↓ Archives ↓

Posts Tagged → trap

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

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.

Why I Trap

Trapping wild animals for food, fur, and pest control is as old as the human race, tens of thousands of years in action.

The traps may have changed over time, but the purposes have not. Pests still ruin valuable crops, eat valuable farm animals, and break into homes and ruin stored food. Humans still prefer to eat wild meat, which is tastier, cleaner, and healthier than agribusiness meat. And humans still prefer to wear wild furs that are warmer, prettier, and more natural than human-made fabrics. That furs are renewable, sustainable, biodegradable, and natural adds to their appeal.

But what has also happened over time is the incredibly abundant material success of Western civilization has created an unnatural gap between consumers of food and goods, and the natural world of forestry, farming, and natural resource management that creates those very same consumer goods.

Frankly, Americans and Europeans are largely spoiled.  Nearly everything we need is easily obtainable. Very few of us have to work hard for food, or shelter, the necessities that keep most humans personally toiling in dirty agriculture daily around the globe. Even our poor have expensive personal items like TVs and phones.

Never will I forget a family member decrying “those evil power companies,” years ago, because she did not like the air pollution resulting from power generation. It did not occur to her that her role as a consumer and generous user of electric power made her the real driver behind electricity generation, as well as all of the associated processes branching out from it.

And similarly, the ease of “shopping” for an unimaginably rich and diverse array of food items, so many made to suit nuanced tastes, especially meats, has resulted in a populace that does not understand the basics of what it takes to put meat and food on those same supermarket shelves.

Enter trapping. At first glance to the average American it appears to involve the sadistic mistreatment of very cute, furry animals that would beg us for their lives in humorous dialects of English, if we would only let them. Silly depiction, yes, but opposition to trapping is even more silly than imaginary talking cartoon animals.

Here are some reasons why I trap: We find a mother turtle, attempting to lay another clutch of eggs along the rail trail, the loose pea gravel of which provides perfect conditions for holding, incubating, and hatching turtle eggs. Three feet away is her previous nest, torn up, with raccoon tracks all over the destroyed turtle eggs, eaten by the raccoon. Raccoons are abundantly dead along roadsides everywhere because they are artificially overabundant in the wild, and especially in suburbia, where they have no real predators other than random cars. There are too damned many raccoons, and they are having a disproportionately high impact on other animals, like turtles, nearly all of which are in decline across the world.

Another reason: The PA Game Commission and many other wildlife agencies nationwide are studying why whippoorwills are in such steep decline. One of the reasons is they are ground nesting birds, which makes their nests easy prey for the raccoons, possums, and skunks that pulse out in unnaturally high numbers from the habitat created for them in suburban sprawl environments. The one place I have seen and listened to these sweet nocturnal birds is a place where we aggressively trap, thinning out the artificially high population of ground mammals that would otherwise raid the whippoorwill nests. We create breathing room for the birds to nest and rear young. The same holds true for grouse, turkeys, and woodcock, all ground nesting birds.

I could go on with a long list of cute feathered and furry animals that are in trouble because of predation by skunks, raccoons, and possums, but it should not be necessary. I prefer these animals because they are colorful, or sweet, or rare. Some of these animals are in real trouble, and if not for trapping of their predators, they might be gone altogether. Any thinking person will join me in preferring these uncommon birds and animals over the overabundant, artificially common racoon, possum, or skunk.

Given that choice, trapping is the natural way to preserve animals we want. We remove the animals we don’t want. I trap because I love wildlife, and given certain population dynamics, as a Nature lover, I face certain natural tradeoffs that I must consider. In order to love and enjoy one little birdy, I must eliminate a whole bunch of its predators.

What amazes me is how little most people know or want to know about trapping. They write it off with the wave of a hand. They seem unimpressed that we can easily target certain types of animals, and thereby avoid other kinds of animals in our traps. We can selectively harvest overabundant predators, to help cute, little, rare and endangered critters.

Trapping is not random, it is not haphazard, it is not cruel, and for me it is not about money. For those of us who love Nature and all in it, trapping is really the only way to ensure that Nature in all her facets sticks around. That, or level all of the large lot suburban sprawl developments and pack everyone into cities.

After all, it is suburban back yards that give us the worst of the critters needing the most control: Raccoons, possums, and skunks.

 

A Murder of Crows

My two greatest thrills in the outdoors are native wildflowers, like the trilliums and pink ladyslippers, and native birds, like grouse, turkey, woodcock, wood ducks, and various migratory songbirds.

