Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

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!


Angler breaks two W.Va. records — on same day!

Alex Foster with his new W.Va. record blue cat (DNR photo)

Alex Foster likes to catch big fish. A good bit of his spare time is spent fishing both freshwater and saltwater for tackle-busting denizens of the deep.

Small wonder, then, that Foster is the proud new owner of the West Virginia record for blue catfish. Fishing with cut bait in the Ohio River about an hour’s drive from his St. Albans home, Foster caught a 43.9-inch, 44.5-pound blue catfish. The big cat shattered the state record for weight, 32.28 pounds, set in 2011 by Foster himself; and it also broke the record for length, 42.25 inches, set in 2009 by Lynn Lange.

Foster uses surfcasting gear and special distance-casting techniques to get his cut bait from the shore out into the middle of the Ohio where the big blue cats lurk.

Apparently other big fish lurk there too, because on the same day Foster caught the big blue cat, he also hooked and landed a longnose gar that tied the state record for length, 52.25 inches. The fish weighed 15 pounds, more than 4 pounds short of the weight record.

Note to skateboarders: Don’t mess with deer!

Skateboarder, meet Bambi. Bambi, skateboarder…(Video capture)

If you haven’t seen it already, follow this link to YouTube for a quick video clip of what happens when you mix a skateboard race, a pack of daredevil skateboarders blazing down a mountain highway at 40 mph, and a deer that picks the wrong time to try to cross the road. Enjoy!

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.

A porcupine — in West Virginia?

West Virginia gets a prickly visitor

Residents of Leon, W.Va., have seen something unusual roaming their neighborhood of late — a porcupine.

In some states that wouldn’t be all that unusual. In West Virginia it is. The state lies outside the porcupine’s native range.

Ken Bartlett, a friend who lives in the Leon area, first encountered the critter when he found it harassing his dog in its kennel. Bartlett, who has lived in states where porcupines are common, was astounded by the size of the porky in his backyard. He estimated it to be as much as 4 feet long and to weigh as much as 40 pounds. The porcupine’s unusual black coloration also puzzled Bartlett.

The creature turned out to be an Indian Crested Porcupine, native to Asia. Bartlett believes it’s an escaped pet, mainly because it shows little fear of humans.

Maybe this bear just likes people

The 'Brookline Bear' (AP Photo)

Nuisance bears aren’t just a West Virginia phenomenon. Even tony, upscale parts of Massachusetts are getting visited. From the Associated Press:

BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — A black bear that showed up in suburban Boston is the same one that swam to Cape Cod on Memorial Day weekend, authorities say.
For the second time this month, wildlife officials used a tranquilizer dart on Tuesday to immobilize the bear so they could capture it. It happened after the bear climbed a tree in Brookline, drawing a crowd of onlookers and police officers.
On June 12, authorities relocated the 180-pound male bear to central Massachusetts after it wandered for two weeks on the Cape.
Wildlife officials said then that the bear’s breeding instinct may have sparked its travels, with that trip marking the first time authorities believe a black bear visited the Cape.
Now authorities say they’re relocating the bear to a remote location in western Massachusetts.
The bear was spotted Tuesday morning in a tree in Brookline’s upscale Chestnut Hill neighborhood. An environmental police officer perched in a cherry picker and fired the dart at the bear, said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The startled bear initially climbed farther up the tree before tumbling about 80 feet to the ground.
Brookline police Chief Daniel O’Leary told reporters at the scene that the bear wasn’t believed to be the one spotted in several other Boston suburbs recently. He said it was wearing tags indicating that it had been previously tracked.
Officials couldn’t immediately remember another bear sighting in Brookline, but Zimmerman said the presence of the bear so close to Boston shouldn’t be a major surprise.
“Bears have been in suburban areas and among people for many years,” he said. “They are highly adaptable.”

Homer Circle, R.I.P.

Homer Circle, 1915-2012

The outdoor world lost a true giant last week when Homer Circle passed away.

“Uncle Homer,” as he was known, was best known as the fishing editor for Sports Afield magazine — a post he held from 1968 through 2002. He authored a slew of books on bass fishing, hosted three outdoor TV shows and starred in Glenn Lau’s iconic bass-fishing films “Bigmouth” and “Bigmouth Forever.”

Despite his fame, Uncle Homer was as nice a fellow as anyone could imagine. I got a chance to chat with him once, at the 1988 Outdoor Writers Association of America conference in Marco Island, Fla.

I had won a fly casting-for-distance event on Breakout Day that year, and was told to show up at 3M/Scientific Anglers’ hospitality suite that evening to pick up my prize. After I was announced as the winner, Uncle Homer walked up to me and introduced himself.

My jaw almost hit the floor. There I was, shaking the hand of the famous Homer Circle while he congratulated me and praised my fly casting prowess.

“You know who you remind me of?” he asked. “Ted Williams — the way you cast and the way you carry yourself remind me of him.”

I could not possibly have felt more honored. Williams was an idol of mine, both for his ability to hit a baseball and for his ability to catch fish.

“You know, Ted and I used to fish a lot together,” Homer said. “I remember once when we were out in a boat, fishing off the [Florida] Keys. We were paying too much attention to the fishing and not enough attention to where we were. We looked up and saw a storm building and figured we’d better get back to the dock.

