack. In truth though, if you called it anything else you were just being kind. To me, the inside of the house was a marvel of organized chaos, he absolutely never, and I mean never, threw anything away. Yet each and every of the hundreds of items stored there hung in mathematical precision. He kept everything because he might need it later; he had no job, no title and no responsibilities. He lived close to the earth, he was a man of the woods, he was a river rat.

    I think there used to be a lot of kids that grew up in rural settings that knew of a person that lived in the woods or on the riverbank. These people didn’t fit a conventional mold for what society said about how a person is supposed to live. They were considered bums, or hermits, or river rats and maybe some less kind names. Even as a kid I remember thinking that he was the only person around not concerned with his status. He seemed oblivious to the scorn of the world.

   

    What he was not oblivious to was everything in God’s creation, the natural world. If it walked, crawled, flew or swam in the river, he knew what it was and how to catch it. If it had fur, feathers, scales, or hair, he knew at least three different ways to cook it. He was a complete marvel to me when it came to identifying plants, I don’t think there is a plant growing in the eastern woods that he could not name. To his day when I cannot tell you what some nondescript plant growing in the woods may be, I feel as though I have let him down.  

    Of all the woods craft that he excelled in, I believe that trapping was his favorite. The only good thing that I ever heard said about him from the adults in my world was “I think he could trap a muskrat in the Sahara Desert”. In the trapping realm, to me, he was larger than life. I was a teenager and had made up my mind that I would live in the Canadian or Alaskan wilderness and be a fur trapper. Here he was doing that, right before my eyes. In my mind I can still conjure the vision of me walking into his fur shed, probably eyes wide, and looking upon the rows of carefully handled pelts.

    Mink, muskrats, raccoon, opossum, skunks and foxes, if it had saleable fur it was hanging in his shed. He trapped in season and he trapped humanely and he took special pains in handling his pelts. He always got top dollar for his fur. Some years that was not very much.

    He always said that he was so poor that he “didn’t even have two wooden nickels to rub together”. He tried to make up for that by trapping in the winter and digging medical roots in the summer and fall. Ginseng was his main target of course, but he also dug bloodroot, goldenseal, and cohosh.

    I figured out early on that it would be better if my parents didn’t know of my visits to “ol’ Seth’s” cabin. That was all I ever knew him by, just ol’ Seth. I fished with him some in the summer; he showed me how to find “seng”, I never could spot it like him, and we trapped in the winter.

    One dreary early spring day I walked up to the cabin and he was just gone. His very few possessions he had taken and the door was open. There on the rickety table lay his old Barlow knife, I knew the instant I saw it that he had left it for me. He knew that I had always had an eye for it. I remember thinking that I didn’t know if he had another knife. But he must have. I heard later that someone said he went down south to pick fruit. Fruit, of all things. I hoped that he could trap down there, wherever he was.  

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Ten Acres of Guns and Freedom

 

 

    Dateline Indianapolis, Indiana. Your humble scribe journeyed this past weekend to the National Rifle Association Convention in Indianapolis. Not a bad drive from Beckley, but a world away as it is flat as a pancake and lots of cornfields. That’s not a bad thing, just different!

    Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you probably know what the NRA is all about. To be honest my brothers in camo, it seems to me that we live in a time where you afraid to anything about anything. But having said that I think we are safe in saying that the National Rifle Association is the leading force in America protecting the second amendment rights of gun owners everywhere.

    I don’t think most of the population knows that the NRA is the leader by far, in firearm education. Currently the NRA has 55,000 instructors that train about 750,000 safe gun owners a year. The courses they teach range from shotgun, pistol, rifle, muzzle loading, personal protection and ammo reloading. If that isn’t enough, the NRA also has over 2,800 instructors to work with young competitive shooters!  

    Something that the NRA does that is near and dear to my heart is its involvement in Hunter Education. The NRA founded the first Hunter Education program in 1949. Today the NRA offers the Youth Hunter Education Challenge, youngsters in 43 states and three Canadian Provinces can improve their skills learned in Hunter Education programs. This is just nothing but good stuff boys and girls, anything we can do to get young people hunting, and train them how to do it safely, we need to do it!

    I am going to fool around and run out of room before I get to tell you about the actual NRA show, but they have so many good programs about firearm safety and training, I need to tell you about some more. In 1988 the NRA started the Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program, this is usually administered by a state agency, and here in the great state of West Virginia it is taught by the DNR Law Enforcement Section. More than 21 million kindergarten to six grade children have been to this program, this teaches them to not touch guns and tell an adult when they see one in an unsupervised situation.

