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, May 31, 2008

A Great One Is Gone: Dave Titus, 1910 – 2008

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 31, 2008.)

We will do well never to forget him.

He’s now resting where he was born, almost 98 years ago.

In the cemetery at Barnes, PA lies a man who holds a historic place in the annals of Pennsylvania Game Commission history. Dave Titus stood tall from the time he entered the Game Commission’s first formal training class for game protectors in 1936, until he was its last surviving member. His 6’4” frame is only one reason.

To know Dave Titus was to recognize him as a man of character. That has been evident since at least 1930 when prominent Sheffield, PA citizen Byron Horton invited the 20-year-old Titus to work for him on the family homestead in Barnes. He quickly realized that Dave had talent that was needed far beyond the Horton estate.

Horton helped Dave discover his calling by pushing him to compete for one of 35 seats in Pennsylvania’s first training school for game protectors near Brockway. Forever after, Titus spoke of Byron Horton with deep gratitude and admiration.

The depression years were a difficult time to launch a career in game law enforcement. In a proud nation with few social welfare programs, many people felt their hard scrabble existence justified breaking game laws with impunity. They regarded game protectors as a nuisance, and often with contempt. They didn’t understand that the job included research, conservation and education.

Enforcement was by far the most difficult part of his job, not because he faced the everyday reality that someone might pull a gun on him, but because he often felt compassion for the people he arrested.

Being a friend of Dave Titus didn’t mean he would overlook your infraction. It meant that he would arrest you, and you’d still remain friends. He was always fair, and just.

Even the outlaw element grew to respect him. I suspect that today, the men Dave arrested who are still around would speak with pride about being arrested by the best. In his final years, Dave told me he could still remember every person he ever issued a citation to. His remarkable life was graced with an accurate memory.

This long and lanky man was also long on humility. He was not one to brandish his badge and take a hard-nosed authoritarian approach to every incident. He saw people as individuals and his insightful judgment was an enormous asset. When the long arm of Dave Titus reached out to collar a person, it was met with respect.

A call to military service interrupted his career from 1941 to 1946. His training with the Game Commission made him a natural fit in the military police. He modeled leadership and sacrifice, and ended up a captain.

Throughout his years of service as a game protector Dave almost completely sacrificed his own desire to hunt. “Before I went with the Game Commission, my brothers and I would get together and plan. That was as enjoyable as the day that followed. But as a game protector, if I came across a nice buck and would shoot that buck, I wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of it because I didn’t plan for that buck. And I never felt it would be right to compete with the hunters. I knew where the game was, including some big bucks, but during all the years I served I never once shot a deer, a turkey, a ringneck or a rabbit.”

In fact, Dave didn’t shoot his first turkey until the fall of 1972, soon after his retirement. Fittingly, it happened near Barnes in Warren County, the place where he grew up.

Dave Donachy, who now serves in the post Titus held, has always considered him an invaluable role model. Titus once confided in Donachy that he wished he had been a better game protector. Donachy says it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job, making greater sacrifices, or serving with deeper dedication.

Titus told me a few years ago that the training the first Game Commission school offered was solid, but added, “We were breaking new ground, and there were few role models.”

Thankfully, that’s no longer true. Dave Titus became a role model for many. He’s gone now, but we will do well never to forget him.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Press Release: Sorensen Wins Three Outdoor Writer Awards

President Ron Tussel (left) of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association presents Steve Sorensen with three awards for "Excellence in Craft."

Outdoor writer Steve Sorensen picked up three awards for “Excellence in Craft” on May 17 at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association conference in Allentown, PA. He won “Best Newspaper Column” with a piece entitled “At Last – Opening Day,” published in the Warren Times Observer, the Forest Press, and the Brookville Mirror.

He also won the “Whitetail Management Award” for an article in the July-August 2007 issue of NWPA Outdoors named “Are Antler Restrictions Working in Northwest PA?” His third award was the "Pennsylvania Deer Award" for an article in Awesome Whitetails (a special issue of North American Whitetail) entitled “The 12,000 Mile Obsession,” about a buck killed in Forest County, PA that qualified for the Boone & Crockett record book.

The annual POWA Craft Awards program honors writing, artwork and photography in several categories. Each award is judged by a different panel of judges, all independent of the POWA. “Best Newspaper Column” is sponsored by Winchester, the “Whitetail Management Award” is sponsored by Trupe's Quality Hunting and Wildlife Management of Shinglehouse, PA., and the “Pennsylvania Deer Award” is sponsored by the PA Deer Association.

POWA is the largest state outdoor writers’ organization in the nation. Sorensen has won the POWA award for "Best Newspaper Column" two of the last three years, and the Whitetail Management Award for the second consecutive year. He lives in Russell, PA, serves as pastor of Pine Grove Christian Fellowship, speaks frequently at sportsmen's banquets, and writes for a variety of regional and national magazines.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The saddest hunting story of the year

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, May 17, 2008.)

A distraught family will never recover
from a sorrow that could have been prevented.

This column may be difficult to read. A few weeks ago a Minnesota hunter made the worst mistake of his life. Thinking he saw a turkey, he shot his little boy.

Some will see this tragedy as a reason to pile on the anti-hunting bandwagon, and blame guns, hunting, and even rural American culture. But several facts have emerged that show this mistake apparently followed a series of other mistakes and choices that compound the sadness and grief of a distraught family that will never recover from a sorrow that could have been prevented.

Here’s the story. A hunter, with his 8-year-old boy accompanying him, saw some turkeys in a field and hoped to call them in for a shot. He told the boy to stay put while he moved around the field.

