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Do I own my things, or do they own me?

A recent correspondence with a man about a possible mutual exchange of what The Boss Lady here calls “rusty old junk” made me think, hard, about the things we surround ourselves with. These are things that, on their surface, bring us pleasure.

History is important to a successful civilization, and for most people collecting the detritus and symbols of history is a meaningful touchstone to the past. It is deeply satisfying to own and admire authentic representations of human history.

Collecting can be as simple as little cast iron figurines and cornstalk dolls, from a simpler and more humble time, and representative nonetheless. These are fairly inexpensive and fun to display in the living room, and still carry an intriguing punch for the Saturday lunch visitor.

The other end of the spectrum has items so valuable that they must remain under lock and key for all but the most pressing times. These are more investments than for joy.

One guy I know has probably the largest private American battle flag collection extant. It is so large in number, and the flags so large in size, that he must loan them out to various museums around America, despite the capacious capacity of his own home. In museums, these powerful bullet-ridden symbols of American freedom and sacrifice are on public display for any and all comers to see. My friend gets  a sense of satisfaction from both owning and sharing these flags. Not a bad way to collect. The flags are insured and in pretty secure environments. He can recall them at any time should be desire to sell or trade one.

I could go down the line of friends and acquaintances who own and collect expensive horses, automobiles, memorabilia, clothing, machinery, and so on. There is even the guy who at great expense built a majorly off-road pickup truck that he refuses to allow mud on, even when he is in conditions where he must.

Those who hunt with antique firearms face a true dilemma, because sporting guns are by their nature thrust into the most rugged and potentially destructive and damaging environs. Carrying your sleek 1912 Purdey double rifle on a bear hunt in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains is a risky proposition no matter how slow you go. But go you may feel compelled anyhow.  I would.

Using the rifle’s open sights, you might kill a bear under true fair-chase conditions with the classiest gun in the entire state. Such would be a lifetime achievement. On the other hand, you might drop the rifle, fall on it, bang it, or scratch it in those rugged hills, thereby incurring an expensive trip to gunsmith Abe Chaber in Connecticut, or a ship-and-wait to gunsmith Mike Rowe down south. The incredible satisfaction of both owning and successfully hunting with such a fine firearm is measurably balanced by the risk to the rare gun. And no, money is not the issue with such a gun; the issue is its rarity, impossibility of replacement, and one’s absolute duty to protect it in its original condition, as much as practicable.

So when this fellow and I got into horse-trading mode, and he demonstrated a tangibly possessive and prideful feeling about his own “rusty junk,” it jarred me, got me thinking. Do I own my things, or do they own me?

To own a piece of history and be buoyed by it, informed by it, inspired by it, is one thing. But to be a slave to those things, to turn them almost into graven idols of worshipfulness, is nearly blasphemous. It is dangerous, because it causes us to lose perspective. These are, after all, only material things, by design made by men and destined to return to the earth from whence they came. The most important things in life are not things; they are our family members, our friends, our community, and so on.

So it got me wondering, that’s all.

Do I own my things, or do they own me…

Our Wildlife Management Comments Submitted to the PA Game Commission

Dear PGC Commissioners,

In so many ways the Game Commission is on an exciting path, really moving forward on policy, staff culture, and scientific wildlife management. It is an exciting time to be a hunter and trapper in the great state of Pennsylvania, thanks to you. Hunting and trapping are supposed to be fun, and the PGC should be able to maximize opportunities without sacrificing the natural resource base. If anything, the agency has been perhaps too conservative, too cautious.  In that vein, here are some small suggestions for improving hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania:

a) Make all small game seasons concurrent, start them in late September or early October and run them unbroken until mid February. The current on-again-off-again schedule is silly, an artifact from many decades ago. Our current small game hunting schedule leaves kids and oldsters alike out in the cold with nothing to hunt if they can’t get to deer camp, or if they do kill a deer and want to keep on hunting. Hunters deserve maximum opportunities that do not degrade or put wildlife populations at risk, and adding a few extra days won’t hurt anything, but they will help hunters tremendously. Put another way, the risk of changing this is very low to non–existent, and the benefits are huge. Well, what is the risk, really?

