Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

As freshman seasons go, Ginny Thrasher’s is going to be hard to top. Not only did the Virginia native lead West Virginia University to another national title, she won the NCAA air rifle and smallbore titles in the process. To top all that, she flew down to Rio and captured the women’s 10 m air rifle gold medal!

To win, she had to outlast two shooters from China, including the defending Olympic air rifle gold medalist.

At WVU, they teach rifle-team members to shoot “the center of the center of the center” of each target. Looks like Ms. Thrasher got the message.

The video, taken from the NBC Olympics feed, is by Geoff Coyle of WV Illustrated.

Gray wolfA new study, published in the journal Science, says red wolves and Eastern wolves are really just hybrids between gray wolves and coyotes.

Researchers believe the differences in size and coloration between the three varieties depend entirely on how much coyote DNA ended up in each — more in the smaller, more brownish red wolf, less in the Eastern wolf, and precious little in the gray wolf.

The Washington Post has an excellent summary of the study, along with an animation that explores the animals’ family trees.

One wonders, though, if the findings will tamp down the wolf-coyote controversy once and for all. Activists for red wolf restoration, for example, have historically been skeptical whether hybridization occurred. A lot of money has been poured into red-wolf research and restoration already, and those who have made their livings at it probably aren’t eager to give up on a cause to which they have devoted so much energy.

tiger-attacking-womanOh my.

When I saw the headlines, I figured for sure that this latest tragedy was an example of someone vying for a Darwin Award by trying to “pet the big striped kitty.” Sadly, there’s more to it than that.

According to the Shanghaiist, a woman was killed after another woman stepped out of her car inside a Beijing safari-style wildlife park. The woman who got out of the car apparently had been arguing with a male passenger. Almost as soon as she stepped from the vehicle, she was attacked by a tiger. The second woman got out to help the first one, and she was killed. The first woman was hospitalized with what were described as severe injuries.

People who drive through the park are cautioned not to get out of their vehicles. In the heat of the moment, that admonition appears to have been forgotten — with tragic results.

Some websites, including the one linked above, are linking to what appears to be surveillance-camera video of the attack. I’m not sure because I won’t watch it. The still photo is gut-wrenching enough.

pokemongoYes, it’s true. The Pokemon Go craze is taking the world by storm.

Newspapers (the Gazette-Mail included) have run stories about Pokemongers wandering the streets of the city while staring intently into their cellphones. There have been reports of people trespassing on private property to collect Pokemon. Pundits beyond number have decried the game because it keeps players even more inseparably tethered to their mobile devices.

I think the inimitable Sgt. Hulka from the movie, “Stripes,” said it best: “Lighten up, Francis.”

At least the Pokemon players are outside. In this day and age when kids and adults spend far too much time vegetating inside their homes, anything that gets them outside into the fresh air and sunshine should be viewed as a godsend.

Are people doing dumb things because of this game? Yes. Do a few people get so wrapped up in it that they put themselves (or others) in danger? Yep. But at least they’re outside. And while they’re outside, they’re getting a healthy dose of what recreation specialist Kim Hawkins calls “Vitamin N” — nature. Those who don’t walk off cliffs or stride headlong into lampposts are walking miles and miles in the good ol’ outdoors. It’s an example all of us should follow, whether or not we play the game.

Bowhuntin’ grandma bags her 20th black bear

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Cathy and Frank Addington with her milestone bearCathy Addington of Winfield, W.Va., achieved an enviable hunting benchmark recently when she killed a black bear in New Brunswick.

It was the 20th bear she’s killed — every one of them with a bow — in the past 28 years or thereabouts.

The 70-something grandmother of two has been traveling to the wilds of eastern Canada since the late 1980s with her husband Frank. Much more often than not, she’s returned home successful. This year’s milestone achievement drew the attention of celebrity bowhunter Ted Nugent, who was hunting out of the same camp as the Addingtons. “The Nuge” had his video crew get some footage of Cathy with her bear for use on his “Spirit of the Wild” television show.

That’s a lot of poachin’!

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nrplogoWow.

Eight men from West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle are facing 77 charges of illegal bear hunting. West Virginia Natural Resources Police filed charges against the men after a months-long investigation into their alleged violations. Here are the details, from the Division of Natural Resources’ news release:

ROMNEY, W.Va. – Natural Resources Police Officers have completed an investigation that has resulted in the arrest of eight men on 77 charges of violations of West Virginia game laws involving the illegal hunting of black bears. The investigation began in September 2015 when an illegal bear baiting site near Mount Storm in Grant County was reported to the DNR District 2 office in Romney.
Lead investigators Sgt. G.M. Willenborg and Senior Natural Resources Police Officer A.D. Kuykendall, assisted by natural resources police officers from Mineral, Grant and Pendleton counties, completed the investigation and filed the charges. The alleged illegal bear hunting violations occurred between May 2015 and September 2015. Charges have been brought against the following individuals and are pending in court. The charges identified are allegations and any defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Mark Allen Lampka, Jr. of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with violations ranging from (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal killing of bear, (6 counts) illegal possession of bear, (2 counts) spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code, hunting without permission, hunting bear during closed season and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Daniel Boddy of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with (2 counts) illegal killing of bear, (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal possession of bear, spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Chad Fridley of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, (2 counts) illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Steve Thomas Lyons, Jr. of Elk Garden, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Dustin Knaggs of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Terry Kuh of Maysville, West Virginia, was charged with spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear, illegal taking of bear during closed season and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant County.
James Scott Kuhn of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear, and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Ronnie P. Bothwell of Burlington, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.

