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What is hunting?

With hunting seasons drawing to a close here in Pennsylvania, it is worth the time to revisit an old question, which is What is hunting?

We ask because, without question, non-hunters overwhelmingly support hunting that is fair chase and purposeful. That is, hunters who are seen by the public to be respectful of our prey are recognized as a positive force, and worthy of continuing their pastime.

Every scientific opinion survey asking Americans their opinion about this subject for the past several decades has yielded the same result: Hunters who actually hunt get respect and support from non-hunters. On the other hand, people who are perceived by the general public to be casually killing animals just for pleasure or for “trophies” usually do not garner much support.

While there is a lot for us to talk about with even just the survey question itself, like how America has become so urbanized and thus our people so distant from the natural resources and processes that feed and clothe us and wipe our butts (toilet paper from trees harvested in forests) etc, this particular question, and its answer, is most important because hunters are a minority of a minority in America.

Positive public opinion about hunters and hunting is necessary to the continuation of regulated hunting as we know it and as it has been practiced for the past 100 years.

Given that American hunters are lamentably awash in a sea of soulless plastic and stainless steel rifles these days, whereupon the Hubble Telescope-equivalent scope is mounted, many owners of these contraptions are regularly and quite naturally tempted to attempt military-grade long distance sniper assassinations of far-off big game animals.

Though fleet of foot, strong of heart, and equipped with majestically sensitive noses, ears, and eyes, these animals cannot compete with humans who are so far removed from the natural zone of awareness these animals’ senses otherwise provide them. This begs the question of whether or not long-long-distance shots at these clueless animals are actual fair chase hunting, or are they incautious and disrespectful maltreatment of animals we otherwise admire.

Honestly, this stark question brings to my mind the images of charismatic megafauna hand-painted on cave walls by our spear-wielding ancestors: Rhinos, gigantic cave bears, massive aurochs, lions, zebras and wild horses, bison, etc. dangerous animals all, taken at great personal risk and at bad breath distance, contrasted with today’s ego-driven high-fence “trophies” mounted on manicured man cave walls around America, animals snuffed out without a chance at fight or flight.  The cave paintings were the Sistine Chapel experience for paleolithic humans, and today’s manicured egocentric faux trophy rooms are very sorry substitutes. Authentic versus fake, they couldn’t be more different from one another.

So, a bear or deer taken with a bow, a crossbow, a spear, an atlatl, a blowgun, a shotgun, a flintlock or percussion muzzleloader, or a modern muzzleloader or rifle with open sights seems like a pretty natural example of fair chase. The 400-yard Hubble Telescope plus “500 Magnum Killem” caliber assassination of the unknowing and unsuspecting beast is just that, an assassination. Is there anything fair or chase about it?

Just as political America now requires a return to our simple and beautiful founding principles, so will our hunters benefit from returning to mastering the basics of early American woodcraft, the ability to sneakily slither and glide into the wind across a landscape to get within the animal’s sensory zone and make an honest and competitive kill. This kind of field craft is the essence of fair chase.

Artificial reliance by hunters on high tech is embarrassing, to tell you the truth of how I feel. Repent and return to the basics, brothers and sisters! Our fellow Americans who do not hunt will not only support us, they will admire us, and as a result of their admiration our outdoor lifestyle will have a much greater chance of surviving beyond the high tech culture that is otherwise crushing everything natural and alive in its unwholesome path.

Wild animals have understandably inspired humans since our beginning

Hanging this stag’s magnificent rack on your lodge wall would be earned with the bow and arrow

An honest kill. This is hunting

 

Anatomy of a deer season

It doesn’t matter if you archery hunt for deer religiously, from October 1 to mid-November; the archery season is always over way too fast.

It doesn’t matter if you archery hunt a bit for bear and deer, hunt the week of early muzzleloader for bear and doe, do some small game hunting, have the men up to camp for bear season for four days, and then hunt every day of deer rifle season. The ending is always the same: It ended way too fast. We wait all year for this time, and before you can blink an eye, it is over.

For many hunters, this time is about being afield, hunting. The occasional actual killing part is a welcome indication that the hunting part was done well. Proof that the time spent outside was not wasted.

Oh, we still have some late deer season remaining, which is the late archery and flintlock hunt. But by now, deer everywhere in Pennsylvania are on high alert. A twig falling out of a tree and rustling a leaf on the ground will send a nearby deer herd into panicked stampede into the next county. So getting deeply enough into the sensory zone of these intelligent animals to take one with a bow or a flintlock at this stage takes real skill, not just the usual luck.

Although I will hunt the flintlock deer season, because I have some DMAP tags left, looking back even now with a sense of longing has me thinking about the anatomy of a good deer season. Some take-aways:

