Could W.Va.’s long-standing smallmouth record be broken? Maybe!

October 22, 2015 by John McCoy
(Photo courtesy Greg Gasciel with his new Michigan state-record smallmouth bass.

(Photo courtesy
Greg Gasiciel with his new Michigan state-record smallmouth bass.

A note to West Virginians who like to fish for smallmouth bass: A new state-record bronzeback just might be lurking somewhere in the waters of the state.

I can’t offer proof, of course, but I can offer evidence that even the longest-standing state records can be broken. Last Sunday, a Michigan man caught a 9.33-pound, 24.50-inch smallmouth from Hubbard Lake in Alcona County. Greg Gasiciel was bait-casting with a green grub when the big fish hit.

Michigan’s previous record of 9.25 pounds had stood for 109 years. That should give hope to anglers in the Mountain State, where the smallmouth record has stood for 44 years.

It was in 1971 that a fellow named David Lindsay caught a 9.75-pound, 24.25-inch bronzeback from the South Branch of the Potomac in Pendleton County. No one has yet come close to breaking the record, but if the Michigan fish is any indication, it’s possible.

Trying to enforce the (almost) unenforceable

October 19, 2015 by John McCoy
(Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia) Would a Washington initiative really protect this elephant?

(Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia)
Would a Washington initiative really protect this elephant?

The problem of ivory poaching should concern everyone, but not everyone is in a position to do anything about it.

My friend Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently commented on a voter initiative in Washington state that, if successful, would impose some pretty draconian demands on both the public and the state’s fish and wildlife cops.

Zimbabwe: To hunt or not to hunt?

October 16, 2015 by John McCoy
On the tusks of a dilemma

On the tusks of a dilemma

Sport hunting for elephants in Zimbabwe has become quite a political football.

A recent report in UK’s Telegraph, for example, all but pillories a German hunter who killed an elephant reported to have the largest tusks taken in 30 years. The man reportedly paid a $60,000 trophy fee in exchange for the ability to hunt and kill the animal. Wildlife preservationists and photo-safari owners reportedly are livid over the killing.

At almost the same time, a report about an outbreak in elephant poaching appeared in the Washington Post. It quoted Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, as blaming the United States’ 2014 ban on importation of elephant trophies for the outbreak. Without the trophy fees paid by hunters, Muchinguri said, Zimbabwean wildlife officials can’t afford adequate patrols to deter poachers from wreaking havoc.

So on one side, you have a faction that believes that eco-tourism dollars should be perfectly sufficient to maintain wildlife populations, and on the other side you have a faction that believes sport hunting is the better way to go.

Which faction will win the day? Stay tuned.

DNR: Budget cuts to have little effect on W.Va.’s wildlife programs

October 7, 2015 by John McCoy

west-virginia-dnr-logo1West Virginia’s state government is in the midst of some belt-tightening, but Division of Natural Resources officials say sportsmen probably won’t notice any change in the agency’s fish- and wildlife-related programs.

“I think we’ll be able to continue with no major impacts being felt by the public,” said Paul Johansen, chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Section.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered state agencies to implement an across-the-board 4 percent cut, but Johansen said the cut applies mainly to funding drawn from taxpayers.

“We receive very little of that ‘general revenue’ money,” he explained. “Most of our money comes from ‘special revenue’ sources, such as fees paid for hunting and fishing licenses.”

Only a tiny fraction of the agency’s budget comes from the state’s general-revenue fund. Johansen said the lion’s share comes from hunting- and fishing-license fees and from the federal government’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

“Certainly, we’ll abide by any of the cuts that apply to us, such as the ban on nonessential travel. We don’t engage in nonessential travel anyway, but we will certainly be watching our travel budgets,” he said.

While Johansen said the DNR’s major programs will remain unaffected, one minor one might suffer some ill affects. The Upper Mud River Wildlife Management Area gets its funding from general-revenue sources, and so is subject to Tomblin’s 4 percent cutback.

