Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Against bear hunting? They’ll change their minds!

USDA photo

As long as bears remain fairly scarce, it’s easy for folks to come out against hunting them.

When they’re up to their ears in the critters, hunting suddenly becomes an attractive management option. Just ask the folks who live in New Jersey’s northwestern counties, where bear damage complaints became commonplace enough to merit a hunting season.

Florida folks apparently aren’t ready for that — yet. From the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida black bears won’t have targets on their backs at least for the near future because a proposed management plan made public Thursday will continue to ban hunting them.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposal, though, doesn’t completely take hunting off the table, and it would remove the subspecies of the American back bear from the state’s threatened species list.
“Whether we discuss hunting or not is not at all the focus of this process,” said the commission’s executive director, Nick Wiley. “If that happens that’s a dialogue that would have to occur later.”
The proposed 10-year plan said the commission may explore hunting and habitat modification to slow the black bear’s population growth in certain areas, but not before 2015. It also notes that 32 of 41 states with black bear populations allow hunting.
The Humane Society of the United States opposes any bear hunting in Florida. It argues it would have no effect on reducing the interaction of humans and hungry bears that raid garbage cans and pilfer food left out for pets.
“Whether it’s tomorrow or 2015, I don’t believe Floridians would stand for a trophy hunt of Florida’s treasured black bears,” said Jennifer Hobgood, the society’s state director.
The organization also says the bears shouldn’t be removed from the threatened species list.
“It’s too soon and we don’t have adequate data,” Hobgood said. “The data we do have indicates it may be detrimental to the bears in the future.”
The state population dropped to an estimated 500 in the 1950s, but has since rebounded to the point that wildlife officials say there’s no longer a threat of extinction. They estimate Florida has between 2,500 and 3,000 black bears.
That estimate is outdated and the bears shouldn’t be considered a single population because they are scattered in genetically distinct pockets across the state, Hobgood said.
Their habitat, which once covered all of Florida, has shrunk by more than two-thirds. As a result, bears are searching for food more in populated areas and becoming a hazard on the state’s roads. Last year, 158 bears were killed or euthanized after being injured on Florida’s highways.
The only human ever known to have died is a motorcyclist who collided with a bear near Umatilla in March 2010. Officials never found the bear to see if it was injured.
Black bears are among 16 species the commission has recommended to be no longer listed as threatened or endangered. Others include the snowy egret, brown pelican, white ibis and alligator snapping turtle. Management plans, though, must be approved for each before they can be taken off the lists.
Killing or injuring a bear or possessing body parts would remain a crime although reduced from a third-degree felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison to a misdemeanor with a one-year maximum.
“Lot of people think, ‘Oh, you’re loosening up and everybody’s going to think they can go out and kill a bear now,'” Wiley said. “That is absolutely not the case.”
The state’s ability to block development of bear habitat would be reduced, but the commission would still have a voice in such land planning decisions, Wiley said.
The plan would create seven bear management units. The largest would center on the Ocala National Forest with an estimated 1,000 bears. The smallest would include the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge with about 20 animals along the state’s west coast north of Tampa. Others would include Eglin Air Force Base, the Osceola and Apalachicola national forests, the Big Cypress National Preserve and Glades and Highland counties.
Several provisions call for public outreach to make people more aware of what they can do to prevent human-bear encounters.
There would be no change in the existing policy of dealing with nuisance bears. The first step is to get humans to make their homes and businesses less inviting through such measures as bear-proof garbage cans.
If that doesn’t make the bears go away, the animals can be captured and relocated or in extreme cases euthanized.
The plan is expected to add between $200,000 and $300,000 to the existing annual cost of black bear management. It suggests promoting additional sales of Conserve Wildlife specialty license plates to help raise more money.
The commission will seek comment through Jan. 10 including public workshops Nov. 22 in Bristol, Nov. 29 in Naples, Dec. 6 in Deland and Dec. 13 in Gainesville. The panel will discuss the plan at its February meeting and then may seek additional public comment before taking final action probably next summer, Wiley said.

Give ’em time. When enough bird feeders get raided and enough trash cans get tipped over, Floridians will ask for a bear season.

Bucks, body shops and the whitetail rut

Another kind of hood ornament

Answers to seemingly unanswerable questions can sometimes be found in the simplest things.

