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, July 21, 2007

When is a brainstorm more dangerous than a lightning storm?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., July 21, 2007.)
What the bureaucrats at OSHA would like you to believe
is that every loaded cartridge is a bomb, ready to go off.
When it's a brainstorm in the federal bureaucracy. On April 13, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) proposed reclassifying ammunition, gunpowder, and primers as high explosives. Their proposals would have changed the way ammunition and handloading components (powder and primers) can be stored, sold and transported, and would have made it virtually impossible to operate any gun store, firing range, or gunsmith shop, and perhaps even to employ someone in your home.

Apparently no one at OSHA understands how gunpowder functions. Modern smokeless gunpowder is not an explosive. It burns progressively. Kind of like the sparklers people let their kids play with at family picnics. One burning granule lights a few others, and they light a bunch more, until it's all burned up. Burned gunpowder will leave a black smudge – like those little black "snakes" that I burned on the sidewalk when I was a kid.

What the bureaucrats at OSHA believe – and would like you to believe – is that gunpowder is very unstable. And that every loaded cartridge is a bomb ready to go off. They're so frightened of ammunition that they want every store everywhere that sells even a small amount of ammunition to evacuate during any lightning storm. Yep. That's what a brainstorm in the federal bureaucracy would have required.

So, when you're buying your groceries at Wal-Mart and a thunderbumper passes through, the store manager would have to shoo you out the front door, along with all of its employees – because Wal-Mart sells ammunition at its sporting goods counter. Leave your shopping carts behind, folks.

Never mind that lightning is no threat to ammunition. Never has been. Never mind that lightning has never caused the ammunition for sale in any sporting goods store anywhere to explode, or otherwise ignite.

Never mind that the obedient sheep herded into the parking lot during a lightning storm are in a far more dangerous place than they would be if they gathered around the ammunition counter inside the store. Never mind that the new rules will make no one safer. They cannot cause even a minor reduction in the number of explosions of ammo in commercial establishments due to lightning storms because that number is already zero.

OSHA's proposed new rules also would have made it illegal for a sporting goods store that sells firearms to sell ammunition for those firearms inside the same building. Either the guns or the ammo – one of them has gotta go. Maybe OSHA would want Wal-Mart to construct a little shack in the parking lot and sell ammo from there.

The proposed rules would have meant every licensed gunsmith would be breaking the law by having even a handful of loaded rounds in his shop. Every gunsmith would have been prevented from performing many routine functions.

Further, the new OSHA rules would have added burdensome, even impossible requirements for those who handle ammunition in the normal course of business. The simple, everyday example of delivery drivers clearly illustrates this.

A Fed Ex driver could never leave ammunition in his truck unattended. That means he'd be breaking the law if he leaves the ammunition you ordered from Cabelas in his truck while he walks up to my front door with my new hunting boots. Would he have to carry your ammo with him in order to keep from leaving it unattended? If a lightning storm passes through, would he be forced to evacuate the truck?

Actually, the answer to that one is easy. Under the new rules you'd probably no longer be able to order a box of bullets from Cabelas. So if you live out in the boondocks 20 miles from the nearest sporting goods store, you'll have to fill your gas tank and drive 40 miles. But check the forecast before you go. If it calls for lightning, the store might be closed.

Gun owners have dodged a bullet because OSHA has abandoned – for now – its unreasonable proposals.

Keep your ear to the ground on this one, folks. If you're a hunter, or a trap shooter, or a homeowner who owns a firearm, OSHA may return with proposals that will affect your ability to engage in your sport or defend your home. And you can bet your granddaddy's double barrel that someone buried deep in the bureaucracy is trying to think up rules to so tightly control your ammunition as to make your firearms useless.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bob Frye's Deer Wars -- a Review

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., July 7, 2007.)
A definitive history of deer management in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania hunters are at war over deer. On one side of the battle people believe that traditional deer management policies in Pennsylvania have been effective and can continue to be effective. Some hunters want higher doe populations (an end to herd reduction), others want yearling bucks back as legal targets (an end to antler restrictions), and some want both. Some do not accept that too many deer will harm the habitat for themselves and other species.

On the other side of the battle, people believe that managing deer and managing habitat are inseparable, and can succeed only as biologists use scientific management policies. They accept reduced herd numbers, and they want to keep young bucks off limits. Antler restrictions, they believe, are a way to allow most bucks to live beyond their first set of antlers, and provide hunters with the opportunity to hunt more mature deer.

In fairness to hunters, not all of them fall neatly into one or the other category.

And, in fairness to the deer managers who have come up with the current rules, none of them promised an eight-point or better in every thicket.

That, in a nutshell, describes the current conflict. Strong feelings run rampant on both sides. But what many hunters forget (or are unaware of) is that this is only the latest battle in a war over deer management in Pennsylvania that has raged for a hundred years.

Pennsylvania has a rich deer hunting history and tradition. And with the Pennsylvania Game Commission's funding coming primarily from hunting license dollars – maybe because of that fact – the voices of hunters speak loudly in the debate. They always have, since long before the advent of "herd reduction" and "antler restrictions" in 2002.

Part of the problem is that in the space of a century the Keystone State changed dramatically away from a rural culture. During that time the deer herd went from being too small to being too large for a shrinking habitat. Yet deer seasons hardly changed as more roads were built, cities and towns expanded, and suburban farms became housing developments while the human population doubled.

A new book called Deer Wars by Bob Frye, Outdoor Editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is as close to a definitive history of deer and the conflict over deer management in Pennsylvania as you will find.

He covers the era of market hunting... to the days when the forests were clear cut... to the time when a deer track was rare... through the various attempts to repopulate the state with deer... to the arguments about protecting does... right up to our current controversy. It's all in this book.

Through the decades, the voices of conservationists and biologists including Aldo Leopold, Richard Gerstell, Roger Latham and others recognized that because the forests changed, deer hunting policies needed also to change.

Most hunters don't realize that as early as 1935, Game Commission biologists were advocating a decrease in the deer population to improve both the deer and the habitat. To the hunters themselves, however, shooting does was unpopular idea. Doe season followed an on-again, off-again pattern, and the herd continued to increase as the battle between tradition and science waged on.

Anyone joining the debate about deer management in Pennsylvania should read this book before speaking – it's that important. Read it and you'll understand more about Gary Alt, the biologist who had more to do with bringing us to where we are today than anyone else. Read it and you'll gain a better grasp on the relationship between a healthy habitat and a healthy deer herd. Read it and you'll learn enough to speak with confidence backed up by knowledge.

Frye's book is thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and an easy read. Whether you're a hunter, an anti-hunter, a farmer, a forest manager, a politician, a biologist, an environmentalist, or just an ordinary person who wants to understand what's happening with deer management in Pennsylvania, read Deer Wars: Science, Tradition, And the Battle over Managing Whitetails in Pennsylvania by Bob Frye. It's available from www.Amazon.com at a discount.