“We’ll have to adjust the budget for Upper Mud. budget cuts for upper mud…one area we have that is funded primarily through general revenue sources….admin of WMA…will be taking 4 percent cut there, will have to adjust accordingly. There might have to be some reductions in the hours that the area’s recreational facilities are open,” Johansen said.

The art of the combination gun

October 2, 2015 by John McCoy
An extraordinarily striking example of a four-barreled "vierling" combination gun.

An extraordinarily striking example of a four-barreled “vierling” combination gun.

I must admit I’ve been a fan of combination guns since a friend of mine showed me a pre-World War II J.P. Sauer drilling brought home from Germany by an American Army officer as a war trophy.

A drilling, if you’re not familiar with the term, refers to a three-barreled firearm. Some have two rifle barrels and a single shotgun barrel; others have two shotgun barrels and a single rifle barrel. My friend’s Sauer has two 16-gauge shotgun barrels and a 7 x 57 rifle barrel.

I thought about my friend’s gun this morning when I ran across the accompanying photo. It is of a vierling, a four-barreled combination gun. Not only is the firearm an example of exceptional craftsmanship, it is exquisitely engraved and beautifully photographed. It has two 8 x 57R rifle barrels (roughly equivalent to the venerable .30-o6 Springfield cartridge), one .22 Hornet rifle barrel and a single 20-gauge shotgun barrel. I was struck by the sheer artistry of it, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you here.

Combination guns were (and I suppose, still are) popular among European and Middle Eastern aristocrats who took part in European-style hunts. The idea of such a firearm was to be prepared for any kind of game the beaters pushed your direction, from big game to small game to upland birds. Combo guns are almost exclusively used for hunting.

Such guns are not for the light of wallet. As a lowly newspaper employee, I can but admire them from afar. Sigh…

This takes poaching to a whole ‘nother level…

September 30, 2015 by John McCoy
(Photo via North Carolina Sportsman) Accused poacher Nick Davis with his bogus 208-inch buck.

(Photo via North Carolina Sportsman)
Accused poacher Nick Davis with his bogus 208-inch buck.

A North Carolina deer hunter made quite a stir a short while back when he checked in a buck with a gigantic rack that measured more than 208 inches — a potential new state record.

Then the truth came out.

The man, Nick Davis of Elkin, N.C., reportedly had purchased shed antlers from a Pennsylvania deer farm, screwed them onto the skull of a 3-point buck he shot (out of season) with a rifle, and then disguised the graft with some clever taxidermy.

Davis almost got away with the deception. A veteran scorer from the state bowhunter association measured the rack but didn’t detect anything suspicious. Only after other hunters raised questions as to whether such a small deer could grow such a gigantic rack did authorities decide to investigate.

Ultimately, Davis confessed to the subterfuge. He now faces charges on four separate wildlife violations, including two allegedly committed during the 2014 season.

A fuller version of the story can be found on the website.

Humongous Asian carp turns up in W.Va.’s Ohio River

September 9, 2015 by John McCoy
(DNR photo) Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.

(DNR photo)
Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.

If anyone needs evidence that invasive Asian carp are making it into West Virginia waters, they need only to check out the adjacent photo.

It shows Ryan Bosserman, acting manager of the state’s Apple Grove Fish Hatchery, holding a 61.8-pound 50.2-inch bighead carp. The fish was found dead (or nearly so) recently in a lock chamber of the nearby Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. Corps of Engineers employees alerted the folks at the hatchery, and some of Bosserman’s assistants retrieved the fish.

Although two Asian carp species — bighead and silver — have taken over entire ecosystems in some of the Ohio’s lower tributaries, Division of Natural Resources biologists believe that won’t happen in West Virginia’s Ohio and Kanawha rivers because the rivers’ currents are too strong. The fish tend to favor slow-flowing waters.

One thing’s for certain, though: The Ohio seems perfectly capable of growing really large specimens, at least of the bighead species.