Case in point: How can a hunter tell when the whitetail “rut,” or mating season, begins?

Much has been written on the subject, and yet some hunters still manage to miss the annual event. Now, from a rather unusual source, comes the strikingly simple answer: Talk to an auto body-shop owner.

The blindingly simple explanation is here, in the Missoulian. Kudos to reporter Kurt Wilson for recognizing the parallel.


A hunting season’s sad decline

Having trouble fitting in

It’s been disappointing for me to watch the decline of wild boar hunting in southern West Virginia. I grew up at the mouth of the hollow where the boars were first stocked, and have followed the boar story closely since the first stocking.

My column in this week’s Sunday Gazette-Mail explains what has happened to the hogs, and why hunters seem to have lost their enthusiasm for hunting them:

Not that long ago, wild boar hunting was all the rage in Southern West Virginia. Now it’s little more than an afterthought.
This year’s firearm season for boars opened Saturday. It would surprise me if more than a few dozen hunters went gunning for the wary, reclusive animals, even though state wildlife officials believe there are plenty to hunt.
“We had a record-breaking mast crop last year, and that led to [the boars having] big litters last spring,” said Kem Shaw, assistant wildlife biologist for the state’s southwestern counties.
“Our wildlife manager in the area, Steve Houchins, said he’s been seeing lots of hog sign. The boars are there. It’s just a matter of the hunters finding them.”
That’s been the rub, at least in recent seasons. The portion of West Virginia where boars are most abundant encompasses some of the state’s most difficult terrain. In the 1980s and 1990s, when boars were more plentiful, hunters could justify the effort it took to hunt there. But that was then.
Division of Natural Resources officials first stocked wild boars into the Spruce Laurel of Logan and Boone counties in 1971.
“At that time, deer and bears were extremely scarce in that part of the state, and turkeys were nonexistent,” said Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief. “We stocked the boars to create a big-game hunting opportunity in the area.”
The boars multiplied quickly. Their home range eventually spread more widely into Boone and Logan counties, and even into nearby Raleigh and Wyoming counties.
Hunting began in 1979. DNR officials issued only 200 permits, and the first year’s harvest totaled just three boars.
As the boar population expanded, so did the number of permits. By the late 1980s, DNR officials allotted 6,000 permits a year simply to keep up with the demand.
Boar hunting peaked in 1995, when hunters bagged a record 158 animals. After that, though, Southern West Virginia’s hog population suffered a dramatic decline. Harvests tapered off sharply. In 2002, the kill shrank to just 38.
“There are a lot of theories as to what happened,” Shaw explained. “One is that coyotes moved into the area and began killing piglets. Another is that competition for food became more intense as deer, bear and turkey populations expanded.
“The most likely reason is the amount of mountaintop-removal mining being done. A hog’s home range is there one year, and the next year the top of the mountain is gone. It has to have an impact on them.”
Alarmed by the boars’ decline, DNR officials decided in 2003 to reduce hunting opportunities for the species. They shrank the traditional two-part firearm season, held in late October and late December, to a single eight-day October season. At the same time, though, they abandoned the lottery-drawn permit system. Now anyone with a valid big-game license can go boar hunting.
The timing of today’s late-October season probably works against it. Right now, hunters in southern West Virginia are focused on bowhunting for trophy bucks, not pounding the steep hillsides in search of boar sign.
Still, Shaw believes boar hunting will regain some of its former popularity.
“The hogs are there, and they’re there in pretty decent numbers,” he said. “Right now, they’re an underutilized resource. If hunters would just take the time to go after them, I have no doubt that harvest totals would increase.
“I would stress to those hunters that coal companies own almost all the land in the wild-boar area. Hunters who take advantage of that access should be careful to stay away from areas being actively mined.”

Hunting in 1948 and now? Night and day

Those who believe hunting is a dangerous pastime should have been around 3o to 50 years ago. Accidental shootings during hunting seasons — especially deer-hunting seasons — were much, much, much more common than they are nowadays.

Michael Eckert of the Port Huron, Ohio, Times-Herald found some statistics that puts this all in perspective. The numbers, from 1948 deer seasons throughout the U.S., are mind-blowing. Read Eckert’s article and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Today we have the advantages of mandatory hunter safety education classes, laws that require hunters to wear blaze orange clothing, and — let’s face it — fewer hunters in the woods. Hunting might not be as safe as sitting in church on Sundays, but it’s not far from it.

