Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Previews of coming W.Va. attractions

Southern West Virginians are in for a treat.

Sometime within the next year or so, state wildlife officials will stock elk into portions of Logan and Mingo counties. The herd will be allowed to grow until it spreads over all of four counties — Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming — and parts of Boone, Lincoln and Wayne.

The treat will come during the elk mating season, which begins in late August and can extend through October. When they’re in a romantic mood, bull elk advertise their presence by making a sound known as “bugling.” It sounds sort of — well, it’s hard to describe. It’s probably better to hear it for yourselves. YouTube contains several examples of it; here is a brief one:

You mess with the antelope, you get the horns

Photo drones are fun to use, but they can really irritate wildlife.

A movement is afoot to outlaw harassing critters with drones. I’m sure the owner of this drone in this video wished his state had such a law. If it had, the drone probably wouldn’t have had to go to the repair shop.

(Photo courtesy Westernbass.com) Greg Gasciel with his new Michigan state-record smallmouth bass.
(Photo courtesy Westernbass.com)
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

(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?

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.

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

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…

(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 fieldandstream.com website.

(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.

(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.