“Problem was, we couldn’t see land from where we were. Ted stood up on one of the seats and, with his height and his amazing eyesight, was just able to see the tip of a smokestack on one of the Keys. We made it back in just before the storm hit.”

We chatted for several minutes before he got called away to talk to someone else. I still remember sitting there, dumbstruck that someone of Homer Circle’s reputation and caliber had taken the time to sit and share fishing stories with me.

When Uncle Homer died last Friday, he had graced the lives of others for 97 years. He will be missed.


Game warden faces possible prison

Ready for sentencing

I thought conservation officers were supposed to catch lawbreakers, not be  lawbreakers. From the Associated Press:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge on Monday is scheduled to sentence a former Ohio wildlife officer convicted of helping a South Carolina hunter illegally obtain an Ohio deer license at a discount that saved him about $105.
Allan Wright was also convicted of seizing the antlers of two deer taken illegally and giving the antlers to a friend instead of securing them as crime evidence.
Prosecutors are seeking three months in prison, a year of supervised release and a $1,000 fine, while Wright is asking for probation and a reasonable fine.
Government prosecutors argue the case involves a pattern of criminal conduct and that Wright’s actions jeopardized the honor system that is the backbone of state hunting and fishing programs.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources fired Wright in October.

Bear gets zapped, starts wildfire

Imagine that — a black bear nominee for a Darwin Award. Gotta watch how you climb those power poles…

From the Associated Press:

BRADFORD, Pa. (AP) — Investigators say a black bear caused a small wildfire in the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania by climbing a utility pole and knocking down some power lines.
Firefighters from Lafayette and Corydon townships responded to the fire about 130 miles northeast of Pittsburgh about 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Penelec officials determined the bear was electrocuted when they responded. Lafayette Township Fire Chief Don Fowler tells the Bradford Era that investigators believe the bear might have detected a buzzing noise from the wires and climbed the pole thinking there was a beehive.
The wildlife damaged less than a quarter of an acre.
Firefighters were on the scene about 45 minutes.

Oregon has a rich outdoor tradition. Hunting, fishing and trapping helped make the state what it is today. Still, the influence from California is strong. Witness the ongoing fight to impose restrictions on trapping, which has reached fever pitch after a man’s small dog was killed in a trap set to kill otters.

From the Associated Press:

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The owner of a dog killed by a trap set next to a popular hiking trail in central Oregon has no complaint with trapping otters, raccoons and bobcats for their pelts.

But Jack Williamson of West Linn is incensed that proposed revisions to state regulations requiring trappers to stay away from places popular with hikers and campers includes a way for the state to grant exemptions.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote Thursday on proposed revisions to state trapping regulations.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff is backing the idea of the state’s first no-trapping zones along trails and around campgrounds.
But game program manager Tom Thornton said the department wants to keep open the option of trapping problem animals such as bears, which are generally taken with a live trap.
Williamson’s 8-year-old, 38-pound wheaten terrier, Kieri, became a symbol of efforts to tighten restrictions on fur trappers in Oregon after getting caught last February in a killing trap set for an otter that had been eating fish at the state fish hatchery at Wizard Falls on the Metolius River outside Camp Sherman. The dog was revived, but was put down a few months later over a spinal injury from the trap.
“My issue is not with trapping itself as being an outdated or non-necessary or even cruel endeavor,” Williamson said. “My issue really is at this point in time limited to assuring public safety and doing whatever I can to make sure other families don’t suffer the horror we suffered that day.”
Conservation groups that don’t like trapping in general petitioned the commission last March to revise regulations to prohibit traps within 100 feet of trails and campgrounds, and require all trappers to check their traps daily. Current regulations require most trappers to check their traps every 48 hours, but in some cases, such as trapping for coyotes attacking livestock on private land, periods are much longer. Conservation groups also wanted trappers to put their names and phone numbers on traps, and to post signs around traps.
“I think there is a large contingency (of the public) that thinks these things shouldn’t be used at all,” said Bob Salinger of the Audubon Society of Portland. “They are inhumane, cruel, and indiscriminant. The failure of ODFW to seriously address the issue for the last decade means it is more likely there will be a referendum move forward on a complete ban.”
The commission voted down the petition, but called on the department to consider it while doing a regular update on trapping rules. After reviewing what other states do, the department recommended no-trapping buffers within 50 feet of trails and 300 feet of campgrounds, but left itself the option of allowing trapping it considered necessary. It recommended letting stand the time periods for checking traps, noting that daily checking would be a hardship, particularly on government trappers.
The Oregon Trappers Association backed the buffer zones, but objected to checking traps daily, putting their names on traps, and posting signs.
“The last thing a trapper wants is to catch anybody’s pet,” said Jim Soares, a member of the group. He added that trappers felt putting their names on traps and posting signs would lead to thefts, and having to check traps daily would cost a lot in time and gas.
Trapping helped build Oregon in the 1800s, when the Hudson’s Bay Company sent out trappers to bring in beaver pelts. But last year, only 1,252 people paid $47 for a state trapping license. They reported selling pelts of bobcat, muskrat, river otters, beaver, raccoon and coyote from the 2010-11 winter trapping season worth a total of $785,037.28.
“Very few make a living at it anymore,” said Soares.