To be sure, it’s a change for the better.


Boy’s death ‘a hunting accident’ only by name

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers need to be with Conner Bartlett’s mom and dad.

Conner, 7, was killed Oct. 15 when his father placed a loaded hunting rifle into the rear of a vehicle. The gun discharged, and the bullet struck Conner. The youngster died before he could be helicoptered to a hospital.

Conner and his dad, Robert Bartlett, had been hunting before the shooting occurred. The Spokane Spokesman-Review got it right, labeling the unfortunate event a “shooting accident” rather than a “hunting accident.” Neither Conner nor Robert were hunting at the time the gun discharged; therein lies the distinction.

It was inevitable, though, that someone would seek to exploit the tragic accident. Sure enough, this blogger argued that the shooting proves that young children shouldn’t be allowed to hunt. Check out the comments that follow her post. A lot of folks saw through the fallacy in her argument.

True, the shooting occurred after a hunt. True, it involved a firearm used for hunting. But to say that the incident “proves children and hunting don’t mix” is absurd. Far more kids die while bicycling each year than while hunting. Should we say, then, that “children and bicycles don’t mix?”

No. Instead let’s view the incident for what it was — a tragic mistake on the part of Conner’s father, who should have unloaded the rifle before he put it into the vehicle.

I’m sure Robert Bartlett knows that. I cannot imagine the grief and guilt he’s dealing with.

Activists sue yet again to halt wolf hunts

Gray wolf

Sigh. Wolf preservationists and wildlife professionals are back in court; the issue, as usual, is whether hunters should be allowed to help control wolf populations.

Seems to me the preservationists are making the wildlife professionals’ argument. If there are enough wolves around that hunters have killed 71 of them so far this fall in Montana and Idaho, they are indeed “recovered” sufficiently to justify hunting as a population-control method.

And for the record, I disagree with the following AP article’s assumption as fact that wolves were “hunted to near-extermination across the lower 48 states last century.” Yes, they were hunted. But they were also trapped and — perhaps most important — poisoned. For the record, wolves are difficult to hunt, slightly less difficult to trap, and relatively easy to poison. Of all the potential methods of wolf population control, hunting is the least likely to result in the species’ extirpation.

From the Associated Press:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife advocates on Monday asked for an emergency injunction to stop state-sponsored gray wolf hunts that have claimed at least 71 of the animals in the Northern Rockies since late August.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is being asked to halt the hunts in Idaho and Montana within 21 days. Wolf harvest figures are expected to climb sharply this month as general rifle seasons in the two states get underway and thousands more hunters take to the field.
“As the snow falls it becomes much more easier to track these animals and many more may be taken in the next few weeks,” said Mark Salvo with WildEarth Guardians, which was joined by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater in filing the injunction request.
“We don’t believe wolves have recovered in this region and we don’t believe states should be hunting wolves,” Salvo added.
The injunction request came in an appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling that upheld this spring’s removal of the region’s wolves from the federal endangered species list. Those protections were lifted under legislation passed by Congress in defiance of prior court rulings.
State officials say they intend to maintain viable wolf populations but want the predator’s numbers reduced to curb attacks on livestock and big game herds. More than 250 wolves were killed in the two states when protections for the animals were lifted in 2009 before being reinstated by a judge.
So far in 2011, hunters have killed 11 wolves in Montana and 60 in Idaho.
Hunted to near-extermination across the lower 48 states last century, wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s. An estimated 1,300 of the animals roamed Idaho and Montana at the end of last year.
Idaho officials have not set a quota for this year’s hunt, which runs through June. They say they will maintain at least 150 of the state’s more than 800 wolves, as required under a management plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Idaho Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said Monday that the hunt was proceeding in an “orderly” manner despite dire predictions that the state would drive wolf numbers to unacceptable levels.
Montana has a quota of 220 wolves for a season that runs through Dec. 31. Officials there have pledged to shut down the hunt as soon as that figure is reached.
“We know everybody is watching us closely and we want to get it right,” said Tom Palmer with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “This is wildlife management at its best and we’re going to keep really close tabs on it.”
In August, the 9th Circuit rejected a similar emergency injunction request from the advocacy groups, although that left the door open for future reconsideration. Representatives of the advocacy groups said they wanted to try again given that several hundred more wolves could be killed in coming months.
Oral arguments in the case are set for Nov. 8.
“Before it was just theoretical. Now we have some numbers and can point out that 37,000 hunters are about to be out in the field looking for a little more than 1,000 wolves,” said Michael Garrity with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Even without hunting, wolves are killed regularly in the Rockies by government wildlife agents responding to predator attacks on livestock. At least 95 wolves have been killed for livestock depredations in Idaho and Montana this year, according to federal and state officials who say hunting could lessen the need for government killings.
Wildlife advocates take a different view, saying the combined pressures of government killings and hunting could push the population to the point where it no longer would be viable.
More than 300 wolves in Wyoming remain on the endangered species list because of past disagreements between the state and federal wildlife officials over how the animals should be managed. But the two sides recently resolved those differences, paving the way for wolf hunts in Wyoming possibly as early as next year.

