Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Hunters in the northeastern U.S. might soon have a new name for their rifles and shotguns: Anti-aircraft artillery.

That’s because the wierdos at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plan to start looking for “potential illegal [hunting] activity” by flying reconaissance drones over hunters.

According to U.S. News and World Report, PeTA officials are shopping for drones, and are preparing to apply for the federal permits required to fly them.

My guess is this thinly disguised attempt to get under hunters’ skins will last about as long as it takes for a couple of those expensive drones and their equally expensive cameras to come crashing to the ground. Or, better still, for the people controlling them to be arrested by game wardens and formally charged with hunter harrassment, which is illegal in many states.


Two sides of the elk-stocking coin

Good and bad

This week’s column takes a look at the fervor that often precedes elk-reintroduction programs, and the consequences those reintroductions can create:

Elk have become a bit of a controversial subject in West Virginia.
Some hunters are clamoring for the Division of Natural Resources to launch an elk-stocking program. Opponents are concerned that reintroducing such large animals might cause unforeseen impacts.
It’s interesting, then, that two bordering states are experiencing each side of the coin.
Maryland wildlife officials just finished a public-opinion survey that showed strong support for the stocking of elk in Garrett and Allegany counties.
The study, done by arguably the most respected outdoors-related opinion research firm in the country, revealed that 72 percent of Marylanders would like to see elk reintroduced to the Old Line State.
Interestingly, only 68 percent of the people who live in Garrett and Allegany counties want the reintroduction to happen.
The survey suggested that elk-based tourism would generate close to $3.1 million a year.
My friend Mike Sawyers, who writes for the Cumberland Times-News, reported that wildlife officials haven’t yet determined whether the region contains suitable habitat for such large critters.
As a whole, though, it appears folks in Maryland are getting all het up about having elk.
Not everyone is as enamored of the idea.
Just outside the opposite border of West Virginia, citizens of eastern Kentucky have quite literally taken up arms to thin out an elk herd that’s making their lives miserable.
For the past three years, Kentucky wildlife officials have allowed residents in the Stoney Fork area to shoot and kill elk that come down from the mountains, trample lawns, tear up shrubbery and get hit by cars.
Elk were reintroduced into eastern Kentucky in 1997. In just 15 years, the state’s herd has grown to more than 10,000, all confined into roughly a 15-county area.
The animals’ presence has been a boon to tourism, and carefully managed elk hunts have attracted sportsmen from throughout the country. In at least a few areas, though, the 500- to 700-pound creatures have become overpopulated.
Stoney Fork is sort of the poster child for elk problems. Residents grew so upset that state wildlife officials began issuing depredation permits, much the same as West Virginia issues deer-damage permits.
People are particularly worried about elk-vehicle collisions. Hitting a 110-pound deer with a car can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of vehicle damage. Hitting a 600-pound elk can total a car in no time.
According to an Associated Press report, more than 100 Kentucky elk have been killed in deer-vehicle collisions since 2005. Pickup trucks have been flipped upside-down from the impacts. The AP report contained an account of a bull elk crashing through the windshield of a Geo Metro.
There is no doubt that a thriving elk herd in West Virginia would help the state’s coalfield counties to attract more tourists and hunters.
There is also no doubt that if elk become abundant enough, problems similar to those in Stoney Fork would eventually arise. A magnificent 7-by-7 bull elk in the wild is a stirring sight; the same critter frozen in the headlights of your car is downright terrifying.
DNR officials want to allow the state’s elk herd to build naturally, with animals that migrate across the border from Kentucky and Virginia. Would-be elk hunters want a stocking program.
Whatever happens, the ultimate result will likely be a combination of good and bad. But isn’t that the way it goes with just about everything?

Another good reason to go deer hunting

When Roger Custer of Levittown, Pa., returned home from a deer hunt, he handed a Powerball lottery ticket he’d purchased to his wife and asked her to check it “to see how many millions we’ve won.”

She checked it — and, much to her astonishment and delight, found that she and her husband were $50 million richer. After taxes, they took home a check for more than $33 million.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the full story.

When asked what he planned to do with his winnings, Custer said what any other red-blooded outdoorsman would say — “spend more time hunting and fishing.” Gotta love it.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

W.Va. DNR issues mast survey results

White oak acorns (Ohio DNR photo)

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — For every serious hunter it’s a must have: the annual mast survey.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has issued the 2012 edition of the survey of fall foods available to deer, bear and turkey. Game management services supervisor Chris Ryan says for hunters, the survey is a critical tool to know the availability of food for the animal they’re stalking.
The division’s wildlife section partners with other agencies to conduct the fall survey of mast produced by 18 species of trees and shrubs. They found, for instance, that the production of acorns is well above the 42-year average, while beechnuts and walnuts are below their long-term average.
The survey is as available at DNR offices or on its website.

I highlighted the mast survey’s findings in one of my recent columns. You can read it here.

Hurricane forces cutback in deer hunting

In short supply

Natural disasters such as hurricanes don’t ordinarily affect wildlife all that much. Hurricane Isaac, which drenched Louisiana last month, apparently did.

