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.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Steve Sorensen Takes Two Outdoor Writer Awards

Steve Sorensen (right) receiving the "Wild Turkey Award" from Joe Gordon, awards chairman of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Sorensen also won the "Whitetail Management Award."

Outdoor Writer A Double Winner
Steve Sorensen, outdoor columnist for the Warren Times Observer, the Forest Press, and the Brookville Mirror, won two awards for his writing at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association Conference on May 19. Sorensen received the Wild Turkey Award for an article called "Four Simple Rules Can Make Bagging Your Springtime Tom Like Falling Off A Log." He won the Whitetail Management Award for "The Two Sides of Quality Deer Management." Both articles appeared in NWPA Outdoors, a magazine published in Erie that serves northwestern Pennsylvania.

The awards were sponsored, respectively, by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and Trupe's Quality Hunting and Wildlife Management of Shinglehouse, PA.

Sorensen's newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter won the 2006 POWA award for "Best Newspaper Column." He is the editor of NWPA Outdoors, freelances for other magazines, and serves as pastor of Pine Grove Christian Fellowship in Russell, PA.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

This Owl Is Not a Hooter

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 26, 2007.)

Lots of mice and voles find their life's purpose
inside the stomach of a young barn owl.

Maybe it's because we consider owls "wise," or maybe it's because they're silent and powerful, but we humans think we have a close affinity with owls. We do, but maybe not because they're wise or powerful. Maybe it's because they need us and we need them.

I recently had the privilege of learning about one species of owl that most of us have heard about, but few of us have seen. The barn owl (not to be confused with the barred owl) is a "species of concern" in Pennsylvania, and in some states is "endangered." Their numbers are in decline, but research studies are focusing on bringing them back.

Barn owls, as the name suggests, commonly live in barns. Their scientific name is "tyto alba," or white owl, thanks to its pale plumage. Because of its pallid coloration and wavering flight pattern, some people call it the ghost owl. But it's not a hooter. Instead of a spooky "whooo" sound, it makes a raspy screeching noise. They've also been called "monkey face owls" because of the flat, dished, heart-shaped face. It nests in cavities, so a better common name might be "cavity owl," although no one seems to call it that.

Oddly, their ears are asymmetrical. Though not visible, one ear is higher than the other, enabling them to better pinpoint sounds from below as they seek their prey.

Compared to one of its own natural predators, the great horned owl, the barn owl is small. The great horned owl is triple the weight of the barn owl, and the barn owl is no match for it's heavy talons.

Besides predation, one of the big reasons its numbers are declining is because cavities in which barn owls can set up housekeeping are becoming rare. Since long before 1789 when they were first scientifically classified, they've benefited from a close relationship with man, nesting in man-made structures that aren't completely weather-tight. They also nest in dead and decaying trees, so careless forest practices can be a threat to these owls. When hollow trees are cut down, barn owls and other critters lose their home sites.

Old barns are particularly well suited to their needs, because barns host the mice and voles they feed on. Barns also offer plenty of nearby grassland habitat that attracts rodents. Inside a barn, a barn owl will often nest on a hay bale, using its pellets for nesting material. The pellets are the indigestible parts of its prey – tiny bones and fur – regurgitated to provide a soft bed for its eggs.

As old, neglected barns become more decrepit and disappear from the landscape, builders of modern, more tightly constructed barns are encouraged to provide openings on the east side of new barns, away from the prevailing weather patterns, to encourage these handsome owls to take up residence.

In return for shelter, the barn owl keeps the farm's rodent population down, enabling farmers to avoid using poisons. Their chicks eat as many as five rodents per day, and large broods (up to a dozen fledglings) mean lots of mice and voles find their life's purpose inside the stomach of a young barn owl.

To further help the barn owl, some people install structures in trees. You can make a good nesting site by hoisting a 55-gallon drum or a plastic barrel high into a tree, but they're difficult to stabilize. Big wooden boxes make good birdhouses for these big raptors.