  1. Eat good food. Whether it is home-made jerky and dried fruit we make ourselves for our own time afield, or it is the extra thick gourmet steaks we bring to hunting camp, eat the best quality food you can afford. Hunting alone or with friends and family is a celebration, so eat like you are celebrating. And because Man does not live on bread alone, make sure your drinks are of a commensurate high quality.
  2. Practice, practice, practice with your gun. Archery hunters practice non-stop, but for some reasons many gun hunters leave it to one box of ammo and the days right before the season to “practice” shooting. Well do I recall sharing a range with a guy from Lancaster County at the bench next to me. Friendly enough, he enthusiastically, if spastically, launched his one box of “extra” shells down range as rapid fire as a bolt action can fire. I had offered him the use of my spotting scope and Caldwell shooting sled, and he declined. He did end up relying on my spotting and calling his hurried shots, however, because he didn’t quite have his scope figured out. The old random “spray n’ pray” is the approach he packed up and drove off to hunting camp with. Do any of us think he hit what he shot at?
  3. Bring your best jokes, naughty or practical. Hunting camp is fun, and each of us must contribute to that festive atmosphere. Many years ago, I bent down to inspect a strange looking object hiding under the cabin’s kitchen counter. And just as quickly I jumped back and screamed like a little girl when the damned thing took off running. That it was merely a muskrat pelt attached to a fishing line being pulled by Bob and followed by uproarious laughter at my expense just made my revenge all the sweeter. As for naughty jokes and rhymes, the list is endless. Look them up and bring half a dozen. Maybe I am lowbrow, or maybe I have low expectations, but it sure seems that everyone present laughs at these men-only jokes.
  4. Get out into position early, like at least an hour before first light, and when you move play the wind (nose into the wind), go quietly and slowly, and carry your gun port-arms and not across your back. If you can get out into position at 4:30am, even better. Just bring a blanket and some Zippo hand warmers.
  5. Food sources matter for deer and bear, too. We humans are not the only ones who both enjoy and need food. In a year of abundant acorns, a stand of sweet tasting white oaks will draw more deer and bear, and you can sit down wind of that stand of trees. In a year of scarce acorns, like this year, any tree that had a decent crop will still draw animals pawing in the leaves for whatever may be left in early December. By this mid-November, almost all of the already scarce acorns were eaten up, and both bear and deer seemed to be moving widely across the landscape in search of any food. It makes for tough hunting, and so we have to team up with buddies and other camps to work together to scoop up what animals are out there. Be flexible and think outside the box of a permanent stand.
  6. Speak animal language. Last year I grunted in an Adirondacks wilderness buck after busting him out of his bed. He was a territorial and aggressive SOB. But the conditions were all wrong for playing around, and although his body was visible, I could not shoot through the beech brush to get him. This year I returned for Round Two with the same animal, which had probably never seen a human being, and after two days of tentative efforts, Day Three resulted in the furious huge buck storming right in to my position with leaves, twigs, snot and mouth foam flying. I shot him in the neck at five yards, five miles from my truck. Lot of work, totally worth it for that DIY hunt of a lifetime. My position was carefully chosen for what he could see or smell under a certain wind direction. I waited until it was all just right, and let fly. His response was immediate.
  7. Take pictures, send them in emails. While journaling is not dead, most people today do not write in a personal or camp journal. Instead, we take photos and email them around. The recipients always appreciate them. Especially when ten or twenty years has suddenly passed, our knees don’t seem capable of all those steep climbs and hard sidehilling drives any longer, and a lot of our best times at hunting camp are sitting around with dear friends and reminiscing together. So don’t forget to take pictures and share them.

Northern PA’s acorn crop largely failed in 2021, possibly due to a late frost that killed the acorn flowers. Acorns remaining on the ground looked OK from the outside, but were all rotten like this on the inside. Wildlife is hungry and moving widely to locate food.

My “Freedom Buck,” killed on Sunday November 28th at 7:45am, on private property in PA. The ban on Sunday hunting is an attack on freedom, and so I named this Sunday morning buck after my declaration of freedom.

 

 

The deer that got away, but shouldn’t have

It doesn’t matter how many seasons I’ve spent afield, or how many big game animals I’ve taken while hunting. I am always surprised at how many strange circumstances there are in the woods that challenge my expectations and prior experiences. Over the decades some fatally wounded animals have gotten away from me, despite my best efforts to locate them. Or at least I thought they had gotten away, because I did not find them where I expected them to be, and ended up going home mystified about how such a large animal could seemingly vanish into thin air. Each one of these losses has been a “teachable moment,” and the better I became at following up wounded animals, the more I was able to look back on ones that got away (that actually were there but not found) and realize where and how I had failed to look.
Learning from these moments is important, because dying animals sometimes pull off disappearing acts that you can’t believe. That you would not believe if someone told you, and you would not believe if you did not see it with your own eyes. One big take away from my experiences is big game like deer and bear can be dead on their feet but nonetheless run far on adrenaline, and then do a head dive under a log, into a leaf pile, or over a cliff, thereby disappearing from view. It is up to the hunter to decipher the clues left behind by the mortally wounded animal, so that we can track it down and bring it to hand. Losing wounded big game animals is a big no-no, and although it does happen, it really shouldn’t happen very often.
Even with tracking dogs now legal in Pennsylvania for finding lost big game, a lot of hard work can be avoided if the hunter can figure out what likely happened right away.
Last Sunday morning I was reminded yet again that fatally hard-hit deer can nonetheless run pretty far, not leave much of a trail to follow, leave little or no blood trail, seem to disappear, and important clues about how far they are likely to go can often be found right at the site of initial bullet contact. Even in snow, which in the best circumstances shows all kinds of evidence that is easy to follow.
He had been grubbing for acorns in the brush behind the log at the top of the picture below. He was shot there when he turned broadside, at 120 yards. Notice the wildly turned up leaves and dirt, as his first few frantic leaps propelled him away from the scene of attack as fast as possible. There are just a couple of these scuff marks, and no blood visible on the snow yet. If snow were not present, we would only have the violent scuff marks as an indication an animal had reacted wildly and sought immediate escape. These scuff marks are typically (though not always) only found where the animal has taken a hard hit. In dry leaves and no snow, this might be your only clue at the beginning of a long and faint trail left by a fatally wounded animal.
The buck left a good clue that he was hit hard the first time: A series of sliding steps with scuffed up leaves and some minor blood spray, just little drops, right before bounding farther up the hill and turning around to regard his former position like he’d been stung by a bee. That’s when I shot him the second time. I knew I had connected with the first shot, but my impression was that it was not a hard or fatal hit.

Below is the buck after the second bullet, at about 140 yards, the hole of which is visible behind his shoulder; a classic behind-the-shoulder double lung/ top of heart hit. Usually it’s immediately fatal. Usually the animal is knocked down by the impact. But not that day. He absorbed the second soft point without moving, just standing there broadside, as if I had completely missed him. Even after he dropped he had a lot of life and fight left, as can be seen in his death spiral in the snow.

My challenge was that I did not see him fall, which happened while I was fumbling with my binoculars. Because I do not often use a rifle scope, I do not maintain a magnified field of view after my shot. Going back and forth between open sights and binoculars is my process.

