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Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails"

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 23, 2008.)

If you’re willing to get out of your stand and
try a method that will make you a better woodsman,
a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter,
this book has arrived at the right time.

Since Teddy Roosevelt’s day, outdoor writers haven’t written much on the subject of still-hunting. In fact, it was way back in 1882 that Teddy’s friend Theodore S. Van Dyke wrote The Still-Hunter, which remains the classic work on the subject.

Still-hunting fell out of favor during the years of high deer populations. Most of the old-timers who mastered the method are now gone. My old friend Leroy was one; he knew the woods like he knew his living room. My grandfather was another. And when my dad had younger legs he was pretty good at it, too.

Today, with more hunters competing for the prize – meat for the freezer and antlers for the wall – still-hunting has given way to stand hunting. Times have changed from a day when no one had a tree stand, to a day when most hunters have more than one.

If you’re a stand hunter, your aim is to find a white-hot deer trail or gain access to a nutritious food plot. Find them and your odds go way up. Most rifle hunters settle into a stand that overlooks an escape trail, hoping that a buck will go by like the one they shot last year or the year before. Die-hard archery hunters use a similar strategy, but look for trails where deer will be relaxed, or they hunt over cultivated food plots if possible.

But, if you’re a hunter who doesn’t have the time to scout for the trails, or the land on which to plant high quality clover, the method that makes the most sense might be still-hunting.

The hunters who traditionally practice still-hunting are guys who live in areas with big woods and low deer populations, boots-on-the-ground-hunters like Dick Bernier of Maine, the Benoit family of New Hampshire – hunters who can truly be called woodsmen. Another is central New York’s Bill Vaznis.

Vaznis’s new book on the topic, Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails (Stackpole Books, 2007), will likely give a boost to this time-tested method because it shows up when most hunters are getting frustrated with stand hunting. If you’re willing to get out of your stand and try a method that will make you a better woodsman, a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter, this book has arrived at the right time.

Few methods of deer hunting are more satisfying than still-hunting. The still-hunter matches wits with a wary game animal in his own environment. He uses skills that many people associate with Native Americans, but they’re skills that any committed hunter can learn.

Vaznis says that still-hunting works for rifle hunters and bow hunters alike, and his book is a detailed manual that aims to teach the method to both. While it’s true that hunting can’t be learned from a book, this book can definitely shorten the learning curve.

The effective still-hunter doesn’t blunder through the woods hoping to intercept an unlucky buck. He sneaks along, taking advantage of every feature of the terrain, every wind current, every feeding and bedding area, and every skill including calling. Vaznis even has a chapter on how to wear blaze orange effectively.

He destroys a number of myths that people associate with still-hunting, arguing that you don’t have to be absolutely silent, that you don’t always move slowly, that you don’t get bored when still-hunting, and that still-hunters actually see more deer.

Lots of hunting books contain stories that you’re not sure you can believe. The stories and examples in this book have the ring of truth. That’s one feature that makes it such an excellent how-to manual. And they’re backed up with plenty of great color photos.

I spent years hunting from stands before I gained confidence that I could become a good still-hunter. That confidence would have come much sooner if I had Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails a long time ago. Now that I have it, I’m making a regular habit of studying its contents. My advice is that you do that same, because the day will come when the art of still-hunting will rescue your season.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

“The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting”

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 9, 2008.)

Hunters are the key piece
to the wildlife management puzzle.

A generation ago, a man would take his lever action out the back door and provide his family with a supply of healthy meat. Celebrating the event wasn’t odd or unusual. It was normal and natural, as it had been for thousands upon thousands of years.

Today, that same activity is not only frowned upon in many segments of our society, but the man who engages in it is broadly mischaracterized and aggressively opposed.

What has changed? Obviously, what has changed is the attitude of modern man. (Of course, I also mean “woman.”) Man has insulated himself from the necessity of death as an instrument to preserving his own life. Maybe he’s more comfortable if he pretends he’s not involved.

He is involved, but has found a way to avoid acknowledging it. In an industrialized society, it’s easy. Just hire others to do your killing.

How? We pay a chain of people whose end products are air-tight, virtually bloodless containers of beef, chicken, pork and fish conveniently presented when we grab our groceries. We employ lawn-care specialists who apply chemicals to our lawns to eliminate the nasty bugs that chew up the landscape. We use exterminators to rid ourselves of insects that bite us and rodents that bite our stuff.

And through our state game agencies we engage hunters to kill the animals that ravage the forest if they become overpopulated, crash into our cars while we’re humming along at 65, destroy millions of dollars in agricultural crops, and eat our expensive shrubbery.

While hunters provide many benefits, they are anathema to lots of people – at best, a necessary evil.

But hunters are good. Very good. A new book details the many benefits hunters bring to our society. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting by Frank Miniter (published by Regnery Press), spells it out.

Ever wonder why alligators are killing and injuring more people than ever before? Or why bear and cougar attacks are on the rise? It’s simple, and Miniter explains it.

When these animals are not hunted, they lose their fear of man and they see man as prey. When we develop the land that was once habitat for these animals, we push them into closer and more frequent contact with people. Hunters serve society by keeping these animal populations in balance with their available habitat, and with human activity.

Miniter says that hunters are the real conservationists. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, but sport hunting never endangers animal populations; it keeps them stable and healthy.

And, hunting benefits more than just game species. Without deer hunting, songbird populations would plummet. What’s the connection? Miniter gives example after example. Ban hunting and plant diversity suffers, soil erosion increases, and habitat disappears.

Miniter says that hunters pour more money into conservation than anyone on the planet, including “environmentalists,” and he offers proof. Miniter claims that hunters have saved many species from extinction, and he provides the evidence. Miniter shows how hunters even play a role in keeping our air transportation system safe.

I discovered how serious that issue is last spring. As I sat beside a US Airways pilot on a flight to Alaska, he told me that colliding with animals is one of the greatest dangers during take-offs and landings. He said that few pilots haven’t hit a deer or a goose.

Think it’s bad when you hit one with your car? When they are sucked into the engine or go through the windshield of an aircraft, they cause millions of dollars in damage. One goose can crash a plane and kill a whole flock of people.

I’ll say it again. Hunters are good, and we need them. They are the key piece to the wildlife management puzzle. Don’t get your information about wildlife management from Animal Planet and the Disney Channel, where wild animals stay hermetically sealed behind the TV screen. Get it from the real world. A good place to start is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting by Frank Miniter. Read it, and support your local hunters by knowing the truth.