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THE WHY OF VARMINT HUNTING   Leave a comment

Winter 0003

Recent responses to a varmint hunting article have caused some introspection as to why in this modern age we still hunt them.  Some sportsmen, and others, question the shooting of animals that we do not intend to eat.

Varmint hunting is more than just shooting animals.  Besides the fact that some, such as crow and woodchuck, are edible there are other reasons that varmint hunting is an important part of wildlife management.

The most common varmints hunted are the dog species, fox and coyote, and smaller mammals such as woodchucks and ground squirrels.  The raccoon, although usually considered a game species, also can be a serious problem predator.

It is a fallacy that wild populations if left alone will find their own balance.  The myth itself is based on the fact that such a balance was maintained prior to the appearance of man upon the scene.  Man has appeared on the scene and changed the environment in such a way as to drive out the larger predators that kept varmints in check.

With the destruction of wild habitat, those animals left are crowded into ever decreasing areas.  In turn more competition for the remaining food supply increases.  The varmints lower on the food chain are forced to starve off or move into areas where they come into conflict with the human population.  This creates problems for mankind.

Starvation is nature’s way to control wildlife populations but it is a cruel and painful way to die.  If government and landowners have to move into control of these populations, the usual method selected is poisoning for it is cheap and effective.  Poisons provide a usual slow and painful death.

So what is the alternative?

Regulated hunting with seasons and bag limits provide a method of controlling the numbers of animals removed from the wild and provide a quick humane dispatching of the animal.  Hunter license fees provide necessary dollars needed for studies of management needs and accomplishment.  Non-hunting public never thinks of this problem.  Only hunters provide those funds not the non-hunting public.

On a more personal level, varmint hunting is an outdoor recreation which is usually available in the periods when ordinary sport and meat hunting is not available.  It provides the family with a chance to experience the outdoors and combine hunting with other outdoor recreational experience such as camping, fishing, hiking, etc.

It also provides a method of controlling damage to crops, pets and livestock.

VARMINT HUNTING – AN OFF-SEASON CHALLENGE   Leave a comment

Coyote 0001

A piercing sound breaks the early down silence.  It continues until you think it will never end.  It is the sound of a rabbit in distress that goes on and on.  Actually, the sound emanates from an electronic game caller.  The purpose is to attract a hungry coyote, raccoon or fox.

Suddenly from across the field a coyote appears with his nose to the ground.  He lopes along in search of the easy meal promised by the sound of the call.  He just appears on the edge of the brush and silently moves along it toward the sound.

These electronic calling machines lure hungry predators into more open areas and close proximity to hunters.

There are two kinds of calls, electronic and mechanical.  The mechanical call requires a bit of wind power supplied by the hunter.  The electronic caller is easier on the hunter by producing an electronic reproduction of recorded sounds.

Electronic calls have powerful output, a longer duration of play, more accurate sound, a wider variety, can be operated hands free and usually use distress calls to attract the predator.  An advantage to mechanical calls includes that they are lighter weight, compact, inexpensive, have a more variable pitch and offer great personal satisfaction form their successful use.

Both types of calls also have disadvantages.  The electronic call is a more expensive investment, has more weight to handle in the field, is larger and requires maintenance as well as the re-charging of batteries.

Mechanical calls can have too much or too little volume according to the skills of the user.  The require movement of the caller which can call attention to his location.  They take some practice and in cold weather can freeze up due to saliva accumulation.

A key to varmint hunting is to set up in a good habitat situation.  It might be brush near a creek.  Many animals use waterways as highways to their feeding areas from a den or bedding area.  The caller sets up downwind of the direction from which he expects the prey might come.  Hunters must be ever mindful of his concealment until it is too late for the predator.

An ability to remain motionless is vital.  Therefore, good optics and warm clothing are a must.  In cold weather without warm clothing the hunter can be miserable.  The good optics enables the hunter to see the quarry long before would otherwise be the case.

Unlike calls for waterfowl, turkey and deer, the predator call is not a type of communication between members of the same species.  The imitate food species in distress.  Most common is the sound of a rabbit in trouble.  The shrill, high pitched call can be ear-splitting.  As the predator approaches the sound he will become more keenly wary of his surroundings.

One way of coaxing predators the last few yards is to implement “squeaker” or coaxing calls.  Usually those are ones that make a squeak of a mouse, softer sound.

Normally a nocturnal animal, coyotes can be lured into range in the early morning or late evening.  On cloudy days, the sound of a call can stir hunger pangs in the predator at most any time of the day.

Land owners welcome coyote hunters as a way of controlling the predation of their household pets and farm animal such as chickens.  Hunting predators benefits ground dwelling wild birds and upland game by eliminating a major source of predation on their numbers.

By learning the daily habits of the quarry, studying vocalizations that attract them and exercising some practice, the hunter can find himself in possession of a fine trophy in the off season.

HONORING A COON HUNTER’S BEST FRIEND   Leave a comment

The south is full of traditions and none is more honored than the relationship between coon hunter and their hounds.

If you are in the area it is an interesting side trip to stop off at the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area near the Natchez Trace Parkway. Within the area is the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. Admission is free.

Dedicated as a burial site for coon dogs it is the only cemetery of its kind in the world. Only coon dogs can be buried at the site and nearly 200 are so interred. Reading the grave stones gives one a look at the relationship between man and hound as well as a history of coon hunting in the south. The grave markers range from commercial made stone to personal messages carved in stone and wood that show the sentiment shared by houndsmen.

Key Underwood, a local hunter, began the tradition of the coon dog memorial when he buried his 15-year old dog named Troop in an area where they had shared many hunts. He placed a headstone on the grave and chiseled the dates of Troop’s birth and death. It was far from his mind that he might start a tradition of a last resting place for coon hounds.

As other local hunters lost their dogs, they began to add graves. Legend has it that on a still fall night one can still hear the bugles and barks of the residents as they hunt again in spirit. Several national champions as well as some not so good coon hounds are all together in this resting place.

Each year on Labor Day weekend, many coon hunters migrate to the area with flowers for the graves. The event now involves bluegrass music, barbecue and a liar’s contest. The event is free.

To get to the cemetery travel 7 miles west of Tuscumbia, AL on US Highway 72, turn left onto Alabama Highway 247 for 12 miles. Turn right and follow the signs.

For burial information, (coon dogs only) one can contact the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, PO Box 740425, Tuscumbia, AL 35674 or check their website at: Colbert County Tourism.org.

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