If you're inclined to help barn owls in this way, construct your nesting box so the opening faces east and it will be more attractive to the intended tenant. And be sure to build it away from dense woods where the great horned owl lives, and near open fields where plenty of mice and voles will ring their dinner bell.

People who live an outdoor lifestyle -- hunters, hikers, loggers, farmers and others -- should respect and appreciate this beautiful bird, be alert to its needs, and even support programs of study and reintroduction. One program is operated by the Moraine Preservation Fund (www.MorainePreservationFund.org), which needs volunteers to inventory farms for potential release sites, build nesting boxes, and raise mice to feed owls in the study program.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Annual Bird Flu Epidemic

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., May 12, 2007.)
The most obvious symptom is an extreme obsession with fashion.
"Honey, do you think this camouflage is too green
for early May? Is it too brown for late May?"
An especially virulent strain of bird flu infects Pennsylvanians every May, and it targets a specific group. Most people are immune to this strain, but I’m in the "at risk" population.

Spouses should watch for a number of sure symptoms. Victims have a strong desire to follow Ben Franklin's dictum "early to bed, early to rise," with an inclination to arrive late at work or miss work altogether. They try to steer every conversation around to the fact that Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national bird.

Early warning signs include a credit card maxed out on the Cabelas catalog in February or March, and practicing turkey calls not just alone in the car, in the basement, or on the back porch, but wherever it annoys as many people as possible.

In every case, the sickness causes men to take their eyes off the road while driving, stare into fields, and mutter something about "strutters." The disease itself is not deadly but it can involve a fatality when the victim sets the TV to the Outdoor Channel and then kills the remote control.

Perhaps the most obvious symptom is an extreme obsession with fashion. "Honey, do you think this camouflage it too green for early May? Is it too brown for late May?"

By mid May it exhibits itself as excessive worrying about whether someone has stumbled onto the gobbler the victim has been patterning for two weeks.

The effect on families can be devastating. In one family, the husband thinks the gobbler he's hunting has actually patterned his wife. She isn't a hunter but she sees the turkey more often than her husband sees it – nearly every day when she drives to work.

The poor man believes the turkey has a "thing" for his wife. We hear the warnings about hunters illegally stalking turkeys rather than calling them legally, and we hear warnings about men stalking women. In fact, I just heard a report on TV about a big problem on college campuses where college boys stalk co-eds. But no one ever says anything about gobblers stalking our wives.

Hey, it could happen! We live in serious and dangerous times. Every adult gobbler carries weapons, and they know how to use them. Those sharp spurs could maim a woman and render her a scarred and pale reflection of her natural beauty. And who knows what the psychological damage might be to her husband for failing to tag that mentally unstable bird?

If a gobbler suspiciously seems to be crossing paths with your wife, go straight to the county courthouse and obtain an order of protection – to keep that gobbler away from her. And if people mock you (especially a brother-in-law), tell them that if they were decent human beings (let alone kinfolk) they would sympathize with you and your wife – especially your wife, for goodness sake! Think how much she's suffering – and she thinks her husband's chirping on a turkey call all the time is bad. She doesn't know the half!

Her poults, er, little ones are making shrill "kee-kee" sounds when they get excited or can't find mommy, and their shins are beginning to look pink and scaly. The teenagers are making flydown cackles when they jump down from their bunk beds at daylight.

Sadly, unsympathetic wives cluck, putt and even yelp about the honey-do list not getting any attention during the month of May while their husbands suffer with this terrible affliction.

The only cure is for the illness to run its course. By the end of May most symptoms will be gone, and several full nights of sleep will make the cure almost complete. However, residual effects can linger all summer as the victim continues to avoid the honey-do list, and his wife continues to cluck and yelp about it.

It's just a good thing Ben Franklin didn't get his way and make the wild turkey our national bird, or we'd all have this flu and nothing would ever get done.
(A shout-out to members of the message board at www.HuntingPA.com, particularly Trout2003, for the diagnosis of this pernicious and merciless malady.)