 

 

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)By now, just about everyone familiar with deer hunting has learned at least a little bit about chronic wasting disease.

Here in West Virginia, CWD was discovered in 2005 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, near the Hampshire County town of Slanesville. The state Division of Natural Resources set up a containment zone, placed restrictions on the transportation of animals outside the zone and began sampling the population to discover the extent of the outbreak.

West Virginia is by no means the only state dealing with CWD problems. The true extent of the disease can’t be known because the disease’s delayed onset keeps animal-health officials about half a step behind when it comes to diagnosing chronic wasting disease’s extent and spread.

The University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey probably has its finger on the national CWD pulse better than just about any other organization. SCWDS officials recently documented what they know in a newsletter devoted exclusively to the the disease. It’s a fascinating read, and it points to the increasingly obvious evidence that captive-deer breeding and high-fence hunting facilities are hotbeds for CWD’s ever-accelerating spread.

Yellowstone bison calfIt was a “facepalm moment” for everyone concerned.

A few days ago, a couple of foreign tourists to Yellowstone National Park decided that a bison calf looked cold. They put the calf in the back of their van to warm up. When park rangers tried to return the calf to its mother, the herd wouldn’t accept it. Rather than allow the young bison to starve to death, rangers euthanized it — unpleasant, to be sure, but necessary under the circumstances.

Since that recent unfortunate event, the Terribly Concerned have clucked and tut-tutted their high-minded little heads off. To them, the incident was evidence that too many of The Great Unwashed are being allowed into Yellowstone and other national parks. Rather than risk the life of some other bison calf, bear cub, wolf cub, mule deer fawn or elk calf, the Terribly Concerned are proposing that some national parks might be better off if — well, if people were kept out of them.

Excuse me? Weren’t national parks created specifically for people’s recreational benefit?

It is true that the sheer volume of people sometimes causes problems. The main road through Yosemite National Park, for instance, becomes a giant traffic jam during the park’s high season. Wildlife in Yellowstone are often crowded and harassed by nature-ignorant visitors.

As bad as those things are, though, I don’t believe the answer is to put a virtual plate-glass cover around parks in order to save them from “the rabble.”

Traffic problems can be engineered away. Human ingenuity knows no bounds, and solutions can be found for most any problem.

As long as people remain ignorant about wildlife, however, conflicts will continue to occur. Wild animals go where they want to go and do what they want to do. People might encounter them anywhere. Tourists who don’t know how to deal with animals will inevitably make mistakes. Sometimes, as with the bison calf, the animals suffer the consequences.

At other times, the humans do.

The first time I visited Yellowstone National Park, in 1984 or thereabouts, the ranger at the gate handed me a flyer about the park’s wildlife. The flyer warned that bison killed and injured more visitors than all other species combined.

“Is that really the case?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” the ranger replied. “Just last week, we had a visitor who decided to take a picture of a big bull bison that happened to be lying beside the road. The man didn’t want a picture of a bison lying down, he wanted a picture of one standing up. So he walked over to the bison and kicked it in the rear end. The bison whirled around and killed him on the spot.”

Some people can’t be saved from their own ignorance. For them, perhaps a Darwinian approach is the way to go.

Mark Blauvelt (right) and fishing partner Ryan Lawrence with Blauvelt's 59.88 state-record blue catWhen Mark Blauvelt released the heaviest blue catfish ever caught from West Virginia waters, he fully realized his shiny new state record might be short-lived.

“At just 60 pounds, that fish has plenty of room for growth,” said Blauvelt, who caught the gigantic blue cat (which officially weighed 59.88 pounds). “I wanted to release it so someone else might have a chance to catch it.”

The chances that some angler might land the very same fish are probably slim, but there are other blue cats in the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers that might easily eclipse Blauvelt’s name from the record books. Four record-breaking fish have been caught from the Ohio in the past five years. In just half a decade, the record skyrocketed from 32 pounds to 44 pounds to 52 pounds and now to almost 60.

Blauvelt (on the right in the accompanying photo) caught the fish during the May 14 Cabela’s King Kat Tournament, held on the Ohio and lower Kanawha. It earned the New Lebanon, Ohio, resident and  tournament partner Ryan Lawrence the prize money for the biggest fish, but wasn’t enough to win them the tournament. The first-prize money went to a team that had caught an impressive stringer of trophy flathead catfish.

Does it really measure up?The world of kayak bass fishing got rocked to its core recently when the winner of a Kayak Bass Series tournament on Tennessee’s Dale Hollow Lake got caught using an altered measuring device.

The angler, later identified as Andrew Shepherd of Prestonsburg, Ky., was disqualified after tournament officials noticed something funny about the photos Shepherd turned in to have his tournament-winning catch verified. In kayak bass fishing, contestants are required to measure and photograph each fish on a “bump board,” a broad ruler that cradles the fish. A vertical stop at one end of the bump board ensures accurate measurement by making sure each fish’s nose gets placed at the same spot.

Sharp-eyed judges figured out that Shepherd’s bump board had had 4 inches removed from it, which had the effect of making the bass he caught appear 4 inches longer. Shepherd allegedly disguised the subterfuge by holding his hand over the fish in way that concealed the alteration.

Not surprisingly, Shepherd’s disqualification triggered a social media firestorm from indignant anglers.

One unanticipated side effect of the incident could be that anglers will lose confidence in so-called “golden rule” tournaments, which rely on anglers’ honesty in measuring and reporting their catches. I suppose that when hundreds or even thousands of dollars in prize money are at stake, verifying results takes on even more importance.