Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

CWD AND ME   3 comments

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Like most people who hunt deer species in North America, I have a minimal knowledge of the disease known as CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal (to deer species) neurological disease.  A misfolded protein called a prion causes the disease.

It passes from one deer to another through animal to animal contact. The shedding of prions through bodily fluids and/or the decay of infected animals creates a contaminated environment which allows the spread of the disease.

The disease does not pass along to humans or domestic livestock. But it can have a devastating effect on deer herds, especially if they are concentrated in a location such as those yarding up in winter and those in a breeding facility.

Biologists have tried numerous programs to limit the spread of the disease but as yet there is no known cure.

Most programs involve isolating infected areas and the sampling of brain tissue to find infected animals.

Last fall produced the harvest of the best deer of a 60-year hunting career. When told testing for CWD is required, anxiety set in.  Visions of some college kid working for the game officials butchering the cape to get at the brain tissue came to the fold.  Such was not the case.

Squaw Mountain Ranch where the deer was taken is also a deer breeding facility for sale of deer to ranches across Texas. In order to protect their property and herd, the ranch participates in a number of studies with the wildlife officials of the state.  It is no near any of the areas where CWD has been found in the state and the hope to keep it that way.

Any deer that dies on this ranch is checked.

Concerns about damage to the cape are unwarranted. Watching the process turned out to be a good learning experience.  Dusty, a guide on the ranch follows normal capeing procedures.  However as the cape is rolled toward the head, an incision is made at the joining of the spinal column to the base of the brain.

With some specialized tools he is able to remove a two inch section of the spinal column. He places the sample in a container and sent out for testing.  At the lab they section the sample and examine it under a microscope for any folded prions.

After two years of sampling every deer, this ranch has not found a single infected animal.

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EAGLES SOARING   Leave a comment

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Being cooped up for a couple of days due to weather is rather depressing. Today is clear but very cold.  Coming home from the Post office I stopped about a half block away to view two adult bald eagles soaring over the house.

This is one of the nice things about January in southern Illinois. The waterfowl winter here on the refuge and the eagles have followed them on their migration as the clean-up crew.  The eagles prey upon the sick and wounded birds as well as eating the dead ones.  On sunny days the surface water of the lakes and ponds warm slightly attracting the carp.  Eagles can spot the fish from far and swoop down upon them.

All along the Mississippi River Flyway various local groups have “Eagle Days” in which they promote the local economy by offering tours to view the birds.

Eagles are not strangers to this neighborhood. They sometimes sit on the ground in the back yard as they munch on some hapless small game animal.  Today is a pleasure in that they are soaring around in a clear blue sky.  They have moved off for now but they surely will come again another day.

In any event watching eagles go about their daily chores is a great way to push away the winter blues.

Posted 01/07/2017 by Donald Gasaway in Conservation

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OUTOOR WRITING – A WONDERFUL LIFE   Leave a comment

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Bad weather in the form of ice and snow has caused cancelation of plans to attend Dallas Safari Club Show for this writer. But something good did come of staying inside for most of the day.

Serendipity resulted in accidentally coming upon an essay by Craig Boddington, world famous hunter and outdoor writer, about his philosophy of life as it relates to his career in hunting and writing about it.

It caused some reflection on this writer’s career in the hunting and fishing field. Although I usually like to keep my personal involvement out of the article, I am making an exception today.

The first commercial success occurred in the 4th grade when the prize for an essay on a local bank’s new signage produced the princely sum of $3. It would be about 15 years before the second sale came along.

That was about 50 years ago. In between I produced a lot of articles that did not sell as well as some freebees for law journals and social work magazines.  I even edited an in-house journal for the social service department of a court system.

The real turning point came with a chance meeting at an outdoor show in Chicago. Gene Laulunen had just started MidWest Outdoors.  At that time both he and his wife were still teaching school in the suburbs and put the magazine together on their kitchen table in the evening.

He was looking for someone to write about bowhunting. He had a writer on target archery and a friend had told him of me.  I wrote a couple of pieces that appeared in the 3rd edition of MidWest Outdoors Magazine.  I did not write any more for him for some long forgotten reason.