Cool program: It teaches kids hunting

Get 'em started early

From the Associated Press:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Doug Kennedy of Norman didn’t grow up in a hunting family, so he wasn’t a hunter. As a result, neither was Doug’s son, Ian.
They loved the outdoors and shooting but didn’t know how to get started in hunting.
Last year at the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo they met members of the Oklahoma Youth Hunting and Shooting Program, which takes Oklahoma kids from non-hunting families on their first hunts.
Last October, 11-year-old Ian shot his first buck, a 7-pointer near Antlers during the youth gun season. This year, Ian and his father are making plans to go hunting during the deer gun season in November.
“I’m going to hunt, too,” Kennedy said. “I don’t want Ian to have all the fun.”
The Oklahoma Youth Hunting and Shooting Program has taken more than 100 kids on their first deer or turkey hunts in its five years of existence, said Andy Keim, founder and director of the group.
The mission of the organization is to create hunters out of non-hunters. Oklahoma youth from non-hunting families only can participate.
“There are kids who want to hunt but there is no one to take them or teach them,” Keim said.
During the upcoming deer gun youth season, volunteers from the organization will escort 35 kids on their first deer hunts on private ranches across Oklahoma.
The three-day weekend not only includes hunting, but instruction on how to clean and prepare venison, a hunting skills trail for the youth, a cookout and other activities.
“We pick kids out that are really interested and have supportive guardians,” Keim said. “We try to pick kids that will continue the tradition and it won’t be just a one-time thing.”
Before kids are allowed to go hunting, they must complete a hunter education course and receive additional instruction from members of the program on shooting and gun safety.
The hunts are free for the kids. The organization only requires they buy their youth deer licenses.
“For most of them, it really clicks,” Keim said of the first-time hunters. “It really turns them on to a new world.”
Doug Kennedy was so impressed with the program that he and Ian are among the organization’s many volunteers. They are going to Boswell soon to help make someone’s first deer hunt an enjoyable one.
“We wanted to help other kids have the same opportunity as we did to get started hunting,” he said

Rotting bear carcass nearly electrocutes hunter

Hunters can get hurt in any number of bizarre ways, but this one takes the cake. From the Associated Press:

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — A Montana bowhunter was hospitalized in Salt Lake City after suffering an electric shock from poking a dead bear lying on live wires, Park County officials said.
The hunter came across a badly decomposed bear carcass Sunday in the Beattie Gulch area north of Gardiner and suffered injuries to his torso, head and hands after poking the carcass with a knife, the Livingston Enterprise reported.
Park County authorities identified the hunter as Edward Garcia, of Emigrant, and said he is in his 30s. Garcia’s brother, Eugenio Garcia, said his brother’s first name is Eduardo.
Garcia walked two miles to find help, the sheriff’s office said. He was flown to a burn center in Salt Lake City, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in critical condition Tuesday.
“But he’s in good spirits,” Eugenio Garcia said. “We’re praying for him.”
Park County Undersheriff Scott Hamilton said officials are trying to determine what kind of bear Garcia came across.
“Sounds like the carcass was pretty old and there wasn’t much to go by,” Hamilton said.
A report of the investigation said the bear was in some kind of barrel or pipe that was partially buried and contained bare wires, Hamilton said. The 2-foot diameter barrel had some type of lid, but it wasn’t clear when or how it might have been detached.
“We don’t know how the bear got in there,” Hamilton said.