Oregon takes limits off bass and other warm-water species

September 9, 2015 by John McCoy
(Photo by me) How many bass of this size would be around if officials removed the creel limit on them?

(Photo by me)
How many bass of this size would be around if officials removed the creel limit on them?

My friend Bill Monroe reports that Oregon’s fisheries officials will remove creel limits from bass, perch, pike and other warm-water species starting in 2016.

Maybe the move seems logical to anglers in Oregon, who focus mainly on trout, steelhead and salmon. But for someone like me, who lives in a state where most of the fishing is for warm-water species, it seems a bit shortsighted. Oregon’s Columbia River has been named one of the nation’s top bass-fishing destinations, and the John Day River has been named the top smallmouth-bass river in the West.

I’m sure the fisheries folks made the decision based on the best available science, but in the back of my mind I can’t help but think that the Law of Unintended Consequences might come into play sometime in the not-too-distant future.


W.Va. man survives bear attack

September 4, 2015 by John McCoy
(AP Photo) Apparently not all bears scurry up trees when humans approach.

(AP Photo)
Apparently not all bears scurry up trees when humans approach.

From the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

MOUNT NEBO, West Virginia – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) has investigated an attack on a man by a black bear in the Mount Nebo area of Nicholas County, West Virginia, according to Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR.
On August 26, 2015, a man was knocked down and bitten several times by a female black bear after he had unexpectedly walked up on a cub in the trail. The man fought back aggressively and was able to deter the female bear, according to Carpenter. The man escaped the attack with minor injuries. A lack of physical evidence from the bear and delayed reporting of the attack precluded any attempts to capture the offending animal.
“Bear attacks on humans are rare, but this recent incident should serve to remind people how unpredictable wild animals can be,” said Carpenter. “Although this appears to be a defensive attack by a female with young cubs, the fact that the man fought back aggressively most likely prevented more severe injuries.”
Black bears are very active during late summer and fall, and feed extensively to add body weight before winter. They will take advantage of all available food sources, including trash, pet food and bird seed. Residents are reminded to secure garbage in a bear-proof container or facility until the morning of trash pickup, remove and store bird feeders until late fall, and make sure outside pets are only fed the amount of food that they will eat each day.
Nuisance black bear activity usually subsides as natural food sources become available in the fall, but residents should stay vigilant to avoid attracting bears to their property.

The attack on the unidentified man is the second verified bear attack on a West Virginia resident in recent years. In 2004, bear hunter Philip Propst of Pocahontas County was bitten by a bear his dogs had cornered during a summertime training chase. A Morgantown woman reported that she was knocked down by a bear in 2014, but a subsequent investigation found no evidence that an attack had occurred.



W.Va. DNR to announce elk stocking effort Sept. 11

August 28, 2015 by John McCoy
(National Park Service photo) Once West Virginia gets its elk-stocking program started, large bulls like this might become commonplace sightings in the state's southwestern coalfields.

(National Park Service photo)
Once West Virginia gets its elk-stocking program started, large bulls like this might become commonplace sightings in the state’s southwestern coalfields.

West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation apparently have finalized plans for the state’s elk restoration (read: stocking) plan.

They’ve sent out invitations to government and media types for a Sept. 11 shindig at the Chief Logan Conference Center, at which a formal announcement will be made. According to the invitation, the creation of a new wildlife management area will also be announced. My guess is that the new area will be rather large. Elk are big critters that require lots of room, and if the new area will be used to launch the elk-stocking program, it stands to reason that the area would be several thousand acres in size.

An announcement also would seem to indicate that DNR officials have found a source for the elk they plan to import. That’s interesting, because Kentucky — the most likely source — is currently sending its surplus elk to Wisconsin. There had been talk of asking Kentucky’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to allocate some animals to West Virginia, and perhaps that’s what has happened.

I guess we’ll all find out on the evening of Sept. 11.