As an aside, you may wonder why I use open sights, or you may be one of those people who deride open sights. Shooting instinctively with open sights is how I grew up and how I learned to hunt. Unlike a scope, open sights can take a lot more abuse in the field before they go out of whack. Unlike a scope, they cannot possibly lose their “zero” after spending eleven months in a closet. Open sights are absolutely reliable, and perfectly effective. Recall that American infantry are qualified on open sights out to 600 yards (or meters), so it is not like these things are relics from the past. Open sights are the best option, provided they are installed correctly and checked annually.

My preference for open sights is about more than performance, however. It has to do with how I like to hunt: On foot, getting close to the animal, within its sensory zone, and trying to kill it on its own terms, up close. This is a true contest of skill, not an assassination. And I hardly think an open-sighted center fire rifle is a disadvantage; it is a huge advantage over a spear or a bow. Scoped rifles are just that much more of an advantage.

So, I did not see the buck fall, and he fell into a small swale where I could not see him. Not wanting to stink up the woods and ruin further hunting, I sat on my butt and scoured the woods for signs of a deer. In fact, I saw a large buck a couple hundred yards away sneak into a thick tree top blowdown. It made me think the buck I had shot at was gut-shot and sneaking away to lie down, and so I did not push him. Only when the crows showed up over an hour later was it evident that the buck was in fact dead right where I had last seen him.

Will the US Supreme Court go rogue in the Corlett decision?

The US Supreme Court says it will hear arguments in a major Second Amendment (gun rights) case brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (Corlett, docket number 20-843) against the State of New York.

These two opponents are now met in legal battle, and the US Supreme Court is the final battlefield upon which the outcome will be legally determined. Legal being a kind of tenuous word these days, as all kinds of government agencies have taxpayer-paid staff who now illegally behave any damned way they want, with no legal accountability. The illegal behavior of the “public servants” raises the question whether the official decisions the various government agencies are then issuing are actually legal, and whether or not citizens should give a fig about them.

The case facts (the policy question) of Corlett are right out of the Constitution’s Second Amendment: The right to keep and BEAR arms. New York State says no, citizens have no intrinsic or Constitutional right to carry concealed or unconcealed firearms outside of their homes, without the state’s approval. And thus has New York State made getting a concealed carry license very difficult, and the penalties for law-abiding citizens who do carry without a license extremely harsh.

As you might guess, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association believes the opposite. They contend the plain meaning of the Second Amendment means what it says: To bear arms is to carry them in public, while the keep arms part is about having guns in your home. No license or government approval beyond what the Second Amendment says is necessary to keep or bear firearms, nor is government interference in such an individual Constitutional right lawful.

Moreover, they point out that the public policy question is on their side, because concealed carry permit holders are overwhelmingly law-abiding and safe. It does stand to reason that the people who go through the government red tape rigmarole presently needed to get a carry license are people who innately believe in following the law, in contrast to gang members and other urban scourges who carry and use guns illegally as part and parcel of their daily living. Therefore, New York’s stated purpose of limiting carry licenses for public safety and crime reduction is not only meaningless, because the current policy fails on both counts, it is actually having the opposite result. States with liberal concealed carry laws have seen a greatly reduced amount of violent crime, because would-be criminals understand they may encounter deadly force in response to their criminal behavior.

Many gun owners are excited about this case, after so many years of the Court declining to hear appeals of lower court decisions that were completely contrary to the Heller and MacDonald holdings (which were both strongly in keeping with the plain language of the Second Amendment’s very broad guarantee of individual gun rights). Well, hold your horses, people. The US Supreme Court has declined all kinds of appeals of lower court infringements of not just 2A, but what are in essence complete overturns of Heller and MacDonald precedents. The Supreme Court majority has allowed these lawless lower court decisions to stand. When the Court declined to hear appeals of lower court decisions on gun rights that were contrary to established Supreme Court precedent, the Court was more or less agreeing with the lower courts. The result has been a slow chiseling away of Constitutional Second Amendment rights by political activists sitting on lower courts, a slow erosion of the Supreme Court’s standing among and relevance to the citizenry, and a very clear message to Constitutionalists from all the courts: Do not hold hope for the American court system to protect individual American civil rights.

America’s court system is just as politicized and dysfunctional as the rest of our federal government. This is due to the divergent natures of the two types of people inhabiting our courts: Leftist activists for whom the law means nothing but a randomly opportunistic pathway to implement socialism and tyranny, and moderates who cannot be troubled to make a stand on hardly anything at all. So the moderates get swept away by the anti-law socialists. The Supreme Court is subject to these same forces.

Think about how America is still in the aftermath of the Court declining to hear enormously important cases about how some state administrative agencies (Pennsylvania’s Department of State being one) had unilaterally and illegally changed their state election laws right before the 2020 election, bypassing their own state constitutions and laws. And yesterday the Court sided 6-3 with a criminal illegal alien who fought his deportation on the grounds that the US Government had failed to give him “sufficient notice.”

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

If you are a convicted criminal illegal alien, the US Government and the citizen taxpayers empowering it owe you nothing but a swift kick in the ass on your way out of America.

To be blunt: Because the Supreme Court allowed the 2020 election to be stolen, and would not even hear the monumental legal and policy issues raised during the steal, why would any of us believe they will stand in the way of the government trying to steal our guns?

If any particular official government entity or group of individuals is responsible for the destruction of America’s rule of law, it is the Supreme Court. No wonder fewer and fewer Americans have confidence in or loyalty to this failed government entity.

So, if you are one of the people salivating over the prospect of the Court hereby upholding the Second Amendment rights of the citizen serf in Corlett, you are DREAMING. Do not raise your own or anyone else’s expectations about the Supreme Court now swooping in to set things right on the Second Amendment. If anything, we should be prepared for this lawless body packed with leftist activists and cowards, with just a couple of loyal patriots (the two Constitutionalists Thomas and Alito), to throw the Second Amendment overboard. If anything, we should be raising people’s preparation levels for defending our 2A rights by all means necessary. The US Supreme Court has gone rogue and no American should look to the compromised traitors in it to provide any relief to USA citizens.