In the interim I did write some article for other magazines such as Archery World and Bowhunter. In the mid-70’s I became editor of a journal for the Illinois Chapter of Safari Club International and we contracted with MidWest Outdoors to print and distribute it on a monthly basis.  Gene then encouraged me to get serious about writing about the outdoors.

Since then I have sold hundreds of article to him and to other publication throughout the upper Midwest.

In 1996 I retired from social work and corrections work. Six months later retirement became boring.  I returned to writing, appearing in outdoor shows, a couple of videos and sponsorship of a youth goose hunting contest that occurs annually during National Hunting & Fishing Days.

I will turn 75 in a couple of months. Writing about hunting and fishing has opened a lot of doors.  The field is well-known for a lot of freeloading.  For that reason I have been reluctant to accept gifts of trips and gear.  It just makes me uncomfortable.  Most of my trips whether to Africa or around North America are paid for by me.  If I do accept some hospitality in any form it is with the understanding that if it turns out to be a good trip, I will write about it.  If not then I will not write anything about it.  I do not do negative stories or reviews.

I have met, hunted with, fished with some of the greatest people in the outdoor industry. Many are gone now while the rest remain my friends for life.

In recent years health problems have caused me to cut back on some of my activities. It is heck getting old.  Sitting here today has cause me to reflect on the past (a great time) and begin to set goals for 2017 that include more travel for hunting and fishing.

Those goals when accomplished will appear in this journal. Stay tuned!

HUNTABLE RABBIT POPULATIONS   Leave a comment

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Every year country roads and farmsteads show abundant populations of rabbits. Yet when hunting season comes around they all seem to have vanished.  Estimating rabbit populations are difficult for the best of small game biologists.

The winter just passed was the warmest on record. There was above average rainfall which should transfer to abundant rabbit populations.

One rabbit in ten ever lives to be a year old in the wild. It seems that everything works against their growing old.

Like most small game animals and birds, Mother Nature allows rabbits to rise 30 to 50 young each year. But the odds are just against their survival.

Rabbits do well in heavy cover and in remote areas of overgrown fields. Hawks and other flying predators present danger to these furry bundles.  For this reason they like cover that conceals them from overhead sight.  Weather during the birthing times also effects rabbit populations.  They young of the year need favorable weather in their early stages of life.

Here in Illinois the best locations to find rabbits are those with good habitat. Weather in the central and southern locations is not what has hurt the rabbit populations.  But rather habitat loss is the problem.

Rabbit hunters have to work harder each year to find suitable habitat containing the “smallest whitetail.”

For the past 10 years or so the populations have remained steady but at a low level. Much of the blame for habitat loss in those years was high commodity prices for corn and soybeans.  Land that might otherwise go to set-aside programs like CRP went into grain production.

The loss of CRP land is a major problem as more and more land does not go into CRP and other set aside programs. Rather it goes to produce grain crops.  The once abandoned farmsteads that were popular with rabbits are being cleared as seemingly every inch of land is too valuable not to be placed in production.  Landowners are clearing trees and brush piles in an effort to make every acre productive.

With the commodity prices softening some of that land may be going back into habitat production and rabbit production will follow. Should this trend continue for the next two or three years it is possible that rabbit production looks good for the future.

GENTLEMAN BOBWHITE IN ILLINOIS   1 comment

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The explosion of the flush, fast darting flight and the fact that they are excellent table fare makes the Gentleman Bobwhite a popular game bird in the southeastern part of the nation including southern Illinois.

Their adaptability to a variety of habitats helps in their development.  Modern forestry practices provide habitat for quail not previously found in some areas.  Studies show that clear-cut areas provide excellent habitat for as long as five years until the young pine and hardwood seedlings close the overhead canopy shading out quail food plants.

Nationally, the quail is the number one gamebird.  This is due to stocking of wild birds and the raising of birds for the preserve shooting market.