b) Allow the use of snares in rural WMUs and/or on private lands. Cable restraints are an important trapping tool under any circumstances, and especially so as we experience ever-increasing freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw winters, with rain no less. These weird winter conditions render traditional footholds nearly useless both early and late in the season. Cable restraints can function better than footholds under those conditions, but they just are not sufficient for the big coyotes we are encountering. Getting coyotes into cable restraints is tough enough, and holding them there is even tougher. Chew-throughs of our cables are common, where a snare would positively catch the coyote and hold it, bringing it to hand and into the bag. In rural areas (or on private land) there is a far lower expectation or risk of a pet or feral dog or cat being caught. We are ceding too much to the anti-trappers by prohibiting snares where they can do the best good. A pet is an animal that lives in a home. Eliminating a very useful tool because of some vague or low-probability worry is not good policy. We can do better, and snares are much better than cable restraints in general, and particularly in the northern Big Woods areas. Also, CR certification can only be done right in person, through hands-on training. This online certification is going to lead to problems, especially where CRs are used like snares.

c) Allow the use of body-grip (Conibear) traps outside water courses, specifically on running-pole sets for fishers, bobcats, and raccoons. Like the snare situation above, our trapping regulations are unrealistic, they are too conservative, penalizing law-abiding trappers because of vague fears that under reasonable circumstances will not happen. Securing body-grip traps up off the ground is well out of the reach of dogs and domestic cats. Separately, if a pet owner lets their animal out the door to run free, where it can trespass, be hit by a car, be eaten by a coyote or fox or hawk, or get hurt in a fight with another animal, then they do not truly care about it and it is not a real “pet.” Pennsylvania trappers do not deserve to be hurt because of others’ irresponsible behavior. Elsewhere in America, the use of bodygrips on running pole sets is very effective and humane. We can stick with the #160 size as the maximum.

d) Extend the fisher trapping season and areas. Trappers in Berks and Lebanon Counties have told me of catching fishers in their sets, and we are seeing them in Dauphin County. There is no good reason why we cannot extend where and when we trap these abundant predators. Incidentally, they eat bobcats and turkeys, and it would be silly to expect fishers to simply harmoniously co-exist with other animals. They are a voracious predator and they will have a disproportionate impact on predator and prey populations alike if allowed to expand unchecked. Fishers are cool animals and I am all for having them in our ecosystems. What is lacking now are the mountain lions and wolves that in the distant past would have eaten them, and kept them in balance with other wildlife. We humans now fulfill the role of lions and wolves. Let us at ’em.

e) Make sure bobcat populations can sustain these long trapping and hunting seasons. We are seeing a lot less bobcat sign and fewer bobcats on our trail cameras. This was the first year we did not get a bobcat through either trapping or calling in 2G and 4C, and while this may be just our observation, we are concerned. If bobcat harvests must be reduced, then we prefer that it come out of their hunting season. There is a ton of hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania, and not a lot of great trapping opportunities. Heck, muskrats are practically extinct, coyotes have eaten most of the red fox in the southcentral, and possums are clogging nearly every trap. Let us keep our bobcat trapping intact.

f) Reinstate concurrent buck and doe deer hunting. We are seeing a high number of deer nearly every place we hunt (WMUs 2G, 4C, 3A, 5C, 5D). Deer populations are definitely lower than in 2001, and deer are harder to hunt now than then, but the quality is unbelievable, and the herd can sustain both doe and buck hunting. Pennsylvania is now a real trophy destination, so keep up the scientific management, which would include allowing hunting on Christmas Day.