So come what may, regardless of what will be the Supreme Court’s latest decision on the Second Amendment, New York State citizens may yet determine on their own what they believe their individual rights to be, and also what the limits are on government interference in the private lives and rights of citizens. After all, both government and these various courts were established to resolve differences in favor of citizen rights that are already very clearly spelled out in our founding documents, including in New York’s own constitution. All of America’s founding documents were written and established to limit government and to elevate the citizen over government, a situation now being reversed in a nationwide atmosphere of autocratic government totalitarianism. New York State being an Exhibit A. Which the Supreme Court may well reinforce in its Corlett decision.

New York citizens may choose to protect themselves as they see fit, perhaps with a concealed handgun minus the license part. Obviously this is presently at some risk to a person’s liberty, due to New York’s anti-Constitution state administration.

And this raises the bigger question here: Will enough Americans rise up and re-assert our collective ownership of this thing called government, which has gone totally rogue and turned against us, the citizen taxpayers? Unfortunately, blood is probably going to flow in answering this question. We freedom loving citizens are being attacked and damaged by anti-freedom people who want full control of everyone and every decision we make. Human history demonstrates that only brute force can determine who prevails in these kinds of contests.

UPDATE: Reading the Washington Post assessment of this case provides insight into the minds of tyrants. The Washington Post wonders aloud what will happen if the Court is “too broad” in its reading of what can only be plainly read as a very broad individual right to keep and bear firearms. As a mouthpiece for the radical Left, the Washington Post sends public messages from elected officials to everyone else, and so they wonder if a “too broad” interpretation of the Second Amendment will result in the Court being “overhauled” by the Democrat Party with an increase in the number of leftist activist justices sitting on the bench. You can’t make this stuff up, and they are proudly stating up front that if the Left does not get what it wants, which is official tyranny via the Supreme Court, then they will artificially install a new Supreme Court that will give them the policy outcome they want, democracy be damned. When people use democratic processes to achieve non-democratic results, you are dealing with pure evil. Well, what am I saying…these people stole the 2020 election in broad daylight, so what else should be expected? My advice: Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves!

UPDATE May 2nd, 2021: The Supreme Court discredits itself yet again. The Court has declined to hear one of the most salient lawsuits of our time, that brought by Laura Loomer, whose weighty complaint to the Court was that the Big Tech digital media are illegal monopolies who illegally discriminate against Americans, and thereby violate citizens’ First Amendment free speech rights. Loomer being the Exhibit A of the moment. And we all know an awful lot of “cancel culture” discrimination by Big Tech has been going on the past  twelve months, affecting at least a third of the American citizenry, and you would think a reasonable Supreme Court would want to weigh in on this problem. But no, the Supreme Court continues to behave disgracefully and kick away the sniveling little wretches who keep showing up at the carriage door begging for some relief from their oppression.

This Court is daily diminishing its own usefulness and relevance to the American People, and the only answer why this is, is that the Court’s majority no longer sees themselves as part of the American republic or as guardians of the Constitution that holds the republic together.

If not us, We, The People, then who the hell is the Supreme Court working for? I think the Corlett case is going to demonstrate exactly who the Supreme Court is protecting and promoting these days: Tyrannical Big Government. I hope I am wrong, but looking at all these decisions the Court is making, including Loomer’s case, it is clear the US Supreme Court is AWOL.

Don’t you go and feel all alone if the Court’s anti-Constitution behavior leaves you thinking their decisions no longer have a binding effect on you. The Court is clearly now made of tyrants, and tyranny has no role or place on American soil, and they have no claim on the allegiance of the American citizen, much less our obedience.

PA’s must-do 21st century deer management policy

When Gern texted me on November 12th “planning to plant the entire farm with grass next Fall… 100%  hay… can’t afford to feed wildlife. Going broke trying to make money,” I knew that my best deer management efforts had finally failed over the past 13 years.

Every year I work hard to make sure our deer season is as productive as possible. Because our tenant farmer pays us a per-acre rent every year, which covers the real estate taxes and some building maintenance, and for 13 years he has grown soybeans, corn and hay in various rotations across the many fields we have. Our arrangement has generally worked out well both ways, but that text message ended my  sense of satisfaction.

While I do wear dirty bib overalls when I run the sawmill and also when I try to impress people who don’t know me, Gern is the actual farmer who tills (broad sense), fertilizes, plants, and harvests a very large farm property in Dauphin County, some of which I own and all of which I manage. Our property is one of many that comprise about 30,000 acres of farm land that Gern and his family cultivate in Central Pennsylvania. To say that his family works hard is the understatement of all understatements. Gern embodies AMERICA! in flesh and spirit, and to see him so utterly beaten down by mere deer is heartbreaking.

Over the years I knew that both overabundant deer and bears were taking a significant toll on our grain crops (Gern’s primary source of family income), and so I worked hard to recruit the kinds of good hunters who would help us annually whittle down the herds, so that the pressure was taken off of our crops. About five years ago I proudly photographed one of our late-summer soybean fields, at about four super healthy feet high, indicating a minimal amount of deer damage. When I passed the soybean field pictures around to other farmers and land managers, nothing but high praise returned. And so I patted myself on the back for our successful deer management, and congratulated our guest hunters, who were killing about 25-35 deer a year on our property. Our hunters were filling an impressive 50% to 65% of the roughly 54 DMAP deer management tags we hand out every year, as well as some of their buck tags and WMU 4C tags.