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


Young hunter attacked by mountain lion? No.

Not guilty — this time (Tex. Parks & Wildlife photo)

Fourteen-year-old Jeremiah Dice created quite a stir when he returned home from a Pike County, Ill., deer hunt last week and told his parents he had been attacked by a mountain lion.

The teen, a veteran hunter, said he managed to fend off the attack with his hunting knife. He was taken to an emergency room and treated for scratches to his face.

Understandably, the local media jumped on the story. It’s one thing  for a Midwestern state to have a mountain lion prowling its woodlots. Its quite another to have said cat attacking deer hunters.

Now, a few days after the alleged attack, the truth has come out. Young Mr. Dice wasn’t attacked by a mountain lion. In fact, he never even saw one. He fell out of his tree stand. Authorities aren’t amused, but probably won’t press charges.

The follow-up story is here, in the State Journal-Register.

Coincidentally, I got a call from a West Virginia resident who hunted in Illinois last week. He said news of the alleged attack had the hunting community all abuzz. I wonder how that hunting community will treat young Mr. Dice now that the truth has come out.

Even in death, hunter supports his favorite cause

It never ceases to amaze me how generous sportsmen and their families can be. This week’s column underscores that:

For years, the late Phil Goodwin did his best to make sure the Vandalia Chapter of Ducks Unlimited had successful fund-raising banquets.
Now, a year after he died while elk hunting, his family is seeing to it that he continues to help.
This year’s banquet, to be held Thursday at Charleston’s BeniKedem Shrine Center, will honor Goodwin, the long-time Charleston Area Medical Center CEO. Several items from Goodwin’s extensive collection of DU memorabilia will be among the many articles auctioned off.
“Phil had a vast collection of items, from art prints to knives to decoys and duck calls, accumulated through the years at many DU banquets,” said John Mitchell Jr., one of the banquet’s organizers. “His family thought it would be appropriate to contribute some of those items to our auction.”
Grey Goodwin, Phil’s son, said the donation was something he’s sure his father would have approved.
“My dad was a most unselfish man, and the best friend anyone could ever have,” Grey said. “He was always a giver, and he served on the DU banquet committee for years. After he passed, the family took a look at some of the things he’d accumulated through the years through DU, and we thought it would be good to donate some of them back.
“With Dad being the generous man he was, we figured he would have been honored to give back in that way.”
Grey said some of the donated items include hand-carved and painted wooden duck decoys, fancy commemorative duck calls, some art prints and a special-edition Browning hunting knife created in honor of DU’s 70th anniversary.
In addition to the Goodwin items, the Vandalia Chapter will auction off an array of contemporary DU merchandise.
“I think there will be a ton of interest in the stuff Phil’s family donated, though,” Mitchell said. “Some of those items date back 20 or 30 years, when the quality of the merchandise was higher than it is today.”
Goodwin became involved in the local DU chapter shortly after moving to Charleston.
“Phil was a dedicated waterfowl hunter before he arrived here, and as soon as he got here he joined our chapter, rolled up his sleeves and went to work,” Mitchell said. “He served in a number of capacities, and was a real mover and shaker, particularly in the 1990s.”
Goodwin was on an elk hunt in Wyoming late last October when he died at age 70 of an apparent heart attack.
“He was on the last day of his hunt when it happened,” said his son. “It caught us all by surprise. He was a very fit man, and he always prepared himself well for his trips out West.
“I tell everyone that he wrote the ending to his own book and lived it out. That was the way he would have wanted to go. He called the place he was hunting ‘a little piece of heaven.’ It was where he really wanted to be.”
Mitchell said the doors will open at 6 p.m. for this year’s banquet. The individual ticket cost of $65 includes a year’s membership in DU, and $40 of that total is tax-deductible. Tickets for non-member spouses are $35, and eight-place corporate tables are $500.
Tickets and more information are available from Mitchell at 304-346-9999 or from Bill Murray at 304-346-0307.
Those who can’t make it to this year’s banquet will get at least one more chance to bid on items from Goodwin’s collection. Mitchell said the family plans to make another donation to benefit next year’s event.