g) Expand the bear season by one day in WMUs 2G and 4C, or rearrange the season entirely. There are an awful lot of bears everywhere, especially in 2G and 4C. On the Friday before bear season starts, we see loads of bears having tea and crumpets in the back yard. They are watching football and hanging out leisurely in reclining chairs. Come Opening Day through Wednesday, we might see the hind end of a bear or two, or we might occasionally harvest a bear, if we work hard enough. By deer season opening day the following week, the bears are back to having tea and crumpets in the back yard, hardly disturbed by all our hunting efforts. Another way to address this is to make bear and deer seasons concurrent, at least for one week, and perhaps start that concurrent season the week of Thanksgiving.

h) Do more to end wildlife feeding. We continue to see mangy bears, and deer baiting under the guise of “helping” wildlife through artificial feeding. It’s not good for the animals, and can actually be bad. People also feed wildlife to entice game animals away from (other) hunters. This is a cultural practice that PGC needs to do more to end, through education and enforcing the bear feeding regulation.

Thank you for considering our comments. We do love the PGC and admire your field staff, especially.

Josh and Isaac First (father and son)

Harrisburg, PA

The bucks in my stew

Despite a fabulously successful hunting season in two states, I am still driven to keep going, to hunt more, get out more, sleep under the stars more, freeze my butt off more, adventure more.

Such is that 150,000-year-old drive to hunt that was perfected by our Paleolithic ancestors. It can be all-consuming.

“Why I hunt” has been described a thousand times before, by writers and hunters better than I, and I will not do a good job of describing in turn why I, too, hunt.

All I can say is that we have been a hunting species for 150,000 years, which is much longer than our 5,000-10,000 years as agrarians, 300 years as industrialists, 150 years as communicators, 75 years as eaters-from-tin cans-and-styrofoam, and 25 years as effete metrosexuals too pure to shed blood either to eat or to defend ourselves (our Paleo ancestors survived the harshest conditions; on the other hand, the effete metrosexuals among us will either be speaking Chinese in 25 years or they will just be wiped out for the incoming Chinese colonists).

Hunting is literally in our blood, and yes, I do have that “cave man blood type,” identified as the most primitive of human blood types.

Our teeth are designed to eat meat. I feel best when I eat meat and vegetables, and also when carbohydrates, gluten, and sugary foods are excluded from my intake. Every year I make a lot of jerky, and it lasts me for months. By the time I have eaten it all, I have usually lost between ten and twenty pounds.

Meat is good for me, and it is good for you. Good meat, that is, not abused slave animal meat full of hormones and antibiotics and food colorants. You know, the “meat” most Americans buy at supermarkets. All that crap in the meat is the high health cost of having cheap meat readily available and generically packed.

So accustomed to buying this junky meat have most Americans become, that I regularly hear from old friends that they cannot believe I hunt, because it is so “cruel.” While they post photos to FakeBook of their most recent bloody gourmet meat meal.

As if having someone assassinate their meat for them exonerates of the animal’s death.

So despite killing a bear estimated between 500 and 600 pounds while on a solo wilderness hunt in a very remote designated wilderness area, and having killed three deer during the rifle season, the urge to hunt is still powerful.

My mother kindly sent me some lamb stew last week. It resembled in many ways what the Bible describes as Eisav’s meal prepared for Isaac: Pottage. Which is to say, ragged lumps o’ meat and vegetables.

Tasty stuff.

And all I could think of while eating the delicious lamb stew was how the lumps of lamb reminded me of venison, and how I needed to get back out and score my buck for the season.

So here I was, having a most civilized meal, eating the most tender animal, and all I could see were images of bucks prancing about in my stew when I bent down to take another spoonful.

 

 

 

 

Being Human: What is Your Rite of Passage

A rite of passage is quintessentially human. It goes back to our very beginnings as a species.
Achieving some important goal that separates children from adults, dependents from the self-reliant is a critical step in being a whole, healthy human.
Few opportunities exist in today’s material West. Playing video games in a virtual reality is the opposite of achievement, the opposite of reality. Compare the virtual lifestyle to the refugee survivors in Iraq and Syria. The adults there who managed to get their families to safety. They are real people, survivors. They are due respect.
This coming Monday is the Pennsylvania deer season opener. For rifle hunters.
About 700,000 hunters will go afield here on Monday.
For the youngsters among them, killing a deer is an important rite of passage. Hunting skills are as old as our species, and to many these skills are sacred.
Just because Giant has cheap meat doesn’t mean humans should trade away the most important skill set we can have.
Never know when you’ll need it again.
What’s your family’s rite of passage?

