Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hunt Well, Do Good, Share the Harvest

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 29, 2005.)
Knowing your harvest can go to a benevolent
purpose might add an extra incentive
to your hunting, and it will surely add
extra value to your annual experience.
When I was a kid cutting my predatory teeth on venison chops, hunting seasons in Pennsylvania were much less liberal than they are today. People lived closer to the land, and depended on the meat they harvested as well as their own fresh garden produce. Many hunting families were like ours. We did our own butchering, sometimes with a family assembly line that processed venison from skinning to cutting to boning to grinding to packaging. Some people canned their venison, aging it for a period of months in broth-filled glass jars.

With today's availability of antlerless tags, many hunters now get two or even three deer in a season. Families tend to be smaller, and two or three deer can easily result in a surplus over and above what the hunter's family can use. Fortunately, it doesn't have to go to waste. An organization called "Hunters Sharing the Harvest" matches that surplus with people who can use it.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) is a program through which hunters donate venison to needy families by way of commercial venison processors. Approved commercial processors will receive the hunter's legally harvested deer, butcher it and package it.

For several reasons, all the meat is ground. Ground meat goes further. It is easy to use in a variety of dishes, and takes no special recipes. It enables the butcher to treat all donated meat the same way. And no one gets a better cut than another person gets.

The hunter's participation doesn't end when he offers his deer to the program. He is also asked to donate a minimum of $15 (a small amount considering today's cost of a gun, gear and Gore-Tex) toward the processing fee. The statewide HSH organization, which raises money thorough fundraisers and donations, picks up the remainder of the tab, usually somewhere around forty additional dollars. A hunter can also choose to pay the butcher's full processing fee and specify that a portion of his meat be donated to the program.

The butchers pass the venison to regional food banks. Locally, the Salvation Army receives the meat and distributes it, allowing many non-hunting families -- and people who might not otherwise get much meat in their diets -- to satisfy their nutritional needs for protein with one of the healthiest meats available.

In Warren County, Wiles Meat Cutting, 403 Main St., Warren, PA 16365 (814-723-3999) participates in this program. According to the HSH website (www.ShareDeer.org), other processors who participate are Gobblerbrook Deer Processing in Pittsfield, PA (814-563-9657), and Columbus Custom Meats in Columbus, PA (814-664-7823). If you harvest a deer you don't plan on using, they'll take it off your hands and put it into the program so that someone who needs it can use it.

Today, fewer people hunt and some don't want to mess with their meat. Some don't know how, and occasionally venison even goes to waste. It's good that commercial venison processors are willing to provide this needed service.

Hunters can feel gratified when they hunt well, experience the satisfaction of harvesting a whitetail, and do good by offering food to someone who might go hungry without it. Venison is a resource, and it's great to see it being used in a worthy way. Knowing your harvest can go to a benevolent purpose might even add an extra incentive to your hunting, and it will surely add extra value to your annual experience.

If you're not a hunter, but would like to support this excellent program, you can donate by mailing a check (payable to Hunters Sharing the Harvest) to: John Plowman, 6780 Hickory Lane, Harrisburg, PA 17112. A contribution of just $25 can provide as many as 100 delicious meals. HSH is a 501(c)3 organization and your contributions are tax deductible. For more details, information is online at www.ShareDeer.org.

What Heraclitus Overlooked

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 29, 2005.)
W. Edwards Deming said, "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
It was 2,500 years ago that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "Nothing endures but change." I'm thinking he overlooked something. Surely there was something that didn't change back then and still doesn't change today. After all, we humans are fond of our comfort zones. We are highly motivated to keep the status quo. We must be succeeding somewhere.

But we aren't doing well at resisting change in the Warren area. The Warren Commons site in North Warren must be the single biggest construction project ever in Warren County. And the multiple projects in downtown Warren are no small potatoes either. A lot is going on. Our founding foreparents wouldn't recognize the area today. And perhaps the smaller thinkers among them -- if they could have foreseen what we now have -- would not have agreed that what we have is better.

Suppose the 1795'ers who established the town named after a Revolutionary War general had a crystal ball that was limited to the year 2005. Would they have favored a downtown parking garage? Would they have lobbied for something called "Breeze Point Landing"? Would they have advocated a giant big box retail complex 4 miles north of the confluence of the Allegheny and the Conewango?