Quail live on the seeds of weeds, berries, insects and green vegetation.  They prefer vegetation that is neither too dense nor too thin.  Well managed habitat produces an abundance of quail for years.  The population replenishes itself within one or two years.

Extremes in weather can have some effect on the population. Illinois mild winter and slightly above average rainfall throughout the spring has seemingly aided in the survival of this year’s chick production. Predator control has a limited effect on the populations.  Probably more detrimental is the effect of free roaming cats or dogs.

Perhaps one of the better things to happen to the quail population has been the Federal government set aside programs which pay farmers to take marginal land out of crop production, sow them in grasses and leave them un-grazed and un-mown for years. In recent years fewer acres are now in place with the set-aside programs of CRP and CP42 Pollinator Habitat.

Proper fence row management provides cover as can a narrow strip of tall grasses or weeds.  Ditches, gullies and other such areas are manageable by letting vegetation grow to produce habitat.  It is important to quail populations that mowing be limited or even avoided from May 1 to August 1 each year. It is during this period that the hens are at most risk as they hunker down to protect either their eggs or chicks from the mower. The result is that the hens die and the destruction of the chicks and eggs takes place.

A bird of the edges, quail feed in more open areas but do not stray far from the safety of cover.  They would rather walk than fly and avoid anywhere that does not contain food, water and overhead cover.

Water to meet the needs of quail does not have to be standing water.  According to studies, quail will thrive on green plants and insects that result from damp soil.  Given green plant material and the insects that such growth attracts, quail metabolize enough water to survive and successfully reproduce.

The best place to hunt quail is where the quail are.  Hunters have limited options.  They have to know someone who has land available for hunting or belong to a club that manages for quail.  The minimum acreage is about 500-acres to hold enough birds to last an entire season without additional stocking.  With a stocking program, and the release of additional birds for shooting purposes during the season, less land will suffice.

 

ILLINOIS PUBLIC LAND WHITETAIL HUNTING   Leave a comment

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Many deer hunters see deer hunting as going to the same area each year and sitting in a tree. They hope for a deer to walk past and that they shoot straight.  Successful deer hunting requires study of the quarry, its biology, and the effect that man has had on both.

White-tailed deer disappeared from Illinois around the turn of the last century. Reintroduced to Southern Illinois in the early 1930’s, reintroduction came in three phases:

The first deer came to southern Illinois and allowed to reproduce. The idea was to get sufficient numbers to allow the program to move to step II.

Step II involved the trapping and translocation of deer to a suitable habitat in other parts of the state. This was so successful that by 1957 some 33 counties opened to deer hunting.  By 1975, some 98 counties had deer seasons.

Step III became the over population that has caused depredation of crops and homeowner landscaping. It also involves an increase in auto-deer accidents on area highways.  By the 1980’s over population of deer in many areas of the state was becoming a significant problem.

In the 1990’s wildlife officials decided to stress maintenance of deer density that would be capable of sustaining deer hunting. It had to take into account the carrying capacity of the land.

Today there is emphasis in some areas to maintain trophy quality in the deer herd. But, deer hunting is more than just shooting a big deer.  Deer hunters seek size and symmetry.

First is the preparation and anticipation of a hunt. Some say it is the most fun part of a deer hunt. Then there is the isolation of sitting in a cold treestand waiting for a deer to come past.  Finally, there sometimes is the disappointment of being unsuccessful in getting a deer.  To the deer hunter these are all part of the game.

Deer hunting is about leveraging experience and knowledge. All knowledge is cumulative.  The more one hunts, the better hunter he becomes.  The more he reads about hunting, he becomes a more informed hunter.  The more videos about hunting he views, the more discriminating he is in selecting his quarry.

As knowledge accumulates, one sorts out valid theories to test in a specific type of habitat. One tests theories in the field.  Then the hunter begins to develop his own theories and test them.  That is how one becomes a better hunter.  One can always learn if he just keeps an open mind.

This year, study your deer hunting area. Does it present the habitat that will attract and keep deer?  If deer are present, why are they there and where do they regularly travel.  By knowing why deer do what they do, one improves his chances of being able to be in position for that all important shot.