Scotland’s Knoydart, you gotta just go see it

After another visit to the spectacular Knoydart Peninsula in northwest Scotland, I feel compelled to write about it.

Normally it is uncomfortable to broadcast publicly where I have been, but this community is worthy of praise.

If you like to hike, walk, hang out, or just relax in a quiet atmosphere far, far away from civilization, but with the things you have come to depend on or enjoy in day to day life, a few days in Inverie is right for you.

The fishing is mostly limited to five miles of the Inverie River, for Atlantic salmon and sea run trout. This is pay-to -play, not the kind of fishing we do in America.

Also, the hunting is totally different than what we do in America, or in Canada. You must be guided by a “stalker” (no, not the guy who just got out of jail for stalking his ex) and ghillie. You must take the shot they tell you to take, at the red deer they tell you to shoot, even if it is not a trophy (and it is unlikely to be a trophy). You will get charged a lot of money just to go out, hit or miss, although hitting costs even more money. Then, if you like the head or cape of the animal you shot, you must pay for those separately, as well as for the meat. This style of hunting works for Europeans, and it is not my thing. It is unlikely to appeal to the vast number of American hunters.

That said, I was very impressed by the fieldcraft and general fitness of Knoydart’s stalker Jim Brown and his ghillie, Louis. Their knowledge of biology, ecology, forestry, and soil science speaks volumes about what it takes to be a hunting guide in Scotland. In contrast, here in America just about anyone can call himself a hunting guide, with the exception of a few key states like Maine, Montana, Idaho and Alaska.

Thanks for the great memories, men.

 

Our public lands are not for sale

Apparently many Republicans are just downright jealous of all the craziness on the left, with all that destruction and removal of historic public monuments and the resulting revision of history to fit politically correct narratives.

So now we get a bunch of Republicans who actively pursue their own form of crazy, just bound and determined to undermine whatever electoral and public trust gains they have made in the past few years. Among a surprisingly wide circle of GOPers and conservatives, the selling off of public lands is a surprisingly popular policy goal.

Nothing hidden about this goal, the proponents of selling off public lands are quite open about their intentions. Apparently they want the public to watch them crash and burn, because the public is going to do that to them, electorally speaking.

Because the public overwhelmingly identifies with and passionately loves our public lands.

Maybe I am some sort of leftist kook, at least according to these proponents of public land sales, because I also sure do enjoy public parks, and public forests, and public recreation areas, public wilderness areas, and public hunting areas, and public monuments. Yes the government runs these places, and while I am not a big fan of government, public land management is one of the very few things that government tends to do pretty well..so..what can I tell you, this is a not-so-secret Communist plot: As an NRA life member, trapper, and lifelong hunter, I am proud to be part of this plot to “steal” Americans’ property rights, which is one of the ways that public land is described by advocates of bargain basement sales of public property.

Seriously.

Advocates of public land sales actually equate the existence of public lands with the diminution of private property rights.

Never mind that nearly all (my highly experienced guess is about 99.5%) public land has been purchased at fair market value from willing, even eager sellers, who love their land so much that they want to see it remain as wild, open, untamed places for wildlife and the wild people who pursue wildlife, and not turned into ubiquitous, dime-a-dozen cookie cutter asphalt and concrete jungles.

Never mind that in many remote areas, public land is an economic engine that keeps running, and running, and running without much expense.

Isn’t it ironic that the people who want to sell off public lands also want to stop and prevent people from selling their private land to wildlife and parks agencies? They bizarrely claim that public land’s mere existence is a de facto refutation of private property rights!

