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, November 24, 2007

At Last -- Opening Day

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Nov. 24, 2007.)
I’ll be back to “sivilization” all too soon.
Opening day. Nothing is like it. It holds the anticipation of Christmas morning, the exhilaration of a new car, and the excitement of a championship game. It almost feels like we should have a locker room pep talk. But no one needs it. Or we give it to ourselves.

It’s not the same on the eve of the archery opener, or the early muzzleloading week, or spring gobbler season. Deer season is different. I can’t explain it.

On the Sunday night after Thanksgiving almost a million hunters experience it. Ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve had trouble sleeping on that night. Mom said to get to bed early, but it was useless. I’d just lie awake. Still do.

No matter what time I go to bed, I won’t go to sleep before 1:00 AM. A variety of scenarios unfold in my mind. Where am I planning to go? What’s my back-up location? What will the wind be like? Will it rain? Will it snow? Is all my gear ready? Have I forgotten anything?

Rifle has been sighted in. Ammo is ready. Knife is sharpened. Clothing is washed and aired out. Lunch, snacks and thermos are ready. Scouting is over. It’s game time.

Depending on where I plan to go, my alarm rings between 3:30 and 4:30. I want my morning preparation to be unhurried. I go outside to get the Times Observer. No matter how early the hour, the newspaper is already here. The paper carrier must have deer hunting rituals, too.

Back in 1979 I was sitting in a pediatrician’s waiting room at an appointment for my newborn daughter, reading a recent copy of Sports Illustrated. It featured an article on Pennsylvania’s opening day of deer season. The writer said it’s the single biggest participatory sporting event anywhere. It brings out more people to engage in the same sport at the same time than any other sporting event in the world.

People from outside Pennsylvania don’t understand it. Neither do a good many non-hunters inside Pennsylvania. Deer are big business here. Schools are closed. Businesses run skeleton crews. Diners, hotels, filling stations, and lots of other establishments ring up the healthiest sales of the year. Kids home from college put off returning until they’ve hunted at least half the day.

Pennsylvanians are serious about their deer hunting, so it’s no wonder they have strong feelings about the state’s deer management policies. Opinions aren’t always driven by science, and one hunter’s common sense views often conflict with another’s. But inside every orange-hatted head are firmly held convictions.

Deer hunting is an egalitarian sport. Always has been. Everyone can get into the act, everyone has a stake, everyone can succeed, everyone has something to say, and everyone has treasured memories.

Most hunters killed their first buck as a youth. It was a rite of passage, a milestone infused with the emotions of family camaraderie. That buck initiates the hunter into the world’s biggest and closest knit fraternity -- the international brotherhood of deer hunters.

Amidst the excitement and anticipation, it’s easy to misplace your priorities. Getting a buck isn’t the most important thing in the world. As you get older, the antlers, the deer heads, the photographs -- they’re symbols of something greater. They take me where I can find solitude. Where I can think. Where I can breathe free. Where I can actually interact with truly wild animals. Where I can appreciate what no one ever finds in a shopping mall, under a Christmas tree, or inside the walls of civilization.

On opening day, more than any other, I feel like that quintessentially American character Huck Finn. “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.” But there’s one difference between Huck and me. I’ll be back to “sivilization” all too soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bigfoot? Or Richard Nixon?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Nov. 10, 2007.)
What would a teenage Bigfoot be doing
cavorting with a couple of bear cubs?
The answer is obvious.
Yup, it’s weird. The idea that “Bigfoot” is alive and well in the Allegheny National Forest has been gaining credibility, thanks to a photograph from a hunter’s trail camera.

Part of me wants to believe it. Confirming the existence of a large primate in our local area would be very cool indeed. It could give our economy a huge boost. But part of me thinks it’s kooky.

The photograph exists. And lots of amateur cryptozoologists think the camera has captured a photo of a real live Bigfoot. What’s a “cryptozoologist”? The word comes from the word “crypto” -- which means “hidden” (as in the word “cryptic”), and “zoologist,” a person who studies animals.

The trail camera, triggered by movement in its field of view, actually took a sequence of at least three photos somewhere in the general vicinity of Ridgway, PA on the night of September 16, 2007. The three photographs are time-stamped: 20:04:23, 20:32:05, and 20:32:41. That means more than 27 minutes elapsed between the first and second, and only 36 seconds between the second and third.

That raises a number of questions. Why the significant time period between the first and second photographs? Are there other photographs in that 27-minute gap that were not made public? Do those photographs offer any clarification? Or is that time period as empty as the 18-minute gap in the famed Watergate tape?

The first photograph clearly shows two bear cubs. One is in front of a tree where the alleged Bigfoot shows up in the second and third photos. The second and third photos show “Bigfoot” in front of the tree and a black form, presumably one of the cubs, at a mineral block positioned to attract deer to the camera. “Bigfoot” is in a bit of a contorted posture in the third photo, which adds to the mystery.

With the presence of two black bear cubs, I have to ask, “Where’s Momma?” Why would a Bigfoot be in the same photo as a bear cub, without the mother bear being troubled about it? And why would the bear cubs not seem in any hurry to leave? Why didn’t they at least climb a tree?

Some have suggested that this is a juvenile Bigfoot. What would a teenage Bigfoot be doing cavorting with a couple of bear cubs? The answer is obvious. Based on the evidence I see, here’s my theory:

The photographs show a teenage Bigfoot hired to baby-sit a couple of bear cubs while Momma is out carousing, probably dumpster diving on Boot Jack Hill just south of Ridgway. Why is the Bigfoot in a contorted posture? It’s a good babysitter -- it’s probably trying to engage the little ones in a game. I think they're playing "Twister". I’m surprised no one has figured this out!

Seriously, I’m no cryptozoologist, not even an amateur one, but I doubt that Bigfoot exists -- especially in the Allegheny National Forest. I say the animal in question is the mother bear. I’d like it to be Bigfoot, but there’s probably just as much chance that a remnant colony of Seneca Indians is living in a longhouse in some remote part of the Allegheny National Forest.

Why not go with the simplest explanation, the one that seems most likely, based on whatever scant evidence there is?

If I was the hunter who owns the photos, and I really believed it was Bigfoot, I’d get a team of scientists to scour that spot for tracks, hair, droppings -- any material bearing DNA evidence. And I’d go beyond the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society. (Yes, that actually exists.) I’d get the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization to ante up the money to do DNA analysis. That’s what they’re about.

I’m not mocking Bigfoot believers. My questions are legitimate. I hope Bigfoot exists. Rumors have abounded for centuries, and the natural world has many undiscovered secrets.

I’m only wondering why Bigfoot, if he exists in Pennsylvania, has never left any clear tracks, has never been hit by a car, has never been shot by a hunter in mistake for a bear, has never shown up in a clear photograph, or has never made a conclusive appearance outside the pages of a supermarket tabloid.

If I’m wrong, then maybe Richard Nixon had something to do with that 27-minute gap.