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Hunting licenses, 1976 and 2015

Since my first hunting license adorned my back way back in 1976-1977, a lot has changed in the Pennsylvania landscape.

For example, wild game then so abundant that you could go out and shoot a couple for dinner is now practically extirpated.

Why pheasants and quail disappeared from Pennsylvania is a big debate with no clear answers. Loss of farmland to sprawl, low density development is one. Changes in farming practices is another; fallow fields had the best habitat. A plethora of winged and four legged predators cannot be discounted. Successfully rebounding populations of raptors like hawks and owls for sure ate a lot of plump pheasants. But why a sudden and dramatic crash?

Conservation successes since 1976 are plentiful and say a lot about wildlife biology. Wild turkey populations, fishers, bobcats and other animals once thought completely gone are now firmly in our lives, whether we see them, or not.

An interesting dynamic is playing out at our hunting camp. This year we have a virtual carpet of oak and hickory seedlings unlike anything we saw over the past 15 years we’ve owned it. Why?

Conventional wisdom is the deer population is low, and it’s true that it’s lower than it has been in 15 years. That is, deer are known eaters of acorns and tree seedlings. Fewer deer means more of both.

However, another factor seems to be playing out with these newly abundant tree seedlings. Where we once had an incredible overload of tree rats, aka squirrels, the new fishers have eaten them all. Like all of them. Not one tree rat remains in our carefully cultivated forest of white oaks. We see fisher tracks. We neither see nor hear squirrels.

As squirrels are known eaters of acorns and hickories, it stands to reason that their absence means more acorns and hickories hatching into baby trees.

Add a long icy winter that appears to have crushed our local wild turkey populations, also known for eating nuts, and the right conditions emerge to help a forest rebound and grow some new stock, a huge challenge we aggressively tackle every year.

So, my son getting his first hunting license yesterday is now entering a landscape that in some ways is just as dynamic as the one I began hunting so long ago.  What a difference these landscapes were and are, and who would’ve guessed the fishers would be responsible for oak and hickory forests regenerating?

A lot has changed in our wildlife landscapes, and yet not much has changed in my lifetime. Different animals, same kind of population changes, variations, pressures. One thing I keep reminding myself: It’s all natural, these changes. And while some are painful to see, like the loss of pheasants, other opportunities open up. Never would I have imagined in 1976, nor would any PA Game Commission staff, that in 2015 my son would get a bobcat tag and a fisher tag with his license.

Totally different opportunity than chasing pheasants in corn fields, but still good.

An outdoor lifestyle, halfway through the season (to hunt is human)

Most of the readers who visit this blog are not outdoors folk. Feats, exploits, and the inevitable tales of woe, cold, and misery from the field would naturally bore, or at best morbidly fascinate, the non-hunter.

Nevertheless, here we go, for the first time here, on a midway retrospective of a singular hunting season still unfolding.

Hunting for most hunters is a way of life literally built into our genes. We do what humans have done since the rise of Homo Sapiens upon Planet Earth: Hunt animals that we eat, wear, and admire. While the Pleistocene ended only 20,000 years ago, it is marked by the full arrival of adept hunter-gatherers who had spent tens of thousands of previous years perfecting their lifestyle.

Humans have been hunters and gatherers for 100,000 years, or 60,000 years, depending upon how long one believes Homo Sapiens has been human.

We have been agrarian for what…10,000 years at the most generous definition of the sedentary lifestyle, but closer to 5,000 years for most humans.

After that, the most modern, most technologically advanced, most “civilized” humans have lived through the Industrial Revolution (400 years), the Technological Revolution (150 years), the Information Revolution (50 years and ongoing). Combined, that’s a total of 600 years out of a total of 60,000 years.

At our core we are all hunter-gatherers. Scratch our civilized surface, and right underneath we are all spear-toting, skin-clad hunters.

To hunt is innately human. Hunting makes us human.

In other words, although many people today look at our current effete, energy-intensive Western lifestyle and think of it as being the peak of human civilization, some of us see this civilization as becoming complacent, detached from the reality of natural resource management necessary to support this modern lifestyle, hypocritical.

When someone believes it is morally superior to have an assassin kill their meat for them than to kill it themselves, you’ve got an unsustainable logical break. Similarly, people want “the government” to protect them, and they want to prevent citizens from protecting themselves, and those same citizens cannot hold the same government accountable when it fails.
Western civilization is full of this weak thinking. In my opinion, Western society is becoming hollow, a shell, full of contradictions.

The hunting lifestyle is a powerful antidote. It is a dose of reality inserted into a cloudy drugged up dream.

So far, this season has been marked by time afield in the most beautiful places in several states with long time friends, new friends, my young son, other kids, and by myself. Like our Pleistocene ancestors, the feeling of the pack on my back and the game-getter in my right hand is about the most natural and satisfying feeling possible.

A number of deer have fallen to various firearms, a Fall turkey, a colorful pheasant; there’s a bunch of photos commemorating the times for the results-oriented. My best moment was late at night, checking a trap with my boy, and finding a large bobcat. There for about four hours, it had really no taste for humans and represented the wilderness in all its wildness.