Oh c’mon! These armchair conservatives are the ones monkeying around with private property rights, when they try to stop sales of private land to public agencies.

They are “armchair conservatives” because these are people who do very little outside an air conditioned office. Maybe they ski at a ski slope with artificial snow as their outdoor lifestyle. But they do not hunt, trap, camp, canoe, fish, hike or do anything else indicating that red American blood flows in their veins. Nope, these are strictly dollars and cents on paper people, no real life experience. They’d sell you their grandma for ten bucks, too. No heart, no soul, just money money MONEY.

And that is how they see public lands: Easy money, easy development.

There is a useful story about money, I think it was about a mere thirty pieces of silver being accepted for giving up one’s soul. Something like that, with the point being that money and self enrichment isn’t our primary purpose in life, and that the people who singularly pursue these two goals are often soulless enemies of all that is good and wholesome.

Several weeks ago the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a local park could not be taken from the taxpayers and sold to a developer to build homes on. You’d think this is a plainly obvious forehead-slapping fact, but it demonstrates that the effort to liquidate public lands is not just a Western phenomenon, but an East Coast idiot parade, too.

Fortunately, the new US Department of Interior secretary does not believe in selling off public lands, unlike the other candidate who was on her way to being nominated before this issue tripped her up with the Trump Administration. The new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is a retired Navy SEAL, hunter, and Western outdoorsman. He knows personally how important public land is to the identity of Americans everywhere.

Let’s hope Zinke can help his fellow Republicans wake the hell up on this issue, that our public lands are not for sale, before these fools get a good dose of electoral comeuppance from the American people who are barbequeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and star gazing on public lands from sea to shining sea right now.

The Lure of a Two-Barreled Rifle

Double rifles are becoming all the rage now. Once the province of the geekiest of gun nerds and the quietest collectors of oddball firearms, double rifles are now being rapidly bought up around the world, and especially in America. Once the top producer of top quality rifles, Britain is now hemorrhaging nearly all its best rifles to America.

With an abundance of bolt action (Remington Model 700), lever action (Winchester 94), and pump action (Remington 760) rifles shooting up to five bullets in a dizzying array of calibers available to North American big game (deer, elk, moose and bear) hunters, why would a rifle with just two shots be more attractive?

It’s that last word that probably lures more men, especially, into owning and hunting with double barreled rifles: “attractive.”

Look at all of the rusty junk that guys accumulate around them as they stultify through life.  These are objects “highly attractive” to guys, like all sorts of edged weapons, and especially knives, and guns. They are attractive not just by how they look, though many have been carefully and artistically engraved and adorned, but also because each object feels right when hefted in the hand. That feeling is translated into the aesthetics of weapons, but it comes from a place deep inside a guy’s pea-sized brain.

Not that the average guy needs 367 knives, but the caveman hunter in him will not let him ignore yet another perfected blend of form and function immediately evident to the grip-hand of so many top-quality knives. So he must have it, and he will buy it, because it feels right, and it looks right. And so it is with guns, especially hunting guns, especially the apex of hunting guns – double rifles, are where the felt symbolism goes beyond imaginary defense or opening bills after dinner, but rather toward feeding the family and tribe.

A North American hunter puts in more work, more effort, more time, and more money chasing big game than he or she will see in return, in terms of financial value. For all the money a good gun and even a “free” day afield on Game Lands, you can buy 20 pounds of prime steak at Giant.

This is because hunting, with a good gun, creates that rare combination of core purpose plus purpose-made tool in hand to carry through the core purpose. In today’s tepid, desultory, video game-infested, lazy, fat, low-T western society, few opportunities exist to feel so alive as this moment of hunting. The knife is a short term substitute, when you can’t get out and hunt. But when you do get out and hunt, it actually feels good to have kit you know is up to the task. Double rifles are innately attractive because they feel ready for use.

A double rifle is the most purpose-made gun you can find. Single shots are the least so, despite a crazed following of late-to-the-party buffalo hunters and Civil War reenactor sharpshooters running amok today in period clothing.