All of these flowers and birds are under pressure under the best of circumstances, and in many places they are succumbing to that pressure because of artificial factors.

Native wildflowers are naturally browsed by deer, and increasingly collected by people who sell rare plants (and animals). If deer herds are balanced with the carrying capacity of the landscape and surrounding habitat, then the plant colonies can sustain the browsing. The collecting is usually illegal, involving sneaky trespass on private property and violating state law and regulation when done on public land. It is totally unsustainable.

When it comes to my favorite birds, the usual pressures of predation or hunting are hardly a factor in their population success. What is a growing factor is the impact of ground mammals on ground nesting birds, including all of my favorites above and others like more common ducks.

Ground mammals like raccoons, possums, skunks, fox and coyote have a natural place in the natural world, but humans have so greatly altered that natural world that some of these animal populations are disproportionately growing and having disproportionate impacts on other wildlife.

Exhibit A is low density suburban sprawl type residential home development, relatively large home lots in the one to five -acre range.

Low-density suburban sprawl residential development is now the ground zero for artificially high numbers of skunks, possums, and raccoons. Sprawl development provides perfect backyard habitat for these predators to breed and den, but these back yards are too small to hunt or trap effectively or legally.  So these burgeoning and unchecked predator populations keep pulsing out into surrounding farmland and forest. In those more stable habitats, these artificially high predator numbers wreak havoc on the other species who live there, notably my favorite birds, which happen to be ground nesters.

Ground nesting birds are highly susceptible to nest disturbance and egg loss when they are surrounded by artificially high populations  of skunks, raccoons, and possums. In many areas ground nesting birds are experiencing dramatic population declines because they simply cannot nest long enough to hatch a brood of chicks, or the chicks cannot survive predation long enough to develop flight, so they can escape from otherwise slow moving predators like skunks and possums. Adding to the challenge for ground nesting birds is the dearth of brush and young forest which provide the best places to hide a nest on the ground. Most farms today are devoid of brush, and “select cut” high-grade logging has ruined most private forests, while anti-conservation activists decry aggressive forest management on public lands. Brush and young forests are nearly a rarity today, despite serving as nature’s best habitat.

Yesterday I got into one of those internet debates most normal people avoid. It centered on allegedly real photos of a flying mature eagle with a talon stuck in a foothold trap, posted on Lancaster Online. Lancaster Online is run by politically partisan legacy media staff, and it is a huge source of fake news and alternate facts. So when I saw there the photo of a completely closed foot hold trap, with not even a tiny jaw spread to accommodate the eagle’s foot, it looked like yet more fake news and I posted comments.

As you might imagine, a murder of crows of sorts descended upon the article, and upon me, and upon any other poster who either questioned the facts as presented in the article, or who promoted trapping.

Crows are natural enemies of eagles and other raptors. Crows are huge nest raiders, eating baby bird chicks whole right out of the nest. In the context of the Lancaster Online article, the crows took human form: Animal rights promoters, PETA advocates, anti-trapping and anti-conservation voices.

Like with a surrounding pack of crows (called a “murder”) wildly harassing a lone eagle in a tree, the loudly hysterical anti-trapping commenters immediately invoked emotional appeals, personal attacks, lies, advocacy for trespassing, leash-less dogs, and private property theft and destruction. None of them made any sense. None were based on fact, though it is true that occasionally an animal in a trap gets hurt (never mind that every single one of those hypocritical commenters has a direct hand in wildlife death and destruction).

I responded frequently there, and was answered by a surrounding murder of crows, loudly cawing, squawking, screaming, wildly flapping their wings and leaping from tree to tree. Pretty funny to watch, because not one commenter there debated wildlife biology, habitat, etc. Only emotional appeals mostly based on lies and fake news were presented. Lots of hysteria, not much reasoning.

And that right there is why I trap, dear reader.

There are too damned many cantankerous crows, skunks, possums and raccoons eating all of the really cool, cute, useful little birds I enjoy so much. I haven’t sold a pelt since I was a kid. Instead, today I trap to thin out the populations of the destructive ground predators so that the defenseless animals they eat have at least a sitting chance.

As for the eagle photographed flying around Lancaster County with its talon caught in the foothold trap, I have pledged fifty dollars toward its rehabilitation, if it is caught alive. And I want to personally inspect the trap rig, because what is seen in the photos makes no sense. One commenter, a trapper, noted it appeared to be an illegal trap specifically set to catch a raptor, like the eagle, in which case this subject isn’t about trapping, it is about illegal wildlife poaching.