Wildlife authorities have dramatically curtailed deer seasons in low-lying areas of the state, where as many as 90 percent of this year’s fawns are feared drowned.

From the Associated Press:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — More than a month after Hurricane Isaac invaded southern Louisiana, state wildlife biologists confirmed last week that the Category I storm’s surge and heavy rains could have more long-lasting wildlife and habitat effects than much stronger storms bearing names like Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.
State Wildlife Division chief Kenny Ribbeck told the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission that extended periods of high water over 391,000 acres in what he described as “The Maurepas Basin,” likely resulted in fawn mortality as high as 90 percent and light-to-moderate adult deer mortality.
Those estimates, Ribbeck said, forced wildlife biologists and managers to call for a reduction in the seasons lengths and switch in the decade-old either-sex-take allowed to deer hunters.
While the emergency plan the LWFC approved during Thursday’s meeting did not change the structure of the archery-deer season, it altered the primitive and modern firearms seasons throughout this basin and most of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.
The firearms seasons in these areas will be bucks-only, and a reduction of 46 days for Maurepas Basin and more than 60 days for St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes’ deer hunters.

With one shot, a hunter is born

Sabrina Gravely with her first squirrel (Charlotte Slagle photo)

Congratulations to 12-year-old Sabrina Gravely of Marlinton, who killed her first squirrel recently with a single shot from her trusty .22 rifle.

This is just the sort of action West Virginia wildlife officials hoped would happen when they started opening the squirrel season in early September instead of early October. Knowing that many kids get their first hunting experience with squirrels, they figured a lengthened season would help attract more young people to the pastime.

Sabrina bagged the bushytail while hunting in Pocahontas County with her dad, Jim Gravely. You go, girl!


Hunters bag record-breaking 697-pound gator

The hunters with their prize (AP photo/Austin WInter)

Wow. It’s hard for me to imagine snagging a near-700-pound reptile and then hanging onto the line until it tires enough to get next to the boat. To me that’s like lashing oneself to a stick of dynamite.

Then again, I’m a hillbilly, not swamp person.

From the Associated Press:

FITLER, Miss. (AP) — The hunters knew there was a huge ‘gator in wetlands where they had hunting permits. He gave them a scare before they killed him, but they got a state record — 697.5 pounds.
It took six days just to sight the gator on private land where Tom Grant of Cleveland had spotted it while fishing and where the hunters had permits to catch several alligators.
“I caught one two years ago that was 12 feet, 9 inches long and I knew this one was as big or bigger,” Grant told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.
They spotted it late Sept. 21. The big guy — females don’t get that big — spotted them too. It went under water.
“I threw in his general area and hooked him on a blind cast,” said Grant.
Grant, Kenny Winter and Jim Reed, both of Greenville, and Michael Robbers of Palos Verdes, Calif., got more hooks in the gator as it headed for deeper water.
It stayed at the bottom for a while. When it surfaced, it came up under the boat.
“Depending on who you talk to, he either rocked us or almost sank us,” said Reed.
Winter said, “He hit the boat so hard we started taking on water on the opposite side. We started stomping on the bottom of the boat to make him change his plans.”
From first hook to final gunshot took two hours, with another 2 1/2 to wrestle the beast to shore and lash its head to the boat trailer. By then it was Sept. 22.
“We tried to winch him up on the trailer. It broke my winch,” Winter said Sunday.
They drove slowly the mile or two to camp, dragging the alligator.
The head of Mississippi’s alligator program drove from Jackson with a portable scale later Sept. 22. The gator broke the old state record by 7 pounds.
The 13-foot 1.5-inch gator is far shy of the 19-foot-2 that Tabasco Sauce president and naturalist E.A. McIlhenny said he measured against his shotgun’s 30-inch barrel in 1890. That’s listed as Louisiana’s and the species record.

Making laws to create more deer

John McCoy photo

It’s tough to write laws that help a deer herd expand, but lawmakers in Maine are giving it a shot. Here’s hoping they are more successful than the West Virginia Legislature, which in the 1950s and 60s

botched every attempt it made at deer management — and ultimately handed over control to the Division of Natural Resources.

From the Associated Press:

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — With hopes of rebuilding a deer herd that has shrunk sharply in parts of Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has signed legislation to implement strategies that include restoring habitats that shelter the animals in the winter and thinning out the population of their main predator, the coyote.
One concern that has prompted the new laws signed Monday is that areas known as “deer yards” have been lost due to logging and to spruce budworms, pests that have killed large tracts of forest.
Deer yards are stands of trees — typically cedar, spruce or hemlock — that protect deer from the snow and cold. Deer venture from these natural shelters to feeding areas.
Wildlife officials say one of the best ways of protecting deer yards is through cooperative working agreements with large timberland owners to leave those areas intact. The agreements would not be required, and they could come in the form of easements or even sales of areas containing deer yards.
The loss of deer, which are central to Maine’s hunting tradition, has been a major worry especially in eastern, northern and western regions of the state. Deer density in those regions has plummeted to 1-4 per square mile, a fraction of the optimum number, while it hovers around 40-50 in southern and some coastal areas and islands, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
The optimum can number vary and is based on how many deer a given piece of land can sustain, but is usually between the extremes found in Maine, Trahan said.
Maine’s deer herd is estimated to be in the 250,000 range, with annual harvests on the decline to about 19,000. The number of deer killed by hunters exceeded 28,000 annually in the 1980s.
The disappearance of deer in much of the state has had an impact on hunting, which “is vital to our heritage and economy,” Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, sponsor of a new law that expands the mission of a state deer-management fund to include preserving deer yards, in addition to its traditional focus on controlling coyotes.
Deer hunting and viewing in Maine generate at least $200 million per year in spending on guide and outfitting services, hunting camps, motels, restaurants and related businesses, Burns said.
“Maine has traditionally been famous for its big bucks, but as this No. 1 game animal becomes scarce, hunters will find Maine less desirable,” he said.
To support the new deer management fund, $2 of each $5 collected in “tagging” fees hunters pay after killing a deer must be deposited in the fund. The new law also establishes a check-off on the hunting license application for donations to the fund.
The law authorizes fish and game officials to impose limits on the feeding of deer by the public when it’s believed that feeding is having a detrimental impact on deer. Examples are placing food across the highway from the woods, which puts them in danger of being struck by a vehicle, or feeding them the wrong foods, such as hay or whole corn, which take too much energy to digest.
A separate bill adds $100,000 to the fish and game department’s predator control program. With money left over from this year, the department will have $150,000 to reduce the coyote population in specific areas of the state.
Maine does not offer bounties for the hunting and trapping of coyotes. The department instead determines specific areas most hard-hit by the predators and assists in bringing in hunters and trappers to lower their numbers.
Sporting groups see a proposal to borrow $5 million to preserve forests and farmland as another tool to protect deer yard. The proposal awaited LePage’s signature in order to be sent to voters for authorization.

In the modern political world, no crisis is allowed to go to waste — even when it’s a manufactured crisis.

Consider what’s going on in California, where lawmakers in the state Senate have voted to outlaw the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats. Never mind that the state is crawling with bears and bobcats; never mind that only a minority of the bears and bobcats killed each year have been pursued by dogs.

So where’s the crisis? A California fish and game commissioner had the temerity to travel to Idaho for a perfectly legal mountain lion hunt, and then had the temerity to pose for a photo with the cat he killed. Democratic lawmakers went nuts (The commissioner, not surprisingly, is a Republican). All of a sudden, anyone who hunted with dogs was Public Enemy No. 1. (wanna guess which party the commissioner belongs to?).

In a leap of logic all too typical of politicians in the Land of Fruits and Nuts, someone decided that since the commissioner participated in an Idaho hunt where hounds were used, then by golly hunting with hounds should be outlawed in California! A bill was written, and now it has passed the upper chamber of the state Assembly.

If you can stomach it, here’s the full story from the Associated Press:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state Senate voted Monday to ban the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats, a practice the bill’s author compared with shooting animals in a zoo.
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, introduced the legislation after a California fish and game commissioner posed for photos with a mountain lion he killed during a legal hound hunt in Idaho.
Before the vote, Lieu described the practice in which packs of dogs chase the animals until they are exhausted and climb trees, holding them until the hunter arrives.
“It’s been likened to shooting a bear at a zoo,” Lieu said. “It’s simply not fair.”
He also noted that dogs are sometimes injured or killed and called the practice inhumane and unsportsmanlike.
The Senate passed SB1221 with a 22-15 vote and sent the bill to the Assembly, despite objections by Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, said hunting is in danger of following logging and gold mining to the list of endangered activities in the state.
“It is an attack on rural California,” he said of the legislation.
Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, said he saw no difference between using dogs to hunt bears and hunters’ use of dogs to point out and flush pheasant. He also argued that California needs the $400,000 generated annually by hunting fees as it struggles with a massive budget deficit.
The use of hounds to tree bears is a practice dating back hundreds of years across the U.S. and Europe.
Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, said shooting treed bears is more humane because a clean shot results in fewer wounded bears that can then escape.
Lieu said two-thirds of states already ban the use of hounds to hunt bears.
Between 1,500 and 1,800 bears are killed by hunters each year in California, with less than half tracked with dogs, according to state wildlife officials. The state has a black bear population estimated at about 30,000, up from about 10,000 in the 1980s.
California has an estimated 70,000 bobcats. It issued about 4,500 tags to hunt bobcats last year. About 11 percent of the bobcats were killed with the use of dogs.

Follow this link to the Tampa Bay Times’ story about a Florida deer hunter who shot an endangered Florida panther because he didn’t want the cat to interfere with his hunting.

Todd Benfield, 45, of Naples, pleaded guilty to the crime and said he’s sorry to have cast hunters in such a negative light.

It remains to be seen whether Benfield will serve any jail time for the illegal killing. In previous panther-killing cases, judges have levied fines but have been reluctant to issue jail sentences.