A double barreled rifle is clearly made for a no-fail hunt, where that all-important first shot has an immediate followup that should not err. With your cheek firmly welded to the stock, your eyes follow the quarry through the thick timber as it tries to put distance between it and you. You might have over-shot the first time, but you didn’t have to lift your head from the gun to reload, or to try and see where it went. Rather, your eyes stayed glued on it the whole time, and you pulled the rear trigger….

Hey, you, why are you so close to a wild animal? Why not use a plastic stocked stainless steel rifle with a 600X magnification scope, and just snipe your quarry from a mile away? I won’t do this, and you should not do this, because it is not hunting. This sort of activity is really just an assassination. Actual hunting involves good woodcraft, knowledge of your quarry, and hard work. Using a basic mechanical rifle requires you to get close to the animal, close enough to scare it away. Close enough to make a careful shot under pressure, and actually earn the kill.

Sure, lots of double rifles were from bespoke makers, made to custom order for wealthy men and women, but even 125 years later they still function flawlessly, which tells us everything we would ask about the quality of “Best” grade firearms. They are not effete, or wimpy. The nicest ones have loads of engraving and are beautiful to look at, art in steel and wood.

But in the end, it is feeling that honed purpose of the second immediate shot that is so alluring, the knowledge that by staying steady on the second shot, if not on the first, it will earn one an honest meal and a lot of genuine satisfaction as a real hunter.

And that is why Americans are squabbling over antique guns now. They want to get back to having a satisfactory hunt and experience afield.

First Super Bowl I’ve Ever Missed

This will be the first Super Bowl I have not watched or participated in some way.

Every year we have a nice party at our home. Lots of food, friends, good cheer and great company. People come, they go, they return, the kids play downstairs where they have their own TV. It has always been a fun time.

However, because the NFL has decided to become involved in anti-America politics, I am giving the NFL a wide berth this year. I have not watched even one second of one game this season, and I will not be watching the Super Bowl, either.

Instead, this Sunday I will be at the PA Farm Show Building, volunteering to cover the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs booth at the Great American Outdoor Show. At the GAOS, I will be greeting fellow outdoors folk, talking up hunting, trapping, and fishing, and reminding visitors of the need for solidarity among sportsmen.

Reminder: The PFSC started the outdoor show that is now the GAOS, back in 1954. And it was I who wrote the call to boycott former show promoter Reid Exhibitions, after they refused to allow modern sporting rifles in the show, and it was PFSC leaders who spread the boycott call far and wide and started it going and which drove off the British-owned Reid Exhibitions and paved the way for the NRA to take over the show. So the PFSC has been central to the GAOS and all the good stuff that goes with it for a very long time.

Here in Pennsylvania we have an unusual arrangement that no other state has. We have a league of exceptional people, dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation, sound policy, and full-throated Second Amendment freedom. No other group in America, much less Pennsylvania, does what the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs does at the state level. Everyone benefits from PFSC’s daily work at the Capitol: Birders, wildflower enthusiasts, hikers, and yes, hunters, trappers, and fishermen, too.

One way GAOS visitors can support the outdoor sports is by purchasing a PFSC $5 raffle ticket. Every year people win nice guns and lots of money. It is a good investment, because even if you don’t win (and I never win), you are supporting PFSC’s full-time lobbyist and part-time support staff, so that all outdoorsmen have a constant voice in politics. PFSC is the main reason Pennsylvania bears no resemblance to our surrounding states, with their crazy anti gun laws and emphasis on animal “rights.”

Sorry, NFL, aka Kaepernick and Roger Goodell, you have made yourself irrelevant to me, and by acting so aggressively against America, you have reminded me and many other Americans of what is most important. It’s not entertainment, it’s not beer commercials (Budweiser has a pro-open borders ad, so kiss that beer goodbye from our future family purchases), it’s not hotdogs or even the company of friends. What matters most is bolstering the people and the values that have always made America great. And here in Central Pennsylvania, that means keeping company with fellow outdoorsmen.