What a tragedy that timber rafts and steamboats no longer navigate the Allegheny. It's a shame that the Carver House Hotel is gone. It's too bad that Piso's cure went out of business. It's unfortunate that Johnson Brothers' Dry Goods didn't survive the Great Depression and that Epstein's haberdashery finally closed up. And although Levinson Brothers duplicated the success of an earlier department store, theirs couldn't be reproduced.

Viewing Warren through that crystal ball, the timber and oil barons who built the mansions that line Market Street would be lamenting the fact that so many of these stately luxury homes now house businesses and offices. The commoners would be saddened to know that the railroad station that sent so many men off to the nation's wars (and welcomed most of them home) would be razed. Everyone would have something to mourn.

Most retail stores from only a generation ago are gone. Some institutions remain, such as the Warren State Hospital -- but with much less significance. And some have been or are being reborn. The National Forge and Blair Corporation come to mind.

We are where we are today and we have what we have today, both good and bad, because those who preceded us advocated change, or adapted to the fires, floods and economic earthquakes that forced change -- and because change is the name of the game of life.

Like the men and women who create them, businesses and whole industries have life cycles. They grow, they prosper, and they either die or they go through the pain of rebirth in order to accommodate new realities.

We are living in a day of renewal in Warren. It illustrates the life cycle. Much about Warren is good, and much that is good is yet to be. We have today the best roads we've ever had. We have the opportunities that come with technology. We have the attraction of a slower pace. And we have visitors who are amazed that they can't find lodging on the shores of one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere.

The downtown revitalization and the Warren Commons project, the new bridge and the best roads ever have all brought the heat of optimism to the iron of our community resolve. Perhaps the next step should be the development of a lodge to house tourists, offering them access to the forest and the water, inviting more to come and to stay longer, and to put their money into our economy. The iron is hot, and it's time to strike another blow.

What if we don't? American physicist W. Edwards Deming said, "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Come to think of it, that's what Heraclitus overlooked. Think about it, and get on board.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Pennsylvania Coyote Conspiracy

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 15, 2005.)
Why did the Pennsylvania Game Commission
deny the existence of coyotes in Pennsylvania?
It didn't. The Commission actually publicized
their presence -- several times since 1940.
"Insurance companies transplanted coyotes so that they'd kill off the deer to save money on claims for deer collisions." "The timber industry stocked coyotes to prey on deer and boost timber regeneration by keeping them from eating tree seedlings." "The Pennsylvania Game Commission was bought and paid for by insurance companies and timber companies to stock coyotes, and for as long as it could the PGC even denied the existence of coyotes in Pennsylvania."

These are the allegations. They were based initially on one coyote with a tag in its ear and an assumption that it had been stocked. A deer hunter in Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania shot it in the late 1980's. Since then, hearsay tells of people seeing coyotes being released in the middle of the night from a truck with a license plate from Wyoming or some other western state. The witness is always someone's cousin's wife's co-worker's brother-in-law, or some such unidentifiable person.

Although it is true that a tagged coyote was killed in Green County, the big problem with claims that coyotes were stocked is that there is no evidence of it. Those who believe and spread these rumors will say it's all about money.

But the rumors aren't true, because it would have been a colossal waste of money. If anyone spent money to bring coyotes to Pennsylvania, they would have been spending money to do something that didn't need done. Coyotes were already here.

A decade before the Greene County incident, coyotes were showing up in Warren County, in Akeley. One farmer I know had an episode involving two coyotes and a calf, and a friend killed one while deer hunting. So, if a tagged coyote in southwestern Pennsylvania is evidence that they were stocked in the late 80's, how did they get in northwestern Pennsylvania in the late 70's?

In 1976, a 42-pound coyote was killed by a vehicle on Route 119 in Westmoreland County. It was photographed with a Wildlife Conservation Officer holding it, then analyzed at Penn State and determined to be an eastern coyote.

In 1963, the Pennsylvania Game News carried a story titled "Coyotes at the Edge of Philadelphia," written by Joseph Lippincott of the J. B. Lippincott Publishing Company. Lippincott was well experienced with western coyotes, and saw his first Pennsylvania coyote in the winter of 1960.

In March 1941, the Pennsylvania Game News published pictures of coyotes killed in Venango County in January of that year.