    There are a lot more NRA programs, but I need to tell you about the convention itself. If you are a fan of any form of hunting, shooting, competitive shooting, gun collecting, camping, outdoor cooking, and the myriad of accessories that go with it there is more than you can see in three days at this show. Every gun manufacturer that you can name is there. Remington, Winchester, Browning, Colt Ruger, Marlin, Smith and Wesson, Glock, Mossberg, Benelli, CZ, Stoger, Bushmaster, and I knew I should not have started this list because I will forget someone. Basically if anyone is making guns, they are there. The cool thing about all the booths that I visited was you went right up to the gun displays and handled the guns directly. That is what they were there for, the friendly staff of all the companies I visited encouraged you to handle those guns. It wasn’t just guns, every kind of optics that you could dream of, sight systems, stocks, barrels, holsters, everything about ammunition that is available in the free world. You know, I was afraid that I would not do justice to what you could see at the NRA convention so, O! Wait! Did I tell you Sarah Palin was there? And Ollie North, Ted Nugent? Alabama? I think I just better tell you to figure on going to the 2015 convention in Nashville, Tenn. next year and see for yourself. I’ll see you at the Remington booth, I just got to get one of those Versa Max shotguns……..    

    www.nrahq.org

 

larryocase3@gmail.com

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Immerse Yourself In The Hunt

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“Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.”-Fred Bear

 

    He grabbed a sapling as he struggled a little to get up; seventy six winters took some toll. He had just put the shotgun over his shoulder and was fixing to start up the hill when the turkey gobbled. He allowed himself a momentary grin, for almost two hours he had been sitting here waiting for the old sinner to say something. Now, just as he was leaving, the gobbler decides to speak up. The hunter pulled down on the brim of his weather beaten hat and peered in the direction of the turkey. He was planning his next move while picturing what the bird was doing. One more grin as he started out the deer path. This move would work, or it would not. He cared not a whit; the fun was in being here this day! He was here in the spring woods with the cardinals yapping, redbuds blooming, the creek in fine voice, and the rest of the world seeming to come alive after the long winter.   

    We all must have our own reasons for going to the woods or the creeks and the rivers. We go because of tradition, or we go because we like to eat the fish and game that we bring home, at times I wonder if some of us really know why we are out there. It would seem that we are living in a world that is going nowhere at ninety miles an hour. We are not sure what we want to do, but we have to do it as fast as we can. If anything takes more than a few minutes, it is not worth the time and we have to move on to something else. Whew!

    Fred Bear (the father of modern bow hunting) is trying to tell us something in that quote. Besides the fact that we must have respect for the game that we hunt, and the woods where it lives, he is telling that us that we have the natural world as an immense gift. A God given gift for us to enjoy, revel in, and pass on to the next generation. In that gift he is saying we can “cleanse our soul”, to me that also means “rest” our soul. In the solitude of the turkey woods or a trout stream we can rest our souls while we cleanse it from all the stress and static of what too many of us just think of as life anymore.

    My brothers in camo, I want you to think about this. Too many of us live with a self-imposed burden. We think that we must bring home a deer or turkey or a stringer of fish for this trip to be “successful.” What are you doing while you are only thinking of this? Are you living in the day? Did you notice how nice it was in the woods today? Did you pause as the boat glides down the river and you can lean over and watch the motion picture of the bottom as it goes by? How about just enjoying a day with friends or family in the outdoors? There is no prerequisite that you must bring home fish or game to enjoy these days.

    Hat pulled low, the double barrel on his knee; he sent three soft yelps down the hollow, an invitation. All creation held its breath for a second, the cardinals and towhees stopped as did the spring peepers. Just when he thought it was futile, and he would hear no more from this turkey, there came an indignant gobble, then another. One more quick grin, this turkey might come up here, and he just as well might not. It did not matter, there was nowhere else on the green earth that he would rather be.     

 

larryocase3@gmail.com

 

 

The trail less taken

                                                                  

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.–Robert FrostImage

 

Once I had a good friend that would relate many of the things that we deal with in life to the realm of the outdoor world. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and boating all served as a backdrop for his often earthy observations. As I stumble into my advanced years I catch myself doing the same thing.

Sometimes he would compare a buddy’s marital woes to various turkey hunting scenarios (“He got flushed off the roost and he ain’t comin’ back”). If a task was particularly difficult, he would say it was “Like putting a wool sweater on a bobcat”. You get the idea.

Although I am not that well read on Robert Frost poems, I wanted to use the quote from his famous “The Road Not Taken” to illustrate the intended theme of this site. To say that I was apprehensive when I started this project would be putting it lightly. I wanted to do this, but like Frost, I wanted the road less taken.

Like many of you I’m a hunter, fisherman, trapper, and former river guide. I don’t rightly know how many shotguns I have at present, but it’s not enough. I’ve owned beagles, blueticks, cur dogs and pointers. Had one really good dog in my life and have spent more than I will admit looking for another one. Just to put a finer point on the hunting part, I will confess to being somewhat obsessed with turkey hunting, spring and fall. One more thing, I have worked for the Division of Natural Resources for 35 years. I say all this only by way of introduction; I really don’t consider myself an expert on anything.

On this journey I hope that you will join me. We may float the river one day for smallmouths and the next head to some farm land with the 22.250 and see if there are any groundhogs left. Who knows, I may regale you with a dissertation about the grouse population. The point is I want this to be a site you enjoy, but unlike any other!! Taking the trail less traveled, will it make all the difference? I honestly don’t know, but it is the one that I must follow.

Now we embark upon this trail, you and me. I hope that you will enjoy it but might not always find it easy going.  You may encounter some obstacles along the way. “The trail not taken”, I believe, will take us many places. You might not agree with all that you read here, but you have my solemn promise that it will be heartfelt and factual.

    OK, time to go, your boots cinched up tight? Got enough shells? Candy bar and water bottle in your vest? Follow me……