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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dem Bones, Dem Earrings

Steve Sorensen (This marks The Everyday Hunter's 100th newspaper column.)
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 29, 2008.)

Bones are interesting. Bones get people’s attention.

“What the heck is that thing?” That’s just one of the exclamations people make when they see Cheyenne Tussel’s handcrafted jewelry. They also say positive things — “It’s beautiful!” Negative things — “It’s gross!” And neutral things — “It’s unique!”

What are they talking about? Bones — as in, “ankle bone connected to da… ear lobe.”

Man has always had a fascination with bones. Bones are cool. Bones are interesting. Bones get people’s attention.

Cheyenne is eleven years old, and bones got her attention. An enterprising young lady, Cheyenne attends a Montessori school in New York State. (Montessori schools seek to foster creative and self-motivated students.)

We all know that dry bones can’t live again (except for the story in Ezekiel 37:1-14), but this creative young lady has found a way to give bones a life after the death of the critters they belonged to.

Cheyenne’s father Ron is a hunter and trapper, and he’s been taking Cheyenne out on his trap line since she could walk. Hundreds of excursions into the wild nurtured Cheyenne’s appreciation for nature, and did something we don’t expect a connection with nature to do. These walks in the woods created an eleven year old entrepreneur who makes the bones of various animals into some of the most interesting jewelry pieces you’ll find.

I met Cheyenne at the fall Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers conference. She attended with her father, and she showed me some impressive pieces — including a pendant made from the jawbone of a muskrat, and a pair of earrings made from the canine teeth of a raccoon.

Cheyenne started out making jewelry with beads and wire. But she didn’t want to make what others were making, so she started using what few others might think of — bones. And you thought conserving and using every animal part possible was only a Native American ethic.

Her whole family is involved in the outdoor lifestyle. Trapping is an activity that especially fascinates her, and it supplies her with lots of material. She has thought of ways to use so many things, from teeth to turtle shells.

Of course, bones don’t come all nice and white, clean of any flesh. She has to clean them herself. Sometimes she boils them. Sometimes she places them on an anthill. Ants do very good and very thorough work while dining on animal flesh, so nothing is wasted.

After the bones are clean, she washes them and soaks them in peroxide to whiten them. Then, they become rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pendants.

She has used muskrats, coyotes, turtles, pheasants, deer, raccoons, plus beavers, bears, turkeys and other animals.

Besides bones, she sometimes uses claws, antlers, feathers and hair. And sometimes she has to cut or carve larger pieces to make smaller ones.

Other adornments can also be added. She sometimes paints the bones, and plans to begin adding scrimshaw artwork. Soon, she hopes to have a website, and maybe a brochure.

Cheyenne is a busy young lady, so her jewelry is limited by that. If you want a piece, you can email her father at RonTussel@ltis.net. She welcomes your suggestions, or you may ask what she currently has for sale at various price points. Prices range from $10 to $100, depending on the rarity of the bone, the materials used with the bone, and the difficulty of fashioning the bone into an attractive piece.

Ultimately, Cheyenne wants to earn a degree from a good college, and continue being creative in a successful career, and in raising a family. Until then, she’ll be bringing bones to life.

Me? What do I really think? I think I have the perfect gift idea for my medical student daughter, so you can count me on the side of those who say they’re beautiful.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why 20% of the hunters take 80% of the game

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 15, 2008.)

They don’t hunt a spot just because they always have,
or because they’re familiar with it,
or because it’s convenient.

It’s been said that 20% of the hunters harvest 80% of the game.

That’s one application of a rule of thumb known as the Pareto principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who noted that 20% of the people own 80% of the wealth.

The rule is so pervasive that it extends even to the most commonplace issues. We probably wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. We likely devote about 20% of our driving to 80% of the places we go. Even in volunteerism, 20% of the members do 80% of the volunteer work in churches, sportsman’s associations, conservation organizations, and civic clubs.

The 80-20 ratio is merely shorthand for a general principle that seems to be at work virtually everywhere. Don’t get hung up on the numbers -- they express only an approximation and they measure different things, so they don’t need to add up to 100%. It might also be true that 40% of the hunters take 90% of the game.

Some might think that poachers make up a big part of the 20% who take 80% of the game. Those same people probably think that the 20% who own 80% of the wealth have achieved it in unscrupulous ways. Neither is true.

The fact is that when it comes to economics, the 20-80 principle applies as much in controlled economies with redistributionist aims as it does in free enterprise economies. Redistributionist goals have never brought equality -- they just rearrange the people in the equation.

And when it comes to hunting, the Pareto principle is probably as true as it is in any field. The question is, why do 20% of the hunters harvest 80% of the game? Or, why does the Pareto principle apply to hunter success?

Now, I’m not one of the 20% -- so I’m not trying to justify a high harvest rate. I leave plenty of tags unfilled. I’m often just as happy to come home from the hunt without game to clean. When I was younger I heard my father say that, and now I understand it.