Why did the Pennsylvania Game Commission deny the existence of coyotes in Pennsylvania? It didn't. If any individual PCG employee did, it might have been merely an expression of doubt. Or he may not have been well informed. But obviously, the Commission itself actually publicized their presence -- several times. How could it deny something it publicized repeatedly over the course of almost 50 years leading up to the tagged Green County coyote? Why would it secretly conspire to plant coyotes in the state in the 1980's, when they had been here at least from the 1940's?

"What about that tagged coyote?" you might ask. It is a giant leap to assume an ear tag is evidence of stocking. What it shows is only that the PGC is studying wildlife populations, because one of the principle tools in studying animals is to trap and mark individuals after recording age, weight, health, and other data.

Conspiracies are fun, and they thrive wherever mystery lurks. But the evidence plainly shows that coyotes were here long before anyone came up with a conspiracy theory about stocking coyotes, or anyone claimed to have seen a truck with western plates letting a bunch of coyotes loose under cover of darkness. If insurance companies, timber companies, the PGC, or anyone else spent even one dollar to stock coyotes in Pennsylvania, it was a wasted dollar.

So, if anyone tells you that there was a conspiracy, you can tell them coyotes didn't need anyone's help to establish themselves here in Penn's Woods. They have been here for a long time. I have a pretty good idea how they got here, but that is the subject for another column.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

An Elk Excursion: Easy and Worth the Trip

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 1, 2005.)
Elk are easy to find and to photograph,
and they put on an impressive show.
The screaming bugle of a huge trophy bull elk tells you he's just over the hill. You've been waiting for this for a long time. The sun is about to set, and you wonder if your optics are up to the task. Then, you see an enormous set of antlers silhouetted against the sky as the majestic elk approaches the crest of the hill. You're in position as he comes into focus through the lens. He bugles again and adds a series of grunts, the suffix to the elk's unique mating call. He's only 40 yards away, his mouth open, his chest heaving. It's the moment of truth.

You're not in Colorado's Rockies, or New Mexico's high country. You're on Winslow Hill, just south of St. Mary's in Elk County, Pennsylvania. And you're not carrying a rifle or a bow. You might not even be a hunter. You're carrying a camera, because this is one of the great shows in Pennsylvania.

When you go to Pennsylvania's elk woods, you'll wonder if you'll be lucky enough to see some. Will you be able to find the right place? Will you be there at the right time? Will the elk come out of the woods? Will they be close enough to see clearly? Will you hear that spine-tingling bugle you've heard on the Outdoor Channel? Will you see any bulls? Will they be big ones?

Don't worry. If you time your visit near dawn or dusk, the answer to every question is likely to be a resounding "Yes!" My dad and I saw about 60 one evening last week including some dandy bulls, and I've seen them from as close as 10 yards.
Right now it's mating season, and they're not shy. The bulls you see will be oblivious to nearly everything. They rake their antlers into the turf, rub them in trees, parade around bossing the little calves and bellowing at their rivals while focused on their gorgeous girlfriends.

Pennsylvania's original herd of eastern elk was killed off in the mid 1800's, but between the years 1913 and 1926 the Pennsylvania Game Commission undertook a restoration program. The PGC released 177 elk imported from mushrooming western herds into what it considered the best habitat in Pennsylvania for the big animals. By 1971 their number diminished to less than 70, but they got a foothold, and since then they have thrived.

By the year 2001, the population had bulged to more than 600, primarily in the rugged mountains of Elk and Cameron counties. Their success has been so great that, for the elk's own sake, the state now holds a limited hunting season in order to keep the herd from expanding to areas where they will be in conflict with other land uses or a threat to the public.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission promotes it's small herd of elk not just for hunters, but for everyone. The PGC has created several viewing areas to make it easy for people to enjoy the show. Probably the most popular one is on Winslow Hill near the tiny village of Benezette. From August through October, it is staffed on weekends for presentations.

The Game Commission conducts annual population surveys and performs habitat improvement projects on state lands. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has contributed significant dollars to help buy critical acreage on the primary elk range, erect deterrent fencing, improve habitat and construct the Winslow Hill elk viewing area. Other organizations contributing to the welfare of Pennsylvania elk include the National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International, and non-hunting organizations as well.

If you haven't been to the elk woods of Pennsylvania, it's worth the trip. You'll discover that elk are easy to find and photograph, and they put on an impressive show. You might also see deer, turkeys and other wildlife. On one trip I was lucky enough to see a bald eagle. Without a doubt, this trip is one of the easiest and most enjoyable wildlife excursions the Keystone State has to offer, and it's free.