Catching a bobcat is a real achievement in the world of hunting and trapping, and I confess it was with great mixed emotions that we dispatched it and brought it to Butch at Blue Mountain Taxidermy. Even if a bobcat is again in one of our traps during the short bobcat season, we will release it. One is enough for a lifetime.

One bobcat trophy represents a lifetime of time afield, or 60,000 years.

It’s duck season! No it’s turkey season! No it’s rabbit season!

In addition to picking apples with the family, one of Fall’s greatest attributes is the abundance of hunting opportunities.

A friend sent me a photo of a huge buck he arrowed last week.  I am jealous of him because I have not yet had an opportunity to go bow hunt for deer.

Instead, I have been small game hunting, wild turkey hunting, duck hunting, and trapping.

So, it is not as if I have been missing out on the outdoor experience by failing to bow hunt.  The problem is that I’m in a frenetic whirlwind of other, related recreational pursuits, because Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and healthy natural habitat.

Spending time with my kids and friends outside in this environment is one of the healthiest, safest, most wholesome activities anyone can do.  Hunting is safer than cheerleading, high school football, soccer, and baseball.  It gets my son’s face out of whatever handheld device is sucking out his brain at any given moment.

Successful or not, time afield is the best family time possible.

Here are some old favorite cartoons about hunting, and most important is the Duck Season, Rabbit Season, Duck Season! episode.

Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck

Rabbit Season! Duck Season!

New Sportsmen’s Show – Carlisle, PA – March 21-24

The recent demise of the 58-year annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show left both a hole in the fabric of the outdoors community, and also an opportunity for some enterprising people to pull it all back together. Nature abhors a vacuum, and into this one poured the good and capitalistic intentions of many veteran outdoorsmen.

Dozens of small groups of people have quickly seen the opportunity, and worked to create a show that will give them momentum for next year, and then the years after.

One such show is being billed as the “American Outdoorsman Sport Show,” organized by a radio station, WQLV 98.9 FM (www.aosshow.com), and it is being held from March 21-24 at the Carlisle Expo Center, 100 K Street, Carlisle, PA.

I know about this because JRJ Knives will be there (www.jrjknives.com). John Johnson of JRJ makes knives every bit as rugged and beautiful as the top-billed makers, but at a third to half the price. I try to purchase at least one every year; many I give away as gifts. John’s self-defense fixed blades are worn by an Israeli general and an Israeli colonel who sees combat every week, as well as sportsmen around the nation. Because he uses ATS34 steel combined with his exceptional skill, John’s knives are often far stronger than the “best” knives being marketed for survival, hand-to-hand combat, etc. In fact, I cook with one of the custom, unique large hunting knives he recently made for me. It is scary sharp, holds an edge forever, and is easy to resharpen.

So get on down to the Carlisle Expo Center this March 21-24, and buy yourself a JRJ knife and peruse some of the other vendors, including Cody Calls and Ducky’s Boats.

Kelty — An A+ American company

Kelty makes all kinds of outdoor equipment. Tents, sleeping bags, you name it, they make it. And they back up their gear with a lifetime warranty.
Example in point, my Pacific Crest backpack is a huge old dinosaur of a pack. It holds all kinds of stuff, has a sleeve for either a bow or rifle, and can easily carry 80 pounds without showing a sign of stress. Two weeks ago I sent this pack in for some rehab work.
Two weeks later, it arrived completely refurbished, at no charge. “Pride in our construction” says the zeroed invoice.
Kelty — a fantastic American company cut from the old mold.
Make sure to give them your business, folks. They’ve earned it.

Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show CANCELLED

Reed Expo (or Exhibitions) just announced that the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show is being “postponed,” which means it is effectively cancelled.

Reed Expo is canceling because of the enormous boycott of the show over their new anti-Second Amendment policy. That boycott started with a call to me from one of the show’s vendors over ten days ago. I sent a statement which was rapidly shared across the sporting community, and the sportsmen’s community (PFSC, HUSH, WFE Foundation, NWTF) leapt into action. Before you knew it, Reed Expos was getting kicked in the teeth by hurt, angry American citizens. The betrayal was too much to bear.

Reed Expos is a British company. Britain was once a great nation, and the British were once a great people, but they have decided to disarm themselves and to criminalize self-defense. Failed gun control of every sort is de rigeur in England, and Reed Expos took the dubious but very British position of banning from the show the one gun that most symbolizes the Second Amendment: The AR-15.

That upset their core audience. That core audience just fought back. And wait until the breach-of-contract lawsuits start flying against Reed Expos. The company will probably lose tens of millions of dollars. They may go bankrupt. That would be their own fault, however, because at every step over the past two weeks, they were asked to reconsider their policy change. Neither vendors nor paying visitors wanted to miss the show. Reed Expos stuck to their guns, and has suffered the consequences.

Message to businesses: If you stand with us, we will stand with you. And if you stand against us, we will stand against you.

Next stop: Hollywood, the least principled, most hypocritical, most destructive location on Earth. It’s like that one place is the epicenter of a continual tidal wave of crap that splashes all over the planet. It’s time to financially punish empty-headed actors like Danny Glover, who profited enormously from using guns in his movies, but who now says that the Second Amendment was designed to protect slavery.

Three cheers to the American sportsman: You did it. You united. You had an effect. You should be proud of yourselves.