The application of the Pareto principle to hunters is actually very simple, and applies to hunting for the same reasons it applies to economics or to any other field. Usually, about 20% are committed to the highest success. They’re the employees who work 60 or 70 hours per week. They’re the basketball players who shoot 100 free throws after their teammates have hit the showers. Every field has performers who focus a major part of their time and energy on just a few specific goals.

Among hunters, the 20% are the hunters who scout more. They develop all the tools at their disposal, and spend hundreds of hours in the field outside of hunting seasons.

They are more prepared because they invest more in equipment. They know its capabilities and understand its limitations.

They read more. They study more. They may not talk about it, but they make it their business to understand as much as possible about the animals, their habits, and the habitat that supports them.

They work harder at finding places to hunt, and don’t hunt a spot just because they always have, or because they’re familiar with it, or because it’s convenient. They hunt it because they’ve taken the time to learn how the animals use the land.

If you’re one of the 20% with a high harvest rate, you’ve made sacrifices that put you in that class. Most highly successful hunters will agree that commitment is the reason. Success has come largely because you’ve made choices that rank other things lower on your priority scale.

And if you’re one of the 80% who bag the remaining 20% of the harvest, you probably have a well-rounded life, healthy relationships, varied interests, and other commitments. You’ve invested your time and energy in other priorities. That’s worthwhile, too.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Meat Inspectors and Mrs. Persnickety

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 1, 2008.)

I added, with more politeness than
I thought I could muster, “Thank you, ma’m!”

This week’s news carried a story from the Buffalo, NY area about a Chinese restaurant where state inspectors discovered employees butchering a deer. Let the jokes begin, but hey -- I’m one who wants to believe that all those “chicken” dishes really are chicken. Besides, maybe one employee is a hunter who brought his deer to work to cut it up there. I can identify with that.

The story took me back to when I was 15 and went to work in a small corner grocery. I stocked shelves and carried groceries home for neighborhood ladies. Soon Curly, the owner, offered me a 10ȼ raise with the opportunity to work in the meat room.

On Saturday mornings he would tell me how many chickens and Hormel “Cure 81” boneless hams (I still love that stuff) to load onto the rotisserie. I sometimes added extra, and ate a great lunch. Curly kept a case of beer in the meat cooler. I kept a case of Double Cola beside it. What a great job!

Besides barbecuing chickens and hams, I trimmed bones, ground the burger, mixed sausage, sliced luncheon meats, and stuffed pork chops.

Curly specialized in prime beef and in those days, “prime” really meant something. The meat had juicy marbling, a fine texture, and tenderness you could almost see.

The routine behind the counter was to show the customer both sides of any cut she was considering, and to comment on how nice this week’s beef was. I’d close the sale, weigh the meat, wrap it in white butcher paper and mark the price with a grease pencil.

The few persnickety customers we had would usually snag Curly, and he’d cater to their requests for special treatment.

One Saturday evening Curly was in the back room, boning out burger trimmings before calling it a day. One very fussy lady came in, and I stepped up to the challenge of serving her. I went through my script, allowing her to inspect both sides of every sirloin in the case, all the standard ¾" thickness. Nothing suited her. She asked for one an inch and a half thick.

I went into the back room, cut her a nice thick steak, trimmed the edge to a quarter inch of fat, and scraped off all the bone chips left by the saw blade. I proudly presented it to her critical eye. No one ever saw a more perfect sirloin.

She inquired, “Did you cut this, or did Curly?” I replied, “I cut it, ma’m.” She shot back, “Have Curly cut one for me.”

“Yes, ma’m.” I took the beautiful steak back, laid it on Curly’s butcher block, and told him she preferred that he cut her sirloin.

In his high-pitched voice, he said “OK,” and reached over to turn on the saw so she could hear it run. He continued the deft strokes of his boning knife. Without missing a beat he reached over, nicked the edge of the steak with his knife, and went back to boning. He switched off the saw and said, “Take it back to her.”

Upon seeing the very same steak, Inspector Persnickety said, “Did Curly cut this one?”

“Yes ma’m. He sure did. Isn’t it a beauty?” I weighed it, wrapped it, wrote the price on it and handed it to her. I added, with more politeness than I thought I could muster, “Thank you, ma’m!”

When deer season came that year I shot my first buck, and asked Curly if I could bring it in and cut it up. He said no -- some nonsense about ridiculous regulations and annoying state inspectors. “Aww, shucks,” I must have said.

The next night I worked alone, and I brought my buck in. Yes, state inspectors would have had a fit, but I washed the saw and grinder and made sure not a trace of venison could be found anywhere.

Curly didn’t miss much -- he probably knew but never said a word.

Thanks to Curly I’ve butchered my own deer right from the beginning. I no longer use a saw, but still use the R. H. Forschner boning knife I got from Curly so long ago. I don’t do it in a meat shop, nor in a restaurant. I do it in my wife’s kitchen where inspectors don’t come around -- and no one is so persnickety.