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, September 30, 2006

Eat Everything You Kill? Not Me!

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., Sept. 30, 2006.)
Eat everything you kill?
Not me, and not anyone!
"You shouldn't shoot anything you don't eat!" Those words are often uttered to criticize hunters in a sanctimonious tone.

I'll make a few people angry at my thoughts on this, but people who express that opinion ought to stop and think for a minute. Arguments against killing and not eating don't stretch very far. No one eats everything he kills -- whether he's a hunter or not. Some hunters do not especially favor the flavor of game animals. So what? We have more reasons to kill animals than to use them for food. And anyone who says we should eat everything we kill is a little hypocritical.

I shoot woodchucks and coyotes, and although the former are palatable I rarely eat them. And almost no one -- in this country at least -- wants to eat the big, stinky canine. Yet almost any hunter who has a chance to take a coyote will pull the trigger. He should do it without guilt.

Shooting woodchucks offers several benefits. It gives the hunter a live target to practice on in a low-pressure situation. Plus it's an opportunity for new hunters to learn and practice safety rules. It benefits farmers, too. Woodchucks are 8-pound eating machines, and will devour plenty of hay before the farmer gets to harvest it. They're also digging machines; the mounded dirt around their burrows dulls many a cutting bar, and their holes can break the legs of livestock. Farmers appreciate hunters for every woodchuck they turn into food for scavengers.

As for the other "varmint" I mentioned, let's not make the coyote into a sacred cow. We'll never exterminate this major predator that, if not kept in check, can decimate the fawns in an area. You say, "That's the way it's supposed to be." I say, "Who says man is not supposed to be in the picture, too?" Man is the predator that cares. Any time we can shoot or trap a 'yote, we are saving several fawns not just for hunters, but we're saving them from a death with far more suffering than a bullet or an arrow will bring.

Yes, very few of us MUST hunt to provide food for our families. If the economics of the sport are considered, it's not cost-effective to hunt in this modern age. By the time a hunter pays for guns, clothing, licenses, and the never-ending gear hawked by sporting goods manufacturers (to say nothing of the cost of processing a deer), the dollars would stretch much farther in a grocery store -- even a gourmet grocery store. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't hunt.

Hunting connects us to the earth that nourishes us. It gives us an appreciation for where our food comes from. It doesn't allow us to forget that food costs life. Hunters are not blinded to the fact that all of us -- including anti-hunters -- hire someone to butcher the chicken and beef that comes bloodlessly wrapped in plastic.

When I was a kid living in Scandia I raised animals for family table fare. To avoid causing someone horror, I'm reluctant to say what kind of animals. Suffice it to say they were cute. Butchering wasn't pretty, but it taught me to appreciate the fact that animals die so we can live.

Why do the critics poison the slugs that eat their flowers, and zap mosquitoes along with non-threatening bug life -- for mere beauty and comfort -- yet not realize that for one species to live others must die? Why do they not understand that all of us kill far more than we eat, whether we hunt or not. The "kill only what you eat" crowd advocates an impossibility.

The real fact is that sport hunting is the reason we have abundant wildlife today. Wherever we allow hunting, game and non-game populations flourish. Without a doubt, hunters make a far greater contribution to conserving wildlife around the world through financial means and volunteer efforts than anyone else. I'm not sure of all the reasons we call hunting a sport, but if it didn't take effort, planning and commitment, it wouldn't be a sport. Hunting is not just killing.

I won't deny the adrenaline rush that hunting can give, but I cringe when I see arm-pumping celebrations on the Outdoor Channel. It's about more than the rush. It includes understanding and preserving the ancient, sacred realities that made us top dog in the food chain.

Eat everything you kill? Not me, and not anyone! So, if you're a hunter, enjoy the season this fall, take your game and don't worry -- you're not the one who is a hypocrite.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pennsylvania's Crime Fighting Deer

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., Sept. 16, 2006.)
When "Bucky" entered the woods,
he wasn't entering his comfort zone.
He was putting himself within a
short reach of the long arm of the law.
Three deer gave the final tip to a Sheriff's Deputy in rural Warren County, Pennsylvania.

The manhunt captivated the entire nation, and local Sheriff's Deputies were in on the beginning and the end of the chase. The final pursuit of Ralph "Bucky" Phillips apparently began in the wee hours on Friday, September 8. A prowler had been reported on the east side of Warren before midnight. A couple of hours later a car was stolen on Cobham Park Road. Two alert deputies gave chase on Scandia Road. The driver ditched the car and used the darkness to evade them.

Phillips was then chased in another stolen car about ten miles north of that location, at or near the intersection of four rural roads and just a few hundred yards from the New York border. When he entered the woods there, he wasn't entering his comfort zone. He was putting himself within a short reach of the long arm of the law.

From where Phillips began fleeing on foot, it's not far through the woods to where he was captured. With a steep rocky hillside on his left, he probably followed the stream down the valley to easier terrain, diverse vegetation and limited choices. Entering Cable Hollow Golf Course to his east would reduce him to a fat goose sitting on a golf course pond. Well-traveled roadways to his west, with law enforcement surrounding him on the ground and in the air, took away every other option.