But you’d never know that from the deafening screaming and cawing and flapping from the uncaring, unthinking, hostile, mob-like murder of crows.

UPDATE: 2/8/17 4:30 pm “Just received a call from PGC Director Matt Hough. Matt informed me that the eagle/trap incident was a true event. Fortunately, PA Game Commission officers were able to capture the eagle and remove the trap. There was no damage to the talon. The eagle was released and flew away with no impairment as a result of the incident. Matt did not have any information as to the individual responsible for the trap,” from an email sent to me this afternoon.

 

 

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.

The Bob Webber Trail takes on a whole new meaning

The Bob Webber Trail up between Cammal and Slate Run in the Pine Creek Valley is a well-known northcentral Pennsylvania destination. Along with the Golden Eagle Trail and other rugged, scenic hiking trails around there, you can see white and painted trilliums in the spring, waterfalls in June, and docile timber rattlers in July and August, as well as large brook trout stranded in ever-diminishing pools of crystal clear water as the summer moves along.

Bob Webber was a retired DCNR forester, who had spent the last 40 years or so of his life perched high above Slate Run in a rustic old CCC cabin. That is the life that many of the people around here aspire to, and which I, as a little kid, once stated matter of factly would be my own quiet existence when I reached the “big boy” age of 16. Except Bob had been married for almost all of his time there. He was no hermit, as he enjoyed people, especially people who wanted to explore nature off the beaten path.

That Bob had contributed so much to the conservation and intelligent development of Pine Creek’s recreational infrastructure is a well-earned understatement. He was a quiet leader on issues central to that remote yet popular tourist and hunting/fishing destination. The valley could easily have been dammed, like Kettle Creek was. Or it could easily have been over-developed to the point where the rustic charm that draws people there today would have been long gone. Bob was central to the valley’s successful model of both recreational destination and healthy ecosystem.

A year ago, while our clan was up at camp, Bob snowshoed down to Wolfe’s General Store, the source of just about everything in Slate Run, and I snapped a photo of my young son talking with both Bob and Tom Finkbiner, one of the other long-time stalwart conservationists in the valley. Whether my boy eventually understands or values this photo many years from now will depend upon his own interest in land and water conservation, nature, hunting, trapping, and fishing, and bringing urbanites into contact with these important pastimes so they better appreciate and value natural resources.

Bob, you will be missed. Right now you are walking the high mountains with your walking stick in your hand, enjoying God’s golden light and green fields on a good trail that never ends. God bless you.

Welcoming Mr. Scott Frederick, WCO

I would like to extend a hearty welcome to Dauphin County’s new Wildlife Conservation Officer, Mr. Scott Frederick.  He is a recent graduate of the PA Game Commission’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation and he will be dedicated to conserving wildlife in Dauphin County.  He joins Mike Doherty, Terry, Derek, and other hard-working conservation officers, and their deputies, in the pursuit of promoting sound wildlife management, fair wildlife laws, and recruiting new hunters and trappers.

Scott, you will find us and our friends to be law-abiding, good citizens, who share your passion for healthy wildlife and wildlife habitat.  We will be there to help you whenever we can, and we look forward to working with you.  Welcome to Dauphin County!

I am a happy PA Game Commission partner

For the past ten years, we have enrolled 350 acres in Centre County with the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s public access program.

We pay the taxes on the land, the PGC patrols the land, and the public hunts and traps on the land. From personal items left lying on the ground, like underpants and beer cans, it is clear that some members of the public are using it in more creative recreational ways.

Cleaning up these things is part of the burden we bear to provide the public with nice places to hunt and…”picnic.”

Because our land is surrounded by State Game Lands, it made sense to open it to the public.  We were approached to lease it as a private hunting club, and we have resisted that for all these years.  We recently sold 100 acres to PGC, and we wanted it to be a seamless experience for the public, used to walking in on a gated road and immediately hunting.

Overall our experience has been positive.  Yes, we get frustrated by people leaving trash behind, when they could easily put it in the vehicle they brought it in with. But we take great satisfaction knowing that the majority of visitors are exhilarated to be there, and they use the land respectfully.

Our family is proud to help other Pennsylvanians have a beautiful place to hunt and trap, so that these ancient skills can be passed on to younger generations.  We are proud and pleased to partner with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.