But, change is life’s biggest constant, and while I rested on my hunting laurels, deer hunting changed under my feet. The past few years have seen a lot of change in the hunting world. First and biggest change is that hunters in Pennsylvania and other states are aging out en masse, with fewer replacements following them. This means that a lot less pressure is being brought to bear on the deer herd. Which means a lot more deer are everywhere, which is not difficult to see if you drive anywhere in Pennsylvania in a vehicle. There are literally tons of dead deer along the side of every road and highway, everywhere in Pennsylvania. We should be measuring this at tons-of-deer-per-mile, not just the number of dead deer and damaged vehicles. Frankly this overabundant deer herd situation is out of control not just for the farmers who feed Americans, but for the people who want to safely drive their vehicles to the grocery store. Hunters are sorely needed to get this dangerous situation under control, and yet Pennsylvania’s deer management policies favor overabundant deer herds to keep older hunters less crabby.

So, because I am about to break out the spotlights and AK47 to finally manage our farm deer the way they need to be managed (and yes, PA farmers are allowed to wholesale slaughter deer in the crops) (and yes, I feel the same way about our favorite forested places in the Northern Tier), here below is the kind of deer management/ hunting policy Pennsylvania needs via the PGC, if we are going to get the out-of-control deer herd genie back into its bottle and stop hemorrhaging farmland on the altar of too many deer:

  1. Archery season is too long. At seven weeks long, the current archery season lets a lot of head-hunters stink up the woods, cull the very best trophy bucks, and pressure the deer enough to make them extra skittish and nocturnal before rifle season begins. Even though rifle season is our greatest deer management tool. The same can be said of bear season, which is the week before rifle season. So shorten archery season and lengthen rifle season, or make the opening week of deer season concurrent with bear season, like New York does.
  2. Rifle season must be longer, and why not a longer flintlock season, too? Is there something “extra special” about deer come the middle of January, that they are prematurely off limits to hunting? Most bucks begin to drop their antlers in early February. Have three weeks of rifle season and then five weeks of flintlock season until January 30th, every year. Or consider flintlock hunting year ’round, or a spring doe season in May.
  3. More doe tags are needed. There are too few doe tags to begin with, and most doe tags sell out and are never used. This is especially true in WMUs 5C and 5D, where despite enormous tag allocations, tags quickly become unavailable. That is because individual hunters can presently buy unlimited numbers of doe tags, for some reason having to do with the way deer were managed in the 1980s…c’mon, PGC, limit of two or three doe tags for each hunter in these high-density WMUs, and at least two doe tags in Big Woods WMUs like 2G and 4C.
  4. Despite good advancements in reducing the regulatory burden on deer hunters this past season, there are still too many rules and restrictions. For example, why can’t our muzzleloading guns have two barrels? Pedersoli makes the Kodiak, a fearsome double percussion rifle that would be just the ticket for reducing deer herds in high deer density WMUs where the PGC says they want more deer harvests. But presently it is not legal. Another example is the ridiculous interruptions in small game seasons as they overlap with bear and deer seasons. This bizarre on-again-off-again discontinuity of NOT hunting rabbits while others ARE hunting deer is an unnecessary holdover from the long-gone, rough-n-ready bad old poaching days of Pennsylvania wildlife management. PA is one of the very few states, if the only one at all, with these staggered small game and big game seasons. Bottom line is hunting is supposed to be fun, and burdening hunters with all kinds of minutiae is not only not fun, it is unnecessary. Other states with far more liberal political cultures have far fewer regulations than Pennsylvania, so come on PA, give fun a try.
  5. Artificial deer feeding with corn, alfalfa, oats etc on private land during all deer and bear seasons must end. Not only does this “I’m saving the poor starving deer” nonsense lead to spreading deadly diseases like CWD, it artificially draws deer onto sanctuary properties and away from nearby hunters. Or it is baiting, plain and simple. Feeding causes overabundant deer to avoid being hunted during hunting season, but then quickly spread out on the landscape where they eat everything out of house and home when hunting season ends. This year up north (Lycoming and Clinton counties) is a prime example. We had no acorns to speak of this Fall, and whatever fell was quickly eaten up by early November. As the weeks rolled on through hunting season, the deer began leaving their regular haunts and unnaturally herding up where artificial feed was being doled out. This removed them from being hunted, and creates a wildlife feeding arms race, where those who don’t feed wildlife run the risk of seeing none at all. So either completely outlaw artificial feeding or let everyone do it, including hunters, so they can compete with the non-hunters. And yes, people who buck hunt only, and who do not shoot does, and who put out corn and alfalfa etc. for deer during hunting season, are not really hunters. They are purposefully meddling in the hunts of other people by trying to keep them from shooting “my deer.”
  6. PGC must better communicate to its constituency that too many deer result in unproductive farms that then become housing developments. Because the landowner and farmer must make some money from the land, if farm land can’t grow corn, it will end up growing houses, which no real hunter wants. So real hunters want fewer deer, at numbers the land and farms can sustain.

 

Halfway through PA deer season

We are halfway through deer season, and I, having hunted in several counties in Northcentral and southcentral Pennsylvania, have a few observations. These might be helpful to those seeking to fill tags this coming week, or to policy makers trying to mould a better season next year.

a) Despite the “purple paint law,” which is Pennsylvania’s new private land trespass law that carries severe penalties for trespassing, PA hunters continue to trespass and poach and shoot deer on private lands they have no business being on. So far this season I have been witness to the deliberate taking of deer on private land by people who have no right to hunt there, both a buck and a doe.  One incident was just plain sloppy woodsmanship; the other was purposefully crafty. Some trespassers are habitual lawbreakers, who trespass more to get one over (in their warped thinking) on someone who has land, rather than to actually pursue a specific trophy animal or meat for their family. This blurs into the mental illness category. Others are defiant individuals, who have always had authority problems both at work and elsewhere. This also blurs into the mental disease category. The antidote to all this miserable behavior is the joy of hidden trail cameras, which have caught several malefactors in flagrante. Yeah, Jon, you….again. To be continued!

b) Pennsylvania is now a huge deer trophy destination. The trophy bucks that are being taken from archery season, when deer are at their most vulnerable, right through rifle season, would have been unimaginable twenty or forty years ago. The enormous heads (antlers/ racks scoring 140 inches and above) that are being taken by hunters everywhere across the state are easily on par with famous trophy destination states like Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Kansas.