Early in the evening a Warren County Sheriff's Deputy glimpsed Phillips along a fencerow bordering a field. Police watched the area intently, and a little more than an hour later, evening's waning sunlight brought Phillips one big disadvantage he never expected.

Ironically, he had entered territory that another Sheriff's Deputy happened to know very well -- where he watches three whitetail deer leave a woodlot and cross the field every evening. But this time the deer stopped, then retreated. The deputy is a deer hunter. He knew the deer had a reason for turning back -- the deer knew Phillips was at the fencerow. The deputy picked up his binoculars, picked out the fugitive, and pointed him out to State Troopers saying, "There he is. He's right there."

One New York Trooper said, "I'll go down there if someone will go with me." The deputy said, "Let's go." Within moments a half dozen deputies and a dozen Pennsylvania and New York State Troopers reached the fencerow. Phillips put his hands up. Red dot laser sights on their weapons "lit him up like a Christmas tree." He didn't have a chance. He never did.

This jail escapee had been compared to "The Fugitive" of TV and movie fame, but Ralph Phillips was no Dr. Richard Kimble. And apparently, the rumors about Phillips' outdoor expertise were bogus. Phillips was characterized as an experienced woodsman. A few people were led to believe he had some mystical ability to live off the land. If that's a reason to believe he had any survival skills at all, it's not enough.

It's reasonable to assume he knew squat about living off the land. For 20 of his last 23 years he had been incarcerated, giving him little opportunity to develop outdoor skills. Whatever applicable experience he had was probably next to nothing. He might as well have been from Bahrain for all he knew about survival in the Pennsylvania woods.

By the time he was captured, he had been chased relentlessly for about 18 hours and had been on the lam for over five months. Rather than self-sufficiency, he depended on the aid and comfort of others. Unless someone had packed him a lunch, or he had filched some fruit from Mom Nature's bounty, he was hopelessly hungry. And thirsty. And in no shape to face another night of darkness in the woods.

Threatening statements he was reported to have made -- plus the recent tragic shootings of three New York State Troopers -- gave reason to believe he was committed to killing as many policemen as he could. But when the end came, he had no fight left in him. Hunger and dehydration, as well as exhaustion, took a toll on his depraved intentions and left him completely drained. He was finished.

The largest manhunt in New York State history ended in Akeley, Pennsylvania when a Warren County Sheriff's Deputy noted the reaction of three deer, and deduced from their behavior where Phillips was hiding. Some woodsman "Bucky" was. A doe and her fawns were the key to bagging one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Counting Down the Days

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., Sept. 2, 2006.)
Whether we count the days or not, it’s
important that we make the days count.
At the end of my first successful deer season in 1967, I began counting the days until the next season. Thanks to "leap year," there was an extra day in there. It was bad enough to have to wait 351 long days from the end of one season to the beginning of the next, and adding February 29 didn't help!

Back when I counted the days, the season opener seemed like it was an eternity away. But today, when we’re lucky enough to have many seasons, plenty of opportunities to get into the woods, and too many adult responsibilities, the seasons almost come along too fast and rush by even faster.

I’m thankful (most of the time) that I’ve grown up a little since 1967, and thankful that I don’t have to wait nearly so long. In fact, finding time to get ready for the coming season is a challenge. Goose and dove seasons have already opened. We have a 6-week archery season. We enjoy almost 2 months of turkey hunting opportunities, considering both fall and spring. We can pursue the elusive eastern coyote during winter months (or anytime) with no need for a furtaker’s license.

We can maintain familiarity with our favorite rifle and practice our marksmanship on woodchucks all summer. Plus, we have small game opportunities, and more access to out-of-state hunts than ever before. (And I haven’t even included fishing and camping in the list.) Who has time to count the days?

Getting ready for the season used to mean making sure my gun was sighted in, my knife was sharp, and boots didn't leak. Now it means making sure the lawn stays mowed -- more difficult as the days become so short. Now it means making sure I change oil in my truck, car and garden tractor before winter. Now it means making sure I plan for Christmas shopping with my wife. Now it means putting the garage in some semblance of cleanliness and order.

Now it means practicing with my bow, assembling my handloads, sighting in my rifle, making sure my hunting clothes are in good condition, inspecting other equipment for needed repairs, doing my preseason scouting and the myriad other preparations that are all part of the hunt. And then there are the writing deadlines. Unfortunately, what I want to do competes too often with what I have to do in the more mundane world. Who of us is ever really caught up with adult responsibilities?

Whether we count the days or not, it’s important that we make the days count. It’s too easy to allow our favorite pastime to govern our lives and tempt us into living purely for our own enjoyment. There is more to life than hunting -- and more to living than length of days.

Time is fleeting, and never speeds by more quickly than during hunting season. But don’t let that rob you of living responsibly -- or rob you of gratitude. The responsible hunter keeps hunting in perspective, and keeps his life in balance. It’s hard to do, but we’re better off for it.

He also freely expresses his gratitude for the privilege of living in a country and a state with so rich a hunting heritage. Remember to be thankful for that heritage and for all who have given it to us. And remember that it’s not merely a bequest from some long dead pilgrims. People are sacrificing right now so that we can have these gifts.

We have many people to thank -- in the present as well as the past. When you’re counting the days, planning your hunts and fitting it all into the bigger picture, be thankful for each new day, for your family, and for all those who help make it possible.