As the father called to the turkeys, they called back and he believed they were approaching. He heard a sound, and he saw something rise up. Seeing the roundish shape and thinking it was the tail fan of a turkey, he fired the ill-fated shot. It was his son, dressed in camouflage with a hood over his head. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The mistakes are several. One mistake many will accuse the man of is not a mistake at all, nor is it illegal. It’s natural and normal for parents to take kids along when pursuing their interests. People do it all the time, and hunting is no different in that respect than sledding, fishing, or playing baseball. All are activities where tragedies have happened, yet no one suggests kids shouldn’t enjoy these activities with their parents in appropriate ways.

But the mistakes began before that. First, the dad wasn’t a legally licensed hunter. He had won a lottery entitling him to purchase a turkey permit under the Minnesota system, but failed to make the purchase.

Second, the man was apparently trespassing. The property owner had not given permission for the man to hunt there.

It gets worse. A breath test administered at the scene showed that the man had alcohol in his system. A urine test administered a few hours later confirmed it, and also showed the presence of marijuana. His truck contained several containers of beer, (most of them opened), along with a marijuana pipe. (These matters were not included in the criminal charges.)

Yet, the man made some other basic common-sense errors that led to this tragedy. One was in telling the youngster to stay put. Who can expect an 8-year-old to remain alone when the very reason for the outing is to be with his daddy? The boy should have been within arm’s reach at all times, both for the boy’s safety and so that the two could share the experience.

Another mistake was in shooting at a shape. Every spring turkey hunter knows that identifying your target is basic to the hunt. Before pulling the trigger, the hunter must see the turkey’s beard. Plenty of gobblers are called into shotgun range where the hunter sees a big, round tail fan, and the red, white and blue head of a strutting gobbler. That’s what I saw the other day but I didn’t shoot -- because without seeing a turkey’s beard, you don’t pull the trigger.

Thus far this year we can be thankful Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season has been unmarked by tragedy. That’s especially good news because the state Game Commission recently removed the regulation requiring turkey hunters to wear fluorescent orange, a regulation that did not prove to reduce turkey hunting accidents.

Like most other sporting activities, turkey hunting is safe. It’s safer when hunters understand that the only blood alcohol content that should be tolerated is zero. It’s safer when hunters always know where their companions are. It’s safer when the hunter positively identifies his target. It’s safer when the hunter obeys all laws and regulations. It’s safer when hunters use common sense. And it’s safer when hunters commit to never taking a risk. No turkey is worth it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Turkey Hunting – And So Much More

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, May 3, 2008.)
Some experiences are virtually
impossible to acquire except while turkey hunting.
The serious turkey hunter is a paradox. On the one hand, he’s a relic. In the words of the Merle Haggard song, he’s "a man from another time" -- a time when only a few hunters pursued wild butterballs. Back then turkeys weren’t taken seriously by many, and consequently didn’t get much pressure.

On the other hand, the turkey hunter is also a man from our time. And of course, today the hunter might be a woman. Either way, today’s turkey hunter is for sure an anomaly in a genteel, over-civilized world influenced more by legends of the urban kind than the campfire kind.

A hundred years ago market hunting had reduced wild turkey numbers to the point where they thrived only in isolated pockets, mostly in the southeastern United States.

Today turkey hunting has hit its heyday, and wily longbeards continue to survive all across the country, even though they get more pressure from expert hunters than any bootlegger ever did from snooping federal revenuers.

Yesterday turkey hunting was a pastime undertaken by loners and lovers of the sunrise. Those old-timers had an uncanny knack for bringing home this intriguing gamebird with regularity -- and an uncommon appreciation for the gifts that come with each rising sun.

Today turkey hunting is a nationwide passion among sportsmen, and turkey populations thrive. Today’s hunters treasure the same gifts yesterday’s hunters did, whether or not they attach a harvest tag to the leg of a gobbler.

Those gifts are one of the best parts of turkey hunting. Contrary to what non-hunters and anti-hunters may think, hunting is not just a blood sport. It’s also an art sport. It’s the joy of seeing each new day replicate the one before, but with something unique that makes it a new work of art freshly sculpted by our Creator.

The turkey hunter especially, an eyewitness to a thousand sunrises, has eyes to see God’s handiwork animated and interacting in ways few others are ever likely to see first hand. Disneyworld can’t compare.

The turkey hunter witnesses innumerable glories of the morning – greater treasures than he would have by lugging a longbeard home to show his friends. A close encounter with a black bear becomes part of the story. An owl flits silently by, wingtips just a foot from the hunter’s face. A bobcat spoils the hunt when the hunter is reeling in a gobbler as if on a string.

The turkey can be killed another day. Or not. It doesn’t matter, because some experiences are virtually impossible to acquire except while turkey hunting. The hunter has seen what others see only on their television sets. And he hasn’t merely seen it. He has participated in nature’s drama in a way that the non-hunter won’t and the anti-hunter can’t.

In the company of other turkey hunters, a single offhand reference to any unusual incident will prompt a dozen unique stories that won’t get stale with any number of tellings. Maybe you have to be a turkey hunter to understand.

The turkey hunter is out to do more than fill a tag. His hunt can be abundantly successful and his satisfaction real without ever pulling the trigger. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether he kills a turkey. Some days he’s thankful he didn’t. He’s just glad to be out there, participating in the sights, the smells, the sounds of the springtime turkey woods.

Yes, the turkey hunter is a paradox, and more. He’s a contrarian. He’s been out of bed for hours when others are hitting snooze buttons. He shuns the light when walking in woodland darkness where others measure their comfort in candlepower.

This turkey hunter, this relic in the modern world, eats, sleeps and breathes turkeys. He climbs hills and wades streams and marches for miles and sacrifices sleep – all to get within earshot of the booming gobble of the wild turkey. In accomplishing that, he accomplishes so much more.