This development is a looooong way from the spike bucks and “trophy” fork horns of my youth, and frankly to which too many older hunters would gladly return.

This exciting development is primarily a result of top-notch deer management by the Pennsylvania Game Commission over the past twenty years. Along that twenty-year-way, PGC has suffered a lot of abuse for its deer management, which always involved reducing the number of over-abundant does and retaining a high number of mature bucks to return again next year, with racks that have gone from OK to spectacular. People upset with PGC were long accustomed to “seeing” lots of deer. These people incorrectly equated overabundant deer with a healthy deer population, because, in fact, the truth is the opposite. Too many deer is unhealthy for not only deer, but for a boatload of other animals, and plants, that everybody other than deer needs. Deer diseases like TB and CWD are a result of deer populations too high for their own good. So is the deer-car-collision disease, which is crazy high in PA.

We have to kill a lot more deer. PGC knew that and started it in 2000, and it was a slow and painful process that necessitated an entire cultural shift among tradition-bound hunters.

However, PGC alone doesn’t get all the credit for these big bucks, even though the agency has carried the torch of scientific wildlife management through a hailstorm of undeserved crap. Another reason Pennsylvania has so many massive trophy bucks roaming around is that we have a lot fewer hunters and less hunting pressure over the past five years, and over the past fifty years. There is a big difference between someone who buys a hunting license, because he has been proudly buying a license every year since 1962, as it is part of his personal identity, and someone who buys a hunting license with the intention of squeezing out many of its benefits and opportunities, such as climbing high into remote places in pursuit of huge bucks.

Buying a hunting license is a tradition among many older Pennsylvanians, even if they don’t actually hunt much or at all with it.

If I can think off-hand of five hunters I know who will comment on the dearth of deer hunters seen in the more remote places, I can probably easily find five hundred others who will testify to far less hunting pressure in most places, not just the remote ones. This means that old bucks with big trophy racks have more secret places to go where they can go on growing old, without dying of sudden acute lead poisoning from a hunter standing downwind behind a tree. As the population of really older bucks continues to climb, they begin to spill out into more accessible and less topographically challenged places, where the average Hunter Joes can now occasionally pick one off for the local newspaper’s front page.

c) I miss John R. Johnson as my long time knife maker of choice. John took a break from making his beautiful custom knives about five years ago, and fortunate are those of us who bought his highest-quality products while we could. While it is possible to hunt with a hunk of basic soft steel half-assedly made into a rough knife shape in China, why should we? Ever since the dawn of our species, a hunter-gatherer species, our hunters have ALWAYS prided themselves on the high quality of their weapons and accoutrements. Having a nice rifle and a nice knife is a source of great pleasure for every hunter I know, and most aspire to having the best they can stretch to afford. That is to their individual credit and to our collective credit, as a sign of sophistication and high performance. So if you are fortunate enough to find a JRJ hunting knife somewhere, buy it right away. Cherish it, keep it sharp and well, and use it. It is a product of one of our central Pennsylvania native sons, and a true embodiment of the rugged character and values we here in central Pennsylvania cherish.

 

Diana Archer saves my brain from Exploding

Across America brains are either exploding or are on the edge of it.

Mine is on the edge of exploding, because I was expecting an honest election result two weeks ago. You know, where my preferred candidate successfully barnstormed the swing states and generated big results. Instead, the election experienced tremendous voting irregularities, outright open fraud, political interference, and a clear effort to spam the whole process with such an overwhelming number of fake ballots and fraudulent counting that clearing the whole mess up will take a herculean effort. It did not matter that my preferred candidate had worked his ass off, had taken many risks and worked himself tirelessly to persuade an unusual mix of new and old voters to support him.

Instead, what awaited my preferred candidate after Election Day was a slew of fake voting machines that have been tampered with, fake ballots, fake ballot counting with no transparency etc etc across eight states, and a fake media that was pre-pared (like prepared to be prepared) to immediately anoint his opponent the winner, regardless of the actual outcome.

Fake it til ya make it and then election by media acclaim is what has been attempted against my candidate. It is infuriating, because it runs contrary to everything America is about.

Making the post-election period worse than the actual fake tallying process already was, is the mainstream media and Big Tech effort to censor and suppress information contrary to their narrative that Joe Biden won and is now the President Elect. It is one thing to go to bat for an ancient 47-year career politician who is corrupt and senile. It is another thing altogether to try to hide not only his corruption but also the fake election that he “won.”

Interesting that Biden did not win any down-ballot elections across America, almost all of which (98% I think) went for his opponents….no, no predicted “blue wave” happened…Biden just happened to win the “big one.” In real elections, this does not happen, because all of the real votes are correlated with various other candidates, and not just the presidential race. This is Exhibit A in the vote tampering argument.

So those of us addicted to the simple idea of a fair-and-square transparent election have had our heads exploding for two weeks. We cannot believe the unashamed, scandalous behavior that is happening in front of our eyes, what is really an illegal attempt to hijack an entire nation.

While I could sit at my computer and stare wild-eyed into my iPhone as the 1,440 minutes slowly tick by each day that this scandalous process unfolds, like so many friends are doing, I have decided to remove myself from this tense situation. Instead, a lady named ‘Diana Archer’ is taking me out into the woods and fields, where we are going to contemplate life, love, being a balanced human being, etc. I need this time to regain some inner balance that has been thrown askew, and I think about 75-million other voters probably feel the exact same way. Fortunate me that I have Diana to take my hand and lead me on.

To be explicit, Diana Archer is really Diana The Archer, the Goddess of the Hunt. As hunting season has now arrived full force, from deer to bear to ducks to doves, the whole east coast is alive with clandestine rural life, all led by Diana.