See you at the GAOS!  And God bless America.

 

Bear and Deer Seasons in the Rearview Mirror

The old joke about Pennsylvania having just two seasons rings as true today as it did fifty years ago: Road construction season in the Keystone State seems to be a nine-month-long affair everywhere we go, a testament to how not to overbuild public infrastructure, if you cannot maintain it right.

And the two-week rifle deer season brings out the passion among nearly one million hunters like an early Christmas morning for little kids (I doubt the Hanukkah bush thing ever took off).  All year long people plan their hunts with friends and relatives, take off from work, spend lots of money on gear, equipment, ammunition, food, and gas, and then go off to some place so they can report back their tales of cold and wet and woe to their warmer family members at home. These deer hunts are exciting adventures on the cheap. No bungee jumping, mountain cliff climbing, jumping through flaming hoops or parachuting out of airplanes are needed to generate the thrill of a lifetime as a deer or bear in range gives you a chance to be the best human you can be.

Both bear and deer seasons flew by too fast, and I wish I could do them over, not because I have regrets, but because these moments are so rare, and so meaningful. I love being in the wild, and the cold temperatures give me impetus to keep moving.

One reflection on these seasons is how the incredible acorn crop state-wide kept bear and deer from having to leave their mountain fortresses to find food. Normally animals must move quite a bit to find the browse and nuts they need to nourish their bodies. Well, not this year. Even yesterday I was tripping over super abundant acorns lying on every trail, human or animal made.

When acorns are still lying in the middle of a trail in December, where animals walk, then you know there are a lot of nuts, because normally those low-hanging fruits would be gobbled right up weeks ago.

After still hunting and driving off the mountain I hunt on most up north, it became clear the bear and deer were holed up in two very rugged, remote, laurel-choked difficult places to hunt. Any human approach is quickly heard, seen, or smelled, giving the critters their chance to simply walk away before the clumsy human arrives. All these animals had to do was get up a couple times a day, stretch, walk three feet and eat as many acorns as they want, and then return to their hidden beds.

This made killing them very difficult, and the lower bear and deer harvests show that. God help us if Sudden Oak Death blight hits Pennsylvania, because that will spell the end of the abundant game animals we enjoy, as well as the dominant oak forests they live in.

The second reflection is how we had no snow until Friday afternoon, two days ago, and by then we had already sidehilled on goat paths, and climbed steep mountains, as much as we were going to at that late point in the season. With snow, hunting is a totally different experience: The quarry stands out against the white back ground, making them easier to spot and kill, and snow tracking shows you where they were, where they were going, and when. These are big advantages to the hunter. Only on Friday afternoon did we see all the snowy tracks up top, leading over the steep edge into Truman Run. With another two hours, we could have done a small push and killed a couple deer. But not this year. Maybe in flintlock season!

And finally, I reflect on the people and the beautiful wild places we visited.

I already miss the time I spent with my son on stand the first week. He was with me when I took a small doe with a historic rifle that had not killed since October 1902, the last time its first owner hunted and a month before the gun was essentially put into storage until now.

And then my son had a terrible case of buck fever when a huge buck walked past him well within range of his Ruger .357 Magnum rifle, and he missed, fell down, and managed to somehow eject the clip and throw the second live round into the leaves while the deer kept moseying on by. When I found my son minutes later, he was sitting in a pile of leaves where the deer had stood, throwing the leaves around and crying in a rage that we needed to get right after the deer and hunt them down. The boy was a mess. It was delightful to watch.

I miss the wonderful men I hunted with, and I miss watching other parents take their own kids out, to pass on the ancient skill set as old as humankind.