The huge expanses of public and private land available in southern Illinois attract hunters. The lack of overcrowding makes the area an excellent place to hunt.  The Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations contains lists of all the public land hunting areas.  It is available free from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offices though out the state.  It is also available anywhere place selling hunting and fishing licenses.

 

 

 

PRESERVES PROVIDE EARLY WARM UP FOR THE SEASON   Leave a comment

Quail0008Hunters waiting for the waterfowl migration, upland hunters and those wanting to teach a person new to the sport of shooting, all find the hunting preserve a great hunting option.

Most hunting preserves cater to groups and individuals who want a quality hunting experience but do not have access to land or maybe have a physical disability. The hunting season begins early on preserves offering the hunter extended time in the field.  The game and dogs can make or break a preserve hunt.

Some hunters may be waterfowlers. They may want to continue a hunt after a morning of hunting or, when ducks and geese are not flying.

Most hunters are people with hunting experience. Clubs usually have a clay target trap set up for shooting practice before taking to the field.  It also gives the guide a chance to evaluate the skill level of the hunter and their safe handling of firearms.

Some hunters want to bring their own dogs. Clubs often encouraged hunters wanting to get some field experience for their canines.  If the client wants to try hunting over other dogs or does not have his own, then the preserve usually has numerous dogs available.

Pointers, retrievers, setters and Brittany’s are popular dogs for the upland field hunting usually found in the preserve situation. Labrador Retrievers are popular in a pheasant hunting situation in that they are good under voice control.

A lot of dogs will point a pheasant and when it takes off they will chase the bird. They just do not know how to handle such a big bird.  It is preferred that the dog pull out and go to the end of the field, then come back to cut off the bird.  Finding such a dog can be difficult.  A good pheasant dog should cover the field quickly and be able to stay put when the bird flushes.  Some dogs point a quail but will not be bothered with a pheasant.

A good dog ranges 50 to 100 yards out from the hunters. On a preserve you do not need a field trial dog.  Field Trial dogs range further out from the hunter or handler.  Dog handlers train them to do just that.  On a preserve the closer ranging dog is better for the physically challenged person who rides a 4-wheeler or hunters who ride a horse while hunting.  The horse hunting is a carry over from the old southern plantation style of quail hunting.

The dog points the bird and the hunter dismounts, loads his gun and walks to the location before flushing the bird. Another variation is that the hunters ride in a horse drawn wagon until the dog finds the bird.  Then the hunter gets down from the wagon, loads up and walks in to meet the dog and handler.  The approach causes the bird to flush.

It is generally impossible to break a dog of hunting any further than he desires. You can break a dog from hunting too wide or make him come back.  It takes a lot of training work, patience and is better to leave that to the experts.  The hunting preserve then provides an opportunity to keep the dog in practice.

Sporting clays practice before coming to a preserve to hunt is a good idea. It offers the hunter a chance to practice shooting clay targets under simulated hunting conditions.  It also helps the hunter to become more comfortable and familiar with the particular gun he is planning to use in the field.

Most hunters of upland game use 20 or 12 gauge shotguns. Some shooters like the 28 gauge on preserves.  For pheasants, the recommendation is a number 6 shot size.  For Quail and Chukar usually hunters prefer a 7 ½ or number 8 shot.

For the physically challenged hunter some preserves offer 4-wheelers or truck transportation to get into position. They are the only hunters allowed to hunt from a vehicle in this Illinois.

In other states it might be best to have the less physically fit person be a blocker at the end of the field to flush running birds into the air.

Many physically challenged hunters have a vehicle of their own. Regardless, preserves often have certain fields set aside for such hunters.  They can drive them on roadways and move through the field on vehicles with no problems.

Physically challenged hunters can be either a driver or a blocker depending upon their desires. The hunter just follows the handler and the dogs lead.

 

Many clubs also have at least one father/son or mother/daughter hunt each year. These are a great bonding experience.

A preserve hunt might make a great birthday or holiday present.

 

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