With Diana at my side, I intend to sleep snugly in my Seek Outside tent, using its titanium stove to keep warm at night, to boil tea in the mornings, and to dry out inevitably wet clothing. During daylight hours Diana will hopefully be by my side, helping me get into a kind of Thoreau-Wilderness-Zen mindset, where nothing can trouble me, and I become at one with the natural rhythm of Mother Nature and the rifle in my hand. And no, there is no scandal in this pure woman’s company, just the spirit of the hunt, which is often just the hunt for the spirit.

So, see you all in a bit. Forgive me if I am not glued to this computer screen, but am escaped, at least for a healthy while.

An Art Deco Diana

A Classical Diana the Huntress with a stag

An ancient Diana with hunting dog, photo by Rebecca Bugge

 

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, the day we celebrate our dads, the people who helped us grow into young men and women. For thousands of years, fathers have been the protectors and providers for their families, and they have traditionally been the source of life-saving wisdom and decision making. The lessons and skills they teach their children, especially their sons, are essential for living life properly.

Thank you to my dad, for teaching me to use a chainsaw and an axe from a young age. For giving me the childhood chore of splitting and stacking firewood all summer long, so that our family would have heat and comfort all winter long. Other chores included weeding the garden and shooting pests like chipmunks, squirrels, and groundhogs, all of whom could easily do tremendous damage to the garden in just minutes. And while these chores trained me in self-reliance, hard work, and planning ahead, it was the one thing that dad would not let me do that probably shaped me the most.

Although my dad comes from a hunting family, he himself did not and still to this day does not hunt. Oh, he appreciates wild game and will eat it over everything else, given a choice. But when I started taking my BB gun on deer hunts with neighbors at age eight, my dad always told me I had to get close to the animal to shoot it. As I grew into a young Indian or frontiersman out there in the wilds of southern Centre County, I was prohibited by dad from topping my rifles with scopes. Only open sights were allowed. He said using only open sights taught me woodcraft, requiring me to get close to the wild animals I wanted to harvest, before taking their lives.

“It is only fair,” he said. “You can’t just assassinate unsuspecting wild animals from hundreds of yards away. If you hunt, you must be a real hunter. You must get close and take the animal with skill, on its own terms, where it can see, hear and smell you. That is fair.”

And so last deer season, on a steep hillside deep within the Northcentral PA state forest complex, all of those lessons and preparation came together in one quick, fleeting second. I did the Elmer Fudd thing all alone, quietly sidehilling into the wind, trying to live up to Dad’s dictum. One cautious, slow step at a time. Eyes scanning ahead, downhill, and especially uphill. Ears on high alert for any sound other than the wind in the leaves. Big bucks that are bedded down high above where the puny humans might slip, stumble, and walk, are most likely to flee to higher ground when one of us Pleistocene guys shows up too close for comfort. Deer might hear or smell us coming a long way off, or they might see us at the last second because we are being quiet and playing the wind right, but they know that within a hundred yards or so, we can kill them. So they flee uphill, and in stumbling up against gravity and slippery things underfoot they give us shot opportunities we would not otherwise have.

And so when the strange <snap> sounded out ahead of me, just over the slight rise that led into the large bowl filled with mature timber and rock outcroppings, and an odd looking animal bolted down hill almost bouncing like a fisher, I quickly backpedaled.

Anticipating where the deer would emerge about 130 yards below me, I quickly and also carefully walked straight backwards to where a natural slight funnel in the ground provided a clear enough shooting lane down through the forest to a small stream bed. Anything passing between me and the stream would be broadside at moments, providing a clear shot through heart and lungs if I took careful aim.

And sure enough, the big doe filled one of those spaces so briefly that I don’t even recall seeing her. All I do recall is how the rifle butt fit carefully into the space between the backpack strap over my shoulder and the thick wool coat sleeve, and how the open sights briefly aligned with her chest. The thumb safety had been snicked off already without thinking, and the gun cracked. I fired the gun instinctively.

Quickly raising the binoculars to my face, the doe was clearly visible way down below me, lying fully outstretched on the forest floor just above the stream bank, like in mid-leap with her front hooves and rear hooves completely extended ahead and behind, except she was not moving. She was laying still, her neck fully stretched out on her front legs like she was taking a nap. I watched her tail twitch a few times and then knew she was dead.

Sliding on my butt down to her was more challenging than climbing up to where I had been still hunting her. Northcentral PA mountainsides are the most difficult terrain for humans, in my experience. It is topped with a layer of slippery leaves, then wet twigs and branches waiting underneath to act like oil-slicked icicles, ready to throw a boot way ahead of one’s body. If the wet leaves and branches don’t make you fall down, then the rotten talus rock waiting underneath the leaves and twigs will slide, causing you to either do an extra-wide wildly gesticulating split, or fall on your butt, or fall on your back.

So I scooted downhill to the doe, tobogganning on my butt on the slick forest floor, cradling the rifle against my chest, keeping my feet out ahead of me to brake against getting too much speed and hurtling out of control.

Arriving at her body, I marveled at how she resembled a mule. Her long horse face and her huge body were anything but deer-like. Her teeth were worn down, and she must have been at least five years old. The single fawn hanging around watching me indicated an older mother no longer able to bear twins or triplets. This old lady had done her job and had given us many new deer to hunt and watch over many deer years.

Normally, in such remote and rugged conditions I will quickly bone out the deer, removing all of the good meat and putting it in a large trash bag in my backpack, leaving the carcass ungutted and relatively intact for the forest scavengers. But this doe was so big that I just had to show her off to friends, and so after putting the 2G tag on her ear, I ran a pull rope around her neck and put a stick through her slit back legs, and began the long drag out.

This hunt has stayed with me almost every day since that day. I think about it all the time, because it was so rewarding in so many ways, and emblematic of being a good hunter. Not the least of which was the careful woodcraft that led up to the moment where the smart old doe was busted in her bed and then brought to hand with one careful shot as she loped away, far away. Just as easily I could have been a hunter clothed in bucksin, using a stick bow and arrow five thousand years ago.