It is an unfortunate necessity to point out that powerline contractor Haverfield ruined the Opening Day of deer season for about three dozen hunters by arriving unannounced and trespassing in force to access a powerline for annual maintenance in Dauphin County. We witnessed an unparalleled arrogance, dismissiveness, and incompetence by Haverfield staff and ownership that boggles the mind. I am a small business owner, and I’d be bankrupt in three days if I behaved like that. Only the intervention of a Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer saved the day, and that was because the Haverfield fools were going onto adjoining State Game Lands, where they also had no business being during deer season.

Kudos to PPL staff for helping us resolve this so it never happens again.

Folks, we will see you in flintlock season, just around the corner. Now it is time to trap for the little ground predators that raid the nests of ducks, geese, grouse, turkey, woodcock, and migratory songbirds. If you hate trapping, then you hate cute little ducklings, because the super overabundant raccoons, possums, skunks, fox, and coyotes I pursue eat their eggs in the nests, and they eat the baby birds when they are most vulnerable.

 

Outdoor sports starting to ramp up now

Outdoor sports are well under way here in Pennsylvania. This is the “Christmas in October” season soo many of us dream about since the last hunting season ended months ago.

Archery season started a month ago, and the rut (primary breeding season) is now in full swing. That is evidenced by the “deer storms” that go crashing through the woods at any time of day or night now, as well as the increasing numbers of dead deer lying on the side of the roadways. Chasing is a main part of rut activity, and deer of both sexes will blindly run right out into the middle of a suburban lawn or a road as their hormones and instincts take over their better judgment.

Bowhunters take full advantage of that mindlessness, and they are now starting to really spend time on stand, trying to lure in the otherwise wary whopper trophy buck. Estrous doe pee is the number one deer lure, and it is what I use with very high success rates. One problem is that so many eager hunters jump the gun and start putting out doe pee, in huge quantities, too early in the season. A few drops on a tampon or cotton ball hung from a branch is all you need in early November.

Although furbearer trapping season started a week ago, the unseasonably warm weather has many people, myself included, holding off laying out steel until mid-November, when mink season starts. What is the point of catching a predator with patchy fur? The colder it gets, the more their fur fills in, the softer it becomes. The softer the fur, the more luxurious it feels. The better the fur, the happier I feel about spending late nights skinning, fleshing, and boarding pelts in the cold.

I will say this, however: Most of my predator trapping these days is aimed at reducing the over-abundant populations of skunks, opossums, and raccoons, all of which are voracious bird nest raiders. To my eye and ear, cute little birds are always entertaining and pretty to watch, and they deserve a chance to enjoy a comfy nest with a successful brood of hatchlings. Wild turkeys and grouse especially are vulnerable to these insatiable varmints that have few natural predators and a lot of suburban habitat in which to unnaturally propagate.

Having never sold a pelt, trapping is not a commercial or financial effort for me. Rather, it is the joy of being outside, being an integral part of the natural predator-prey chain, helping balance wildlife populations, and obtaining something useful, pretty, natural and biodegradable. The wild caught furs that adorn our home and cabin reflect the wild places we enjoy visiting, and the ancient skill set needed to catch these wary hunters.

Earlier this year a long time dear friend nastily chided me for hunting and trapping. Asking her how she could criticize me on the one hand, while on the other hand she regularly eats stone crabs (claws torn off of living crabs), other shellfish (taken from their cozy homes, jailed, then boiled alive), and all sorts of meats from suffering animals living on unsavory factory farms elicited no response at all.

This shallow, careless, hypocritical approach to life bothers me, but I doubt there is anything I can do about it, other than continue to live my own life well. Why or how people find pleasure from interfering in other people’s lives is a constant source of mystery. They get a sense of purpose, I suppose.

As a hunter and trapper, I am fulfilling a purpose that is as old as our species. The hunter-gatherer purpose is as old as humans, heck it is human, and is as old as the last ice sheets that covered the northern hemisphere. This lifestyle is eminently more natural than the artificial life of food from tin cans, huge monoculture “farms,” and sad feed lots that blot out habitat and wildlife, not to mention crushing the spirit of the animal.

Good luck this season. Enjoy living like a real human being, fellow hunters and trappers.