Thanks, Dad, for all the good lessons, the chores, the hard work, the restrictions and requirements that made me the man I am today. Without your firmly guiding hand back then, I would not be the man I am today. And what kind of man am I? I am a fully developed hu-man; a competent hunter with the skill set only a dad can teach a son, even if it takes a lifetime.

[some will want to know: Rifle is a 1991 full-stock Ruger RSI Mannlicher in .308 Winchester with open sights. Bullets in the magazine were a motley assortment of Hornady, Winchester, and Federal 150-grain soft points, any one of which will kill a deer or a bear with one good shot. Binoculars are Leupold Pro Guide HD 8×32 on a Cabela’s cross-chest harness. Boots are Danner Canadians. Coat is a Filson buffalo check virgin wool cruiser. Pants are Filson wool. Backpack is a now discontinued LL Bean hunting pack, most closely resembling the current Ridge Runner pack. Knife is a custom SREK by John R. Johnson of Perry County]

Great American Outdoor Show Day Six – Fired Up Trump Supporters

Having worked as a volunteer at two different booths and at a separate nearby event at the Great American Outdoor Show here in Harrisburg this week, there is one big takeaway: Attendees are overwhelmingly passionate about President Donald Trump and seeing him be re-elected.

At first the constant parade of Trump 2020 hats going past my eyes did not hit home. Ya know, it’s the biggest outdoor show and gathering in the world, and outdoors folk are naturally conservative, so why not expect to see them…is what I unconsciously thought.

And then as the first day ticked through the first hours, my mind began to start its own “clicker” count of Trump and Trump-Pence hats going by. And mind you, this particular booth is in the Fishing Hall, and a lot of GAOS visitors are there for the hunting guides, the demonstrations, and the opportunity to handle and try out lots and lots of firearms. So this spot I was in is hardly representative of the overall visitor population.

And the mental “clicks” immediately surpassed my ability to keep counting. Somewhere around 150 my mind said that it had had enough of trying to keep track of Trump hats while also greeting visitors and engaging with them on issues of wildlife policy and politics and raffle tickets for guns. So if I saw 150 Trump hats on heads in about 30 minutes, and the rest of the day was just as filled with them, then about 2,600 went by in the day in that particular location.

Another stint at another GAOS booth on another day reinforced the same observation, except I have to admit up front that it was the Trump Campaign booth I was volunteering in. And of course the visitors here naturally self-selected for visits, and about fifty percent had Trump hats. Even those visitors to the Trump Campaign booth who did not have Trump hats were just as FIRED UP as the hat wearers, however.

The Trump Campaign booth was a non-stop feeding frenzy of activity. If you sat down to take a breather, you had to get right back up again to help someone fill out a form. And at any given time there were half a dozen of us working that booth. We were constantly busy.

I know, I know, the GAOS naturally attracts exactly the kind of people who are going to support president Trump anyhow – outdoorsmen, gun owners, pickup truck drivers, etc. But, having attended and volunteered at this show in both of its forms for many years (I started the 2012 vendor boycott that ended the prior Reed Expositions representation of the show, and which eventually resulted in the NRA taking over) I have never before seen anywhere near this level of politicized, politically aware, FIRED UP attendees.

In fact, in years past, it was rare if you got into any kind of political discussion with attendees beyond wildlife policies. Even Second Amendment rights were largely passe to the vast majority of past attendees, who seemed to just want to look at new RVs, camping gear, duck calls, and hunting rifles without being hassled about politics. Politics was off everyone’s radar in the past.

So if this politicized crowd with its nonstop stream of Trump hats is any indication, Trump’s voter base is both larger than in 2016, and a lot more passionate and politically involved. In fact, all of the people I registered to vote or spoke with felt personally invested in the outcome of this November’s election.

And personally dedicated to Donald J. Trump’s re-election.

This bodes very well for President Trump’s re-election prospects.

So God bless flyover country and the NRA.

My comments to the PA Game Commission

The Pennsylvania Game Commission board of commissioners will be meeting this weekend, to set next season’s dates and bag limits. Like many other people, I submitted comments by email last week. From past experiences with this, I know that the commissioners read comments and requests from the public. Some of my comments, and those of my son, have received direct feedback from various members of the board.

A key to getting the commissioners to read and truly consider your comments is to submit them with plenty of time for the recipients to read them. If you submit comments a day or two before the meeting, it’s a very low likelihood of anyone having time to read them. Also, try to keep comments short, to the point, and sweet. Comments with prolonged bitching, whining, and playing biologist when you have no training or education or even a novice’s interest in wildlife biology, are all ways to ensure that your audience at best glances at your comments.

“Dear Commissioners,
Hunting should be fun, and therefore our small game seasons should run unbroken from their Fall opening to their February close. Whatever long gone reason for the on again-off again pattern of small game seasons, Pennsylvania must create opportunities for everyone. No biological reason exists for hiccup-style seasons. Few if any other states have this odd pattern. Let’s just let our hunters have fun and hunt.

In that vein, please consider allowing bodygrip traps on running pole sets in our most rural WMUs. The idea that a loose domestic dog is going to get caught in a trap in the middle of a state forest wilderness is preposterous. Same is true on private land. Same goes for allowing snares. We need all the tools we can get to manage coyotes. With now three years of crazy freeze-thaw-rain winter weather cycles, it’s impossible to rely on footholds. Cable restraints should be allowed throughout the whole season, and snares should be allowed on private land and or on public land in the Big Woods WMUs.

Finally, please put one of our Sundays on the day after the Saturday bear rifle opener, and another Sunday on the day after the Saturday deer rifle opener. This will create the most energy and excitement for our hunters. Even better, make bear and deer rifle concurrent!

Thank you for considering my thoughts,

–Josh”